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Do I need to replace my car seat after a crash or accident?

minor-car-accident replace car seat after a crash

Why You Should Replace Your Car Seat After A Crash For Increased Car Seat Safety

The question you are probably here asking: Do I have to replace my car seat after a crash?

Answer: It depends on the severity of the crash you were involved in based on NHTSA’s five criteria (listed below) and what your specific car seat manufacturer says about that specific child restraint. If you are unsure after reading this post, the best thing to do is call the manufacturer of your specific car seat.

Most car seats need to be replaced if they were in a vehicle that experience a crash — even if the child was NOT in the car seat  during the crash. Crash forces can be extreme. The seat will withstand some crash energy even if the seat were empty and even more so if the car seat was occupied.

In a substantial crash, the crash forces may be enough to bend the steel in your car’s frame, therefore, obviously enough to damage the plastic in your child’s car seat (even if you cannot see the damage with the naked eye).

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Does your car seat or car seat booster need to be replaced?

In the past the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended to replace a child restraint whenever it was in a crash no matter the severity of the crash.

However, NHTSA has revised that recommendation in an attempt to reduce the number of children without a child restraint while their crashed restraint is being replaced and reduce costs for consumers and insurance companies.

NHTSA Cites Child Car Seat Safety Studies

NHTSA cites several international studies which showed that after minor vehicle crash tests, even when there is visible stress to the child restraint, the restraint still performed well in subsequent crash tests.

NHTSA’s policy on replacing child restraints after minor vehicle crashes to the following:

  • NHTSA recommends that child safety seats and boosters be replaced following a moderate or severe crash in order to ensure a continued high level of crash protection for child passengers.
  • NHTSA recommends that child safety seats do not automatically need to be replaced following a minor crash..

Minor crashes are those that meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site;
  • The vehicle door nearest the safety seat was undamaged;
  • There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants;
  • The air bags (if present) did not deploy; AND
  • There is no visible damage to the safety seat

Will Your Insurance Company Replace Your Booster Seat or Car Seat After A Crash?

Most insurance companies will replace your car seat in a crash without question.

When our car was merely stolen and the car seats were found a few blocks away having been thrown out of the car, our insurance replaced them just in case there was unseen damage. (Our car was later found torn to shreds on the inside, seat belts were torn out and who knows what else happened in there.)

The insurance company had us buy a new car seat right away and they reimbursed us from the receipt. They don’t require you to buy the same seat. For instance, if your child was about to outgrow an infant seat, the insurance company will allow you to buy a convertible in its place.

What to do with the crashed seat if it needs to be replaced?

You may have a couple of options depending on where you live. Some cities have recycling programs for car seats. If you cannot find a place to recycle your car seat you’ll need to dispose of it. To dispose of it properly, you want to essentially make it unusable by anyone else by cutting the straps and removing any detachable parts.

If you were in a crash, what was your experience with your insurance company? Share your comments below.

By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004

Copyright 2015 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

This post was originally published August 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

35 Comments
  • Brandy Cooke
    Posted at 13:33h, 06 January Reply

    My insurance company told me they never replace a car seat under any circumstances and that its my personal responsibility. I live in arozona. Could this possibly be true?

    • Amie
      Posted at 16:28h, 06 January Reply

      Most of the time car insurance will cover replacement of car seats no questions asked. Our insurance even covered replacing our car seats when our car was stolen and the thief threw out the seats a few blocks away. But I have heard of other parents complain that their company wouldn’t cover it for various reasons. One example is when the parent was at fault, the insurance company wouldn’t cover replacement. I think it often depends on the company and the coverage you carry.

      I couldn’t find a statute in Arizona regarding replacing car seats but I did find this website (https://insurance.az.gov/consumers/help-auto-insurance) that says, “Collision coverage pays if your auto collides with an object, including another car, or if it overturns. Your insurer will pay to repair these damage even if the collision is your fault.” Here is the number to call Arizona Department of Insurance’s Consumer Affairs Division, 602-364-2499. Hopefully they’ll be able to give you some answers.

