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Does a Car Seat Really expire??

We’ve been enjoying a fun family WEEK in the fabulous mountains of Tennessee, but this is our last day! :( We’re checking out later this morning and heading back to reality.  I’ve taken a week off of blogging and have a few posts from the past to share while I’m gone!  This was originally posted here, August, 2010. Edited as needed.

{Davis age 1}

You tell me… truth or fiction?

Your car seat NEEDS to be replaced every six years because according to the manufacturer… it has expired.

I did not have a clue about this fact until partway through my last pregnancy and was informed by my sister.  The date is supposed to be imprinted on the car seat itself and is on average SIX YEARS from the date of manufacture.  So if yours had been sitting on the shelf for a year at the time you purchased it then you’ve got even less use time out of it.

I think most everyone would agree that you obviously don’t want a car seat that is quite ancient as it probably going to have less safety features etc.  We’ve all also heard not to buy a car seat second hand since you don’t know if it has been in an accident or not.

But what’s a stretch for me (and even more so for my dubious, doubtful skeptic of a husband) is that a car seat that you have been in possession of for six years somehow magically expires for unknown reasons.  It just does.

The thing is, they know they have us.  How can you expect a new mother or father to disregard the idea that they are putting their teesny, tiny newborn into a vehicle with an unsafe car seat?  New mothers are notoriously unstable and irrational, and, so help us…do not mess with our instincts.  We know what is best for our baby, and don’t you forget it.

I read about a mother who after a late miscarriage, had kept her brand new in the box Graco car seat stored in a closet indoors.  It was more than 6 years before she was finally pregnant again and after calling Graco to ask whether the expiration applied to her or not since the car seat had never been used….Graco’s answer was… “An expiration date is an expiration date.

The only explanation I’ve heard is that “the plastic can wear down after time and heat exposure” making it “less safe.”  What’s funny though and what was pointed out by our neighbor and fellow skeptic, is that the webbing and straps in the car itself somehow meet safety standards without a 6 year expiration date. Although I’m sure if the car companies thought they could get away with it, they would declare that all cars too were expired after 6 years and must be replaced!

Here are three reasons for expiration dates listed from Safety Squad

Technology changes
Car seat technology is always evolving, as are vehicles’ ability to secure seats properly and consistently. Before 2002, Lower Anchor & Tethers for Children (LATCH) did not exist.  Now it’s a common system by which car seats are installed.
Materials wear out
Plastic stresses and warps. Straps and fabrics fray and rip. Instruction manuals get lost or destroyed. Important instructional labels fade, tear or fall off completely.
Manufacturing landscapes change
Your manufacturer may no longer stock replacement manuals and parts. Maybe the company has gone out of business entirely.

In my opinion, those reasons do NOT support a blanket expiration date for ALL car seats.  It supports investigating each point and seeing if your car seat would fall into one of those categories and therefore need to be replaced.

I’m sorry, but losing the instruction manual does not mean the seat is no longer safe.

{Wade age 4}

{Davis age 1}

On the skeptic’s side of the argument is this old excerpt from the NY Times!

There are federal laws regulating safety standards for car seats, but no expiration dates, according to the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Graco Children’s Products, one of the largest manufacturers of child restraint seats,  says it does recommend throwing out a car seat after seven years or so.

“That is not because of danger that the plastic is degenerating,” said David Galambos, compliance and safety manager for child safety systems with Graco, a unit of Newell Rubbermaid.

“We’re not seeing any disintegration until a minimum of 10 years,” he said.

“Despite rumors that float around the playground and the Web, extreme weather has no impact on the life of a car seat,” Mr. Galambos said.

Sooo, two big arguments disputed by a spokesman of Graco!

1) Weather has no impact on the life of a car seat, and

2) The plastic does not suddenly break down after 6 years.


Wait, WHAT???

does a carseat expire

Sometimes though, the facts don’t really seem to matter, do they?  Heaven forbid you approach this argument in your mommy group.  Shock, disbelief and general disdain are what awaits you.

How can you be a good mother if your child’s safety is not worth shelling out another $100?  Wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?  Do you really want to test your theory using your own kids as guinea pigs?

After reading the documented reasons for replacing a car seat, and deciding to focus on those facts instead of fear and feelings, I think you examine your particular car seat and replace it ONLY if those reasons (outdated technology… no 5 point harness or latch system… frayed webbing… cracked plastic… missing parts, etc) actually make it unsafe.

What’s your opinion?

Hopefully, I’m not about to flamed or judged or kicked out of the good mommy club.


*Edited to add… I am deleting most of this post’s pictures since several commenters are focusing on improper chest clip placement instead of the point and question of the post which is debating the FACTS involved in car seats expiring.

