Child Car Seats & Auto Wrecks – When to Replace?

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Many parents don’t think of child car seats as something they need to replace after a wreck.  Getting insurance companies to pay for a replacement seat can be an uphill battle, especially without the proper resources.  The reality is that car seats may not be safe for continued use after exposure to the stresses of a major accident.  Fortunately, the National Transportation Highway Safety Administration guidelines can help parents determine when child seats need to be replaced. The purpose of the guidelines is to ensure a high level of crash protection for child passengers.

According to NHTSA guidelines, child restraint seats must be replaced following any major accident.   This is always the case, regardless of whether the seat was occupied at the time of the wreck. The forces a seat is subjected to in a major accident can cause deformation and cracking of components that are critical to the seat performing properly when in use. Continuing to use a car seat that has suffered such damage could result in a performance failure during subsequent collisions.

The NHTSA recommends that car seats be replaced following any moderate or severe crash to ensure a sufficient level of crash protection for child passengers. The only scenario in which car seats do not automatically need to be replaced is following a minor crash.

What is a “minor” crash?

To qualify as a “minor crash,” five (5) conditions must be met:

  1. The vehicle must be drivable.
  2. No damage to the door nearest to the car seat.
  3. No passenger injuries as a result of the crash.
  4. Air bags do not deploy; and
  5. No visible damage to the car seat itself.

Unless all 5 conditions clearly apply to your crash, it should not be considered a “minor” crash for purposes of the guidelines.   If there is any question whether any of these criteria have been met, your child’s safety demands that the car seat be replaced.

Alternate Authority: Manufacturer Guidelines

If there is any doubt then you should check with the manufacturer. Each child restraint seat is required to bear a tag that identifies the manufacturer, and provides a contact number.  Parents can use that number to reach out to the manufacturer for specific recommendations. Alternatively, many manufacturers also provide instructions and recommendations on how to proceed following a wreck in their user manuals.

Ultimately, insurance companies have an incentive to avoid paying any more than is necessary to settle a given claim.   Adjusters aren’t going to ask about car seats if the claimant does not bring it up first.  Even where replacement is warranted, claimants may experience some push back from adjusters when it comes time to pay.   The NHTSA guidelines and manufacturer’s recommendations for your particular seat can help considerably in making sure those expenses are properly reimbursed.


NHTSA Guidelines

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