    • Edward oh
      Posted at 10:50h, 21 September Reply

      I got the same answer from the insurance company

    • Diana van
      Posted at 16:04h, 17 May Reply

      I live in Arizona as well. Some insurance companies will replace it some won’t. It depends on the company. When I was in the accident they did pay for the car seats to be replaced but they had to be of the same value as the damaged carseat. And it was after I paid for it then I sent in the receipt which sucks because you have to have the money to replace it then wait for 7-14 business days to get the renburstment . I buy really expensive car seats and have three kids so having a extra 900 dollars sitting around for car seats isn’t a reality. So it made it hard.

      • Amie
        Posted at 08:40h, 18 May Reply

        Thank you for sharing your experience. That will be helpful for many readers.

  • Stephanie Primo
    Posted at 20:16h, 12 March Reply

    Does infant a car seat have to be replaced if it was not latched (empty car seat) into the car when the accident happened?

    • Amie
      Posted at 11:46h, 13 March Reply

      If the crash was minor and there was no visible damage to the car seat then typically no. But it also varies depending on the car seat manufacturer. Even if it wasn’t buckled in, if it got flung around in the car, the seat could have received minor damage. The car seat manual should have information about if it is in a crash and if it doesn’t contact the manufacturer to be sure. Some manufacturers require that seats are replaced after a crash no matter what.

  • Amie
    Posted at 00:08h, 08 April Reply

    Q: Do we change the seat belts after a moderate to severe accident?

    A: That is great that you are thinking about replacing the seat belts. Ultimately the Authorized Dealer for the brand of car you own will be the best judge of that. You should only need to assess the seat belts that were being used at the time of the crash. Seat belts are generally a one time use depending on the crash severity. They do stretch as part of how they work and may not offer the same level of protection in a second crash if they are already stretched. I also understand that you might not be able to get the vehicle to the dealer for inspection. If you can’t get it to them ask them how your mechanic can evaluate the state of the seat belt. Maybe plan to provide them pictures of the crash and a description of injury/bruising from the seat belts on the occupants. In the end you will want to ask about who is going to assume the liability for their performance in a future crash if they are NOT replaced.

  • Aaron
    Posted at 13:43h, 21 July Reply

    I am in negotiations now with insurance, Just wondering if it is normal for them to prorate the seat (it expires next month) or if they should cover the whole cost to replace.

    • Amie
      Posted at 20:10h, 21 July Reply

      In our experience, it really depends on the insurance company. Some simply say buy a new one and send us the receipt and some want to prorate it and we’ve heard about some arguing about replacing it at all. I’m sorry, I can’t give an absolute answer.

  • Isha
    Posted at 16:52h, 26 July Reply

    The insurance company is asking me for receipts for my two car seats that were in the car when my car was hit what if I no longer have them what should I do?

    • Amie
      Posted at 21:25h, 26 July Reply

      You will need to ask that question to your insurance company. Many we have dealt with or heard about reimburse the parent based on the receipt for the seat they purchase to replace the seat in the crash. Was your car seat relatively new? Can you still purchase the same seat? Perhaps you can ask your insurance company if they can do this.

  • Jimmy davis
    Posted at 09:55h, 29 July Reply

    I was in an accident where I was rear ended although the damage was not to major, our owner’s manual states that after a collision you must replace the seat belts. I contacted State Farm (the insurance company of the person), sent them a copy of the page in my owner’s manual and they paid for all the seat belts to be replaced. At first they said no but then I said I need them to send me a notarized certified letter stating they accept all liability if the seat belts shall fail and they quickly changed their minds.

    • Amie
      Posted at 13:45h, 30 July Reply

      Thank you for sharing. That is good information for others to remember.

  • Krista Walker
    Posted at 14:24h, 30 August Reply

    If just the base was in the car, do we need to replace it?