Any further comments noting improper chest clip placement will be deleted as well as rude or ugly posts. Differing opinions are welcome, provided they are expressed in a calm, adult way.

38 Responses to Does a Car Seat Really expire??
  1. Theresa
    July 20, 2012 | 7:10 am

    But why ever ever take a chance? Even the most expensive car seats are cheap- a $300 seat is less than a dime per use. I’ll save my money elsewhere.

    • Renee
      July 20, 2012 | 8:41 am

      You are right… it’s hard to think about $$ when you’re talking about your child’s potential safety. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      • Joel Stoner
        June 12, 2013 | 6:40 pm

        What about mothers that are not as well off as you are? What if that $300 car seat means she can’t eat for a week or two, or can’t afford to see her doctor for prenatal care? Plastics do not degrade that fast, and if seat belts degraded that fast they would be required to be replaced by law, well if the government actually cares about human lives. Children are precious, but to allow people to set expiration dates on something without scientific proof of the claims is just ridiculous. One video of one seat failing doesn’t prove anything. One seat out of all produced seats will fail one day one.

        • Aude
          August 4, 2013 | 11:21 am

          I don’t even think it’s a matter of money so much… It’s a matter of companies trying to guilt us into getting new stuff and making more money.. Great article!

  2. Rachel
    July 20, 2012 | 7:34 am

    The problem is, if you are in a wreck and your child is hurt and the car seat is expired, your auto insurance has grounds not to pay the medical bills that it might otherwise pay. So it’s a racket with both the car seat manufacturers and the insurance folks, but there you go.

    • Renee
      July 20, 2012 | 8:39 am

      Interesting!! They definitely know they have us…

    • Ashlea
      January 11, 2013 | 11:36 am

      Very anecdotal – do you have documentation of this? A source? If this is true, you should provide a way to easily verify the information.

      • Donnely
        September 19, 2013 | 7:49 pm

        It depends on your states requirements Ashlea. You would have to check with your insurance company.

  3. Sweet and Crunchy
    July 22, 2012 | 11:19 am

    Boy, is this timely! I was recently in a collision in which none of the carseats were occupied, and I’m being told that we have to replace all three carseats. I can’t see how any stress was placed on the seats at all, seeing as they weren’t hit by anything and weren’t harnessing any weight… and there’s a serious lack of actual facts available in terms of what kind of damage we should be looking for. Talk about a racket!

    • Renee
      July 31, 2012 | 7:30 am

      A friend of mine was in a wreck and I think either the fire dept or their insurance got them new car seats… wonder if you could do the same thing?
      You are right though… hard to know what damage to look for…

      • brenna
        February 24, 2013 | 6:09 pm

        I was in a wreck and just the carseat base was in the car and the insurance company replaced it… it was the wrong color and didnt match the seat but oh well. the thing is with plastic, even if it doesnt look like there has been any stress, there could be stress. and one tiny miniscule invisible fracture or seam could jeapordize the structural integrity of the whole seat. if they were made of steel it would be a different story possibly but they’re not. its plastic. and as often as we moms swing the carseat in and out of the car during that first year it’s no wonder they’re not exxpected to last. carseat misuse or malfunctions account for more deaths and injuries than any other causes combined during a child’s first year. and seventy five percent of parents use their carseats incorrectly! it’s common and we all do it but it’s so important to get to a fire station and get a lesson from someone who is trained to tell you how to do it – even if you’re 100% sure you’re doing it right… they can look over your carseat and tell you if you need a new one too. it’s free! go to the fire station!!

    • Kat
      August 12, 2013 | 10:42 am

      Insurance should help cover the cost of replacing them. Microfractures aren’t going to be immediately visible and that’s what the concern is. If you want better, detailed information, LOOK FOR IT. Contact the manufacturer and ask for whatever info they have to be mailed to you and then you can also contact the department of transportation & the police for more information.

  4. laura
    July 22, 2012 | 10:23 pm

    ok, my question is….where do I recycle or get rid of all my old car seats. My oldest in now out of one and have about 3 that I need to get rid of. Our recycling doesn’t take them, I know you can trade them in at babies r us however I don’t need another one and have posted on FB if anyone wants one to turn in to get a credit towards a new one let me know….that was last year, no takers:( I feel bad putting it in the garbage, it probably will take a billion years to disintegrate. What has others done with their old car seats? HELP

    • Renee
      July 31, 2012 | 7:28 am

      That is a good question! Wonder if you could just drop off at BRU anyway?? Offer to give your “credit” to the next customer or something?

      • Natasha
        January 26, 2013 | 10:17 pm

        You can ship it here and they recycle:

        • brenna
          February 24, 2013 | 6:11 pm

          babies are us does take them and once a year they have a big event where you can trade them in for a big discount on a replacement.

