Is It Illegal to Use an Expired Car Seat?

Did you know car seats have expiry dates? Since car seats help to keep children safe in vehicles, is it illegal to use an expired one?

It is not illegal to use an expired car seat for children. However, most child safety experts don’t recommend it. A car seat’s parts wear down over time, reducing their safety. Also, a car seat lasts between six and ten years, necessitating replacement after that time frame.

This article will explain whether it’s illegal to use an expired car seat. I’ll also tell you where you can find the expiry date on a car seat and how to check if a car seat is okay to use.

Expired car seats can have worn-out parts, decreasing the seat's ability to keep your child safe in a crash.

What Does the Law Say About Expired Car Seats?

If your car seat has reached or exceeded its use-by date, you may wonder if it’s legal to continue using it. After all, it can be a hassle to find a seat that’s similar to the expired one, especially if your car is an older make or model. So, will you be arrested if you use an expired car seat?

The law doesn’t say anything about expired car seats. Whether the car seat is still acceptable to use is entirely up to the parent. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents don’t use expired car seats as some of the safety features may no longer be in place.

As noted, children’s car seats usually have a lifespan of six to ten years from the date of manufacture before they officially expire. If you’ve bought a brand new one for your first child, you’ll likely still be able to use it for your next kid as long as there are no apparent defects.

Where Is the Expiration Date on a Car Seat?

Having a child is expensive, so it’s tempting to opt for cheap, used items for children like car seats. However, car seats help keep your child safe while driving, so it’s worth buying one that hasn’t expired. With that in mind, where is the expiration date on a car seat?

The expiration date on a car seat is on a sticker on the back or underneath the car seat. Sometimes, it’s also printed onto the car seat. The location of the car seat expiration date varies depending on the car seat brand, so if you can’t find the expiration date, consult the manufacturer’s website.

Some car seat brands don’t print the expiration date on the product. In that case, you’d need to note the serial number and then check the expiration date on the manufacturer’s website.

Other car seat brands don’t print the expiration date on the car seat at all. Instead, they indicate the manufacture date. When that’s the case, you’d then need to check the manufacturer’s website for the lifespan of your car seat.

Why Does a Car Seat’s Expiry Date Matter?

I’ve established that the law is silent on the expiration date of car seats, and it’s technically up to your discretion whether you’d continue to use such seats. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a standard expiry period for children’s car seats. So why does the expiry date matter then?

A car seat’s expiry date matters because it’s six to ten years after the manufacture date when the parts usually start becoming worn out. After this time, you can purchase newer car seats with improved safety features.

Over time, child car seat regulations change, and designs that were acceptable a few years back may not be up to current standards. For example, bodies like the AAA (American Automobile Association) regularly conduct crash tests with car seats and publish their findings and recommendations.

As long as you buy a new car seat from a reputable brand, you don’t need to worry because the major car seat brands are usually compliant with safety standards and use only the most up-to-date safety features.

How Do I Know if a Car Seat Is Safe to Use?

If your car seat has expired, you might wonder if it’s still safe. Do car seat manufacturers operate like electronic device manufacturers, who set planned obsolescence dates for the products they put out? How can you tell if a car seat is okay to use?

Here’s how to know if a car seat is safe to use:

  • The harness fits securely around your kid
  • The harness doesn’t shift in place
  • The car seat is the right size for your child
  • There are no signs of wear and tear
  • There are no missing parts
  • The car seat hasn’t been in an accident
  • The car seat hasn’t been recalled

The Harness Fits Securely Around Your Kid

If a car seat is safe, you can fit the harness securely (but not too tightly) around your child. This keeps your child from sliding out of the car seat and getting injured in a car accident. However, over time, the harness can stretch and become loose.

When the car seat harness loosens, you may no longer be able to adjust it securely. In that case, you should stop using the car seat and buy a new one.

The Harness Doesn’t Shift in Place

A safe car seat remains fixed in place and shouldn’t wobble around when your child is buckled into it. If your child’s car seat shifts around slightly, it’s likely it’s not the right design for your car and isn’t as safe as it could be. That’s why organizations like the AAA recommend testing a new car seat in your vehicle before buying it.

The Car Seat Is the Right Size for Your Child

When shopping for car seats, you’ll notice that they come in various sizes according to the child’s age. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) advises parents to use a car seat for their child’s age group to maximize its safety and effectiveness.

Otherwise, your child may slide out of a car seat that’s too large, or won’t be adequately protected by one that’s too small. 

There Are No Signs of Wear and Tear

Although there aren’t any laws about using expired car seats, it’s worth noting that after six years to a decade, the parts wear down, become brittle, or get sun-damaged, making them less safe. Any obvious signs of wear and tear in the car seat should be a red flag to you.

In particular, look out for the following signs:

  • Fraying or loose harness
  • Buckle not clicking into place correctly (or having to try a few times before the harness clicks into place)
  • Discolored plastic parts
  • Cracks or tears
  • Foam coming out of the upholstery

If you see any of these signs, the car seat’s safety features have likely weakened. It’s best not to risk your child’s safety and buy a new car seat instead.

There Are No Missing Parts

Every car seat part plays a vital role in ensuring your child’s safety. If there’s even one missing part, there’s a good chance the car seat won’t be able to protect your child in the event of a crash. Luckily, you don’t have to be a car seat expert to check for missing parts.

For example, you can consult the user manual. If you don’t have a physical copy, you can always download from your car or car seat manufacturer’s official website. The user manual should have a diagram labeling all the car seat’s parts. Compare it with your car seat, and check if anything is missing.

The Car Seat Hasn’t Been in an Accident

You should also not use any car seat that’s been in an accident, as it may have been damaged and have a diminished ability to protect your child from potential accidents. Car seats usually don’t show signs of damage after a crash because the damage could be internal.

For example, there may be hairline cracks inside the car seat you might overlook. The only way to check for internal damage is to open up the car seat.

Instead of risking your child’s life, it’s better to be safe and buy a new car seat after a crash. Most reputable insurance companies are willing to replace a car seat after an accident. Make sure you check with your insurance company first, though.

The Car Seat Hasn’t Been Recalled

When a product or any of its components is deemed unsafe, it’s usually recalled by the manufacturer. In the case of a car seat, it’s usually recalled because it’s part of a defective batch during manufacturing, rendering it unsafe for kids.

The manufacturer’s website should be the first thing you should check to see whether your car seat has been recalled. The site may require you to enter the car seat’s serial number to request that kind of information, so have this handy.

In Conclusion

It’s not illegal to use an expired car seat, but it’s also not recommended. Expired car seats can have worn-out parts, decreasing the seat’s ability to keep your child safe in a crash.

You can usually find the expiry date on a sticker underneath or behind the car seat. If you can’t find the expiration date, you can check the manufacturer’s website using the car seat’s serial number.

If you decide to continue using an expired car seat, make sure to check for the signs I’ve outlined above.

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