When people talk about car seat safety, they usually focus on car seat laws, proper strap placement, rear-facing versus forward-facing, and recalls. Although those issues are critical to car seat safety, there are other safety concerns that are just as important but often overlooked, like the expiration date on a car seat. Even if you have never heard of car seats expiring before (don't worry, I hadn't), it's important you know how to tell when your car seat expires, because an expired car seat is a legitimate safety hazard.
Expiration dates are usually associated with food, which is why it might sound strange that car seats have an expiration date. If you're having trouble wrapping your mind around a car seat expiring, think about the bottle of Ibuprofen or lotion sitting in your medicine cabinet. Similar to common household items, a car seat becomes less effective over time. Laura Nikolovska, the Program Director at Kids In Danger, explained, according to NBC Chicago:
Car seats are exposed to extreme temperatures ... Those materials tend to degrade over time because car seats are made out of styrofoam and plastic and they tend to degrade.
It makes a lot of sense, right? In addition to the wear and tear your car seat goes through on a daily basis, it's also susceptible to extreme temperatures. You don't have to be a car seat manufacturer to imagine the damage that can be done to a car seat during a heat wave or snowstorm.
Obviously, a degrading car seat isn't synonymous with safety, which is why it's so important for parents to pay attention to car seat expiration dates. According to Graco, car seats in general expire after six years while car seats with steel reinforced frames can last up to 10 years. If you don't replace your car seat after the expiration date, the "plastic could break apart" in the event of an accident, according to Car Seats For The Littles. Furthermore, car seats with metal parts can rust, which can cause a car seat to not work properly in a crash.
So, how can you check the expiration date of your car seat?
As it turns out, the expiration date can be located in a lot of places. Nathaniel Washatka, Cincinnati Children’s Certified Child Passenger Safety Tech and a Project Specialist with Buckle Up for Life, explained, according to Cafe Mom:
Expiration dates are usually printed on a sticker affixed to the side, bottom, or back of the seat. You’ll often find a date of manufacture and an expiration date. The expiration date is also usually included on the registration card, the detachable card that you’re supposed to mail back to the manufacturer.
If you can't find the expiration date on the bottom or back of the seat, you can give the car seat's manual a try. If this fails, call the car seat manufacturer directly with your car seat's model number — it would know best. If you're unable to get a hold of your car seat's manufacturer, get your car seat checked at a car seat inspection station.
Also, it's important to note that if you can't find an expiration date printed on the actual car seat, just go off of the date the car seat was manufactured. If its six years past the manufactured date (10 for metal-based seats), you should buy a new one.
Although this information is important for all parents, it's especially pertinent to those who like to buy things used or opt for hand-me-down items. A lot of car seats that end up at consignment shops are expired or are close to expiring, so be sure to check the expiration date before you make your purchase. If you like to buy things brand new, still make it a point to check the expiration date — you never know how long a car seat has been sitting on a shelf.
If you're a parent of a child who still rides in a car seat, it can seem like each day there's a new safety concern to worry about. The good news is there are plenty of resources and educational tools available to help you keep your kid safe, especially where it concerns expired car seats. You can never know too much when it comes to your child's safety and well-being, right?
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