When you spend hundreds of dollars on a car seat, you definitely want it to last! Fortunately, with a little research prior to purchase, you’ll find there are seats that will fit both your car and your budget.
With the right combo, you can realistically only buy two to three seats, for your child's entire life, without sacrificing safety. Three-in-1 seats can't do this because of harness heights and weights, but also because of one other factor not everyone knows, and some don't believe: Car seats expire.
Now, I know there are some conspiracy theories out there about how seats "don't actually expire" and that it's all just a ploy to get you to buy a new seat. I'm all about questioning the motives of companies, but in this situation, it's true. Your seat really DOES expire.
Materials deteriorate over time, especially plastic. Ever left a plastic toy shovel in the sun and see how it gets bleached, becomes brittle, or even cracked? The plastic that makes up your seat will do the same and weaken over time, especially if left in hot or very cold cars. Even in the best conditions, plastic just doesn't have a great lifespan. The harness can also develop elasticity that could allow more movement of your child's body than is safe, even when they're buckled in right. So car seat manufacturers take into account the average use and put that to the test to see approximately how much deterioration a seat can handle before it might have flaws that could risk your child's life.
This video is an expired seat malfunctioning in a crash test:
It's also important to remember that you can't always see damage or weak spots in plastic, so don't count on just a visual exam being safe. Expiration dates are given to car seats to protect the safety of your child.
In addition, every decade or so, there are major redesigns of car seats as we create better technology and learn flaws of past designs and find better solutions. A seat that was amazing 15 years ago could actually be considered dangerous now. For example, overhead shield seats once considered safe and protective are now known to cause trauma to the chest, head, and organs all on their own.
This is one of the many reasons never to purchase a used seat -- often, they're already close to expiration. Every car seat is different as well, but currently most are only rated for around 6-7 years, spare a few special ones. Read your manual. All the details are there.
When you buy a seat, check the Date of Manufacture (DOM). THAT is when the expiration clock starts, not when you actually purchase the seat. Buying from discount stores can sometimes get you seats that are over a year old, meaning you've lost a lot of usable time on the seat. It's important to check the DOM on a new seat to make sure it's worth the purchase.
If you have an expired (or damaged) seat, you have a couple of choices: Donate it to a fire department or car seat technician for training, take it to a recycling center, or cut the straps, break the shell with something like a sledgehammer, and trash it. DO NOT give it to consignment stores or sell it.
Do you know the expiration date on your car seats? Did you know car seats expire?
Image via o5com/Flickr