Should You Replace a Child's Car Seat After Any Accident?

Mother loading baby into car seat
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Among the things you need to consider after a car accident is whether or not you need to replace your child's car seat. Car seats are not cheap, so it is tempting to place the same car seat in your new or repaired car, but this may not be the best idea. Depending on the severity of the crash, it may no longer be safe to use. 

Car Seats and Accidents

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Association (NHTSA) provides recommendations for when to replace your car seat after an accident.

This governmental agency oversees the policies on child passenger restraints and their decisions are based on scientific data.

While there was a time when the advice was that any car seat involved in an accident needed to be replaced, the NHTSA revisited that policy and tweaked the language a bit. Depending on your situation, it may not be necessary to replace any or all of your car seats.

The policy recommends that all car seats involved in "moderate to severe crashes" be replaced in order to ensure the highest level of protection for the child. In general, minor accidents do not necessarily warrant a replacement, though there is some grey area. These guidelines apply whether or not your children were in the seats at the time of the accident.

What constitutes a minor accident after which you could consider keeping your car seat? Ask yourself the following questions. If you can say "yes" to all five questions, the NHTSA would say you could keep using the seat:

  • Was the car able to be driven away from the accident?
  • Was the door nearest the safety seat undamaged?
  • Were all occupants of the vehicle uninjured?
  • Did the airbags remain undeployed?
  • Is there no visible damage to the car seat?

The concerns are that the impact of a crash can have negative effects on the safety structure of your child's seat.

If you think about the damage done to the metal frame of your car, imagine what that may have done to the molded plastics in the seat. Many times this damage cannot be seen.

Why the Shift in Car Seat and Accident Policy?

There are several good reasons why the NHTSA shifted their initial safety recommendations. Among those are what studies and science have revealed about what happens to car seats in minor vehicle accidents. Essentially, they found that seats in minor accidents continue to meet federal standards for performance.

However, science was not the only basis for the decision. The NHTSA reviewed their former blanket-statement policy and realized how it might affect families.

One concern, of course, is the financial burden of replacing seats. More than that, the NHTSA realized that parents might be tempted to not replace a seat and use installed car seat belts instead. The agency wanted to avoid parents moving a child to seat belts before they are physically ready for that milestone.

Avoid Used Car Seats

The concern of not knowing a car seat's accident history is a big reason for not buying used car seats. If you answered "no" to any one of the above questions and you do need to replace your car seats, it is recommended that you purchase new seats.

You can find several new inexpensive car seats if you want to keep the damage to your wallet at a minimum. Some insurance companies also cover the cost of replacing seats involved in an accident because they're considered to be part of the car. New seats can also be used for a longer period of time since car seats do expire.

A Word From Verywell

For the safety of your children, it is best to err on the side of caution when making a decision about replacing car seats. The questions provided by the NHTSA are good guidance. If you do keep the seat, be sure to carefully inspect it for even the tiniest cracks or damage.

When in doubt, it's probably best to simply buy a new one.


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Car Seat Use After a Crash.