WRITTEN BY ROBYN HUNT
Registered Counsellor &
Certified Car Seat Technician
Lately the sales of second hand car seats has increased substantially and it is relatively easy to find a secondhand car seat for your child at a fraction of the cost of a new one. This is where we often get asked; do car seats expire?
Car seats sold in South Africa adhere to European standards where car seats do not have an expiry date, but rather a recommended lifespan. Each manufacturer has their own guidelines regarding the lifespans on their car seats and their "safe use period". The average lifespan of a car seat is around 5 to 10 years, depending on the model.
In this article we will explain why car seats expire and how to maximise the lifespan of your car seat. We have also put together a table that includes the lifespan of most car seats available in South Africa.
Why and how do car seats expire?
Once parents hear that car seats do expire, their very next question is "why/how do car seats expire?". The reason car seats expire comprises of various factors which we will expand on below.
The Materials/parts of the seat degrade over time
Car seats are essentially life saving devices. They are made to protect your child in a collision. The materials they use when manufacturing the seats consist of plastics, metals, polystyrene, Styrofoam, fabrics, etc.
All these materials degrade over time from use and from exposure to the various elements. This is especially true in South Africa where our cars are often parked in full sunlight.
The plastic components of the seat
The plastic in the seat (specifically the outer shell) is designed to protect your child like a "cocoon" and absorb the forces of impact in an accident. That plastic becomes brittle over time due to exposure to the sun during the day and then exposure to cooler temperatures at night. The change from hot to cold breaks down the composition of the plastic. The plastic also becomes weaker over time with normal day-to day usage.
It is widely known to South Africans that getting into a car that has been sitting in the sun for a period of a few hours is very uncomfortable. When temperatures outside are between 26-37°C, the temperature inside a car can climb exponentially to between 54-77°C. At this temperature, a car seat can eventually begin to distort and weaken.
The above factors could lead to micro cracks in the seats plastic (which are invisible) over time, which causes the plastic to break/crack in an accident and therefore not protect your child as it should. Additionally, there are other plastic components to the seat, that are used almost daily, such as lock off clips, buckles, recline and headrest levers, seatbelt routing paths, etc. which will degrade due to constant use and pressure.
The Styrofoam/polystyrene components of the seat
The Styrofoam in a car seat (also referred to as the EPS- Expanded Polystyrene) is mostly responsible shock absorbing in an accident where it repels the forces of the impact away from the child. It is used mostly for side impact protection.
Most EPS is found in and around the headrest of the car seat as that is where most protection is needed. EPS foam has the ability to withstand quite a bit of use, but it can break quite easily.
The EPS on a car seat deteriorates over time because:
- Styrofoam is particularly sensitive to sunlight. Over a period of a few years, continual exposure to sunlight affects the outer layer of the Styrofoam, discolouring it and turning it into a powdery substance which will not protect your child sufficiently in an accident.
- As the Styrofoam gets older, it also becomes brittle which can cause it to snap, break, or simply just deteriorate as it fragments into small pieces.
The Fabric components of the seat
The fabric components of a car seat would consist of the cover, the harness, the harness pads, and the crotch buckle guard. Most car seats also have some sort of padding which is usually a layer or two of foam, and more recently; memory foam. Some car seats have this foam built into the cover and some have it as a separate part of the seat.
Although these may seem like comfort and aesthetic components, they actually DO play a role in protecting your child in an accident. The cover and the padding on the car seat covers the seat to protect it and also to keep your child comfortable. However in an accident, the cover and padding acts as a "pillow" between the actual car seat shell and your child's body and head. This will decrease the chance of injuries to your child if the impact of the accident pushes your childs' body and head into the back or sides of their car seat.
Over time, the padding on the seat becomes "squished" and the seat won't be as padded as it was due to the constant compression. The cover of the seat also loses its elasticity causing it to slip off the seat. Therefore, In an accident, the padding and cover won't "soften the blow" to your child's head and body as much as it should.
The harness of the seat is arguably the most important part of the car seat as it keeps your child restrained in their car seat in an accident. The harness webbing is usually made to be very hardy and strong, like a seatbelt of the vehicle, so it isn't a part of the seat that does easily degrade. However, just like a vehicle seatbelt should be replaced after a certain amount of time, a car seat harness isn't very different. Over time, the harness can start to fray and therefore become weaker.
