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How long do car seats last? Well, physically, if kept in dry conditions, out of the sun they might last many years indeed, but that doesn’t mean you should keep using them, or hand yours on to other parents, because the recommended expiration date for a car seat in Australia is 10 years.
This will come as news to a lot of people who probably assumed that, not being made of milk, car seats wouldn’t have an expiry date.
(Interestingly, the expiry date for car seats differs from country to country - in the US it’s just six years.)
On the plus side, anyone who is still having children 10 years after they had the first one, and invested in their first car seat (and first time around, people tend to go brand new, because they’re excited/paranoid about safety), is clearly living in the 1930s, when everyone had half a dozen kids.
So you really should only need two or three car seats to get you through the parenting of small children years, depending how many kids you have.
The key thing to note, of course, is that the car seat expiration is a recommendation, not an Australian law, or even a NSW law. No policeman ever, not even the most fastidious highway patrolman, is going to pull you over and demand to know how old your child seat is.
As the people at Infasecure point out: “The 10-year timeframe is not law, it’s not mandated in the Australian Standard, and it’s not enforceable – it’s something that the industry loosely agreed upon, and is generally used as a best-practice guideline.”
But it’s a recommendation for a reason, and one that’s wise to listen to. Largely it’s about common sense - child restraints and baby capsules are built to last a long time, but shouldn’t be used indefinitely.
For a start, much like cars, child seats are constantly improving in both construction and safety. A child seat from 10 years ago simply isn’t going to be as good, or as well designed, as a new one.
Indeed, 10 years ago, Australians were not using the far superior ISOFIX seats that are so common now, because they were illegal in this country until 2014. And trust us, you really want an ISOFIX child restraint for your children.
Then there’s the fact that wear and tear is obviously going to be an issue with anything that your children use regularly, particularly over a decade.
Kids are hard on gear, just have a look at how fast they go through shoes.
There’s also the issue of what the experts call “material degradation”, which is slower and more passive. But consider that a child seat is going to be kept in a a car where the temperatures cycle - depending where you live - from below zero to more than 80 degrees celsius.
The plastics and impact foams in the seat simply aren’t going to be as robust after 10 years as they were when the restraint was new, partly because they've been cooked each summer. Harnesses and tethers can also stretch or weaken over that period of time.
So how do you know how old your seat is?
Some companies, like Infasecure, start their warranty from the Date of Purchase, so if you’ve got the receipt you’ll know that, but it’s far more common amongst child restraint manufacturers - like Safe and Sound, Meridian AHR, Steelcraft, Britax and Maxi-Cosi - to state that the usable life of a child seat expires 10 years after the Date of Manufacture (DOM).
You’ll find this DOM either stamped into the plastic shell of the product or on a clearly marked label affixed to it.
If you’re buying a child seat second hand, obviously it’s extremely important to check this date first.
Indeed, the people at Britax advise that you should not only not sell your restraint if it’s more than 10 years old, but you should “cut off all of the harness and top tether, cut the cover, remove or black out the serial number and manufacture date, and write ‘trash, do not use’ on the car seat shell.”
They really, really don’t recommend that you use them after 10 years.