While it is not unreasonable to think in this new day and age how companies and legislation are only used in the perpetual hunt for your wallet, in this specific case, it is not the truth. We need to throw away the misconception that child car seats can last forever until they tear, as that tearing can come during an accident, which is the exact thing we are trying to prevent.
In fact, the average time one child car seat can safely function is six years. This obviously doesn’t mean that it is useless the moment this period passes and there are even seats where the manufacturer guarantees the safety and reliability of the seat up to ten years. However, once you are nearing the end of the seat manufacturer guarantee, you should start thinking about replacing the seat altogether.
If you are a first-time parent, and you have bought a new seat, you will probably never have to check the date on the seat, as your child will outgrow it much faster than the materials inside it start to lose. The problem comes if you have multiple children, of different ages, and you would prefer not to spend the already tight budget on more seats, or you think about getting one second-hand.
In both of these cases, you will need to be vigilant and to check if the seat is still good for use. You should never let the seat be used more than six months after its expiration date and can calculate when buying if this will be a safe, reliable, and affordable option for you. Buying a second-hand seat twice is more expensive than buying a new one once, especially if you can resell it.
Safety Seat Life Cycle
There are multiple reasons why a car seat becomes less reliable the more time pass, but the shortest explanation is material fatigue. Not to get all science, the material in the latches, the harness and the seat itself becomes decomposed on the molecular level or becomes oxidized, making it prone to crumbling or breaking, which becomes most evident when the material is under a lot of stress, like in an accident.
This is why even when the seat may look good and there are no visible tears, it is still unsafe to use. There were multiple crash tests that have proven that using expired safety seats can make them not only useless as a safety precaution but even more dangerous once the seat is left to age for a long time. When determining exactly how long can a car seat last we first need to know about which type of seat are we talking about?
The shortest lifespan of all safety seats is for ones that are used the shortest, meaning the rear-facing car seats for toddlers and infants, as they have the base that starts to crumble quickly after the six-year period has expired. Some manufacturers do offer longer warranties, but judging from the test you should opt to be on the safer side and not to use these seats for too long.
Not that the manufacturers are not trustworthy, but a lawsuit about your child’s safety seat not working is not one you want to have. The medium length of usage is provided by the forward-facing car seat with a harness. These child restraint seats are somewhat sturdier and can last a bit longer if they are in good condition, but you should start thinking of replacing them once the warranty period is over.
The only type of seat that can be used in vehicles for much longer than marked by the warranty and still ensure child passenger safety is the belt-positioning booster seat for older kids, as it has no moving parts and the biggest danger becomes the lack of comfort for the child. When deciding whether the seats need to be changed, just check if the child is using the seat belt properly, is the lap belt over the lap and the top belt straight over the chest and if those two requirements are met it is okay to use the belt-positioning booster seat.
How To Tell Your Seat Has Expired?
Being a general after the battle is unacceptable once you are a parent. You need to be informed in advance and to know what will happen, in which way, and when. Checking in advance the manufacturing date on your child’s safety seat will protect both your budget and much more importantly, your child.
To know if your safety seat has expired, you have several options, depending if you have bought a new seat or if you chose to buy a used seat. If you have opted for a second-hand safety seat, it is important to go down the list of what may be lacking in the seat, and if the seat passes, it is good for use. First of all, you should do a quick stress test. In rear-facing car seats, attach the seat to the base, secure it, and then shake it with moderate force to see if the attachments are sturdy.
If you don’t know the person you are buying the seat from, this may be a great tell, even if the seat is in warranty by the manufacturer, as misuse and bad storage can significantly lower the life of a seat. It should be noted that inadequate attachments are not a direct safety risk for the majority of accidents, but there should be no reason for you to buy a safety seat that is not able to endure everything it is meant to. Playing with your odds is not a prudent move for a parent and you won’t be saving any money doing it.
The second step is to check the harness and to see if the straps are solid, that they haven’t torn in any spot and that they can take a firm pull from different angles. This is the same test you should do on the safety belts when buying a used car, as this is usually not a visible problem, but one that becomes very evident at the worst possible moment.
The last step, even if the seat has no visible problems, is checking the sticker to see if the seat is still under warranty, and for how long. There are multiple reasons why you shouldn’t ever buy a seat that has passed its warranty, primarily safety reasons, but in many states, it is also a legal issue if you are driving your children in an inadequate seat.
If you have bought a new seat, and have kept it in good condition, you should only take care of the last step, and take a new seat if you need it once the old one has expired. The only seat where it is possible to use perfectly, no matter the age, is the booster seat that relies only on the belts of the vehicle. In this case, if the seat is in a visibly good condition, it is comfortable to your child and provides the boost in height that your child needs, it is good to go.
Legalities and Precautions
We have mentioned the legal issues in some states where it is illegal to use a safety seat that has passed its warranty. The penalties vary from state to state and most police officers will use common sense to determine if you are putting your child in danger, but this is something that you will want to avoid.
To offer some general advice, be kind to the police and highway patrols, they are just doing their job, and in the same way, you don’t want someone making your life difficult at your job, try not to make their life difficult in theirs. In this case, you will find that if your seats look good, and you are not being a reckless driver, the officer will never force you to prove that your safety seat is up to regulation.
On the off chance that you have stumbled at someone who wants you to pay for the behavior of the person that came before you, you should have the warranty papers in your car drawer. This is much easier than disconnecting the seat to turn it over so to show the sticker.
Disposing Of Your Car Seat
To be fair, most communities have a recycling system where you will be able to sensibly dispose of your car seat in a responsible and sensible manner and it is only appropriate to find and contact such a service in your vicinity. While this is very commendable, it is also very boring. There is also a boring and irresponsible way of disposing of your safety seat is just to throw it away, as someone could mistake the seat for usable and thus put their children in danger.
The officially responsible (and also fun) way to dispose of the seat is to split it in half. Break the plastic shell of the seat with a hammer, maybe using a chisel, and then saw through the middle with a saw or a similar blade. If you have a hobby with a strong emphasis on demolition, maybe you can use that to split open the seat. The limit is your imagination, the only important bit is that at the end of the day, the seat is visibly unusable to anyone.