Navigating the moment no one wants to prepare for can be a horrible ordeal. But if it does happen, knowing what impact a car crash will have on you and your child’s car seat is incredibly important.
How do you know if you need to replace your child’s car seat after your vehicle has been in a crash? Don’t wonder, read more below to find out the top safety practices within the industry.
Check the Manual
You might have guessed, but the best place to find the answer is in your car seat manual! The exact recommendations from here might vary, but most car seat manufacturers will state to replace your car seat after ANY crash, even if you child was present in the seat or not.
Some manufacturers might not recommend you change your seat in every situation, but this is measured based on the severity of the crash.
Here at Diono we recommend following the guidance promoted by the NHTSA (The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), which can be found in this post.
Check With Your Manufacturer
Ultimately, it is best to call the manufacturer directly or search for the most up to date answers on their website. After all, engineers love to know how products perform after testing, and all car seats have gone through a rigorous testing process because of the nature of their use. As a customer you have a right to this information, and should have no issues finding it.
But beware, if you’ve had your car seat for a few years it’s possible the policy on your seat has changed! Policies can change for a number of reasons. Sometimes they’ve included data from real world crashes involving the product, research studies from NHTSA, or sometimes they’ve considered recommendations from other reputable organizations such as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
Whatever the reason, research the changes to your seat and know these decisions are not made lightly.
The Importance of Crash Testing
Testing is good. Testing a car seat gives a manufacturer better knowledge on what safety features are beneficial to a child in a crash. They might test the thickness of foam and plastic needed for better protection, overall design, or the straps inside the seat itself.
All of it gets tested, over and over and over. With all the testing procedure in place, sometimes recommendations change for your car seat. Don’t be alarmed when these changes come! Testing is natural, for children and safety procedures alike. If the changes weren’t being made, the seats wouldn’t be as safe.
So, contact your manufacturer and get the details. You might discover a crash replacement program if you registered your car seat. A replacement program, you ask?
These replacement programs will vary, but usually it will mean replacing the seat through your manufacturer or seller. The program might pick up the seat that had been in the car during the crash, and have an engineering team can examine it for vital information. We sometimes do this with our own replacement program, especially when we want to know about how a seat performed in a crash.
Minor vs. Major – Know the Differences
The NHTSA recommends that car seats be replaced following a MODERATE or SEVERE crash in order to ensure a continued high level of crash protection for child passengers.
Car seats do not need to be replaced for a MINOR crash. NHTSA defines a minor crash as all of the following:
- The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site; AND
- The vehicle door nearest the child was not damaged; AND
- No passengers were injured; AND
- There is no visible damage to the child restraint; AND
- The airbags (if present), did not deploy.
NEVER use a car seat that has been involved in a moderate or severe crash.
If you’ve been involved in a crash that meets all of these criteria then you most likely will have to replace your car seat. Again, it’s best to talk with the manufacturer to make the final determination.
Not for Reuse- “But why?”
Car seats, like seat belts, are a one-time use product. After a moderate or severe crash they should be replaced. This also holds true even if the car seat is unoccupied.
During a collision, a lot happens to a car seat. It is hard to tell what has happened to the inside, even if no visible damage is showing on the outside. So whats happening in there?
More than likely the belt path has weakened and will not be durable enough to withstand another crash. Same with the absorbing component, it did its job, but is now unusable for the next crash. If the crash was severe enough and the seat has steel materials in it, the metal could now be bent inside the shell. The steel absorbed the crash forces and dispersed energy away from the child’s body, but cannot be used again.
If the seat was occupied during a moderate to severe crash, the webbing on the harness stretched and absorbed energy holding your child in the seat. The seat belt (or lower LATCH strap) transferred energy directly to the car seat during the crash, but is no longer safe for another event. Even the harnesses cannot be replaced after a crash since glass and other debris could be embedded into the fabric and not be noticeable.
If you are unsure or not comfortable following replacement guidelines on minor crashes, there is nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution and replacing the seat. Your child’s safety is the number one concern, and investing in some peace of mind might be the best solution.