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What is the shelf life of a car seat?

Car seat

Is that child’s car seat in your vehicle up to the task of safely shuttling your precious cargo on family vacations, summer activities and other destinations?

Several parents, grandparents and other folks responsible for transporting children who need a car seat don’t realize that car seats expire, says Ronda Lusk, RN, a community health coordinator with Via Christi Outreach and Prevention and the coordinator for Safe Kids Wichita Area Coalition.

The expiration date is typically six years from the date of manufacture. A visual check of a car seat often won’t tell you if it’s past its shelf life. You need to look for a date on the seat’s label or imprinted in the plastic of the car seat itself. If you can’t locate the date, look up the instruction manual for the car seat online or call the manufacturer.

While car seat makers build car seats to keep kids as safe as possible when used correctly, “they’re still made of plastic,” Lusk explains. 

“Think about how your plastic laundry basket will start to show signs of wear and tear. In car seats, that wear and tear may not be visible but it still breaks down. A car seat is used a lot, nearly every day, and it’s exposed to extreme weather conditions when you leave it inside a vehicle.

“We rely on this product to save our children in a crash, so we need to make sure it can withstand a crash. If it’s been used for a long time, it may not do that,” she warns.

If a car seat has ever been involved in a crash — even if a child wasn’t in the seat at the time or the car is still drivable, manufacturers will generally advise to replace it, as well. That’s why you need to be extra cautious about getting a used car seat. 

“The seat may look great, but you don’t know what that car seat has been through,” Lusk says.

Here are other car-seat related tips from Lusk and Safe Kids:

  • Register your car seat online with the manufacturer or use the registration card included when you buy the seat to be notified of any recalls or other important safety announcements.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping infants and toddlers in rear-facing car seats until they are at least 2 years of age or until they reach the maximum height and weight recommended for each car seat. 
  • Check your child’s car seat periodically to ensure it is appropriate for your child and that it is installed properly. If your child has outgrown a car seat, it’s OK to give it to someone you know as long as the car seat hasn’t expired, isn’t missing parts and hasn’t been in a crash.
  • If you have any concerns or questions about the proper installation of a car seat, have it checked by a certified child seat safety technician. Safe Kids Wichita Area Coalition offers car seat checks by appointments twice a month in Wichita. Call 316-689-5700 to schedule a check-up. Check for other locations that offer car seat inspections.
  • If the car seat your child is using has expired or if it’s no longer safe to use, dispose of it in such a way that it cannot be reused.  Safe Kids technicians use this method to get rid of an expired car seat: Remove the harnesses, straps and coverings from the seat, write “destroy” on the plastic housing of the car seat and divide the trashed pieces in separate dark garbage bags when you throw them away to prevent attempted reassembly. Periodically Target, Babies R Us and Toys R Us department stores will offer trade-in events to bring in used car seats for a discount coupon. Some communities offer recycling programs for car seats. There isn’t one in the Wichita area, however.
  • Never leave your child alone or unattended in a car.
About Amy Geiszler-Jones

A Wichita writer, Amy-Geiszler-Jones is a multi kind of person: She lives in a multigeneration household with multiple pets and she loves multicultural events, including ethnic dances.