It is Parenting 101. Most know to check the expiration date on milk, baby food and medicine before giving it to kids. But there’s another critical item on that list that many caregivers don’t know about that could put children in serious danger – the little known fact that car seats expire too.
Just ask Diana Kozlowski. The new mom from Hammond, Indiana, got a brand new car seat as a baby gift from her parents in May of last year. They bought it from Toys R Us for their now 7 month-old grand-daughter Evey Grace.
“They were flabbergasted at the fact it was expired,” Kozlowski recalls. “It was on sale because obviously they were trying to get rid of it, make a good deal, sell it.”
What her parents didn’t know to check, Kozlowski did.
“I mean my parents wouldn’t willingly go buy an expired seat, let alone the store sell it expired for two years when they bought it. I was two years. It was like 2012!” Kozlowski said.
Safety advocates told NBC 5 Investigates car seats expire because over time, they wear out.
“Car seats are exposed to extreme temperatures. Extreme heat in the summer, extreme cold here in Chicago in the winter. Those materials tend to degrade over time because car seats are made out of styrofoam and plastic and they tend to degrade,” according to Kids In Danger’s Laura Nikolovska.
Another factor: technology changes. And although recommended by safety experts and widely adopted by seat-makers, the actual expiration dates can be tricky to find.
“There’s no standard that it has to be a certain size,” Nikolovska added.
Or in a certain spot. Each car seat is different. Kozlowski’s expiration date was on the bottom of the car seat, imprinted it the plastic.
So why was a car seat several years past its prime still on store shelves? Kozlowski told NBC 5 Investigates when she tried to get a new car seat from Toys R Us, the retailer gave her the runaround.
We sent Toys R Us Kozlowski’s complaint, along with her email address and asked the company to look into the case. Kathleen Waugh, the Vice President of Corporate Communication, told us it had “no record of this customer contacting the company, so we were unable to properly research the complaint. As a rule, we purge product from our stores on a regular basis. It is possible that an older item was missed in this purge, but we would need more information in order to research this issue properly. That said, if a customer was sold a car seat past its stamped expiration date, we would exchange it or provide a refund."
Back in Hammond, Indiana, Kozlowski ultimately did get a new car seat from Toys R Us after reaching out to NBC 5 Investigates. Her biggest fear?
“That we were in a car accident and because of it being an expired seat, the plastics weren’t up to demand and it would break, not work correctly,” Kozlowski said.
It’s hard to know precisely how long they will last. The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JMPA) told NBC Investigates expiration dates are not overseen by government and car seat manufacturers voluntarily include expiration dates for their products. The industry group added that while the average expiration date was 6-8 years for the majority of car seat manufacturers, in recent years the average life span for a car seat has increased to an average of 8-12 years.
JMPA says because there are no federal regulations on car seat expiration dates there are no specific requirements for size, location, or verbiage in communicating an expiration date. The majority of manufacturers have committed to providing expiration dates with their car seats and placement of this information is at their discretion.
The location of the expiration date on a product can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but is usually found molded into the back of the car seat, either front or back or on the bottom of the car seat. Some manufacturers may include the manufacturing date on the seat and provide the time frame of expiration in written materials or customer service. Although the majority have shifted in recent years to imprinting the information on the seat itself. At this time JPMA is unaware of a proposal to change this voluntary practice by manufacturers to mandated federal regulations.
Safety experts worry that because of the lack of regulation, there is no way to monitor if an expired car seat contributes to an injury.
“If a child in a car seat was fatally or even seriously injured, I don’t think the first thing people are going to think is ‘is the car seat expired?’” Nikolovska said.