    • Amie
      Posted at 14:39h, 30 August Reply

      It depends. If the base was buckled in, it could have experienced some minor damage that may not even be visible.
      1. If the crash was minor based on NHTSA’s guidelines in the article and there was no visible damage to the car seat base then typically no.
      2. Some car seat manufacturers require that seats, even the base, be replaced after a crash no matter if the crash was minor or severe.
      You’ll want to check what your car seat owner’s manual says or contact the manufacturer to make sure.

  • cassandra fountain
    Posted at 10:05h, 07 September Reply

    i was in a wreck my vehicle had to be towed due to front end damage, my little boy was in his car seat at the time of the accident. do i need to have it replaced the cop said no since it showed no damaged but I’m worried about using it. we are both ok.

    • Amie
      Posted at 10:40h, 07 September Reply

      Hi Cassandra,
      Many times you cannot see the damage because it could just be a hairline fracture in the plastic. Which is why some car seat manufacturers require it to be no matter what. Others follow the NHTSA minor crash criteria listed in this article. Since your vehicle had to be towed it doesn’t meet all 5 of the criteria. Based on that we would recommend having the car seat replaced. You’ll also want to check the manual of the car seat and see what it says about if the seat is in a crash. Most car insurance companies are good to work with when replacing car seats (though we do hear stories here about some who are not).

  • Brooke Ibarra
    Posted at 19:56h, 26 September Reply

    I’m in Utah. I was rear ended with a car seat in the trunk. My manufacture says to replace it after every accident. The insurance adjuster says my car seat company just wants money that’s why they want me to replace it. “The NHTSA says you don’t have to- I think they’re more reliable.” So I don’t trust that. It was in the trunk which was damaged. My car was totaled out. Over $5700 in damages. What do I do?

    • Amie
      Posted at 11:43h, 27 September Reply

      While NHTSA did set some guidelines, each car seat manufacturer has their own rules about when a car seat needs to be replaced after a crash. And if you car was totaled, it doesn’t even meet NHTSA’s first guideline for non-replacement — that the car can be driven away. If the manufacturer of your car seat says it needs to be replaced after any type of crash, then it needs to be replaced. Do you have a copy of the car seat manual where it says it needs to be replaced? Perhaps you can send that to the adjuster or send him a link to the manual online. Ease of working with insurance companies about car seats seems to vary by company and probably by adjuster. Maybe you can ask for a new adjuster or to contact a higher up. Good luck.

  • Tina Kim
    Posted at 21:16h, 22 November Reply

    Geico is requiring medical documentation of injury before proceeding to replace the car seats. Wtf.

    • Amie
      Posted at 12:19h, 23 November Reply

      Wow that is the first time we’ve heard of that request. Many car seats require being replaced after a crash whether or not a child was in the seat (the seat still has to deal with crash energy). You can try: a. asking for a supervisor and/or b. requesting a letter stating that if you are in another accident and the seat fails, Geico will be liable. Some parents reported just having to send in a receipt for the new replacement seat and Geico reimbursed them. Hopefully if you speak to a supervisor or request the letter, that is what they’ll do for you without more hassle. Keep at it and good luck!

  • Kim B.
    Posted at 15:57h, 06 December Reply

    I am having such a difficult time with this. I was hit by another driver. The other driver was cited as at fault and their insurance company also found him at fault (to be fair the very sweet gentleman was apologetic and fully admitted he was at fault.) State Farm says they don’t usually replace car seats after accidents. However, I can appeal and they will consider it. I think, however, that if they refuse I will do as was suggested above and ask for a certified letter stating that they are responsible for any failures of the car seat should their be a future accident.

  • Alexis Hines
    Posted at 04:24h, 18 December Reply

    A tree fell on my car and totaled it the cat seat was in the car. Should I get a new one it doesn’t seem like any damage to it an the insurance company said to take it out.

    • Amie
      Posted at 12:16h, 19 December Reply

      It’s possible that there is damage that’s not visible to the car seat. Not knowing the specifics, we would say it’s safest to replace the car seat just in case.

  • Samantha marshall
    Posted at 20:41h, 20 December Reply

    Hi I was hit from the front and my car had front end damage so it had to be towed away from the scene. Nobody was injured but do I need to have my car seats replaced?

