Car seat expiry dates
Do car seats really expire? Or is it just a ploy to get you to buy more car seats and spend more of your hard-earned cash? Is your car seat going to spontaneously combust into a huge flaming ball of melting plastic come its expiration date? Probably not, but expiration dates on car seats are NOT something that should be ignored.
Whether you're a "seasoned" parent or new to the ball game, you've probably at some point heard that car seats have a limited life span and that many come with "expiration" dates. I bet you're thinking right now that it's all so completely ridiculous, right? How can a piece of plastic expire?! While it may seem like a far-fetched story spread by parents who wrap their kids in cotton wool, or car seat manufacturers trying to dupe you into buying more of their seats, you've got it wrong.
So what's tthe matter with using that car seat Aunt Martha gave you, the one your 13-year-old cousin Timmy used as a baby? A bit of plastic is a bit of plastic, right? Wrong. That "bit of plastic" holds the life of your child in it when they ride in the car. While it might look okay, how do you know it really is? The naked eye can only see so much. It's what you can't see that you have to worry about.
Has the car seat been under recall? How often and for how long has it been in the sun? Has it been in an accident? (Aunt Martha's last car got written off, but that seems to have slipped her mind -- that was 12 years ago, after all!) It seems that Aunt Martha has also forgotten the time cousin Timmy had gastroenteritis and she bleached the cover, shell and harness (which, incidentally, she also gave a spin in the washing machine, a tumble in the dryer and a quick ironing for good measure).
The problem with that car seat you were so kindly gifted is that although it looks like it is in pristine condition, it may not provide your child the very best protection that they need in an accident. Remember, you can be the best driver in the world, but you're not the only driver out there and, unfortunately, freak accidents do happen.
For the record, don't do what silly (but oh-so-thoughtful!) Aunt Martha did -- NEVER use harsh chemicals on a seat, (especially the harness). DON'T soak those straps overnight in a bucket full of good ol' Napisan or give that harness a spin in the washing machine or a ride in the dryer. And YES, you should replace your harness straps if you do any of these things or if they're starting to fray. Seatbelts aren't much good to us if they've been beaten and battered and are fraying (in fact, they're extremely dangerous), and so too are harnesses and car seats.
Most people probably think they're making a kind gesture handing down that cot, bouncer, clothing and, yes, that car seat to others in the family for their new bundle of joy or joy-to-be. For the most part it is a very lovely and kind gesture, but is also a gesture often made when totally oblivious to the dangers of using a geriatric seat.
Here's an analogy for you. Expired medications are not always dangerous, but do become weak and possibly ineffective after their "use by" date. Medication deteriorates over time. This deterioration may or may not be visible to your own two eyes, but it has deteriorated -- you can count on it. It may hurt you, it may not. The point is, you just have NO idea what's going to happen if you use that medication -- and the same can be said with car seats.
So how long are our beloved car seats "good" for? Some car seats are good for at least 10 years, while some manufacturers are a little on the (what's considered by some) conservative side, with recommendations to discontinue the use of and destroy seats between 5 and 8 years of age. By the way, the clock starts ticking from when the seat is manufactured, NOT from the purchase date. To find your manufaturing date, check the car seat's label.
I bet you're thinking that $230 you just spent on a car seat with a life span of 8 years is a bit too much, aren't you? Think of it like this. $230 divided by 8 = $28.75. That's $28.75 a year you're investing in a seat that cradles and protects your child in an accident. I've spent nearly that much on one "meal" for the family from McDonalds! And how much did that pretty stroller you rocked on up with at coffee group last week cost again?
So what is it that makes car seats "expire" in the first place? Well, there are a few factors that go in to this. One of them is wear and tear. The sun, the cold, the activity, poor storage, maybe even those oh-so-adorable but messy kids. I'll warn you now, do not give your toddler milk or crumbed chicken nuggets while he's in his car seat - don't ask me why, just learn from my mistakes. All of these things take their silent toll on a car seat.
Another thing that factors in to why seats have expiration dates, technology. Gone are the days of the lovely "T-Bar" (T-Shield) car seat. You know, had a big plastic/rubber T-shaped thing at the front, with a couple of straps over the shoulders and clicked in between kiddo's legs. While the cream of the crop in their own day, they've now been replaced by seats with 5- or 6-point harnesses and safety experts have expressed concern about how safe they really are. Rumour is it's because they can't be tightened sufficiently and there were concerns about injuries to the head, chest, throat and genitalia (of boys) in an accident. In fact, they don't even make them anymore and most of those seats still floating about are in fact "expired" or very near it.
And while we're on the topic of technology changing -- what about tether straps? "Tether whats?" Tether straps, those long dangly bits of webbing/belt at the back of the car seat with a hook on the end. While it has been mandatory for seats that conform to the Australian and New Zealand Standard to have upper tether straps for quite some time, this only became mandatory for forward-facing American restraints since 1999. European restraints, however, have yet to follow suit.
What's the deal on tethers? I won't go in to too much about it right now except to say that using your tether strap can save your child from receiving possibly life-threatening head injuries. This is, of course, if you use the seat and the tether according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Another example. Remember 17 years ago when your parents brought back that squishy, spongy foam booster from Aussie for your little brother to use? Believe it or not, they're now considered EXTREMELY dangerous. Yet we see plenty of people still using them.
Well, what's the fuss? The fuss is, that although the foam itself is not so likely to "deteriorate" (hey, it's still as comfy today as it was 17 years ago), trust me, you're not going to want your kid to be in one of these in an accident. In an accident, forces compress the spongy foam of the seat, which can cause one or more of several things to happen. Ejection? Submarining under the seatbelt or flying out of the darn thing all together. Abdominal injuries? Maybe a ruptured liver or spleen, or a broken spinal cord. Head or brain injury? Windshields, windows or doors do not play nicely with skulls.
One of the most common reasons you hear about why expiration dates exist in the first place is because plastic becomes brittle over time. Don't believe it? You try taking an axe to an old Evenflo Joyride (which by the way, are all expired) and see how it disintegrates in to many pieces (and flies up and hits you in the tooth!) with just one blow. It's quite frightening, actually.
Milk, eggs, bread, fruit and car seats -- all are only "good" for so long, but something doesn't have to grow fungus or stink the house out to "expire". Are "expiration dates" a cunning marketing tool to try and get anxious parents to buy more car seats? Or are they for real? You decide! Either way, parents should never feel guilty for unknowingly using an expired seat. Perhaps, though, this is a wake-up call for those who were previously oblivious to go down to the local baby store and put that car seat on layby!
This content was provided by certified
Safe2Go Technician Bonnie Smith. Visit www.childrestraintsafety.com for more information about correctly and safely installing your child restraint.