Expired?  It’s not milk, how could it expire? Car Seat Expirations – What you need to know.

One of the greatest sources of confusion in car seats is the expiration date.  Many people don’t even realize that they CAN expire.  In Australia the recommended expiration date for use of a car seat is 10 years.  Some people have theories that this is the way the car seat industry keeps making money.  Others say it’s not milk so how could it expire?  And lastly many fall back on the law and say even if it’s not recommended for use at 10 years it’s not technically illegal.  But let’s talk about WHY car seats expire.
Car seats are made primarily of two materials: plastics and impact foams.  The number one reason car seats are meant to be disposed of after 10 years is that those plastics and foams age and degrade especially with repeated and prolonged exposure to UV rays, extreme heat, extreme cold, etc.  Over time that degradation can make those plastics and foams extremely brittle and can limit their ability to withstand a crash safely.  Think about the pegs you use for washing.  If they are 10 years old and have sat outside that whole time chances are they are extremely brittle and easily snap in half.  Or an old foam mattress or pillow that you’ve had for 10 years.  Is it as squishy and boucy as it once was?  Chances are no.  The same thing goes for the materials in a car seat.  And brittle materials that can’t take an impact are NOT the thing you wanna depend on the safety of your child for.
The other reasons car seats have a 10 year expire date is that over time the harness, tether and ISOFIX straps can all stretch and weaken again leading to less safety than they were originally designed to provide.  Some people will say well I don’t replace my regular seat belts in my car every 10 years so what’s the difference?  The honest answer?  Is you probably should. It’s not a well know fact but most cars should have belts replaced every 10 years as well due to wear and tear. So knowing that yes the belts do degrade with time again is that something you want to depend on in a crash?
Lastly the reason you want to replace that seat if it’s more than 10 years old.  Car seat technology has come a LONG way in the last few years.  Until a few years ago rear facing limits on most seats were very low and even most harness height limits on front facing seats were equally low.  This means kids who should still be rear facing (remember you want to rear face to at LEAST 2 and ideally to 4 years old) or should still be harnessed (most kids need a fully harnessed seat ‘til 6 or 7) are being forced into seats that are less safe for them because of those low limits.  Also things like impact foams, side impact technology and easier installation hardware have all come a long way in the last 10 years meaning again your kid is likely to be safer in a new seat vs. one your sister’s been holding onto since her now 14 year old stopped using theirs.
It’s very tempting to say it’s really not that big a deal it’s not milk it can’t REALLY expire when faced with the expense of buying a new seat when you are looking at what feels like a perfectly good seat.  But when every expert out there says ditch the seat at 10 years you have to ask yourself “Is it worth the risk?” And yes technically it is legal to use a seat as long as it meets the 1995 standards. However, legal and recommended are not the same, and at this point very few seats older than 10 years are going to meet that standard anyway.  And as we know when it comes to car seat safety the law is honestly usually the bare minimum of safety not really the message we should be following as parents.  “What’s the very least I can do to keep my kid safe?” is hopefully not a question any of us are asking ourselves.
Some people like to point out that we don’t expire out cars that are over 10 years old, and that’s true.  And cars are full of plastics as well, however the parts that actually keep you safe are all made of and bolted to a solid steel frame.  Not only that but very few of us would now willingly buy a car that doesn’t have airbags or seat belts because we know how valuable those items are to the safety of the passengers and driver.  Similarly knowing how important side impact protection is, a good install is etc, using a outdated seat should really just not be something we consider an option.
So I have a car seat how do I know if it’s expired?  On the back or bottom of the seat there will be a set of small plastic circles (aka dials) they will each have a mark indicating what year the seat was made in.
Once I confirm that the seat is expired what now?  Can I donate it?
Nope.  If it’s expired for you it’s just as expired for anyone else who would use it.  If you wouldn’t put your kids in it please don’t let someone else unknowingly or knowingly do so either, in this country or any other.
So how do I get rid of it?
Before you just put it out for curbside collection you should know there are some people out there who regularly make a point of collecting seats off the curb to resale on the BST boards.  For this reason before you curb/bin that seat please do the following things:

  • Cut the tether on the seat, tethers are hard to replace making it unlikely the seat will be reused
  • Cut the ISOFIX connections
  • Cut the harness – however this alone may not be enough, some sellers collect seats without harnesses and replace them from other seats they picked up or buy them cheap, so be sure to do the other steps as well.
  • Remove the cover – if you have another seat of a new model that has the same cover you can hold onto it to reuse it on that seat in case your kids get sick in the car or have a potty training accident. Otherwise destroy it.
  • Write on the seat in Permanent marker – Write all over the shell of the seat (esp. the sides, and back near the dials so that a seller can’t try to hide it with a cover) “Expired, do not use.”

Could this all be some grand conspiracy by manufactures to make more money?  I suppose.. But I tend to believe that more likely it’s simply the reality that materials age and degrade, and technology improves.  And at the end of the day skepticism and a few dollars saved aren’t worth proving out that theory.    I look at it and say this is the thing I’m depending on to save my kid’s life, investing in a new one every 10 years is probably worth it.

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