Is It Illegal to Use an Expired Car Seat in 2023?

Welcome to the Ultimate Guide on the Legality of Using and Expired Car Seat

Moving around with an expired car seat won’t lead you to jail, at least not Rikers Island, though you may have to answer your kids later if they ever find out

Honestly, I didn’t know car seats would expire until recently when a friend asked if it is illegal to use an expired car seat. So I searched it up a bit and to my surprise, a lot of parents have the same question.

Is It Illegal to Use an Expired Car Seat

The answer isn’t straightforward because of the flexible nature of policies across different states. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not highlight strong sanctions for parents who use expired car seats. On the other hand, some US states do not even bother mentioning car seat expiration when itemizing their laws. 

What’s common is the states require the parents to use car seats as per the instructions provided by the manufacturer. This also implies sticking to the car seat expiration date. 

Like me, if you also didn’t have any idea about car seats’ expiration dates, this guide can be a lifesaver.

Tell me already!

Why Car Seats Expire in the First Place

Like many other people, I found it quite odd that a seat can expire – aren’t they made to last a lifetime unless broken?

However, a car seat is not the same as a simple chair. Both of them have different builds and purposes. Unlike any other chair, car seats help to support a child’s weight and provide a cushion when you drive, travel, or take a flight.

To make this simpler, think of your car seat as training shoes.

After several sessions in the gym, the shoes become weak, and the core materials lose their strength which is why they can no longer support your feet as they should.

The same is the case with car seats. They lose strength over time due to usage and exposure to environmental elements (heat, cold, and water). Therefore, it is important to replace the seats with newer ones to ensure 100% safety.

Why You Shouldn’t Use an Old Car Seat

We’d also like to point out that degraded materials are not the only reason to replace car seats. Sometimes, the regulations change, and your older car seat may no longer comply with them. 

Car seat manufacturers strive to improve the quality of their products even if safety agencies and the Federal Government are yet to update safety requirements. 

Hence, it is always safer to buy a new car seat instead of an older one since it is more likely to meet the latest safety standards set by the authorities.

Often manufacturers inform their customers when they update a car seat, some may even send along some replacement parts if needed. However, don’t expect them to tell you to discard a car seat and get a new one altogether. Therefore, it’s better to buy a new one as the old one expires.

Can You Use an Expired Car Seat?

Yes, you can continue using an expired car seat, but does it make sense to do so? You knowingly wouldn’t give your child expired food or drink, so why should you do that with a car seat?

There are several reasons why your child’s safety seat expires, including material wear and tear, updated safety standards, and damage.

These factors significantly affect the structural integrity of your child’s car seat. Therefore, when you notice these signs, it is best to get your child any of the latest models of car seats.

In practice, if a car seat is older than seven years, there’s a good chance that it is expired and needs to be disposed of safely.  

Is It Illegal to Use an Expired Car Seat

No, it isn’t a crime to use an expired seat. However, you have to check local state laws to confirm the car seat regulations in your locality if any. 

Regardless of that, you should be more careful about your child’s safety than the law. If the seat is not good enough, change it whether lawfully abided or not.

However, even if things go otherwise, don’t worry about a cop running behind you.

How Can You Tell Whether a Car Seat Is Safe

To ensure that you are using the best car seat for your baby, you need to check two things.

  • Check if It Is the Right Fit

It doesn’t matter whether a car seat meets the current safety standards if it is not the right size for your child.

The sizes vary based on age and physique. Since every child might not have the same physique at a particular age, you must ensure that your pick has enough room to safely hold your child.

Here are some general guidelines for selecting car seats based on age.

  • Birth to 1 year: A rear-facing car seat works well for this age group
  • 1 to 3 years: Like infants, a rear-facing car seat can also be used for toddlers and playful kids
  • 4 to 7 years: A forward-facing car seat that comes with the required harness that supports a child till maximum height and weight. It is similar to a booster seat.
  • 8 to 12 years: A booster seat (till outgrowing weight and height) is recommended for this age group. It mostly fits into the car’s seat belt.
  • Make Sure the Straps (Harness) Fits Nicely Around Your Child

The straps must fit! Period.

There is no point in buying a car seat that can’t securely keep your child in place.

According to America’s Health Rankings, car crashes are the leading cause of children’s deaths in the United States. Therefore, you must ensure the safety of your child before igniting your car engine.

Here are a few tips to help you ensure that the car seat strap fits your child perfectly. 

  •  Keep it tight – When fastening the strap, there should be no slack. Try sliding your palm under the strap to see if it’s tight enough. In case your hand can fit in there freely, you should tighten the strap more. 
  • Align the clip – Ensure the strap clip sits perfectly on your child’s chest. It must align with the armpits as well. If the clip is placed wrongly, there’s a big chance the straps could come off in case of an accident, putting your child in danger.
  • Adjust from top to bottom – If you wish to get a convertible car seat, always make sure you adjust the harness from the top slot to the bottom space.

Needless to say, check out the user manual provided by the manufacturer to ensure you install and use it the right way every time. If you’re unsure about the instructions, reach out to the support team.

Where Can You Find the Car Seat Expiration Dates?

Most car seats come with a sticker that bears the date of production and expiry. You may find this sticker on the shell of the seat or under it.

Some manufacturers provide specific car seat expiration dates while others may provide a period within which the car seat will perform optimally.

Hence, we do not recommend buying a used car seat, but if you opt to buy one, check the expiry date. Do not buy if the expiry date has elapsed or is close. 

Secondly, the seller might not be completely honest regarding the usage and expiry of the used car seat.

As a result, you may end up buying car seat models that have already been in a crash. Even worse, it may have some missing or worn-out parts.

What to Do With Expired Car Seats

Safely disposing of is the only thing you can do with an expired car seat. Do not think of selling or passing it on to someone else because it is no longer safe to use.

We recommend sending it for recycling instead of leaving it in the dumpster. For that, you’ll have to cut off the straps and remove the padding so no one can misuse it.

Final Thoughts on Expired Child Car Seats

It is not illegal to use an expired car seat. However, there are regulations in many states across the US that govern car seat safety.

Adhering to the regulations will help you provide the best car seat security for your child whenever you are traveling. 

Remember, never to use a secondhand car seat and always check the date of expiry when buying a new one. When using the seat, adjust the strap tightly and place the clip in the right position.

Lastly, the seat should be according to the child’s physique – not too big, not too small.

Last Updated on October 12, 2023 by Brian Beasley

Written by Linda Reid

Hey there, I'm Linda, a mom of three cool kids. I've tried so many car seats, you could call me a "Car Seat Detective." Searching for the perfect car seat can feel like finding a needle in a haystack, but don't worry! I've committed to researching and reviewing car seats that are super safe, cozy, and great for growing kids. Together, we'll find the perfect car seat that keeps your child safe and cozy, and makes you feel like a super-parent!