Using an expired car seat. Findings and thoughts.

Britax Marathon 70-G3 Convertable Car Seat
Non-expired car seat photo for eventual contrast. You can click it to buy the amazing cowmooflage car seat from Amazon

Baby M’s growing, and about to burst out of her Graco Snugrides that our friend loaned to us, so we’ve been looking for some larger seating for our rapidly expanding baby and also looking to save a bit.

Dad managed to find some car seats, they turned out to all be expired, and that got me to researching whether using an expired car seat was mildly bad or extremely bad.

It sort of depends on your definitions. Well, that and where you live. However if you want to skip the article, get a non-expired car seat – it’ll save you money when you get pulled over the first time and allow you to sue in the event of a car seat failure.

Is using an expired car seat moral?

So, first thing you should realize is the expiration dates are usually date of manufacture plus five to seven years. At eight years the seat will not spontaneously erupt into flame killing you and everyone you love, however the manufacturer will only guarantee their plastic and nylon and whatever else will be solid and strong for that amount of time under most conditions.

At a little over two years after expiration it’s assumed that plastic and nylon may start wearing. Whether this wear is minimal, or extreme because you sit the carseat in the blazing sun in Arizona and in Minnesota in winter, depends on you.

Your initial expiration window is probably the manufacturer’s covering their ass. At a year or two past that it’s potential plastic breakdowns based on use. You can be the judge of whether or not you want to risk having a potentially stressed piece of plastic fail causing the seat to unlock and fly free.

As a note, I did a pretty lengthy review of plastic stresses after something that had been sitting around made of the same basic plastic as a car seat spontaneously broke. OK, more a why do things expire, but you get the picture.

I can’t calculate the cost of a newish car seat vs the cost of having to work more hours so you’re now a tired driver with an infant in a new car seat. One of those paths they’re restrained better, the other you’re more likely to be exhausted and get into an accident. You do the math.

At expiration plus five years… really, have you had plastic for ten years and seen what that looks like? I’m a guy who reuses everything until it breaks and I wouldn’t do +5 on a restraint system.

Here’s the problem though, without doing an x-ray of the plastic and an elasticity test, there’s no real way to determine if the seat still is useful at all. Some bloggers suggest taking these into fire stations for review, but that ain’t gonna work unless they’ve got really high tech testing gear. Hint: you need to x-ray for microscopic cracks and test the elasticity of all the components and check the restraint weaves for fraying.

So you may guess here I’m strongly leaning toward not using an expired car seat, but there are more than potential safety reasons.

Is using an expired car seat legal?

This one’s an easy answer: maybe.

I looked around a bit and found, as I usually do, a lot of conflicting information from people who think they know the law. In this particular case you’re reading something from someone who admits he thinks he knows the law…

So, there are two or three states where it’s a moving violation. The rest it varies. Canada it’s evidently illegal.

Your options are that it’s flat out illegal and you’re getting a ticket, or that you fall into the category of having an improperly restrained infant and you get a fine or citation.

In the places I can find where it’s flat out illegal, the cost of the ticket is roughly the cost of a car seat.

Where it’s just an improper restraint violation, the cost of the ticket is generally half the cost of a car seat plus associated court fees.

And where the car seat has been involved in an accident where the seat failed they can pretty much write a running tally of what you’re guilty of.

So, financially you’re probably going to want to keep that expiration date relatively close.

What about booster seat expiration?

Booster seats are a different story. They contain no restraints, they just sort of lift a kid up a bit.

They do have an official expiration date, but even a mostly broken booster seat is probably not a hazard in a car crash.

You can get a ticket, you can be fined all to hell, but you’re probably not endangering a kid. I don’t know what police’s crackdown requests are on expired booster seats, but it’s not a particularly large safety issue, unlike an infant car seat.

However, keep in mind I’m just some dick on the internet telling you this. I make money when you buy stuff from my Amazon links, so feel free to buy this amazing looking zebra print booster seat to spite my assertions that an expired booster seat probably isn’t a hazard.

Wrap up

It’s a pretty easy thing to figure out. Financially it makes sense to keep a kid in a non-expired booster seat. You’re probably not going to harm them within a couple of years of expiration, but why bother?

One ticket and you’ve spent a large chunk. One accident and you’ve got a trail of tickets, fines, or worse yet an injured infant.

Full disclosure

Oh yeah, on a side note I make money on my own blog when I sell you car seats if you click my links. I’ll point that out here. I, and pretty much any other blogger dealing with car seats make money when you click links to awesome cow print car seats

So feel free to go out, find all the information you want about aged plastic safety and expiration dates being BS, and the chance that you’re going to be pulled over within the two to three year window in which you’d be using the expired car seat, and post it below.

Wrap-up again

If you’re interested in properly restraining your kiddo, check the manufacturer’s website for how-to videos, or drop by a fire station and they may have a safety expert on hand. They’ll probably tell you the same that using an expired car seat isn’t a good idea, but if they don’t I’d love to hear it.

I’ll point out that you probably ought to call ahead as those places tend to get abandoned rather regularly when there are fires, so the only person who might be qualified to look at your seat might be stomping on fires.

Also check out the AAA safety seat guide, it’s useful.