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Jody Melto Headshot

Does This Car Seat Smell Bad To You?

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Bring up the topic of car seats with some people in the over-40 crowd and prepare to hear stories of how they faced vehicular peril without the aid of a plush, ergonomically designed, high-priced Barcalounger. "Car seat? I never had a car seat. My parents just threw me in the back. I'm shocked I made it out alive."

My husband likes to regale us with tales from his childhood when he bounced around in the back of a pickup truck alongside the tackle and bait as his father and other drunk fishermen rode in the cab. And not only did my parents raise seven kids without a car seat, but the seat belts never seemed to work. In the summer, my mom would tell us to jam them under the seats so they wouldn't burn our legs.

Those days are over.

Today, not only do parents have to choose the correct car seat based on the child's age, height, weight, but now there's also the expiration date to consider. That's right. An expiration date for a car seat. I learned this when trying to sell my son's Britax car seat, barely used but five years old.

Some potential buyers asked when it was due to expire. Expire? I couldn't have been more confused had they used the word "detonate." I had the original receipt but didn't know anything about an expiration date. One patient, if not condescending, mother instructed me to look on the bottom of the seat where the serial number is located. All I found were some crushed dried blueberries. I explained that I only used car seat 20 times. Tops. It was practically new.

But that wasn't good enough for a few mothers who had obviously just read something about plastic degradation and its effects on car seat performance. There are even frightening videos on YouTube should a mother's overactive, worse case scenario imagination not suffice. But my car seat wasn't kept in a windswept desert baking in the noonday sun. It was in my temperature-controlled bedroom collecting dust on a shelf. As I'm not a chemical engineer, understanding the shelf life of plastic is above my pay grade. But what kind of plastic are manufacturers using if it loses structural integrity after only five years of sitting in a car? My son still plays with Fisher Price toys from the 1970s. They seem to be holding up just fine. Is it really necessary to destroy a perfectly good, barely used, never-been-in-a-crash car seat just because it's five years old?

It seems that car seat makers have a sweet deal when it comes to planned obsolescence and preying on the fears of parents as we try to keep our children safe at whatever cost. Of course we want them safe. Why take chances? But I do have my limit. A used car seat worked great for my newborn son. The couple I bought it from seemed nice enough. Their car, I noticed, wasn't wrecked or dented. Besides, a new car seat would've made my 1979 Volare look shabby.

Regardless if it's new or not, the Department of Motor Vehicles claims that three out of four car seats for children are not installed properly. And to celebrate, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has named September 18-24 the 2011 Child Passenger Safety Week. And this Saturday is National Seat Check Saturday.

On September 24th from 10 am to 2 pm at the Vehicle Inspection Station located on 1001 Half Street SW, you can have your car seat inspected by a certified child passenger safety technician. Who knew?

The best part is that while supplies last they will be giving away free car seats. New ones I'm assuming.