I hear this question all the time from concerned parents. “How do car seats expire, exactly?” It’s certainly a natural thing to think of after spending a nice chunk of change, after all.
Honestly, I hear a lot of doubters say things like, “those car seats aren’t actually going to expire. It’s just something that manufacturers have decided to say so that you buy new things and spend even more money with them!”
No matter how often I hear this kind of thing, though, it never ends up being a truthful statement. Yes, car seats do expire, and the sooner you come to terms with this the safer your child is going to be.
After all, we do trust that our children will be kept safe from harm in their car seat in the event of an accident. We trust, and in so doing car seats also trust that we will know the why and when of replacing them. Understanding why, of course, will help us to keep up on the when.
How Do Car Seats Expire, Exactly?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a single reason that explains this. Designs being updated, technology being updated, normal wear and tear. These are all good explanations as to why you should recycle your old car seat and buy a new one.
To begin with go check out a car seat that was made roughly 6 years ago. You’ll quickly be able to see that the design and functionality are completely different to those currently being sold. Material advancements, data from crash tests, design, and manufacturing all can improve the safety and function of different car seats.
Companies innovate their safety features all the time. For instance, take Britax and their SafeCell impact protection which is a system for safety that is completely integrated and boasts being tested beyond just the normal federal standard tests. You also have the ClickTight that gives us a simple way to install the system that helps to make sure the car seat fits nice and tight while being extra secure. These are all things that help to mold any future car seats.
Forgetting any of these upgrades, though, car seats will decay all by themselves as time goes on.
You see, a car seat is mostly manufactured with plastic and small pieces of metal here and there. Sure, some do highlight their steel frames, but this is only recently starting to be seen a lot with those models that are brand new. You also, of course, have your fabric that covers the area where your baby sits down.
Most people tend to leave their car seats sitting inside their vehicle for long periods of time. Based on the area you’re living, the temperature inside of your car could be anywhere from -50 degrees all the way up to 140 degrees. These massive temperature changes occurring inside the car affect your car seat in a big way over a long period of time. Especially the plastics that most car seats are made of.
According to director of operations at the Consumer Reports’ auto test center, Jennifer Stockburger, “Expiration dates are a combination of technology, the latest standards, and product integrity. Adhering to them might actually make it easier for the parent to get it right, which ultimately makes our kids safer.”
Making it Simple
Still have your doubts? Here’s a simple test you could do if you’re so inclined. Go out and purchase a lawn chair made of plastic. Let it sit outside (even though it gets much hotter in our cars) for a good 6 years. Let it sit there 24/7/365 all during the dead of winter and the insane heat of summer. Have your kids bounce into and out of it every single day, and maybe even spill their liquids on it often.
Now, after those 6 years have passed inspect the lawn chair and see if it is something you’d trust your child’s life with. Most likely the plastic that made it is going to be broken, cracked, and/or warped.
Think about that test I wrote about just now, and then think about whether or not putting together a couple hundred dollars is worth your child’s life.
When Do Car Seats Expire?
On average a car seat expires 6 years from the date it was manufactured. Most include this information on the bottom of the seat. Usually you can see it on a sticker that shows the expiration and manufacture dates, and will include the serial number as well.
Obviously the seats won’t suddenly disintegrate once the expiration date hits. Instead, simply make sure you replace these around the date of expiration to be as safe as possible.
Going Back in Time
We’ve all heard about all the babies surviving back in our parents’ days as they drove everywhere on their parents’ laps without any seatbelts. There certainly were no car seats! Through rain and snow they drove, and all the babies survived. That last part is extremely doubtful.
Infant car carriers weren’t really all that available even thirty years back. There was no LATCH system created yet. Definitely no spot for a sippy cup in a car seat, that’s for sure.
We change and adapt as time goes on. We enhance our knowledge and apply that so that our kids are safer. We look at research and use it to further technology, and then we implement that to keep children safe.
The IIHS has stated that the number of infants that have died in a car crash since 1975 has dropped as much as 80%. The amount of kids that were under the age of three that have died in a car accident has also dropped by as much as 66%. These numbers still occurred even though there has been a 5% increase in the amount of kids that have been driving around in vehicles during that same time-frame.
This is a wonderful statistic. This is further enhanced by the fact that the NIH have stated that using child restraints properly can reduce deaths by as much as 80%.
Because of this the car seats that we see now have so many more features and technology than anyone would ever imagine. Whiplash protection, side-impact protection…so much effort has been done to ensure that our children are as safe as possible. The numbers about the impact of this work don’t lie.