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Just how long do car seats last? If you have a newborn on the way, it’s critical to have an baby car seat all ready to go. Once you leave that hospital, you’re going to be on your own and you’ll need a car seat in order to get baby home. Sadly, infant car seats are not always affordable and some people are in a position where they need to find something second-hand.
Should You Buy a Second-Hand Infant Car Seat?
If you’ve just seen what could be the deal of the century on a baby car seat, your first reaction is probably going to be one of relief. After all, good car seats are not exactly cheap so saving good money on one is always preferable. The problem with this scenario is that every infant car seat has an expiration date so you’ll want to check this date out before you plunk down any money.
How Long Do Car Seats Last?
It seems strange that a car seat would have an expiration date, doesn’t it? It makes sense that food has an expiration date because it goes bad but a car seat isn’t food. So why do all infant car seats have expiration dates?
In most cases, a car seat will have an expiration date of between 6 and 10 years after the manufacture date. This is placed on the seat by the manufacturer to inform buyers. So if you’ve found the perfect second-hand car seat for your impending newborn, you need to check the expiration date. If it’s expired or close to the expiration date, it’s time to look elsewhere.
As to why baby car seats have any expiration date at all, here are some compelling reasons:
Changing Safety Standards and Technology
It’s really important that infant car seats are incredibly safe and secure. After all, you don’t want your baby to be sliding around in it as you drive and you definitely don’t want it to fail should your car be involved in an auto accident.
The problem with older infant car seats is that technology is always changing. There are new materials being produced that are stronger and more durable and new designs being patented. Older car seats may not have all of the safety features that new car seats have and this is one of the biggest reasons why infant car seats have expiration dates.
The Materials Don’t Last
Even though all infant car seats are made to be strong, safe, and durable, the materials they’re made from don’t last forever. For example, the plastic base, as tough as it might be when new, may develop cracks and fractures that render it unsafe for use. The belts and other soft materials may start to fray and become worn too.
It’s also worth remembering that most infant car seats take a battering over their lifetime. They are pulled in and out of cars and may even be thrown around in storage. They are also often exposed to both hot and cold temperatures in cars, which will degrade the materials.
If you’ve just found your perfect infant car seat and it’s close to the expiration date, you may seriously consider taking the risk. The problem is that much of the damage to the materials can’t be seen with the naked eye. Hairline cracks in the plastic may be too small to see and some damage may even be inside the capsule where it can’t be seen. The lesson here is that even if the car seat looks to be in good shape, it may not be safe.
Has it Been Recalled?
As with cars, baby car seats may be recalled to the manufacturer for a repair or replacement. This is often because the manufacturer has discovered a fault in testing and they want to minimize their legal liability by replacing the part.
The problem is that if you found a second-hand infant car seat, how do you know whether it has been the subject of a recall or not? If it has, how do you know if the owner honored the recall and took it to be repaired or modified?
Safety Testing Is Limited
Just as with cars, all baby car seats are extensively tested by the manufacturer. They are placed in cars and tested for safety during all kinds of collisions and accidents. The problem is that this safety testing is only viable for a certain time period — the six to ten years that is common.
If the infant car seat that you’ve found is outside of the date or close to it, safety testing will not have been performed beyond this date and so the risks to the safety of your baby increase.
Have You Thought About Replacement Parts?
There are always new infant car seat models on the market, just as with cars. For the new models, the replacement parts are easy to get but this will change with older models. You might think that you can replace a worn belt or buckle on an older second-hand infant car seat but there’s no guarantee that the replacement part will even be available.
Should You Buy a Second-Hand Car Seat?
Baby car seats have expiration dates for very good reasons. The safety and security of your child should be your first priority and many second-hand car seats won’t offer the same kind of protection. So what should you do if you can’t afford a top-of-the-line car seat and you’ve found one online or a friend is giving you one?
The first thing that you absolutely need to do is check the expiration date. This is typically stamped somewhere underneath the seat on the base or on the sides. If there’s still plenty of time on it and the seat looks to be in excellent condition, it is probably worth buying it. After all, you may not even need to use it for very long.
If you have a newborn and you’re planning on using the car seat for a number of years before he or she outgrows it, you are probably wiser to buy a new one instead.