Just like food, beverages, medicines, and household products, even your child’s car seat has an expiration date. Many parents, including this St. Louis mom, are stunned at the news: “They don’t tell you that at the store when you buy it; I never saw it on the package; I had never heard of it,” she said. “We’re going to have to destroy it. You can put it on the curb… and it’s gone.”

It’s more important than ever to become familiarized with your child’s car seat to help reduce the risk of personal injury in the event of a car accident.

A spokesperson for the Safe Kids program reminds parents that car seats do not last forever. “They do expire; it varies on different brands the shelf life of a car seat,” the spokesperson told NBC News.  “The shell … can be broken down and worn out; the harness strap itself that holds the child in safely can be frayed and torn but look okay,” she said.

Check your child’s car seat expiration date by referring to the manual, or check the back of the seat for an imprinted expiration date.  On a general note, many car seats expire after five years of use so don’t risk its use if you cannot find the expiration date on the product or manual.

Car Seat Safety Checklist

In addition to checking the expiration date on your child’s car seat, be sure to check the following list of additional safety precautions to help reduce the risk of injury. We urge parents to also consult with their child seat manual for the most in-depth safety advice on how to use their child car seat properly.

Check for recalls

Product recalls can be extremely dangerous when put to the test.  Removing an unsafe product from your home, including an otherwise well-functioning car seat, can help reduce the risk of injury including failure of use, laceration, or other hazards to your child. Register at Recalls.gov where you can customize your email notifications to include only the brands that you currently use. Consider registering for recalls for all children’s products as well.

Place your child rear-facing until age 2

Many parents make the same mistake when using a car seat by graduating children to a front-facing position too soon. As we covered in a recent blog, parents are urged to follow the latest safety precautions on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics which states children should be placed rear-facing until age 2. Parents may have a hard time with the recommendation as children have grown rapidly by age 2, but for the sake of safety and to reduce the chance of injury, parents should strongly consider the advice. Check the blog for more information on how to accommodate the recommendation.

Choose the right car seat size

As many parents can readily agree, children outgrow toys, clothes, and furniture all too quickly. Car seats are no exception, so be sure to check its size and weight requirements. A too small seat – and even a seat too large – can instantly become dangerous in the event of a car accident.

Use the straps and LATCH system correctly

As my recent column at the Rancho Santa Fe Review points out, the tether straps – also known as a LATCH system – are the greatest threat to child safety. Get to know the tether straps on your child’s seat and learn how to use them. Without using the tethers, children can sustain severe head injury should an accident occur. Your child’s safety manual should tell you exactly how to use your model’s tethers. If you don’t have the manual, call your child’s seat manufacturer to order a new one. Using tethers correctly is extremely important to your child’s welfare in the event of an accident.

Install the seat correctly

In addition to using the tether straps, be sure to follow all other installation procedures as required by the manual. Do not improvise or make any changes to the installation of the seat. By properly positioning the seat, you are reducing the chance for injury should an accident occur.

About the Pines Salomon Injury Lawyers, LLP.

Michael Pines, founder, is a regular columnist at the La Jolla Light, Rancho Santa Fe Review and Del Mar Times as San Diego’s accident and prevention expert. The firm is dedicated to helping injured people seek fair financial recovery. If you or your child have been injured in a car accident, call the firm now at 1-858-551-2090.