Following a moderate or severe crash, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends the replacement of car seats in the event that the safety or stability of the seat was compromised as a result of the accident. There are differing recommendations, however, when it comes to minor crashes. 

While the NHTSA takes the position that car seats do not necessarily need to be replaced after a minor crash, some child car seat manufacturers do recommend replacement after even minor crashes. When deciding what’s best for your family, the NHTSA recommends that you follow the guidelines of the car seat manufacturer when it comes to minor crashes. 

What Counts As a Minor Crash?

If you and your baby were in a car crash, and you’re wondering whether to replace the car seat, how do you know if the crash was a “minor” one? According to the NHTSA, to be a “minor” crash, all of the criteria below must apply.

The Vehicle Was Capable of Being Driven Away From the Crash Site

While the condition of the vehicle does not always correspond to the severity of the crash, it is a good indicator of the force sustained by the car seat. When a car has to be towed away from the crash site, it is likely that the car seat sustained severe enough force that it should be replaced to protect your baby. 

The Vehicle Door Nearest the Car Seat Was Not Damaged

Even if the vehicle was driven away from the crash site, if the car door nearest the car seat was damaged, it is likely that the car seat sustained damage as well. Car seats are designed to absorb impacts to protect the baby inside them. However, following a direct impact, the integrity of the car seat is compromised and the car seat should be replaced. 

None of the Passengers in the Vehicle Sustained Any Injuries in the Crash

Unfortunately, babies and young children cannot always verbally express their discomfort or pain. But if an adult inside the vehicle was injured, it is likely that the car seat sustained significant enough force to compromise its safety functions. If anyone in the car was injured (broken bones, knee injuries, back injuries) it is best to replace the car seat to ensure the child’s continued protection in car crashes. 

The Airbags, If Any, Did Not Deploy During the Crash

Airbags are designed to deploy when the components connected to them sustain a certain level of force. If airbags are present in a car, and they deployed during the crash, the car seat should be replaced. If there are airbags in the car that did not deploy during the crash, and all of the above criteria are also met, it is okay to continue to use the car seat that was involved in the crash.

There is No Visible Damage to the Car Seat

Even if all of the above criteria are met, if there is any visible damage to the car seat following a crash, the car seat should be replaced. This includes damage to the base, straps, or side-wall protection components of the car seat. If your child’s car seat is damaged in any way, it should be replaced. 

Why Should You Replace a Car Seat Following a Minor Accident? 

If you and your child were in any accident, no matter how minor, it is likely that the car seat has lost some of its ability to provide protection. To prevent child injuries, it is recommended that you replace the car seat after a minor accident. 

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