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 experienced 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.
Many car seats do need to be replaced if they were in a vehicle that is involved in 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.
In a substantial crash, the crash forces may be enough to bend the steel in your car’s frame. The car seat itself can be quite heavy and the restraining force to hold just the seat can stretch seat belt, lower anchor or tether webbing or stress the plastic shell.
Crash damage is not always visible to the naked eye. There is no one who can inspect your car seat to certify it as safe after a crash.
Do you need to replace your car seat or car seat booster?
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.
NHTSA revised that recommendation in an attempt to reduce the number of children without a child restraint while parents replace their crashed restraint and to reduce costs for consumers and insurance companies.
However, some car seat manufacturers still require you to replace your car seat after crash for any type of crash, whether or not it meets NHTSA’s criteria below. I’d share a list of companies who currently require replacing a car seat after any crash but it’s likely to change. It should say in the owner’s manual of your car seat. If you don’t have that or it’s not clear, always check with the manufacturer of your car seat to be sure of what is required for your particular seat.
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 replacing child safety seats and boosters 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
Please note that even if the crash meets NHTSA’s criteria for a minor crash, some manufacturers still require a car seat to be replaced after any type of crash. Really the manufacturer for your car seat has the final say in whether or not you need to replace your car seat. Usually the car seat manual mentions if you need to replace the car seat after a crash. If you do not see it in the owner’s manual, contact the manufacturer to confirm.
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. After our car was merely stolen, we found the car seats a few blocks away where the thieves threw them out of the car. Our insurance company replaced them just in case there was unseen damage. (Police later found our car torn to shreds on the inside. The thieves cut out the seat belts, took a knife to the dash and who knows what else in there.)
The insurance company had us buy a new car seat right away and they reimbursed us from the receipt. They usually 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. But different companies have different policies.
We do hear that sometimes insurance companies are not as easy to work with and deny claims to replace a car seat after a crash. At least in California, law requires insurance companies to pay for the cost of a new car seat. It may help to know your state law. All states legally require safe car seats so insurance companies should pay the entire cost of a new car seat when it is required to replace it.
Some parents said they had to give the insurance company proof from the car seat manufacturer, like the car seat manual or a letter from the manufacturer, that the seat has to be replaced after a crash. Some parents report having to ask the insurance company for a letter stating the company is willing to take on the liability if the seat fails in a future crash before the company will reimburse them for new seats.
What do you do with the crashed seat after you replaced it?
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. You can cut the straps and remove 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 2022 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.
We originally published this post in August 2013. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.