Expired Car Seats: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on December 06, 2023
10 min read

As a parent, you'd never intentionally feed your child expired food or give them expired medication. But did you know that car seats have an expiration date? Many parents are surprised to learn that their child's car seat expires and wonder what they need to do to keep their child safe in the car.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about expired car seats, including how to tell if your car seat is expired, what to do with expired car seats, and more.

If you deliver your baby in a birthing center or hospital, you'll need to buy an infant car seat before your little one is born so you're ready for the ride home. Infant car seats are made specifically for small babies, from birth up to 22-35 pounds. The maximum weight and height depend on the model. As your baby grows, you'll need to buy bigger car seats to accommodate their height and weight.

One of the most important infant car seat requirements is that they are tested to meet federal safety standards in the event of a 30-mph crash. Car seats should always be placed in the backseat of the vehicle and never in the front near an airbag.

There are different types of infant car seats, but no matter which model you choose, your infant needs to be rear-facing. This means that the seat is positioned so that the baby's back is facing you. This helps protect their head, neck, and spine in case there is an accident. There are three types that you can choose from, all of which have a protective harness.

  • Rear-facing only car seats. These infant car seats are made for small babies and newborns, and the seat is usually portable. This way you can use the seat as a carrier or stroller, and the base stays in the car. These are also called travel systems. Babies usually outgrow these models around 1 year of age.

  • Convertible seat. This type of a car seat is one that can grow with your child. When your baby is an infant, the convertible seat is rear-facing. Once your child is old and big enough, it can be flipped so that it faces forward and is equipped with a harness and tether. These seats usually aren't portable and stay in the car.

  • All-in-one. These are bigger seats that adjust as your child grows. They start out rear-facing, can be flipped forward, and then converted into a booster seat. These seats are bulky, so they usually aren't taken from one car to another. These seats do allow children to stay rear-facing for longer because they are bigger, allowing for extra protection.

Once you've picked out a model that works for your car and lifestyle, read the labels carefully. It's important to note that just because a car seat is expensive doesn't mean it performs better than a cheaper model. They are all held to the same safety testing standards. You can find affordable seats, so avoid buying a used seat if possible because there's no guarantee that all the parts are intact and working correctly.

If you can, try a few different car seats in your car to see which models and styles fit best. Some retailers can help you with this.

How to install an infant car seat

Now that you've got your infant car seat, the next step is installing it correctly. Read the user manual carefully because there are two ways that these car seats can be installed: either with a seatbelt or a LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system. The LATCH system offers attachments that keep the car seat in place instead of a seat belt. Depending on your car, the LATCH system might be easier to use.

Installing with a seat belt. The first step is to place the car seat in the back, facing the rear. Studies show that the safest place is in the center, away from the side doors. Then, pull the seat belt all the way out so that it locks. Weave the seat belt through the car seat's belt path, making sure that the belt stays flat and doesn't get twisted. Once the seat belt is through, buckle it and give it a test pull to make sure that it's locked.

After the seat is in place, push down on the car seat's base and tighten the belt. The seat shouldn't be able to move more than an inch in any direction. Next, adjust the reclining angle so that the car seat is semi-reclined. This keeps your baby's airway open. After that, attach the car seat to the base.

Using the LATCH system. If you choose to use the lower anchors, start by putting the car seat base in the back of your vehicle. Look for the lower anchors, which should be where the seat cushions meet. Sometimes, the attachments are located behind the seat (in a sedan) or on the ceiling or floor (minivans, trucks, and SUVs). Almost all cars made after September 1, 2002, come equipped with a LATCH system.

Once you've found the lower anchors, connect the lower attachments on the infant car seat base. Press down on the base to tighten the straps, making sure that they aren't twisted. Just like with a seat belt, make sure that the car seat base can't move more than an inch in any direction and recline it so that it's in a semi-reclined position. Lastly, attach the carrier to the car seat base.

An expired car seat is a car seat that's too old to be used safely. The expiration date on a car seat varies by manufacturer—typically 6-10 years from the manufacturing date—but all car seats expire eventually.

How long is a car seat good for?

To find out if your car seat is expired, you can check your car seat for a label or printed area that lists the car seat date of manufacture. Some car seat models have a longer lifespan due to steel reinforcements or other features, and these seats will likely list an exact expiration date. If your car seat has no expiration date listed, consider it expired 6 years after the date of manufacture.

If you're unsure about your car seat's expiration date, you can call the manufacturer to help you determine if your car seat is expired.

Car seats undergo extensive testing to guarantee protection in an accident. But there are limits to the manufacturer's guarantee beyond a certain date due to several factors, including:

Wear and tear on materials. Your child's car seat is made of many different materials, like fabric, webbing, plastic, and padding. All of these materials break down and weaken over time. Car seats are exposed to extreme temperatures, sunlight, and extensive wear. You probably use your car seat more than almost any other piece of baby gear you own. All of these factors contribute to the breakdown of the materials in the car seat.

