MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We all know why food has expiration dates, but did you know car seats and bike helmets do as well? After Heather from Richmond had a baby, she saw the date on her car seat and wanted to know what it means.

So, how long should car seats and helmets last?

CAR SEATS

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends six years from the manufacturer’s date, but it’s not required by law.

“The plastic breaks down over time, especially here in Minnesota where we have extreme hot and cold temperatures,” said Heather Darby, a child passenger safety/occupant protection coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Darby also points out car seat technology changes almost every year, so replacing a seat after six years will keep parents up to date.

As for acquiring an old car seats, Darby says make sure it doesn’t have a recall, hasn’t been involved in a crash and is less than six years old. You can generally find the expiration date or the manufacturer’s date on the bottom or side of the seat.

BIKE HELMETS

“You’ll hear a number of answers on this one,” said Nick Mason, the education and technical assistance program manager for the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota.

He recommends replacing a bike helmet every three years – for the regular rider — to five years – for the casual rider.

“Helmets are made of a fancy styrofoam that breaks down with salt and sweat and heat over time,” he said.

Thom Parks, the vice-president of corporate affairs for Bell Sports, the largest bike helmet manufacturer in the U.S., also recommends the three to five year window. He says helmets that are perfectly stored and worn can last up to 10 years, but that rarely happens. He also points out certain chemicals, like Rogaine and some sunscreens, can affect helmets.

“A huge variety of things can happen in three to five years,” he said. “We don’t know what world the customer lives in.”

Mason also points out any helmet that’s been involved in a crash, even if it’s not cracked should be thrown out. He also wants to remind parents not to put a helmet on their child that’s too large or too small.

“Helmets you can get for $20,” he said. “It seems like cheap insurance.”

Heather Brown

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