If your child is at an age where they must use a car seat, the seat is probably in your vehicle the majority of the time. If you are involved in an accident, even if your child is not occupying the seat, it is possible that you will need to replace the car seat, depending on the severity of the crash. When you are involved in a vehicle crash, forces inside the car can be extreme. This means that the car seat will be affected by crash energy whether it is occupied or not.
NHTSA Recommendation Changes
In the past, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recommended replacing car seats even when it is in a vehicle that suffered a relatively minor crash. In an effort to reduce the number of children riding without restraint while parents replace one involved in a crash as well as to reduce costs to consumers and insurance companies, NHTSA revised the recommendations somewhat. The agency, using several international studies, reports that car seats continue to protect children after being involved in a minor crash even when there is visible stress in the seat. Today, NHTSA recommends that car seats be replaced following moderate to severe crashes even if the child is not occupying the seat at the time. Unless there appears to be serious damage to the seat after a minor accident, the seat does not need to be replaced.
What is Considered a Minor Crash?
It can be difficult to determine if an automobile collision is considered minor, moderate or severe. NHTSA defines a minor accident involving a car seat as one in which the vehicle can be driven away from the scene and that the door nearest the car seat was undamaged. No injuries should be reported by passengers and air bags should not have deployed. If all of these criteria are met and there is no visible damage to the car seat, you do not have to replace your car seat. Most insurance companies will cover the cost of a new seat. If your child was close to growing out of their current seat, they may cover the cost of the next level seat.
Disposing of the Old Seat
After you have replaced the car seat, you will need to dispose of the old one. Contact your local waste agency to see if they offer a car seat recycling program. If they do not, you need to make the seat unusable by anyone else. Remove all detachable parts and cut all straps from the seat. Dismantle it as much as you can before disposing of the seat. There are people who search through residential garbage looking for yard sale and thrift shop items. By dismantling the seat, you insure that a child will not be placed in danger if someone should attempt to use it after you toss it out.
Even after a minor accident, your car seat may need to be replaced in order to keep your child safe. Your local police agency can inspect the seat for you should you have any questions about its safety.