Is it safe to re-use car seats?
Many parents understand the safety risks involved with buying and using second hand car seats and avoid doing so. You do not know the history of the seat, you may not have the instructions, vital parts may be missing from the seat (unnoticed by seller or buyer), and it may have been involved in a collision.
But what’s the story for reusing a car seat you have had from brand new? Is it safe to use again? Do car seats expire?
For reusing child car seats, manufacturers recommend that car seats more than 5 years old are no longer used. This is due to the seat potentially not being able to provide the same level of protection that a new child seat is able to.
Over the 5 years that you have had that car seat, car seat safety will have improved dramatically, the primary reason to upgrade your seat is due to new technologies and developments coming forward that make new car seats even safer.
Here is a comparison of a 10 year old car seat, and a new car seat. The old seat is a Britax Trio suitable from 9kg - 25kg (below left), and the new seat is a Joie Stages suitable from 0 - 25kg (below right).
The first image below shows the ECE approval for the above Britax restraint, which shows it is approved to R44.03. The second image below with the orange approval label below is off of the new Joie Stages seat, showing it is approved to the latest R44 approval - R44.04.
Both of these seats have an easy adjust head rest and harness, but the head support and side wings on the new seat are noticeably deeper. The new seat can offer safety and protection to children, that the old seat would not do as well due to the shallow side wings.
The new seat offers 3 recline positions, unlike the old seat.
The new seat offers rear facing up to 18kg, unlike the Britax which is forward facing only.
Don't the plastics in the seat break down?
The plastics of a seat do begin to degrade, but the process takes a long time. Seats that are constantly left in the car and exposed to extreme changes in temperature, or seats stored near a radiator or somewhere that has fluctuating temperature (like the attic) will begin degrading more quickly, as will seats that are used in very hot or very cold countries. Plastic does degrade over time, but not so rapidly that the seat will break apart in a collision once it turns 5 years old.
Hang on... my seat is Group 1,2,3 - it's designed to last me 11 years!
The recommendation to upgrade seats after 5 years is just that, a recommendation. It doesn't mean that seats will become dangerous after 5 years. The primary reason the recommendation is 5 years use for a child restraint is due to the advances in technology, resulting in safer seats being manufactured - the new i-Size regulation is a good example of this. It does not mean that a group 123 seat is unsafe after 5 years, but it may not perform to the same standard as a new restraint.
I want to keep hold of my seat for my next child, where should I store it?
The best way to store your child car seat is to first clean it, wash the covers (do not wash the harness), hoover all crumbs out and make sure the buckle is free of food. When the clean covers have been replaced, wrap the seat in a blanket, and then a big sheet of plastic or bubble wrap. Then store your seat in a cupboard. Avoid storing it near radiators, in a garage, attic or outhouse - these all experience large differences in temperature.
Check the harness for any visible signs of wear, fraying or rips. If there are any do not use the seat.
Check the seat for any signs of damage, do not reuse child car seats if you can see any damage. Be aware that not all damage is visible to the eye.
If your seat has polystyrene foam under the covers check it for any cracks or crumbling parts – again, if you find anything like this or to cause concern do not use the seat.
Check the ECE certification of your seat. A seat certified to R44.01 or R44.02 should no longer be used. Seats approved to R44.03 and R44.04 may still be used and the newest standard is R129, i-Size. You can check the verification by locating the ECE sticker on your seat, which will look like this:
Reusing child car seats that have been stored for a number of years before should be carefully considered and looked at. If your seat is a number of years old it may not offer the same level of protection you would expect, buying a new up-to-date seat will be the only way of ensuring maximum protection.
It is very important to ensure the seat is suitable for the child's weight and that it is compatible with the vehicle(s) it may be used in.