When starting out as a parent, a car seat is likely to be one of your biggest purchases for a while. It makes sense then, that many parents want to squeeze as much use out of their car seats as they can. But when is the right time to retire your car seat? Can you reuse yours with a second or third child? With so much information swirling around on the internet and word of mouth, it can be hard to know for sure.
The fact is, car seats do expire for several reasons. Whether you’re a new parent in a state of overwhelm or a seasoned parent who just needs a refresher, this FAQ will explain why car seats expire, how to find out if one is expired, and what you should do with one that has aged out of its useful life.
While car seats don’t expire like once-fresh produce left outside of the refrigerator all afternoon, they do have a defined useful lifespan, similar to motorcycle helmets and other safety gear across many industries. So, why do car seats expire?
One reason is simply that they become outdated. The car seat industry is always innovating advanced technologies to ensure precious cargo is as comfortable and secure as possible. In turn, regulatory bodies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) consider these industry advances when forming their safety recommendations. This creates a moving target that eventually surpasses the specifications of older models as time goes on.
Another reason is the potential for environmental factors to degrade car seat materials over time. Everyday wear on components, like straps that stretch and loosen, are parts that need to fit a specific way to remain safe as originally designed. In addition, the sun can cause weathering and deterioration of plastics and other materials over extended periods of time.
Since every car seat is manufactured with different materials, technologies, and processes, there’s no universally accepted car seat lifespan. Many range from five to 10 years, but it’s ultimately up to the car seat’s manufacturer to say when its products expire—unless safety regulations require them to be taken out of circulation.
The date that your car seat expires depends on the type of seat, when it was manufactured, and its lifespan as determined by the manufacturer. This information is boldly displayed in several places on Chicco car seats to ensure that every user is well-informed. To find out when your car seat expires, look for the date printed on the underside of the car seat, the car seat base, on an adhesive manufacturer label, and on the product registration card.
No, there are no circumstances where you should use an expired car seat. Expiry of your car seat is one of the few situations that require total product replacement. However, there are ways to extend the use of your car seat. Whether you want to reduce normal signs of wear and tear to refresh your car seat for a younger sibling or you lost an essential component, many car seat manufacturers offer a range of replacement parts and upgrades for their models.
According to the NHTSA, a car seat should be replaced when it has been involved in a moderate or severe crash. However, not all crashes are considered moderate or worse. A crash may be minor if all of the following are true:
- The vehicle was drivable after the fact.
- The nearest vehicle door to the car seat was undamaged.
- No passengers were injured.
- No airbags deployed.
- The car seat has no visible damage.
While NHTSA does not have recommendations against using a car seat that was involved in a minor accident, they do recommend that users always follow the car seat manufacturer’s instructions—which may differ from their advice. At Chicco, we recommend never using a car seat that has been involved in any car crash, including minor ones. This is because the car seat could sustain unseen damage that could impact its integrity and ability to protect your child in a future accident.
If your car seat has expired or was involved in an accident, it's important to stop using it and throw it away. Don’t ever donate or give an expired car seat to another user. When disposing of an expired car seat, there is a small checklist to prevent use by others.
Remove the harness straps and seat cover, write “DO NOT USE - EXPIRED” in permanent marker on the frame, and wrap the seat in a black plastic garbage bag. Then, follow local ordinance for disposing of child car seats.
Typically, there is a program for accepting them through your local disposal and recycling center. Or find out if big-box retailers in your area have car seat trade-in or recycling programs.
Finally, purchase a new car seat based on your child’s age and weight.
While registering products can seem like just one more thing on your mile-high list when you’re preparing for life with a baby, it is actually very useful. When you register your Chicco car seat online, you’ll automatically receive important product recall and safety notices, providing you with peace of mind that your car seat is functioning as it should. As an additional step, you can sign up through the NHTSA to receive email alerts from all manufacturers about car seat and booster seat recalls.
If you have additional questions about car seat expiration dates, we’re here to help you find the information you need. Visit our Baby Talk blog for the latest resources on all things car seats, or contact our team of certified child passenger safety technicians for assistance.
Our customer service team is available via email at email@example.com, through the chat system on our website, or by calling 1-877-4CHICCO Monday through Friday from 8AM to 5PM Eastern.