All parents have heard it, but not all believe it: car seats do have an expiration date.
But how is that even possible? Is it just another trick to make us buy an expensive item that could have been a perfect hand-me-down? And if you can’t pass one on to other parents, can you at least recycle it?
Car seat expiration date is not another marketing trick. After a few years of use, car seats become unsafe for kids even if they’ve never been in an accident. And it’s not just due to the wear and tear.
When and Why Do Child Car Seats Expire?
The main culprit for expiration are the plastic materials car seats are made of. These plastics are robust and durable. But in the case of even the mildest accident, the construction may sustain structural damage that isn’t obvious. As a result, child passenger safety may be compromised without you even being aware of it!
But it’s not just accidents that can pose a threat. A car seat basically lives in your car and has to withstand not only all the bumps on the road, but also the ups and downs of the elements. It lives through the roller coaster of temperatures, from extremely cold to extremely hot and back again.
Over the years, these swings will necessarily affect the seat’s quality, making the plastic far less resistant to cracks. Other materials will suffer too, including the foam that is used for padding and the metal parts that keep it all together.
To keep track of when your car seat is going to expire, you should look up the serial number. Make sure to also browse the web to double check that the model hasn’t been recalled.
Even if the manufacturer claims otherwise, the average lifetime of the product will be about six to ten years tops. However, if any accident happens, you should stop using this seat straight away, even if it looks absolutely healthy.
What to Do When My Car Seat Expires?
The easiest way to dispose of an old car seat is, obviously, to trash it. But that’s what I call solving a problem by creating a worse one.
A family with a single child will buy at least three car seats, from a rear-facing baby seat to a booster seat for older kids. Multiply that with the number of children in an average household, and you’ll get the picture. Many families will have to buy a dozen car seats before all of their kids grow up.
And that’s without counting in all the people who take care of your kid. Most grandparents will buy car seats too.
To make things worse, you can’t always reuse your older kid’s seat with a younger child or children. Nor should you donate it to charity when you are not 100% positive that it’s safe to use.
With this ginormous amount of plastics and other materials that take aeons to decompose in landfills, the big picture looks pretty gloomy.
So how about recycling?
Is There a Car Seat Recycling Program Near Me?
Unfortunately, there are only a handful of car seat recycling programs in the US. And there are even less car seat manufacturers who responsibly deal with their own products when they are no longer safe to use.
To my knowledge, the only such manufacturer in the US and Canada is Clek. You can ship their seat back to them once you stop using it. Granted, you’ll have to pay a $40 shipping fee, but you’ll get a gift card of the same value that you can then spend to buy another Clek seat.
Sounds like a great bargain, and I sure hope the other manufacturers will follow their lead.
How Do You Dispose of Old Car Seats If You Can’t Recycle?
If there isn’t a recycling program near you, you should just try to disassemble the car seat to get the recyclable or reusable parts. Those will be all metal and plastic parts. Note that it won’t be easy work. You’ll need a lot of tools and physical strength to take apart an item that was made to withstand a car crash.
Another option is to dump the item into the garage and wait for a car seat trade in program at Target or Walmart. These events typically happen in September, during the Baby Safety Month, or in April/May, around the Earth Day. More about each of them below!
The third and (alas) last option is to actually pay a hefty sum for your seat to be properly recycled to the last bit. TerraCycle, a company widely renowned for recycling even the trickiest items, has such an offer. They have teamed up with a bunch of brands from all walks of life. Among other things, they are partnering with Walmart and Target each year for their car seat trade in program.
Luckily, they are not only collaborating with brands and other companies. As an individual, you can also have them recycle just about anything. Just purchase one of their Zero-Waste Boxes, put the item inside, and send it to them.
You’ll have to pay for the box (which isn’t cheap) and the shipping, so it may not be a very wallet-friendly option. But seeing as there are not many such companies, they kinda have the right to dictate the terms and charge whatever they like.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use an expired car seat?
Many people think manufacturers are exaggerating with the short-ish expiration time. Or even consciously manipulating customers into buying the latest model! But when child safety is at stake, there can be no room for discussion. So the answer to this question is no, you shouldn’t use an expired car seat.
If the seat has been in an accident, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t use it. To find out if a seat is still safe, you need to know its full history. Check out this interactive questionnaire from Consumer Reports.
Is Walmart recycling car seats in 2020?
Sadly, it appears that Walmart won’t be having their recycling program this year. They used to offer a $30 off coupon toward your next baby seat.
Their last such event in September 2019 was a raging success, so I sure hope they will bring it back in 2021.
How often does Target do their car seat trade in?
Target also typically does it once a year. They used to organize their trade in events in late April or early May, but this year they did it in September.
You can trade your old car seat for a 20% off coupon that you can then use for any baby gear. And best of all, you can dispose of a seat even if it is severely damaged.
Should you buy a used car seat?
Many second-hand marketplaces do sell used car seats. However, that doesn’t mean you should buy one. Like I said above, even if it looks good, you can never be sure about its history. And the seller may be withholding important information from you, intentionally or not.
So, next time you consider getting a used car seat via Craigslist or eBay, think twice. If you can’t afford a new seat, at least find a friend or a relative who got theirs as a gift and didn’t use it much. And they’d better be a person you can trust!