  5. […] Does a Car Seat Really Expire? […]

  6. raje
    November 13, 2012 | 5:07 am

    You are right Theresa i am agree with you.

  7. Crystal J
    December 5, 2012 | 2:31 am

    Amen! Haha my friend just enlightened me about this expiration thing and I hope she wasn’t offended that I laughed out loud! She said they were planning to get a new seat because some hospitals won’t allow you to leave with a new baby if your car seat is expired… What are they going to do, call child protection services? What ever happened to frugality and common sense being legal? The insanity infecting the masses in this country astounds me.

    • brenna
      February 24, 2013 | 6:14 pm

      they will absolutely call child protective services. sadly

  8. Kellie
    December 22, 2012 | 8:16 am

    I’m sorry to say that to a degree, this simply sounds like a marketing ploy. If the plastic and such take 10 years to degrade, it seems that 5 years is a little soon to be tossing a car seat. It seems like yet another waste with our disposable society. As far as “new technology”, for my personal use, I drive cars that are all at least 10 years old, so am I a bad parent for that?
    I do believe that car seats don’t have an indefinite life and should be replaced, but that’s just what I see as common sense. If a car seat has been in an accident, has visible cracks, or spent 10 years in the heat and sun, then it shouldn’t take a genius to figure that out.

  9. Kara
    December 31, 2012 | 2:46 pm

    I have just learned about this and have saved two very nice travel systems with the infant car seats and bases. Mine are about 9 years old and have been through two children. I was surprised to learn they “expired”. Do the plastics on my vehicle seats expire also?! We keep our cars a very long time, does this mean that the dashboard may come off? I find it very hard to believe that the plastics could degrade that much. BUT, the manufacturers are playing to my heart strings…

  10. Christy
    January 27, 2013 | 11:46 am

    I am just looking into this as well, as we are moving and trying to determine what to do with carseats just-in-case we have a baby #3. My carseats are now 6 years old. I was told by a friend that it is the styrofoam that disintegrates over time–which I find much more believable than plastic disintegrating. I think there have been good points made about insurance maybe not covering collisions involving expired carseats. I understand the thinking there–however, it is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. So I guess I’ll be throwing mine out. It seems like someone should be able to recycle these things–such a waste!

    • Tracy
      May 1, 2013 | 1:15 pm

      A few years ago we inherited 2 car seats from friends (that have since expired so I am starting to look for new ones but that’s another story) and I replaced all the styrofoam on them (they were Britax). I would assume other companies allow you to order replacements as well.

  11. Kim
    April 7, 2013 | 12:52 pm

    I just opened our brand-new-in-the-plastic convertible carseat we were given at our baby shower. (baby is 10 months old) The expiration date on the carseat is 2014, less than a year away. It’s been stored on a shelf in a store, then in a closet at my in-laws (they gave it to us), and then we put it in storage until baby was ready for it. So do I throw it out come December? Buy a new one and use the cover as a spare cover? We wanted a spare cover anyway, but this seems like a backwards way to get one.

  12. […] look “almost” brand new. Another reason not to buy used car seats is because car seats have an expiration date. The date is usually about six years after their manufacture date, which should be engraved on the […]

  13. Lisa Martin
    May 1, 2013 | 12:38 am

    Logic and rationality makes this claim seem to be a scare tactic to keep the purchasing of car seats going AND to give manufacturing companies an “out” for being sued.

    My questions:
    — What about the “built-in” car seats in some vehicles? They do not expire.
    — What about the plastic which most of the interior parts of a car (seat frames, arms, etc.) are made of? If they are not damaged in a wreck, the insurance company does not replace them or force them to be tested even.
    — Where is the registration number on a car seat so it can be identified as having been in a wreck….like a car-seat-fax? There isn’t.

    And to be guilted into spending money unnecessarily is ridiculous, especially when $100 is so hard to come by these days. It does not make anyone a bad parent. If you examine the car seat for the safety elements and it passes, then use it. Use common sense people!!! Using a car seat is better than nothing at all, even if the seat is used but still safe!!!

  14. Sarah E.
    May 14, 2013 | 6:20 pm

    Ha, thank you for this. I totally agree with everything about it. We would need to replace 3 car seats right now if they really do “expire” and that is expensive!! I don’t really see how ours (in great shape) would be less safe now than they were several years ago. It’s still more than I was ever in as a kid!

  15. Elaine
    May 31, 2013 | 3:30 pm

    I am an insurance agent. None of the companies that I work with will deny a claim if your car seat is expired. However, they will require you to replace the car seat if it is involved in an accident but will cover the cost of the replacement.

