You may have heard that car seats expire, but this is only somewhat true. To make things even more complicated, in New Zealand, car seats meeting the US, European, and Australia/ NZ standards can be sold, each standard comes with slightly different rules and protocol around expiry.
The US Standard
American car seats (those with the yellow 'S' sticker on them (check underneath), will be marked with an expiration date. You should not use the car seat after that date. The date will usually be 5-10 years from the date of manufacture. When you buy a US Standard car seat you should check the expiry date first, as it could have sat in a warehouse in the US or China for a few months, then spent a couple of months on a boat getting to NZ, then sat in the distributor's warehouse for a couple of months, then spent a few months in the shop's store room- that's all eating into the time that you get to use the seat.
The Australia/ New Zealand Standard
New Zealand/Australian Standard AS/NZ 1754 seats will usually expire after between 5-10 years (though it can vary) from date of manufacture. There will be a clock stamped into the plastic part of the seat showing the manufacture date (examples below) sometimes the stamps are easy to find on the back or under the car seat, other times you will need to remove the covers and the foam to find them :-/
Check the car seat's manual to confirm the number of years that the seat can be used for.
The European Standard
European child restraints- those with the 'E' marking on them come with a recommended period of use, which will usually be between 5 and 10 years from date of purchase. The advice from our European suppliers is that the recommended period of use shouldn't be taken too literally, that the most important thing is that you only use car seats that you know the full history of (no buying or selling second hand car seats, no renting car seats), and that you do not use a car seat after the car it was travelling in has been in an accident.
We recommend that you just use car seats within your family, and look after them in between children by storing them in a cool, dry, dark place. In some cases some family's may use their car seats for one or two months longer than the manual recommends, in our opinion that's better than borrowing, hiring, or buying a second hand car seat to use for those one or two months.
Why do car seats expire?
1. They sit inside hot cars and the heat can degrade the plastic 2. Technology changes and better seats are developed 3. Safety standards change and improve
Why do some car seats last longer than others?
It depends on the materials used, for instance capsules have a plastic shell, but some toddler car seats have a metal frame, so the structure is stronger and can therefore be used for longer.
Aren't car seat expiry dates a ploy to get us to buy more seats?
No, they're not. Car seat manufacturers want to make their seats stronger and better, so that they will last longer and you will buy their seat instead of their competitors.
How do I read the date of manufacture (DOM)?
They are usually a clock face with 12 numbers around the outside, so that's easy to remember because there are 12 months in the year. An arrow will point to a number, or month, and next to the arrow will be two numbers- the year. Here are a few examples for you.
Manufactured in December 2009
Manufactured in November 2010
Manufactured in February 2006
Manufactured on the 6th of July 2011
Always check your car seat's manual to confirm as the recommended period of use varies between seats. If you've lost the manual you should be able to download it from the manufacturer's website, or contact the place you purchased it from.