Your Car Seat Safety Questions Answered

by Rebekah Kubik

Your Car Seat Safety Questions Answered

From the car seat expiration dates to NHTSA guidelines, we answer your FAQs to keeping your baby safe on the go.

Car seats keep your child safe, right?  Not always.  Sometimes car seats can fail if not taken care of or disposed of properly when they have experienced too much wear, reached their expiration date, or been involved in an accident.  With each of these factors, a car seat’s ability to protect your child drops significantly. 

Sarah Tilton, the Child Passenger Safety Advocate for BRITAX Child Safety Inc., helped us answer the most important questions you need to know about keeping your child safe in her car seat.

How long can I use my child’s car seat?

Every car seat is different, so always read the user guide to find out the seat’s expiration date and other important information.  Most car seats last between five to nine years after they were manufactured (not necessarily after they were bought); that’s why it is important to check the user guide.  Most infant car seats are the same. 

You can also find the expiration date molded in the car seat or printed on the shell, along with labels listing contact information and other necessary safety information.

Why do car seats expire?

Safety standards change over time as safer technology is developed. Expiration dates not only alert you to the possibility that your car seat may be worn out, but they also provide an opportunity for you to buy a new seat that is safer for your child.

What makes one car seat last longer than another?

The type of materials used in a car seat effect the expiration date and how the seat will perform in a crash or wear over time. Depending on the type, the design, the kind of installation, and the materials used to make the car seat all affect how long the seat will last and how safe it is in a crash.

Is it ever okay for me to borrow a car seat or buy one used?

Borrowing or buying a second-hand car seat is not recommended unless you can, without a doubt, answer these four crucial questions:

  • Has this car seat ever been in a crash?
  • Are all the parts and pieces still attached to the car seat?
  • Are all the labels for proper use still affixed to the car seat?
  • Has this car seat ever been recalled?

If you cannot find the answer to these questions, or if the seat should fail in any of these areas, do not use or buy the seat.

How important is the instruction manual?

Always keep it or upload from the manufacturer’s website. It informs you of the expiration date, the recommended cleaning options, proper harness rethreading, correct installation and use as well as proper disposal methods.

If my car seat is involved in an accident, can I still use it?

Follow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s guidelines that recommend discontinuing use of a car seat if it has been in a moderate to severe crash.  You can keep it if the crash can be defined as minor, meaning it meets ALL of following criteria:

  • The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site.
  • The vehicle door nearest the child restraint was undamaged.
  • There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants.
  • The air bags (if present) did not deploy.
  • There is no visible damage to the car seat.

How do I know when to retire my car seat?

Car seats should be destroyed after their expiration date or if it has any missing or broken parts. The reason for destroying rather than just throwing it out is so that it will not be improperly used by an unknowing third-party who may then put a child’s safety at risk.

How do I dispose of my car seat? 

Before throwing the car seat to the curb, you should cut off all of the webbing, cut up the cover, remove or blackout the serial number and manufacture date and write “trash, do not use” on the car seat shell.

Are car seats recyclable?

Tammy Franks, the Child Passenger Safety Coordinator for The Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel, Portland, Oregon, also joined the discussion and informed us of the growing option of actually recycling your old or used car seat.  Some parts of the seat cannot be recycled, Franks says, such as the urethane foam and the fabric, but you can contact your local recycling agency to see what parts of the seat they will accept or try your local Child Passenger Safety state contact ( to see if they have additional information on recycling options and locations in your area.

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