Should I Replace My Child’s Car Seat After an Accident?
Any accident is stressful, whether it is a minor fender-bender or a serious accident resulting in pieces of your car scattered on the road. It is often difficult to think through all that needs to be done in the aftermath of any crash. Checking the interior of your car for damage is as important as examining the exterior, structural, and mechanical parts of the vehicle. You may see cracks, rips, or breaks that need to be addressed. When you consider your child’s car seat, however, how do you know if you need a car seat replacement?
If the Crash Was Minor
Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) used to recommend the replacement of a car seat after any crash, because of the expense of new car seats they have amended their recommendation to include any crash except a minor one. Unless your crash meets ALL the criteria below, however, you will need to replace the car seat.
- After the crash, you had no trouble driving away.
- No airbags, located anywhere in the car, were deployed during the crash.
- After examining the car seat carefully, you cannot find any damage.
- There were no injuries to any passengers in the vehicle during the crash.
- The door nearest the car seat is still fully operable and did not sustain any damage at all.
Even if you can check off all of these items, may still need a new car seat. The NHTSA defers to the manufacturer’s recommendation for replacement.
If the Manufacturer Recommends Replacement
Correct use of a child restraint can reduce fatal injuries in a crash by up to 80 percent. Although the first car seats were designed to help children see out of the windows, rather than keep them safe, every specification of car seats today is engineered for safety. Manufacturers of child car seats can be held liable for defective products if their seats do not meet stringent safety standards. Your car seat is usually only meant to protect your infant, toddler, or child through one crash. Almost all manufacturers say that replacement is necessary after any crash, both for safety and to keep the warranty in place.
If the Seat Was Unoccupied
Even if the car seat was unoccupied, replacement may be necessary. Multiplying the speed at which you were traveling by the weight of the seat will give you the force of the crash on the seat itself. For instance, if you have a 25-pound seat in a car moving at 40 miles per hour, you will have 1000 pounds of force in a crash.
Damage to tethers or anchors may not be visible. Harness strap stress is often undetectable. Hairline fractures in the plastic may easily occur, especially if your car seat is not new. The temperatures inside parked cars can climb to 140 degrees. Consider a plastic child’s swing. After years of use, the plastic will begin to degrade. This also happens inside of parked vehicles subject to extremes in the weather.
Deterioration of the components is one of the reasons that manufacturers mark every car seat with an expiration date, usually six years after the manufacture date. A sticker affixed to the car seat provides those dates as well as the serial number. In support of safe car seats, sometimes larger chain stores offer programs allowing you to bring in an old car seat for a discount on a new one or even for a gift card to use in that store. The old car seats are then recycled, including cutting off the straps and harness so that the car seats cannot be used again.
If I Need a Car Seat Replacement
At the scene of the crash, let the officer know that there is a car seat involved so that it gets put into the accident report if possible. It should be considered part of the damage, even if it cannot be fixed at an auto body repair shop. Because nobody can certify or guarantee that your car seat is safe after a crash, not even a fireman nor a police officer, the only safe choice is to replace it. Insurance may reimburse you for car seats, and in some states, it is even required by law.
Once you have purchased a new seat, send your insurance company the receipt. Since seats are considered part of the car for insurance purposes, the insurer should pay the entire cost, not a prorated amount. When you choose a new car seat, you can choose a larger one if your child was about to outgrow the old one. A new car seat may also come with an advanced design and feature upgrades that increase safety. If your insurance company denies the reimbursement, indicate that you want it in writing. Ask the insurer for a letter assuming all liability for the old seat and any future events. This may help you receive the reimbursement.