What makes a car seat unsafe?

When you use a car seat, you trust that product to save your child’s life in an accident. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), when compared with seat belt use alone, a car seat can reduce the risk of injury in a crash by up to 82% for children. That is why you take extra precautions when shopping for a new car seat. You want to make sure you’re buying a car seat that meets federal safety standards, isn’t counterfeit, hasn’t suffered damage due to shipping or stocking and hasn’t been involved in a recall.

But even a car seat you have used for years without incident and initially satisfied all safety requirements when purchased might not be suitable for your younger child. This is because car seats do not last forever.

In this article: Britax Grow with You Clicktight Harness Booster Car Seat, Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat and Base and Graco Tranzitions 3-in-1 Harness Booster Seat

How long does a child need to use a car seat?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a child should be in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. Once they reach the top height or weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer, they should move to a forward-facing car seat. This is usually around age three, but height and weight actually determine when it is time to switch, not age. 

Similarly, your child should stay in a forward-facing car seat (with harness and tether) until they reach the top height or weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer. This will be roughly around age 7. Your child should then use a booster seat until the seat belt fits properly with the lap belt across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt across the shoulder and chest. This may be as late as age 12.

Why do car seats expire?

When a car seat is manufactured, it is not designed to restrain a child older than 12 years. For this reason, adequate testing isn’t performed to determine if a car seat is safe after 10 to 12 years. Typically, this only becomes a problem when you have multiple children using the same car seat throughout the years. It is safer to buy a new car seat for each child. Additionally, car seats may become unusable due to wear and tear, updated regulations and recalls. 

How long do car seats last?

If there is no visible damage and the car seat has not been involved in a moderate or severe accident, it should last around six to seven years. However, you should be aware that misuse and lack of care can shorten the lifespan of a car seat. It is important to understand that the seven years start when the car seat was manufactured, not when you purchased it. For this reason, most car seat manufacturers place an expiration date on the car seats they sell. This way, you know for certain when your car seat will expire.

Where can I find a car seat’s expiration date?

Car seat manufacturers want to be sure you know when your car seat expires. While each company may do this slightly differently, the two most popular places to look for an expiration date are on the bottom of the car seat or in the owner’s manual. Some companies merely provide the date when the car seat was manufactured (and you must do the math), while others will actually put an expiration date on the car seat.

How do I dispose of an expired car seat?

When you get rid of a car seat, you have a responsibility to make sure no one comes along and uses that car seat after it has expired. If someone is tight on finances and sees a car seat out with the trash, they may take it just to have one and unknowingly put their child’s life at risk. 

Before throwing out or recycling your expired car seat, cut through the straps so they cannot be used and write “Do not use – expired” in large letters on the seat in permanent marker. Another option is to ask a local big box store if they have a car seat recycling program.

Best car seats to buy

Baby-Kids-Best Britax Grow with You Clicktight Harness Booster Car Seat

Britax Grow with You Clicktight Harness Booster Car Seat

This two-in-one car seat grows with your child from forward-facing harness mode to a belt-positioning booster. The comfort pads keep your child’s neck from rubbing against the harness.

Sold by Amazon and Macy’s

Best Britax Allegiance 3-Stage Convertible Car Seat

Britax Allegiance 3-Stage Convertible Car Seat

The Britax Allegiance is a rear-facing and forward-facing car seat with a quick-adjust 10-position harness. The push-button latch connectors and built-in lock-offs facilitate installation. This model has a steel frame with side-impact protection for added safety.

Sold by Amazon, Buy Buy Baby and Kohl’s

Best Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat and Base

Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat and Base

This rear-facing car seat features two bubble-level indicators and spring-loaded leveling foot to ensure fast yet proper and secure installation every time. It is compatible with Chicco strollers and has an adjustable canopy for protection from the sun.

Sold by Amazon and Buy Buy Baby

Best Graco Tranzitions Three-In-One Harness Booster Seat

Graco Tranzitions Three-In-One Harness Booster Seat

Graco Tranzitions is a three-in-one car seat that takes your child from a forward-facing harness to a highback booster to a backless booster. The no-rethread harness system adjusts the headrest and harness in one motion for convenience. 

Sold by Amazon, Buy Buy Baby and Kohl’s

Best Chicco KidFit Two-In-One Belt Positioning Booster Car Seat

Chicco KidFit Two-In-One Belt Positioning Booster Car Seat

This forward-facing car seat has 10 positions to accommodate your growing child. The two cup holders fold away when not in use, and the double-foam padding and contoured seat provide additional support and comfort.

Sold by Amazon

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