If you were in a car accident, whether it be a fender bender or something much more serious, (We hope you’re all okay!) there is a good chance you will need to replace the child restraints in your vehicle. While some seats follow NHTSA’s criteria for reuse after a minor crash, and may not need to be replaced after a minor crash as defined by NHTSA as long as all of the criteria are met, most will need to be replaced after ANY accident. Always consult the manual that came with your child restraint, and if you’re still uncertain, contact the manufacturer.
The NHTSA crash criteria are listed below:
* 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
If the other party is at fault, or if you have full coverage, insurance may replace the car seats for you. In California, there is a section of the insurance code which does require that an insurance company replace a child restraint but only if it was occupied. Currently, no other state has such a provision. Often, insurance companies will say that they only replace child restraints if the crash doesn’t meet NHTSA’s guidelines for a minor crash or if the seat was occupied. The insurance company cannot overrule the manufacturer’s instructions and they cannot make NHTSA’s guidelines apply to a restraint which must be replaced after any crash. Often, you will need to supply the insurance company with a copy of your child restraint manual, which can almost always be found online, and sometimes the restraint manufacturer will send a letter stating that their restraint must be replaced. If the insurance company does not replace your car seats, and the manual requires that you do so, the onus is on you.
Another question you might have is “Am I able to drive home from the scene of the accident with our crashed seats?” Make the best decision that you can at the time.Child restraints that must be replaced as per the manufacturer guidelines should not be used to restrain children as they could potentially fail, leaving the child vulnerable to injury or even death. If you can immediately replace the restraints or have someone meet you with back ups restraints, that would be ideal. You’ll have to use your best judgement after a crash as far a transporting children to a medical facility or back home immediately after a crash. Usually, one of those two things has to happen, and sometimes it’s impossible to replace the seats directly following a crash. The children need to be transported to a safe place, and they can not ride in no restraint at all unless they pass the five step test. If your seat follows NHTSA crash criteria and your seat has met ALL of the criteria listed above, the seat is able to be used again but would need to be replaced after the next minor crash
Often we’re asked “How do I know if what happened was a crash or just a bump? Was this incident enough to be called a crash?” If you’re not sure if what you experienced was enough to be considered “a crash” then we’d recommend that you call the manufacturer(s) of the restraint(s) and get their input. They may want to see photos or have details and they can help to clarify a seemingly muddy situation.
Here is a list of some popular car seats and links to the manuals, stating whether or not they need to be replaced after an accident. If your seat is not on the list, check your manual ,as all car seats will have a section on what to do after an accident. It is usually listed in the warnings near the front of the manual. Please note that this is just ONE version of the manual. The links listed below may have different weight or height limits than your seats. The links below are simply to show the wording and approximate page number that you should be looking for in your own manual. Some seats do not have an online manual. If you have misplaced yours, please contact your child restraint manufacturer to replace the seat.