Expected lifespan. Car seats are only tested to withstand their expected lifespan. Once your car seat has passed its expected life span, there's no guarantee that it's still safe to use. After this period, there may be hidden damage to the car seat that you can't see, like internal parts that are broken or missing.

Improved safety standards. Car seats have been around—although not necessarily safe—since the 1960s, but it wasn't until 1985 that using them became mandatory in all states. Since then, car seats and car seat recommendations have been updated many times. As technology and data improve the safety of car seats, safety standards change. Old car seats that have passed their expiration date may not conform to the latest safety standards.

Injuries from car accidents are a leading cause of death among children, and expired car seats may not protect your child in the event of a crash. Because of this, expired car seats are not considered safe and should not be used. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents not to use a car seat past its expiration date or 6 years from the date of manufacture if the car seat has no expiration date.

Following all safety guidelines for car seats can reduce severe and fatal injuries in children by as much as 80%.

Parenting is expensive, and kids use an average of three car seats before switching to standard seat belts. It can be tempting to use an expired seat you already have to save money. Many parents have friends or family members who don't believe in car seat expiration dates and think they're being scammed into buying new seats unnecessarily.

But riding in the car is the most dangerous thing most children do every day, and there are very serious safety concerns around using expired car seats.

There's no specific rule about how often you should replace your child's car seat. Instead, you should consider issues like:

Your child's size. Rear-facing infant seats have a height and weight limit. Even if your child is under the weight limit, they may reach the height limit. You should check both to ensure your child isn't too big for their car seat.

Your child's age. When your child reaches 1 year of age, they're better off in a rear-facing convertible seat, even if they're still within the height and weight limits of a rear-facing infant seat.

Car accidents. Although you can still use a car seat that's been in a minor crash, you should replace a car seat that was in a car during a moderate or severe crash. If any of the following happened, dispose of your car seat and replace it:

  • The vehicle had to be towed from the crash site
  • Any passengers were injured
  • The door closest to the car seat was damaged
  • Airbags deployed
  • The car seat was visibly damaged

Expiration date. If your car seat has passed its expiration date, discard it and replace it with the one that's appropriate for your child.

Recalls. After you buy a car seat, you should register it with the manufacturer so you'll be notified in the event of a recall. If you didn't register your car seat, your contact information has changed, or you want to double-check, you can check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website for recalls.

Visible damage. Examine your child's car seat for cracks, loose parts, worn or damaged straps or fasteners, or other signs of visible damage. If you see any, go ahead and replace the car seat even if it's not expired.

Expired car seats are unsafe, so you should never donate them or pass them on as hand-me-downs.

If you throw the entire car seat in the garbage, be sure to cut the straps or remove them and dispose of them separately so the car seat can't be reused. Consider disposing of your expired car seat in a black trash bag to reduce the chances of someone taking it to use.

Car seat recycling

Some local recycling services take car seats, but access varies by area. Some major retailers and organizations host trade-in programs at select times of the year where they accept car seats in any condition for recycling.

You may be able to recycle an expired car seat at a local recycling facility by separating the components:

  • Cut off all foam padding, straps, and fabric.
  • Use a screwdriver to remove as much metal as possible.
  • Discard the fabric, foam, straps, and mixed metal/plastic pieces.
  • Mark the plastic base as unsafe.
  • Recycle the remaining plastic and metal pieces in the appropriate bins.

Car seat protectors are devices that are designed to keep your car's original fabric clean and tear-free. There are tons of options available on the market. They come in a variety of materials and patterns. Some people want them for comfort and style, while others just want their seats safe from messy kids.

Many of them have thick, comfortable padding that's great for older kids and adults. Some of them are designed to tightly grip your seats, while others have a looser fit. You can even improvise and use blankets or towels as seat protectors. Lots of different manufacturers produce their own car seat protectors, so they can vary in terms of quality. You'll want to shop around to find the one that's right for your car.

But most car seat protectors are not recommended for use with any type of car seat. If you don't have any kids or if they've outgrown their booster seat, then you just need to pick a seat protector that fits your car's make and model. But you're going to need to do a lot more research if your kid is still in a car or booster seat.

Do car seat protectors affect child passenger safety?

Most car seats come with specific warnings about the use of any products that interfere with installation. A faulty installation could cause the seat to fail safety standards or reduce its performance in a crash.

In the world of car seats, car seat protectors are usually considered an aftermarket product. These products are made by a different company than your car seat and haven't been safety-tested with your seat.

You should never use aftermarket products like these with your car seat. Car seats need to meet specific federal safety standards and go through things like crash tests. Aftermarket products rarely undergo this testing.