Regulation upgrades and crash testing changes
For the past 20+ years, most car seats have been tested to regulation 44. There have been adjustments to this where the regulation would be R44.01, R44.02, R44.03, and the most recent R44.04. In 2013, the regulation of R129 was introduced and is the latest regulation being used at present in Europe.
However, seats with regulation R44.01 and R44.02 are actually illegal to be sold or used in the UK and R44.03 was introduced in 1995 which means that car seats with this regulation could be over 20 years old. They would definitely be considered unfit for use now, and so much has changed in the reserahc and development of car seats since then.
Just recently it was announced that car seats with the regulation R44.04 won't be manufactured anymore in Europe and in a year or so they won't be sold there either. All car seats manufactured going forward must be tested to the regulation R129 and this includes more stringent crash testing and requires your child to be rear facing for longer.
Then from around 2007, additional independent crash testing (ADAC and Swedish Plus Test) was introduced where seats were chosen to undergo additional crash testing at much higher speeds and different directions of impact (frontal and side impact). The seats tested then received a score based on their performance in the testing. This is where we can see exactly which seats performed well and which seats didn't. Just based on crash testing results from 2007, we can see a big improvement in the scores received then and now proving that seats are actually being made safer!
The seat pictured below is around 28 years old, and definitely considered to be expired and unsafe to use.
Credit: Rear Facing Car Seats For Toddlers
The seat pictured below is brand new and only released in 2022.
This does not mean that a car seat that was tested to the older regulations wasn't safe to use. But with the major advances in car seat safety and testing, a newer seat will provide the best protection for your child.
Below is an example of how seats are upgraded through the years to be better and safer!
What is the recommended lifespan of my car seat?
We have compiled a list of various car seats and their recommended lifespans, as stated by the manufacturer, below. This list does not include all brands and all car seats but at the time of publishing this article; this is all we could find. The list will be updated if new information comes to light.
|All car seats
||8 years from date of manufacture
|All infant car seats infant car seats||7 years from date of first use|
|All toddler car seats (rear facing and forward facing or rear facing only) (0-18kg/25kg)||7 years from date of first use|
|All forward facing-only toddler seats (9-18kg)||5 years from date of first use|
|All booster seats (15-36kg)||8 years from date of first use|
|Stretch/ Stretch B||15 years from date of first use|
|Bebecoo/Bee infant seat||6 years from date of first use|
|All Infant seats (0-13kgs)||5 years from date of first use|
|All 0-25kg multistage seats||7 years from date of first use|
|All 0-36kg multistage seats||12 years from date of first use|
|All booster seats||TBC|
|All older model infant seats (Aton B/ Aton M/ Cloud Z)||7 years from date of first use|
|All newer model infant seats (Aton B2/ Cloud Z2)
||8 years from date of first use|
|All Sirona models (Toddler seats)
||8 years from date of first use
|Anoris T||10 years from date of first use|
|Pallas B2fix/ Pallas G||11 years from date of first use|
|All Solution models (Booster seats)||9 years from date of first use|
|Doona by Simple Parenting|
|Doona Plus infant seat and isofix base||6 years from date of manufacture|
|All restraints in harness mode (infant and toddler seats)||5-7 years from date of first use|
|All restraints in booster mode (booster seats)||7-10 years from date of first use|
|All infant seats||5 years from date of first use|
|Stages/Stages FX/ Everystage/ Everystage FX||5-7 years in harnessed mode
10-12 years overall (booster mode after harnessed mode)
|Trillo and Elevate||10 years from date of first use|
|All Spin models and Steadi||5-7 years from date of first use|
|New model infant seats (Pebble 360, Coral 360, Marble, Cabriofix i-size)||6 years from date of first use|
|Old model (manufactured between 2015 and 2023) infant seats (Pebble Pro, Jade Carrycot, Rock, Cabriofix)||10 years from date of first use|
|Old model (manufactured before 2016) infant seats (Pebble Pro, Jade Carrycot, Rock, Cabriofix)||5 years from date of first use|
|All rear & forward facing toddler seats (Pearl Pro2/Pearl 360/Mica/Mica Pro Eco/Emerald)||12 years from date of first use|
|All forward facing only toddler seats (9-18kg) (Pearl. Nomad, Tobi)||10 years from date of first use|
