Car Seat Use After a Crash: What You Need to Know (Best 2022 Consultant)

You may not be sure whether or not you should replace a car seat after an accident. You cannot use the same seat if it’s damaged. However, you might use it again if the seat doesn’t have visible harm.

Here’s the deal:

You must follow the NHTSA or the manufacturer’s rules to know whether or not you can use a car seat after a crash.

So, if you’re uncertain about the replacement procedure, the guide below will answer your questions and clear your dilemmas. You will find all replacement factors and tips for seat inspections. Let’s start.


All You Need to Know About the Use of Car Seats After Accidents

If you've recently been involved in a car accident, you must wonder if you should or should not use the car seat again. Let's take a close look at the guidelines below.

What should you do after a car crash?

nhtsa car seat use after a crash
  • Quickly decide what to do for you and your child. You should stay in your vehicle and not remove your children from their car seats unless there is an imminent threat of fire and similar harm. In that case, you should unbuckle the whole car seat and remove it with your child inside. Otherwise, you risk head and spine injuries, and internal bleeding, according to paramedic Nikki Jurcutz. She states that child restraints provide additional support and stability for your kids who may be injured, and paramedics will transport them to the nearest hospital in their seats.
  • In addition, you may need/need not replace car seats immediately, according to the NHTSA's or manufacturer's instructions (more information below). Based on their recommendations, you will decide to or not to replace the seat.
  • When your seat is a complete wreck, you can either recycle or destroy it. If it’s not (no visible harm), you don’t have to destroy the seat. You can find various recycling programs and follow the instructions. You can also completely dispose of the seats if there's no recycling program near you. Ensure no one will pick them up from the garbage and reuse the seats. Use the sharp tools to remove all the foam, fabric, and straps, and throw them away separately. You can also write on the plastic shell that the seats are not safe for use. Finally, you should recycle or destroy the seat if it’s not reusable.

What happens with children after a collision?

Children will be either transported to the nearest medical facility or home. However, your child mustn't ride alone in the seat belt unless they pass a five-step test.

A five-step test serves to determine whether your kids are fit to use seat belts without their booster seats for a safe ride. A child should complete the following steps for seat belt use:

  • Shoulder strap crosses between their shoulder and neck
  • The lower back is against the vehicle seat
  • A lap belt covers the upper thighs across the hip bones
  • Knees bend at the seat's end
  • Children ride in this position during the entire ride

Can you use a car seat after a crash? - NHTSA's recommendations

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends replacing car seats after a moderate or severe crash to ensure the safety of all child passengers. However, the agency states that child safety seats needn't be replaced after a minor crash. The minor crash includes all the NHTSA crash criteria listed below:

can you use a car seat after a crash
  • None of the vehicle occupants suffers from any injuries in the car crash
  • The vehicle door nearest the car seat was not harmed
  • You could drive the vehicle away from the crash site
  • If the vehicle has air bags, the system did not deploy during the car accident
  • There is no visible harm to the car seat.

If your car accident doesn't meet the criteria above, the incident classifies as a moderate or severe crash. Then, you must replace your child's safety seat. Never use a child's car seat in a moderate or severe crash.

However, if your car accident meets the above criteria, you must inspect the car seat manual. Find the manufacturer's instructions to see whether or not you must replace your child's car seat. Read below for more information.

Should you use a new car seat after a crash? - Manufacturer's Recommendations

Some car seat manufacturers (Graco, Chicco, etc.) state that car seats need to be replaced immediately after a car accident. Others follow the NHTSA's criteria and recommend replacing your car seats only in case of major crash damage.

Please refer to the table below to see the policy of each car seat manufacturer.

Car seat manufacturer

Car seat replacement

Replacement after any crash

Follow NHTSA’s criteria

Replacement after any crash

Replacement after any crash

Replacement after any crash


Follow the car seat manual and contact the manufacturer

Follow NHTSA’s criteria

Replacement after any crash

Follow the seat manual and contact the manufacturer

Replacement after any crash

Replacement after any crash

Replacement after any crash


Replacement after any crash

Follow NHTSA’s criteria

Follow NHTSA’s criteria

Follow the seat manual and contact the Nuna manufacturer directly

Orbit Baby

Replacement after any crash

Follow the seat manual and contact the manufacturer


Follow the seat manual and contact the manufacturer

Follow the seat manual and contact the manufacturer

Follow NHTSA’s criteria

The First Years (Tomy International)

Replacement after any crash


Follow the seat manual and contact the manufacturer

As crash damage is not often visible to the naked eye, follow the manufacturer's recommendations and use a new child restraint if needed to protect your child best.

There are numerous car seat manufacturers that you can locate via labels on the child's car seat covers.

First, find the car seat serial number and manufacture date on the stickers. Regardless of the brand, you can usually find them at the bottom of the car seats. Contact them and follow the manufacturer's instructions to see whether or not you should use a new car seat.

For instance, Graco states that you must replace a seat even if you hit the car door in the parking lot, even though there might not be any damage to your seat.

What to do when the manufacturer doesn’t suggest a replacement?

You should inspect your car seats when the car seat manufacturers don't recommend a car seat replacement in case of a minor crash. Many hospitals, firehouses, and police stations offer free car seat inspections by qualified inspectors. You can either schedule a car seat inspection in your area or hire a certified safety technician to complete the check.

The importance of replacing a seat after an accident

The main problem is that crash energy causes invisible damage to child restraints. Even a vacant seat will experience crash forces that might be hard to see in the inner part (inner frame cracks). However, the invisible damage of the car seat moving forward and backward, resulting from the tether strap or lower anchor strap, causes your seat to fail in the second crash.

