Should You Replace a Child's Car Seat After Any Accident?

Not all accidents requires car seat replacement, but know when you should.

Mixed race mother loading baby into car seat
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Question: Car Seat, Accident History: Should I Replace My Child's Car Seat?

I was involved in a car accident recently. Though my children were not in the vehicle, their car seats were. A friend tells me that I have to replace on the seats. The accident wasn't that severe, and the thought of buying three new seats on top of car repairs is not thrilling my husband. Do I really have to replace them?

Answer:

I am glad the accident was not severe and glad your kids were not in the car at the time, and I do feel bad for you as you deal with the days following a car accident. There is so much to take care of, and I can't blame you for wanting to be sure if replacing the car seats is absolutely necessary.

National Highway Traffic and Safety Guidelines on Car Seats and Accidents

I will start by pointing you in the direction of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Association (NHTSA). This governmental agency oversees the policies on child passenger restraints, and they base their decisions on scientific data.

Your friend is only half-right about replacing car seats. There was a time when there was blanket advice that any car seat involved in an accident needed to be replaced, but NHTSA has revisited that policy and tweaked the language a bit. Depending on your situation, it may not be necessary to replace any or all of your car seats.

The clarified policy now recommends that all car seats involved in "moderate to severe crashes" be replaced in order to ensure the highest level of protection for the child. You can see there is a little bit of wiggle room. It is not a black and white issue.

What constitutes a minor accident after which you could consider keeping your car seat?

Ask yourself the following questions. If you can say "yes" to all five question, NHTSA would say you could keep using the seat:

  • Was the car able to be driven away from the accident?
  • Was the door nearest the safety seat undamaged?
  • Were all occupants of the vehicle uninjured?
  • Did the airbags remain undeployed?
  • Is there no visible damage to the car seat?

Why the Shift in Car Seat/Accident Policy

So why the change in the NHTSA policy? There are actually several reasons. Some have to do with what studies and science have revealed about what happens to car seats in minor vehicle accidents. The in-a-nutshell summary simply holds that seats in minor accidents continue to meet federal standards for performance.

However, science was not the only basis for the decision. NHTSA reviewed their former blanket-statement policy and realized how it might affect families.

One concern, of course, is the financial burden of replacing seats. More than that, NHTSA realized that parents might be tempted to not replace a seat and use the car seat belts instead.

NHTSA wanted to avoid parents moving a child to car seat belts before they are physically ready for that milestone.

A Good Reason to Avoid Used Car Seats

Incidentally, the concern of not knowing car seat accident history is a huge reason for not buying used car seats. If you did answer "no" to any one of the above questions, and you do need to replace your car seats, I would strongly encourage you to buy new seats. You can find several new inexpensive car seats if you want to keep the damage to your wallet at a minimum. New car seats also have a longer use since ​car seats expire.

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