|All Multistage seats (9-36kg) (Titan, Titan Pro)||12 years from date of first use|
|All booster seats (no harness)||10 years from date of first use|
|Familyfix3 isofix base||10 years from date of first use|
|FamilyFix360 isofix base and Cabriofix i-size isofix base||6 years from date of first use|
|All restraints||10 years from date of first use|
|Osann (rebranded Noola)|
|One360||Approx 12 years (full use with one child)|
|Noola/Chelino Platinum/Hot Mom|
|i-size Infant seat and isofix base||Unknown due to rebrand. Sold under many names by many different companies.|
|All infant seats||7 years from date of manufacture|
|Peg-Perego Viaggio 1-2-3 Via||12 years from date of manufacture|
|Peg-Perego VIAGGIO1 DUO FIX TT
||7 years from date of manufacture|
|All restraints||10 years from date of first use
|All restraints||10 years from date of purchase
|All restraints||12 years from date of purchase|
|Maxway||7 years from date of first use|
|Multi-tech 2||10 years from date of first use|
Where to find the recommended lifespan of a car seat?
The recommended lifespan is usually stated in the car seat manual. Some manuals do not include this information. In this case, it is recommended to contact the manufacturer directly for an answer. Below are some examples taken from a manual and a website:
Where to find the date of manufacture on a car seat?
The date of manufacture is put on a car seat in different ways. Most car seats have a sticker on it with the date of manufacture (which is usually written as the month and year or the week and year). Some car seats have little dials/clocks pressed into the plastic shell of the seat where the arrow points to the year/week/month of manufacture.
is it safe to buy a secondhand car seat that hasn't expired?
It is always recommended, If finances allow, that you try to buy a new car seat rather than a second hand car seat. All car seat manufacturers advise against using second hand seats as stated in each manual as below:
This is because you cannot be completely certain of a car seat’s history unless you buy from someone you know and trust. A car seat that has been in an accident/dropped/not stored correctly may not show any obvious damage as most damage isn't visible, but may not protect your child properly in an accident. This is where buying secondhand becomes very tricky as you are essentially trusting the seller of the car seat with your child's life.
Read through our article on buying secondhand car seats as safely as possible.
This car seat pictured on the left below looks intact BUT it was in the car during the accident pictured on the right! It is no longer safe to use and needs to be replaced.
All car seat manuals state that either you need to replace the car seat after an accident OR you need to send the seat in for inspection. Please refer to your manual if in an accident. Even a minor bumper bashing counts as an accident in most cases. The snippet below is from a car seat manual:
Storing your car seat to maximise its lifespan
Often parents want to use the same car seat/s for more than one sibling. This is safe to do if the car seat has not been dropped, incorrectly loaded on an aircraft or in an accident, however, the seat must be stored correctly to ensure its safety for the next child.
Tips on storing your car seat:
- Make sure the seat is cleaned and completely dry BEFORE storing it as a seat that isn't cleaned or dry can cause mold to grow on it
- Store the seat in a SEALED cardboard box.
- Put your boxed car seat in a place where it will not be able to fall, get knocked over, stood/climbed on, or get played with by children.
- Ensure there is nothing heavy stored on top of the box
- Make sure you store all the parts of the seat together (inserts, covers, tethers, etc.)
- Make sure it is not accessible to rodents or insects that may chew through the material and harness of the car seat
- Ensure the seat is not stored in a place that is humid/damp as this will lead to mold growing on the seat
- Do not store the seat in direct sunlight
- If the isofix base has any batteries (for installation indicators), it is recommended to remove the batteries before storing the seat
- Get a few silica gel packets and throw them into the box with the seat. This will absorb any excess moisture to prevent mold.
- If your seat does get moldy, especially on the harness, it needs to be replaced as mold cannot be cleaned off properly. Any cleaning products strong enough to remove the mold are not safe to use when cleaning your seat. Using a seat with mold on it is a health hazard for your child and mold spores spread which weaken the fibers of the seat which could cause the seat not to perform as it should in an accident.
