After a car accident: do I need to replace my child’s car seat?

If you are wondering whether to replace a car seat after a minor accident this article should answer some of your questions. In most cases car seats need to be replaced after an accident. For the benefit of any doubt, replacing means throwing away the old seat (you should recycle the metal and plastic parts whenever possible) and buying a new car seat for your child.

Remember that it does not matter if the child was seated in the car seat or not during the accident. If the car seat was empty it still absorbed the impact from the crash and its materials, such as plastic and foam, have been weakened. This means that the car seat is likely to be compromised and in all probability won’t perform its job of protecting your child very well in case of another accident.

Whether car seats which have been in a minor crash can still be used is a topic of debate. We are going to present a couple of arguments but are of the opinion that the only source you need to refer to in case of an accident is your user manual or car seat manufacturer directly.

In the UK the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents states that “A child car seat that was in a car when it was involved in a collision should be replaced, even if there is no visible damage.”

However, in the same article it states that car seats may not have to be replaced if:

  • It was a very low speed impact
  • There was no, or very little, external damage to the car
  • There was no child in the child seat when the impact occurred.

Unfortunately this does not help much. ‘Low speed’ can be relative. Also, the fact that no child was present in the car seat at the time of the accident has little influence on the fact that the car seat absorbed some of the crash impact thereby weakening the materials it is made of.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US provides a somewhat clearer definition of the type of crashes that are minor enough to keep the car seat. The NHTSA states that car seats which were present in cars involved in a minor accident don’t need to be replaced if all of the following are ticked

  • 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; and
  • There is no visible damage to the car seat.

However, your main point of reference is your user manual. Some manufacturers are quite clear about the types of crashes after which the car seat can still be used. Car Seat Jungle has compiled recommendations from leading car seat manufacturers below.

What does Car Seat Jungle think of the above information? Always follow the car seat manual. In a situation where the manual allows you to continue using the car seat following a very minor crash, it is our opinion that if you can afford a new car seat to replace the one which has been in a minor crash (no matter if the child was seated in it or not), you probably should as there is no way of telling whether a car seat has been compromised or not. If your budget doesn’t allow for a new car seat then follow the guidelines above to reduce the risk of your child riding in an unsafe seat. Remember that in the event of another crash an expired or previously damaged seat may not perform as well.