Is It Illegal to Use an Expired Car Seat? Debunking the Myth

is it illegal to use an expired car seat

Nowadays, it seems as if no material thing is built to last. This includes car seats. While no one wants to mess around with their child’s safety, a few questions still remain: Is it illegal to use an expired car seat? Can car seats even expire? And where is the expiration date on a car seat? 

Over many years now, car seat expiration dates have been a common point of discussion between parents . Some claim that these expiration dates are real and that car seats shouldn’t be used after the said date. Others think that this is just a ploy by manufacturers, who are trying to sell you more car seats by forcing you to toss the old one after a while. 

As parents, we all want nothing more than to keep our children safe. However, as the cost of living rises, it is also important to save your money where possible. Especially when it comes to costly baby items. On the face of it, throwing away a car seat seems like rather a waste of money. 

While we’ll let you decide what you want to do with an expired car seat, we’ll answer one very important question: Is it illegal to use an expired car seat? We’ll also speak a bit more about a specified car seat expiration date and, well, does it even matter ?!

Let’s begin…

Is It Illegal to Use an Expired Car Seat?

If you’ve wondered ‘is it illegal to use an expired car seat ?’, you would expect to find the answer on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website. Surprisingly enough, there is nothing specific on their page or the entire administration website about the car seat expiration date. So it isn’t illegal to keep on using a car seat that has expired as there are o specific regulations against this. 

In fact, manufacturers aren’t even obliged to give you a precise expiration date on car seats. 

However, does this mean that the expiration date is simply a clever ploy by the manufacturer’s for a money grab? We would argue that it isn’t. However, this topic runs much deeper and there are several things that need to be explained first. If you were looking to buy a new car seat, you can check out our guides by clicking here.

Can You Use an Expired Car Seat?

Now that you know it’s perfectly legal to use an expired car seat, the real question is: Should you?

Car seat expirations date are not something that is decided according to the law. Rather, each manufacturer will decide on them, based on a set of general car seat guidelines

Yes, believe it or not, there are some safety reasons why a manufacturer places an expiration date on a car seat. While we’re certain they won’t complain about you buying a new car seat, there are more important things at play here. 

This is why there is a reason behind a car seat expiration date:

Standards Change

We’ve already mentioned that there are certain standards that car seats must adhere to. These standards are periodically reviewed, so they may change. So the car seat you purchased a few years ago, may no longer be compliant with the new regulations. 

Expiration dates are a way to make sure you get a seat that is up to date with all the necessary updates and current safety standards. 

New Technology

Many times, car seat manufacturers update their designs to improve the product performance. So while it might seem like a great option to take the old car seat from your family or friends that appears to be in a perfect condition, chances are this seat doesn’t have the latest lifesaving technologies. 

Not just that, but a used car seat or a car seat that has been around for a long time might not have all the original parts. You might not even notice that a screw has gone loose or that a small plastic part has gone missing. 

If you do happen to notice that there is something missing on your car seat, contact the manufacturer. They may be able to give you a replacement part. 

Materials Wear Down

As unfortunate as this is for our pockets, almost all the products we purchase aren’t made to last forever. And this is definitely true for a car seat. This is because most materials can wear down over time. 

For example, if you live in warm climates and leave a car seat inside your car, your car seat will likely be exposed to high temperatures and direct sunlight. Over time, this can cause plastics inside the seat to become brittle or deformed. This might not be obviously visible, so you won’t always be able to directly see any damage. The expiration date is there to make sure you replace a car seat which is likely to have important material wear.

Damage

If your car seat has been involved in a car crash or some other accident, the seat is usually rendered unsafe for continued use – even if the seat was unoccupied at the time. The damage isn’t always visible to the naked eye. So if you’re purchasing or using a second-hand car seat, make sure to know its exact history. 

The NHTSA currently recommends:

‘…that car seats be replaced following a moderate or severe crash in order to ensure a continued high level of crash protection for child passengers. Car seats do not automatically need to be replaced following a minor crash.

It goes on to explain that minor crashes must include ALL the following criteria:

  • The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site.
  • The vehicle door nearest the car seat wasn’t damaged.
  • No one in the vehicle suffered any injuries in the crash.
  • The crash did not cause the airbags to deploy
  • There’s no visible damage to the car seat.

Though this seems like it could save you some money if your car and car seat was just involved in a small accident, NHTSA goes on to say that you should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. And, most manufacturers actually recommend replacement of the seat after ALL accidents (including minor ones).

Recalls

It is commonplace for any type of product which is identified as being faulty or having some other problem with it, making it a potential risk for the user, to undergo a product recall.

Sometimes, certain car seat models may end up getting recalled. Often there may be a faulty hardware part or the regulations have changed. 

It is vitally important to register your products with the manufacturer, especially your new car seats. This way you should be alerted automatically about any recall notices of safety issues. You can also sign up to the NHTSA email alert system. 

