In order to determine if the seat has expired, you will need to know the make (manufacturer) and model of the car seat, in addition to the model number and date of manufacture. If you are selling your car seat, take a picture of the labels where you find this information as it is easier than writing it down – and include these pictures in your post when you go to sell the car seat.
Model Name and Number: There will be a mailing-label size sticker somewhere on the car seat (often hard to find) that will give you the model number and date of manufacture along with the manufacturer’s name. There are other dates and labels on the seat that often confuse parents. The tag sewn into the harness straps often has a date on it–but the numbers on that tag are NOT the date of manufacture for the car seat. Likewise, there are large stickers on the sides of every car seat that discuss installation & height/weight guidelines – often these stickers have a tiny date at the bottom which is the date when the sticker was last revised, not the date of manufacture for the car seat.
Expiration Date: Most car seats expire after 6 years from the date of manufacture. If you can’t find an explicit expiration date printed anywhere on the seat (shown below), check the owner’s manual. When in doubt, the easiest thing to do is to call the manufacturer and ask them. Some seats have the expiration date imprinted in the plastic on the underside of the car seat. Look very carefully in a room with good lighting since it’s easy to miss in many cases. It will say something like “Do NOT use this car seat after December 2011.” Some car seats have the expiration date listed on the same sticker where you found the model number and date of manufacture.
Does the expiration date really matter?
Is this just a way for the car seat manufacturers to make more money? You wouldn’t give your kids milk that is beyond its expiration date, or medicine beyond its expiration date – so too, your child shouldn’t be riding in an expired seat. One of the main reasons seats expire is that they are made of plastic. Plastic becomes brittle and weak as it ages – two qualities you don’t want in a car seat that has to withstand severe crash forces. Therefore it’s important that the plastic is new enough that the car seat will be able to perform properly. Car seat technology also changes over the years. The car seats on the market today are much easier to install and operate than most of the car seats on the market 10 years ago.
Why do some car seats have a six year expiration date (from the date of manufacture) while others last as much as ten years?
The plastics used in these seats are different. The seat that lasts nine years may also have some steel reinforcement.
Is it okay to buy a seat that will expire soon?
If you are buying a rear-facing only seat (i.e. an infant carrier), it should have AT LEAST ONE YEAR of use left. If you are buying a convertible seat (rear-facing to forward-facing) it should have AT LEAST 2 to 3 YEARS of use left. Convertible seats are typically used for at least 2 to 3 years before kids are ready to transition to combination seats (car seats that start out as a 5 point harness and then turn into a booster) If you are buying a booster seat, it should last until your child is AT LEAST TEN YEARS OLD, since more than 50% of kids still need a booster at age 10.