    • Amie
      Posted at 21:11h, 20 December Reply

      Oftentimes a car seat can have damage like a hairline fracture in the plastic that is hard to see. Some car seat manufacturers require that their seat be replaced after any type of crash and others follow NHTSA guidelines listed in this article. So it always depends on the crash and the car seat.

      Since your vehicle had to be towed it doesn’t meet all 5 of the NHTSA crash criteria which would mean it’s safest to replace the car seat. You’ll also want to check the manual of the car seat and see what it says about if the seat is in a crash.

  • Sherri C
    Posted at 14:16h, 15 March Reply

    My car was rear ended so hard that it bent the frame. I had 3 car seats in the car that were not in use. Should I require the insurance to replace them?

    • Amie
      Posted at 14:27h, 15 March Reply

      You always want to confirm with the car seat manufacturer since they all have different rules. But the description meets NHTSA’s guidelines for replacing seats. Remember that whether or not a child is in the seat, the car seat is still being restrained by the seat belt or the LATCH system and is feeling the crash energy. There could be cracks in the plastic that you cannot see which will reduce the seat’s effectiveness in another crash.

  • Casie Schoell
    Posted at 18:40h, 04 April Reply

    Hi thanks for the great info and answers. I’d like to know the rationale behind replacing boosters after a minor accident. My understanding is that boosters (low or high) only position the seat belt correctly. (Not including the convertible ones). They don’t surround the child or offer a physical barrier around them. Is that true? If so, and there is no damage to the booster that affects it, can hairline damage really inhibit its ability to position the seatbelt appropriately? I want to be safe, but also don’t want to add to the landfill if it’s not necessary.

    • Amie
      Posted at 21:29h, 04 April Reply

      True the booster is bolstering the child up to fit the seat belt and is not involved in actually restraining the child. However, what happens if there is a hairline fracture and the booster fails to continue holding the child to have the seat belt properly fit during a major crash? I’m not sure. I’ve never seen a crash test involving a hairline fractured booster seat. The other question is what does the manufacturer say in the owner’s manual of the booster seat? If the manual said not to use the seat after any crash but you do and it fails you take the liability in your own hands. Most technicians will tell you to keep the booster buckled even when not in use. If you do this, in a crash it will undergo crash energy. On the other hand, how minor of an accident was the minor accident? Did the booster move even though it wasn’t buckled? Did the police come? Was there an insurance claim? If the answer was no to the last 3 questions, it could be considered more of a “bump” than a “crash”.

  • Homam
    Posted at 22:02h, 26 April Reply

    Hi, Thank you for very useful information. I have a question and need help. In a parked situation I opened my car door and hit the adjacent car door. A small ding with no paint chipping happened. The insurance charged me for baby car sit replacement for $400 even it was not any real crash involved ( they billed my insurance for a total of $1250 that made my premium insurance payment $650/year more expensive and a negative point on my record.) Do you think their action is legal. What do you recommend? Thanks.

    • Amie
      Posted at 09:25h, 27 April Reply

      A door ding should not qualify as a crash that would need a car seat replacement as the car seat did not experience any sort of crash energy that could have damaged it. I can’t give legal advice as I’m not a lawyer or insurance agent. Personally I would ask to talk to a manager or higher at the insurance company to ask under what grounds they feel the seat needs to be replaced and if they could remove that charge.

  • Alexis Potaman
    Posted at 15:23h, 11 May Reply

    I am being told my Ameriprise that they want proof of damage to the car seat.

    • Amie
      Posted at 21:11h, 12 May Reply

      That’s the first time we’ve heard of an insurance company asking for proof. Some damage is not visible and some car seat manufacturers require that a car seat be replaced no matter what type of crash or damage it incurred. You can ask for a letter from the insurance company, preferably from the legal department, that they will assume all liability should the car seat fail in a future crash. Other parents have mentioned their insurance company would rather replace the seat than send such a letter when one was requested.

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