No matter how careful you are and how well you practice defensive driving, car accidents happen. There are other drivers on the road; therefore, there is always a risk of collisions. Of course, this is why properly installed and utilized car seats are so important! In fact, car seats can reduce your child’s risk of injury or death by up to 82% in a collision!

However, people often wonder what they’re supposed to do with their car seats after a collision. Many think there is a law that dictates whether or not you need to toss your seat after the crash. There are actually no states with laws like this, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a recommendation, and car seat manufacturers have their own criteria. So, that’s what we’re discussing today. 

Here’s when to replace your car seat after a crash:

What Is The Car Seat Accident Replacement Law?

As mentioned, there is no child passenger safety car seat replacement law, but let’s cover the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) recommendation. They suggest you replace your car seat after a moderate or severe crash. 

This is because parts of the car seat that aren’t visible could have been damaged in the crash, diminishing the integrity and safety of the seat. (Learn more here about what happens in a car crash.) However, though this is a good rule of thumb, you need to consult your manual first before making a decision! 

When To Replace A Car Seat After An Accident 

Guideline 1: After a Moderate or Severe Crash

Some car seat manufacturers will go with the NHTSA’s recommendation. If this is the case for your seat, you only need to replace your child’s car seat in a moderate or severe crash. A crash is only considered minor if ALL these criteria apply: 

  • The car can be driven away from the crash site.
  • The door closest to the car seat was not damaged.
  • No one in the vehicle sustained any injuries.
  • No airbags deployed. 
  • There’s no visible damage to the car seat.

If you can’t check all these boxes, you’ll need to replace the car seat! 

Guideline 2: After Any Crash

Other car seat manufacturers state your car seat automatically needs to be replaced if it was involved in a car accident of any kind. This includes minor crashes! This is because the manufacturer doesn’t want to take any risk regarding the integrity of the potentially damaged child safety seats.  

Guideline 3: After Talking With the Manufacturer’s Customer Service Line

The third guideline you’ll find from car seat manufacturers is one that requires you to consult with the brand’s customer service line. These representatives will ask you questions about the accident and give you directions to inspect your seats, so they can make the ultimate judgment call. They’ll tell you if there’s any hint or suggestion of damage to replace the car seat after an accident. 

Does My Car Seat Brand Require a Replacement After a Crash?

What To Do With Your Child After A Car Crash

If you ever find yourself in a crash, try not to remove your child from their car seat. If you can, wait until paramedics arrive at the crash site and let them examine your child first. Brain, head, neck, spinal cord, back, internal organs, and internal bleeding injuries could all be invisible externally, and removing them from their seat could worsen these injuries! Many paramedics talk about how keeping your kids in their child restraint system could save their lives!

However, if your child shows distress or a need for CPR/airway management, remove them carefully from their seat. The same is true if the car is smoking or there are other apparent dangers if they stay where they are. In these situations, try to cut the seat belts, keep them in the car seat, and remove the whole unit with your child inside. Again, this could be life-saving!

How to Recycle a Damaged Car Seat

When you recycle a damaged car seat, remove all the padding and foam and cut the harness straps. Then, call your local recycling facility to see what parts they’ll recycle. Recycle what you can and discard the rest. 

Getting Rid of Damaged Car Seats

If you’d like to save yourself a trip to the recycling facility, consider taking your car seat to Target’s Annual Trade-In Event. There, you can give Target your car seat as-is and get a 20% off baby gear coupon in return. It’s a great program that incentivizes recycling and keeps unsafe car seats out of the hands of parents. 

Before you buy a new seat, make sure you contact your insurance provider. Some insurance companies will cover the cost of replacing a car seat after an accident. In fact, some states like California and Illinois require insurance companies to do so in a moderate to severe crash. Check into this before spending your own cash on a new seat. You can ask the car seat manufacturer for an email stating that the seat needs to be replaced. Sending this to your insurance provider may increase the likelihood of them replacing the seat.

There is no car seat accident replacement law, instead, follow your manufacturer’s guidelines! 

Your child’s safety is your number one priority. It’s ours too! When you get into an accident of any kind, ensure you consult your car seat manufacturer before making a decision. But, if you still have doubts, recycling would be the best choice to keep your kiddo safe and give yourself peace of mind! 

Don’t forget to browse the Safe in the Seat blog and Instagram for regular car seat safety updates. We are your one-stop shop for all car seat and vehicle safety information. Our goal is to keep everyone in the car safe in their seats! 

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