When consumers consider expiration dates, it’s usually in the context of things like prescription medication or food. Non-consumable products may have a useful life before they start to malfunction—like the television you just put out to the curb, or the washing machine that opted to vomit out your delicates—but rarely do they come with an end-of-life date stamped on them.
The exception: child car seats. Why do seats from Graco, Nuna, Britax, and others have expiration dates, and what happens if you ignore them?
According to Healthline, the primary reason a car seat has a shelf life is due to normal wear and tear. Car seats are subject to a lot of handling, from taking them in and out of vehicles to seat belts contacting the surface to soft interiors damaged by spills. Worse, sun exposure can eventually weaken the plastic over time. So can temperature swings when a seat sits idle in cars that experience freezing temperatures or baking summer months.
There’s not a lot of room for error when it comes to a child’s safety device, so rather than risk that cumulative wear compromising the integrity of the seat, manufacturers opt to caution consumers to dispose of them after a finite period—often six to 10 years from the date of purchase.
Because car seat standards can change, it’s also a good idea for parents to regularly upgrade anyway. That ensures they’re getting the best available protection for their child.
No patrol officer is ever going to ask to see the expiration date of a car seat when pulling you over, so adhering to the manufacturer's schedule is pretty much on the honor system. But if you opt to ignore it, you run the risk of a worn car seat providing less-than-optimal protection.
Expiration dates can be found on product web sites or under the seat. If you decide to hand down the seat to a relative after your child has outgrown it, make sure you’re still within the product’s recommended life span.