Friday, March 2, 2012

My Child’s Car Seat Did What?!

It expired. Yes—expired. Says who? Well, the AAP, NHTSA, NTSB and IIHS—just to name a few (I know that was a mouthful: please see websites at the very end). I had actually heard this several years ago, but in speaking with some other moms recently, I was surprised that the information had not circulated as well as one would think…or hope. In general, a child’s car seat maintains its integrity for about six years, depending on the manufacturer (see more websites at the end!).

During these six or so years, the car seat is exposed to extreme temperature changes and the plastic can become compromised. It can partially melt then re-harden. The reaction of the seat in a collision can be unpredictable past the expiration date. This applies to all child seats from infant carriers to booster seats.

When my son was born, I wanted to select the car seat that was rated the absolute safest. And darn it, the “safest” ones always seemed to be the pricier ones. Even though I knew that all car seats had to pass the same safety test, I was willing to spare no expense to buy the one that popped up at the very top of the “safest car seat EVER” list. The rationale was that I was getting two seats for the price of one. I fully planned to reuse that seat for my second child. Well, that second child did not show up until six and a half years later (through no fault of her own).

Just as I was dusting off that pricey six-year-old best car seat EVER, I heard the news. Your car seat has expired. Throw it away. Don’t sell it, don’t donate it. Just throw it away in the trash. Oh, and be sure to destroy the seat first by slashing the seat cushion and cutting the straps. And maybe take a sledgehammer to it a couple of times. This will ensure that no one will claim the perfectly good car seat sitting on the curb and endanger a child.

After hearing such a claim about an expiring car seat, I assumed it was a marketing ploy created by car seat manufacturers to force parents to buy more car seats that they didn’t really need. I’m certainly not the only one that felt this way. I was more than a little skeptical, until I saw this.

So part of me thinks – hey! In my day, kids used to ride unrestrained in the car. We were completely free to move about the cabin and we lived to tell the tale! Then the other part of me knows there’s only one way to see if my expired car seat will withstand the impact of a crash without causing harm. Am I willing to take that chance?

I’m really not. Times have changed and we parents have to keep up with the advances in child safety, right?

How do you know if your seat is expired? You probably should not use the sniff test. Some seats are actually stamped with the expiration date. If not, try to locate the manufacturer’s label (usually on the bottom) and take note of the date the seat was produced. Not all manufacturers have the same duration of “freshness”, so find your particular car seat brand’s web site (see below) or call the toll free number if you need additional information. Can’t we at least recycle these expired car seats, you ask? It depends. The best thing to do is contact your local fire department or police station to ask if they have such a program. You can also contact your local recycling facility.

The fact of the matter is that this is not a legal issue. You will not get a ticket if you are driving around with expired car seats. It’s really more about what you choose to do with the information. I, for one, chose to post an fyi on Craig’s list. I know I saw some of those car seat styles around back when legwarmers and neon were popular. I received several “thank yous” from people who had no idea. I received even more “something else-yous” from people who were trying to sell expired car seats.

Maybe I’m falling for a scare tactic. Maybe I’m gullible. I don’t know…but I do know I don’t really push the date stamped on a gallon of milk or a pound of meat. I’d rather take their word for it, even if it does pass the sniff test. Craig's Listers, eBayers and garage sale hosts will surely dislike you, but spread the word anyway.

Related websites:

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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