Two car seats lay on a studio table.

All car seats, ranging from infant to toddler booster seats, come with an expiration date. But where can you find this information, and what should you do once the car seat does expire? Our expert team has tested car seats, done the research, and provided all the need-to-know facts in this comprehensive guide.

Safety should always be your primary concern when looking at new or used car seats. Buying second-hand can save a lot of money, but you need to know when the car seat was manufactured and if its expiration date is approaching, as well as whether the seat has been in any accidents.

An Overview Of Car Seat Safety

When you’re considering any car seat, safety should be the top priority. Experts and researchers in the automotive industry are responsible for putting car seats through rigorous testing and multiple stages of approval before these products are released on the market for the public.

Beyond manufacturing and testing, a 2020 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that 46 percent of car seats weren’t installed correctly in vehicles. This puts young children at risk for serious injury during auto accidents. Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit that aims to prevent injuries in children, reported in 2017 that one child under the age of 13 is involved in a car accident every 33 seconds. That’s equivalent to more than 2,600 children being involved in a car crash each day.

Understanding how to purchase and properly install any type of child car seat could prevent unnecessary endangerment. It should be noted that every new car seat comes with an instruction manual that covers how to install it, but these guides aren’t always as clear as possible. Both the NHTSA and Safe Kids have their own car seat installation guides with common mistakes and issues to look out for.

How Do I Know If My Car Seat Is Expired?

The expiration sticker placed on a car seat.

To know if your seat is expired or not, you need to check the car seat’s expiration date, which usually shows the month and year of expiration. Regardless of the type of car seat, both the date of manufacture and expiration date are generally found on the bottom of the seat, either on a sticker or engraved in the plastic frame of the car seat.

If you happened to purchase separate pieces, like a different base for easier installation into your vehicle, the expiration dates might differ even if you bought them around the same time. If you do have different pieces or bought replacement parts, be sure to check those expiration dates.

How Long Are Car Seats Good For?

A car seat installed in the back of a vehicle.

As a general rule of thumb, car seats have a lifespan of about six to ten years before expiring, depending on the car seat material. Plastic car seats expire a lot faster than ones made of metal. This is especially useful to know if you are expecting another child and plan to hold onto your previously used car seats or are buying a second-hand car seat from an online seller.

An expired seat is likely not going to be in good condition and will show wear and tear that may cause safety concerns or hazards for your child. Expired seats are also behind on frequent changes from top car seat companies including Britax, Graco, Chicco, and other retailers in the industry. Car seat manufacturers are always evolving to fit new vehicle designs, regulations, safety technology, and other aspects that come with producing newer and safer baby gear. For these reasons, you should never use an expired car seat.

Another key piece of information to understand is that car seats expire the moment they are involved in any moderate to severe accidents. If you have any questions about whether your seat is still usable or not, be sure to call the manufacturer and they can confirm whether it needs to be replaced.

Can I Donate My Used Car Seat?

If your child’s car seat hasn’t expired but the child has outgrown it and you have no future use for it, what are your options? There are trade-in, donation, and car seat recycling programs available for others to reuse the car seat you currently own. From infant car seats to toddler car seats and even strollers, trade-in programs are available nationwide and can help families who can’t afford to pay for brand-new car seats.

Target Trade-In

One of the most convenient options for trading in your car seat is likely through the Target trade-in program. Target works to collect used car seats to be recycled and reused. Keep an eye out for the two-week Target trade-in window because it only comes twice a year.

Smaller Target locations may not host this trade-in program, so call to find out if your nearest Target is hosting the event. In past trade-in events, Target has offered 20 percent off on new car seats, strollers, or baby gear purchased from Target.

At the Target trade-in, you can donate:

National Child Passenger Safety Certification

You can also donate your old car seats to the National Child Passenger Safety Certification Program so future Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs) can teach new parents how to safely use car seats. This prevents sending your car seat to a landfill or recycling center, and your car seat to be used as a learning opportunity for parents, future parents, and CPSTs.

Nonprofits, Charities, and Women’s Organizations

There are many local shelters, nonprofit organizations, and charities that accept used car seats to provide safe seats to local families. Check out your local women’s shelters and child care centers to see where you can donate your old, unexpired seat.

How Should I Dispose Of My Expired Car Seat?

If your car seat is expired and donating it isn’t an option, there are eco-friendly solutions for disposing of your car seat. Your nearest recycling center can help you correctly dispose of your used car seat in an eco-friendly manner.

First, make sure your nearby recycling center takes used and expired car seats. They may either take the seat as is or they may need the seat stripped down. If necessary, get rid of everything that’s not plastic. This includes straps, fabric, padding, harnesses, and buckles. These items are not recyclable, so they will need to be tossed. Lastly, remove any metal parts of the car seat. You should only bring the plastic seat frame and parts to your recycling center.

For any reason, if your used car seat doesn’t qualify for being recycled, it’s still important to dispose of it the right way. If the seat has to go to a landfill, make sure you render it unusable so it’s not mistaken for a working car seat, especially if the car seat is expired. Similar to recycling a car seat, remove all straps, padding, and attachments from the car seat before tossing it.

Resources On Car Seat Safety

There are numerous verified resources that discuss car seat safety, the importance of having a correctly fitted car seat for your little one, and the testing that goes into ensuring different car seats are safe to be sold on the market. Below are a few resources that offer information on crash testing, air travel, and injury prevention in relation to recalls and general car seat safety.

An chart from the NHTSA detailing when to use certain car seats.

NHTSA graphic

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

The NHTSA is an agency established by the United States government that works to reduce auto-related deaths, making roads safer for drivers and pedestrians alike. The NHTSA website is filled with useful resources, including a list of car seat safety issues and recalls.

Those looking to purchase a child car seat may find the NHTSA’s guide to car and booster seats and ease of use ratings useful.

Federal Aviation Administration

If you plan to fly with a small child, you may want to visit the FAA website. There you can find vital information on travelling with children, including important regulations about flying with a car seat.

National Child Passenger Safety Certification

Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization dedicated to improving safety conditions for children across the world, offers a National Child Passenger Safety Certification Training Program (CPS certification program). This training program educates technicians on how to teach caretakers the best practices for car seat installation.

The Safe Kids Worldwide website also includes car seat safety tips that can help you select the rights seat for your child.

Our Research

Our reviews team launched a 2022 study asking shoppers what they most valued when it comes to child car seats. We found that while 89 percent of respondents descried safety as their top priority, only about 46 percent of respondents mentioned sizing as an important consideration.

Our team also found that most respondents (73 percent) rarely remove their car seat once installed. About 25 percent removed their child car seat a handful of times each month.

Car Seat Expiration: Bottom Line

There are many ways to handle an expired car seat. First and foremost, you want to be sure that you are not using or holding onto an expired car seat. Safety should always be the top priority, and expired car seats can threaten the safety and security of your child.

If your car seat serves no purpose but it is not yet expired, consider donating to a local nonprofit or women’s shelter. You can also send your car seat to the National Child Passenger Safety Certification Program to train new technicians on how to properly use and install a car seat, so they can teach expecting parents. 

Your car seat doesn’t have to go to waste or build up cobwebs in the attic, especially if it’s not expired. If your car seat has reached its expiration date, consider an eco-friendly way to dispose of it through a trade-in or recycling program.

Car Seat Expiration: FAQ

Here are a few frequently asked questions about car seat expiration dates.

*Data accurate at time of publication.