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? Dont 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 measured based on the severity of the crash. Here at Diono we recommend replacing your seat, but depending on your situation and manufacturer you could be given different advice.
Call the 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 the seat performed in a crash, and all car seats have gone through a rigorous testing process. 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. This is another reason to contact your manufacturer, as they will be able to give you the most up to date recommendations.
Policies can change for a number of reasons, including data from real world crashes involving the 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. Whatever the reason, research the changes to your seat.
The Importance of Crash Testing
Testing a car seat gives a manufacturer better knowledge on what safety features are beneficial to a child in a crash. For example; the thickness of foam and plastic needed for better protection, overall design, etc. These same testing procedures might change their recommendations for your seat, and whatever changes to their advice should be taken seriously.
An additional bonus of contacting the manufacturer is that you might discover a crash replacement program. These sorts of programs can vary, but usually it will be easier to replace the seat. Sometimes they pick up the seat that had been in the car during the crash, and have engineering team can examine it for vital information.
Be sure to register your car seat and save a copy of your receipt for this exact reason!
Minor vs. Major – Know the Differences
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 any 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.
Not for Reuse
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.
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 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! Why, you ask? In a severe crash, glass and other debris could be embedded into the fabric and not be noticeable. This is part of the reason we recommend the entire seat to be replaced, even the cover and harness pads.
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.