Looking after your car seat to maximise its lifespan
A car seat needs to be used and looked after appropriately to ensure it is safe for the recommended lifespan.
Tips on looking after your car seat:
- Ensure it is installed correctly as over time incorrect installation will place pressure and force on the wrong parts of the car seat
- Do not place any heavy items on top of the car seat, including children who are over the weight limit.
- Adhere to the weight and height limit of the seat. Do not use it after your child has surpassed these limits.
- Purchase a protective/summer cover for your seat (ONLY ones made by the car seat manufacturer and approved to be used on your specific car seat). Find approved summer/protective covers here
- Avoid giving your child liquids that could spill while in the car seat. Make use of non-spill cups/bottles as much as possible. Liquid that spills and gets into the shell of the car seat can cause rust and mold.
- Avoid giving your child foods that are messy and cause crumbs as this can interfere with the locking mechanism in some seats (specifically rotating seats) as well as the actual harness buckle.
- If your child spills any liquids or vomits while in the car seat, remove the cover and wash it, exactly as stipulated by the manual, as soon as possible to avoid lingering smells and mold.
- Wash your car seat EXACTLY AS STATED IN THE MANUAL. It is always best to clean the seat yourself and avoid professional cleaning. Read our blog on how to clean your car seat.
- If you park your car in full sunlight daily, it is recommended that you cover the seat with a towel/blanket
- If you are taking the car seat on an airplane, it must be bubble wrapped and put in a sturdy box. Place fragile stickers on the box and preferably check it into fragile luggage. Wrapping the seat is not sufficient and will not protect your seat.
- If you take your car in for a service or to be washed/valeted, it is advisable that you take the car seat out of the car beforehand or at the very least explicitly tell the person/s working on your car not to touch the seat at all.
- Ensure that everyone who uses your car seat knows how to use it and look after it
- Inspect the car seat often to ensure nothing is broken or damaged.
- Do not make any changes or alterations to the seat
- Never attempt to fix the seat if it is damaged or broken. Contact the supplier for any repairs
- Only use ORIGINAL spares (covers/harness/pads) directly from the manufacturer.
What can you do with your expired car seat?
IN an ideal world, no child should ever use an expired car seat. In South Africa, due to our ever declining economy, an expired, secondhand seat, is sometimes all that someone can afford or has access to. If it is not possible to buy a non-expired seat, an expired seat would be better than no car seat.
In these cases, if your car seat has expired but is not damaged and has not been in an accident, we recommend donating your car seat to the organisation called Wheel Well.
Wheel Well take your used car seats, inspect them (to the best of their ability), repair what can be repaired, replace broken or lost parts, clean them, and then hand them out to parents who cannot afford a car seat for their child.
If your seat is broken/cracked/contains stress marks (the actual shell/headrest/lock off clips/isofix arms) the seat must be disposed of as it is not safe to use and in those cases it cannot be fixed or donated.
If your seat has been in an accident, it must be disposed of as it is no longer safe to use as most damage cannot be seen. Read our blog on replacing your car seat after an accident.
Car seats need to be disposed of appropriately to ensure they cannot be used again.
The best way to dispose of your seat is to do the following:
- Remove the cover and all soft parts of the seat (any padding/inserts/harness covers)
- Remove and cut the harness and buckle strap. Then remove the plastic parts that click into the buckle as well as the plastic buckle itself
- Take off all EPS (polystyrene) attached to the seat
- Separate all the above parts into appropriate piles for recycling OR if you aren't able to recycle, then place the separate piles in separate rubbish bags and dispose of them with your normal rubbish.
- The Shell of the car seat can also be recycled which is preferred. Otherwise write "do not use" on the seat and dispose of it along with your normal rubbish
Credit: Car Seats For The Littles
While we are acutely aware of the current economic climate in our country where an older, secondhand seat is better than no seat at all, it is important that parents are aware that car seats have a limited lifespan for a reason and using an expired car seat can expose your child to unnecessary risk if you were to be in an accident.
With the huge advancements being made in car seats every year, an older, well-used seat may not provide the same level of protection as a newer seat and it is for this reason we recommend buying a new car seat if you have the financial means to do so.