How do you know if you need to replace your child’s car seat after your vehicle has been in a crash?

The best place to find the answer is in the car seat manual. Most car seat manufacturers will state to replace your car seat after ANY crash but some manuals state it is not necessary if it is a minor crash. Furthermore, if you have had your car seat for a few years, it is possible the company has changed their policy on this issue. Their policy may have changed based on a number of factors, including data from real world crashes involving their product, research studies from NHTSA or recommendations from other reputable organizations such as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Ultimately, it is best to call the manufacturer directly or search for the most up to date answers on their website. After all, engineers would love to know how the seat performed in a crash. This gives them better knowledge on what safety features are beneficial to a child in a crash, the thickness of foam and plastic needed for better protection, overall design, etc.

In addition, the manufacturer may have a crash replacement program, so it will be easier to replace the seat. In return, they will have the crashed seat picked up so the engineering team can examine it for vital information. Be sure to register your car seat and save a copy of your receipt.

Minor vs. Major Crash

According to NHTSA, a minor crash must meet ALL of the following criteria.

  • The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site.
  • The vehicle door nearest the car seat was not damaged.
  • None of the passengers in the vehicle sustained any injuries in the crash.
  • If the vehicle has air bags, the air bags did not deploy during the crash.
  • There is no visible damage to the car seat.

If you’ve been involved in a crash that meets all of these criteria then you most likely will not have to replace your car seat. Again, it’s best to talk with the manufacturer to make the final determination. While Diono recommends replacing your seat after a crash, NHTSA’s guidelines are used to determine the severity of a crash. Because every crash is different, we still encourage you to call your car seat manufacturer. If one of these factors occurs in a crash then it is considered to be moderate to severe. NEVER use a car seat that has been involved in a moderate to severe crash.

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, the seat belt or lower LATCH strap transferred energy directly to the car seat. It is hard to tell what has happened to the structure of the car seat, even if no visible damage is showing on the outside. More than likely the belt path has weakened and will not be durable enough to withstand severe crash forces again. If the car seat has any crash absorbing component, it did its job and is now unusable for the next crash. If the seat has steel materials in it, the metal could now be bent inside the shell if the crash was severe enough. Again, the steel did its job: absorbing the crash forces and dispersing more energy away from the child’s body.

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. It works just like a seat belt. This is why seat belts need to be replaced if your car is not a total loss. You want them in good condition in case there is another impact. Harnesses on a car seat, however, cannot be replaced after a crash. The entire seat needs to be replaced, even the cover and harness pads. Why? In a severe crash, 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 spending a few extra dollars is worth the investment in their life and your peace of mind.

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