    I think the controversy surrounding expiration of car seats is similar to expiration of medicines. The car seats don’t automatically start breaking down at 6 or 7 years and most medicines don’t either. The expiration dates are set in advance of when anything actually begins to lose it’s effectiveness and are designed to protect the manufacturers from lawsuits.

  16. Angela
    July 18, 2013 | 4:58 pm

    I appreciate your analytical approach to this topic, despite all the emotion and fear tactics that are being thrown at parents. A great overview and educated discussion of the issue… Thank you.

  17. Kristen
    August 5, 2013 | 6:10 pm

    Hey, not trying to be rude..just wanted to inform you incase you didn’t know. (i didn’t until i read my carseat manual front to back) the top buckle on the carseat is suppose to be up to the armpit level. They said not having it up there is almost as bad as not buckling them at all. because they can slip right out. =)

  18. Jessica
    August 11, 2013 | 1:57 am

    A very good portion of those pictures in this article show children strapped in incorrectly. The chest clips belong over the sternum, in between the armpits, not any lower.

  19. Megan
    August 11, 2013 | 9:24 am

    I belive carseats absolutely do expire. My SIL gave us her sons old carseat at the beginning of this year. It expired in 2010. When I took the cover off, you could visibly see where the styrofoam had broken down but, you can’t always tell so easily with plastic. I personally am not going to wait around for my childs carseat to give out before I replace it. What if it breaks while in an accident because the plastic fails from being too old? I would rather spend a little bit of money and no trisk my childs safety. Also, your childrens harness clips should be on their chest between the armpits.Having them as low as they are in the pictures is like not good at all.

  20. carseatsafetyexpert
    August 11, 2013 | 10:24 pm

    while i find this humorous and a great stance on the BigCo’s attempts to rid us of our money i feel compelled to inform you of a hazard. you, as a blog owner with a decent amount of followers it is your duty to inform, educate and protect. displaying photos of children improperly and unsafely strapped into their carseats is a very dangerous irresponsible thing. i like your blog, as you come across very down to earth and likeable. but these photos, whether they be your children or not, portray the improper use of carseats. in almost every photo the child has the clip below armpit level and in most cases over the bellybutton. this is not the proper placement for a clip hence the name, derived from the proper placement of the clip, over the chest, this is crucial being that in a car accident, the chestclip prevents the child from being ejected right out of his or her seat. as a blog owner its your responsibility to properly portray carseat usage. i think it would be a GREAT idea to remove these photos of maybe use them to help educate other new moms to learn how to safely buckle their children in. i know even i, as a new mom made this mistake and especially if these are fan submitted photos perhaps a blog dedicated solely on helping to educate new, or well practiced moms on where the chest clip should be. hey, who knows? you may even save a life.
    respectfully yours,

  21. Carseatsafetyexpert
    August 12, 2013 | 2:03 am

    I love that you edited this! I know mommy wars get crazy! To answer your question, I think you are right in some ways. If I’ve used my seat for 5 years I would absolutely replace it if it “expired” even without wear. But if I suffered the pain of a miscarriage and had a brand new seat and had a baby later down the line. I honestly don’t think that I would buy a new one. It’s expired even though its not used because its been awhile? No, if probably still use it, it’s brand new! Although I’ve heard some crazy stories about how some moms sell their old carseats on yard sale sites. Eeek! You have no clue about that carseats history. You’re supposed to just take their word that its never been in an accident? No ma’am! Another one I’ve seen personally is a mom who didn’t own a car leaves her daughters seat outside and uses it whenever she needs. Mind you the seat is already 5+ years old. People! Common sense is all you need! If you have a kid, use the carseat and then have another child, as long as te seat hasn’t been wrecked and used properly I see nothing wrong with reuse! In some cases, I believe carseat expiration is a little silly. But in most cases, it’s there to protect. But expiring a brand new still in box seat because its been a year or two? I find that money hungry a little bit.

    Again, thank you so much for the edit! Carseat safety is a big thing. Some moms don’t know any better, some gentle information goes a long way for a new mommy looking for some help!
    Respectfully yours,

  22. Angel
    August 12, 2013 | 9:44 pm

    I bought my car seat and stroller combo in 2006 with my first son and just finished using it for our second. I recently sold it to a police officer and pointed out the “expiration” date to him. He was not concerned and said that was mostly just to make us spend more. I agree with you, I knew the history of that seat and it didn’t bother me to use it again. Sorry for the loss of your grandmother, they hold a special place in our hearts. I love mine dearly and can’t imagine when that day will come. I hate that you had to deal with hurtful and rude comments so soon after her passing, people can be so mean and judgmental.

  23. kevin
    September 2, 2013 | 12:17 pm