If you forgot to register your car seat, or were just curious to find out whether a car seat you’ve bought has been recalled, you can simply call a manufacturer and ask. There will always be a sticker with the company’s customer service phone number. If the number or the sticker have worn out, you should be able to find the number easily via Google. You can also check the NHTSA website.

If you happen to own a recalled car seat, make sure to listen to any instructions issued by the manufacturer and make the seat safe to use. Usually, this includes either getting a replacement one, or a recall repair kit that a manufacturer should issue to you for free. Sometimes, the manufacturer will simply tell you that the car seat isn’t salvageable, advise you to discontinue using it, and give you instructions on how to properly destroy it.

Where to Find the Car Seat Expiration Date?

No matter the brand or the type of the car seat you’ve bought, all should have a sticker that indicates the date of manufacture. This sticker can be somewhat hidden, though, so make sure to check along the back of the seat or its sides. You might have to flip the seat upside down to see the bottom.

Keep in mind that this is usually where the manufacture date is written. The actual lifespan should be written in the manual or the instruction kit.

This is also where another catch lies. You might have found a car seat at a discount price because it’s the previous year’s model. Keep in mind that this also means this car seat has a shortened lifespan as the date of manufacture will have been longer ago. 

Of course, if you have an older child that will outgrow the seat in just a few years, buying an older model is a great idea. There is no need for a car seat that will last a decade in such a case. However, if you plan to use this car seat for many years to come, you might want to get the newest possible model. 

This is another reason why you might want to avoid using second-hand seats. They have probably been used for a while, which means they are nearing the end of their lifespan. Not just that, but chances are rather high that the used car seat has some damage or that the parts have been worn out. The date of manufacture may be missing, and the recommended lifespan may not be easy to locate if the paperwork has been lost. 

What Is the Lifespan of a Car Seat?

While some wonder ‘is it illegal to use an expired car seat ?’, many don’t even know that these items have an expiry date. So, how long does an average car seat last? 

Most car seats have a lifespan of six to ten years. However, depending on their build and material quality, some may not last as long. It’s always important to check the lifespan with the brand and the manufacturer, as not all are made to last the same length of time. 

For example, a Graco car seat expiration date is usually ten years for steel-reinforced belt path car seats and belt-positioning boosters, but it’s only seven years for plastic-reinforced belt path car seats. On the other hand, Britax car seat expiration date is somewhat shorter, as many infant car seats have a usable life of only six years. Having said that, Britax’s models can vary in lifespan, so it’s necessary to check each model separately.

Why Is There Not a Law about Car Seat Expiration Dates?

As you can see, understanding why and when car seats expire can be crucial in determining the safety of your child. So, why is there not a specific law that will control the use of expired car seats?

Believe it or not, there have been no specific studies or even testing protocols that can determine the exact reason why car seats expire and how long they can be used for. Most car seat companies don’t conduct the appropriate testing on the car seat as a whole, and rather only focus on individual component parts. 

So, the car seat expiration date isn’t exactly something you’re legally obliged to follow. Remember it is important though to make sure your car seat isn’t recalled, as this is a clear indication that it’s not safe to use. However, it is ill-advised to use a car seat that might be so old that it’s faulty. 

Still, this is only as far as the U.S. goes. In the nearby Canada, there are more details about why you should stick to the expiration date and throw out your old car seat:

  • Frequent exposure to sun can weaken the plastics car seats are made out of.
  • Safe-use labels fade.
  • Likely that instruction manuals will be lost. 
  • Food, drinks, cleaners, and other substances might have been spilled, preventing certain parts from working properly.
  • It becomes challenging to check the car seat history as time passes (e.g. was it involved in a car crash, or stored incorrectly). 
  • Car seat regulations have likely changed, meaning there are much safer products on the market. 
  • Where a car seat is sold or passed on to someone else, subsequent owners might not get recall notices if there are any.

Also, while there has been no specific study on car seat expiration that we have found, it’s proven that sun exposure does damage the plastic most car seats are made out of. This should be sufficient for most parents to conclude an expired car seat probably isn’t going to be reliably safe.

Is it illegal to use an expired car seat – Final Word

It isn’t against the law to keep on using a car seat that has expired. This is because there isn’t a definite proof that car seats will ‘go bad’ after a certain amount of time. Manufacturers usually give expiry dates as precaution, and to ensure you receive peak safety levels when using the seat as recommended.

As we’ve already mentioned above, there are many reasons why you shouldn’t keep on using a car seat that has passed its lifespan. Ultimately you’re risking your child’s safety.

Car seats usually have at least some plastic parts. These parts can break or become faulty after a certain period of time, as prolonged use and heat can cause significant damage. Also, as there are new safety products being issued every few years, chances are there are many much better, and safer, products that are available. 

Overall, while we personally wouldn’t risk using an expired car seat and certainly do not recommend it, there is nothing that is technically stopping you from doing this. If you want to find out more about car seat safety, check out our article on the dangers of sleeping in car seats.

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