The Reason Why Child Car Seats Expire

Older child car seats may not meet current safety standards

Car seat expiration dates can be a head-scratcher for parents. After all, your child's car seat is not a carton of milk that can go sour. But there are legitimate reasons seats have expiration dates. Knowing where to locate this information, as well as how to understand and use it, will help ensure that your child is always safe when riding in the car.

Why Car Seats Expire
Verywell / Joshua Seong

Why Car Seats Can't Be Used Forever

There is no government regulation in the United States that requires an expiration date on car seats. Rather, car seat manufacturers decide them based on a set of general guidelines. While you might think it's just about selling more of their products, there are several safety reasons manufacturers place expiration dates on car seats.

Improved Technology

Car seat manufacturers periodically update designs to improve the performance of their products. An older car seat that's been passed down from friends or family might look like it's in great condition. But it is unlikely to have recent lifesaving technologies.

Additionally, a used car seat may not have all the original parts. If you think a part is missing, check the manufacturer's manual. Do not use the car seat until any missing or damaged parts have been replaced.

Changing Standards

It's important to be aware of any regulatory changes that govern car seat safety standards. If regulations change, the product you purchased may no longer be in compliance. Expiration dates ensure that the seat you're using isn't missing important updates.

Keep all car seat instructions and manuals in a safe place where you can easily access them to find safety information, usage guidelines, or how to contact the manufacturer.

If the original physical copy is lost, you can usually find the most recent version on the manufacturer's website.

Wearing Down of Materials

Car seats were not made to last forever. As with many products you purchase, the quality of the car seat degrades over time as the materials begin to wear out.

For example, after years of being in a car that endures extremes in temperature (a hot summer and/or cold winter), the plastic in a car seat can become brittle. However, the breakdown may not be visible to the naked eye, so the expiration date is important.

The life span of a car seat is typically six to 10 years, but a few seats have shorter life spans.

Recalls

If a car seat has not yet expired but is under a recall, be sure to follow the instructions to repair the seat and make it safe to use. This usually involves getting a recall repair kit for free from the manufacturer. Rarely, a car seat may not be salvageable—in which case the recall will instruct you to discontinue use and destroy it.

You can always find out if the car seat you are using has been recalled by simply calling the manufacturer. A sticker with the company's customer service number is required to be on the car seat. If you can't locate it, a quick Google search can help you find the number to call.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides a list of every car seat recall from the past 10 years on its website.

Damage

If a car seat has been involved in an accident, damage from the crash can render it unsafe. If you're using a second-hand car seat, be sure you know the product's full history. A car seat that's been in a crash may be safe to continue using if it was properly repaired, but they often need to be replaced.

Where to Find the Expiration Date

All car seats must have a sticker indicating the date of manufacture. To locate the sticker, you might need to check along the sides or back of the seat, or even flip the seat upside down to see the bottom.

If you find a great deal on a car seat because it is the previous year's model, it's important to keep in mind that it will have a shortened life span. It might be reasonable to purchase an older model if your child will outgrow the seat soon. However, if you're looking for a car seat that will serve your child and/or a sibling for several years, it might be better to get the newest model.

This is a good reason to avoid buying used car seats, which may already be nearing their expiration date. Used seats also have the risk that they are missing parts or that parts are worn out and not in good condition.

A few car seats start the expiration clock from the date of purchase rather than the date of manufacture. However, most go from the date of manufacture.

A Word From Verywell

Keep your children safe in your car by understanding your state's car seat laws. You'll also want to register your car seats and provide the manufacturer with your contact information so you can stay up to date on any recalls or changes to safety standards.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Car Seats: Information for Families. Updated February 24, 2020.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Car Seats: Product Listing for 2020. Updated February 24, 2020.

  3. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHS-HLDI). Seat belt and child seat laws by state.

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