The NHTSA's original policy was to use new seats after any accident, regardless of being a fender bender or a severe accident. However, the officials changed the policy as parents bought used seats after accidents to save money, increasing the risk of children's injuries.

Do not use a car seat involved in an accident; follow the instructions for the specific car seat you have to avoid fatality.

The importance of car seats for children

The importance of car seats for children

All car seats must have seatbelt systems and harnesses to keep their child secure and properly restrained, according to the NHTSA. In addition, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety - IIHS claims that safety seats offer more crash protection than seatbelts alone. You must choose an appropriate car seat for your child's age and size.

The NHTSA estimates that safety seats reduce the risks of fatal injuries by 71% for infants younger than one year old and 54% for toddlers from one to four years old. Regarding infants and toddlers in light trucks, the data shows 58% and 59% in both categories.

The National Safety Council - NSC is another agency stating that car crashes are the main reason for children's death. However, only in 2019, 608 children under thirteen were killed in car accidents, according to the NCS's Injury Facts. 206 were not restrained, and many others were not appropriately restrained.

What should you do in an accident?

If you had a minor accident and no one has been injured, your car might have sustained more negligible damage. However, if you had a severe accident with injuries and your vehicle is severely damaged, you can hire a lawyer to recoup your losses. These are the cases when you need to consult the police and the lawyer:

- The accident involved an injury or death

- A driver fled the scene after a collision

- A driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol

- The accident was severe, so a truck had to remove the vehicle from the scene.

Find a lawyer near you, and schedule a free consultation to see how you can benefit. The lawyers will claim your damages if you decide to go to court or when the other party doesn’t want to cooperate and admit fault. The attorneys will help you cover the medical bills (yours and your child’s), a replacement seat, and auto repair costs, which increase the entire cost and affect your budget.

However, to hire a lawyer, you need to prepare enough money. The average cost for hiring attorneys is between 33% and 40% of the settlement, which would be approximately $21,000.

Does insurance cover car seat replacement?

The company would accept your claim if you filed a collision coverage in moderate or severe crashes, following the NHTSA standards. The insurers will cover the damage in accidents, including:

- Collision with other vehicles

- Single-vehicle accidents (hitting a telephone pole or guardrail)

- Collisions while your vehicle is parked (hit-and-runs).

To request replacement cover, you need to submit an auto insurance claim, notifying your insurance provider that you need a seat replacement. Insurers pay for a replacement matching the type and quality of a child restraint damaged in an accident (infant seat, convertible or booster seat placed near the damaged vehicle door). However, there are other requirements when claiming insurance. Check them below.

How to claim car seat insurance

It would help to have a receipt for the damaged seat. Then, you can present the receipt online to your insurance company, as your credit card records have them.

You could also present pictures of the damaged vehicle and safety seat with visible damage, car seat serial number, and manufacture date. Then, you can cut the straps and take photos of the car seat with cut straps. Cutting the straps ensures car seats need to be replaced and must be discarded.

The receipt and photos should be your insurance claim, car insurance, damaged vehicle, and other evidence with visible damage. Then, the insurance company must replace the car seat and cover all costs.

However, you can check your car seat safety law and see if the insurance companies are obliged to replace the car seat with your insurance code. For instance, California requires that an insurance company replace a car seat after an accident regardless of being occupied or not. Currently, no other state has such a benefit.

should you use a car seat after an accident

Can insurance refuse claims for the replacement of the seat?

There are also cases where an insurance company won't cover the child restraint replacement if the seat doesn't meet the NHTSA standards. For example, the insurance might reject your request in the following scenarios:

  • Crash with animals - it is covered under comprehensive coverage
  • Harm to your vehicle caused by events out of your control (a tree falling on it) - it’s covered under a comprehensive coverage
  • Harm and injuries you cause to another party and their vehicle - your liability coverage will apply.

What to do when the insurance refuses claims?

In that case, you should also bring a seat manual as evidence, or a manufacturer might send a letter stating the seats need to be replaced after a car crash.

The insurers cannot overrule the manufacturer's instructions and apply the NHTSA rules when the manufacturer states the seats need to be replaced after any crash.


Can you use a car seat after it's been in a wreck?

No, you cannot use your car seat after it has been in a wreck. You must replace it immediately, per the NHTSA and manufacturer's guidelines. Only minor crashes allow you to use a car seat again (and you must complete the criteria); otherwise, you must use a new seat.

Why do you destroy a car seat after an accident?

You need to destroy a car seat after an accident to prevent other children from being hurt in the future crash. As parents buy used seats to save money, they endanger the kids. So, the destruction of the seat prevents fatality rates and makes parents use new car seats to keep their children safe.

What should you not do after a crash?

You should not take your kids out of their seats. Instead, you should call the ambulance and wait for help. You can unbuckle and remove the utterly composed child safety seat from your car only in imminent danger.

However, there are other things you should not do:

- Leave the scene

- Decide not to call 911

- Forget to exchange information

- Admit fault

- Not hire a lawyer

- Underestimate your injuries

- Fail to gather evidence

- Don't speak to your insurance company

- Speak to the other party's insurance company

- Be dishonest with your attorney

Final Words

There are multiple factors to consider regarding whether you should use a car seat after an accident. However, most standards state you should, so it would be best to follow the NHTSA and manufacturer instructions and replace the car seats.

You will prevent severe injuries, comply with the car seat laws, and keep your children secure on the road.

Avatar of Kathy Warner

Kathy Warner

Kathy is a busy mother of two and a CPS technician for more than eight years. Her mission is to awaken parents to the importance of child passenger safety and show them the right practice. You can read more about her here

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