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Home / So You Were In A Minor Car Crash – Now What?

So You Were In A Minor Car Crash – Now What?

It is a statistical probability that one will end up in a car crash an average of 3-4 times in their lifetime.  Of course, that number could be higher or lower and it only takes into consideration certain types of collisions.  Most people understand that car seats should be replaced after major crashes.  But did you know that you may have to replace your car seat even if you didn’t hit another car on the freeway?

If your neighbor backed out of his driveway right into your vehicle, the car seats in your car (and his!) may need to be replaced.
If your driveway floods and water ends up covering your seats (it happened to me!), you’re most likely gonna want to replace them.
If you slid off the road in an attempt to avoid a crash, yep, you may be in the car seat market sooner rather than later.

Until you know for certain that the seat is safe to use you should immediately discontinue its use.

The best way to find out if your car seat requires replacement is to go directly to the source: ask the manufacturer.  You can find this info in the car seat manual, on their website, or by calling the customer service line.  Make sure you have the car seat’s information handy from the sticker on the seat.  It will contain the manufacturer date, make and model number.

A few manufacturers follow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s car seat replacement guidelines, but most require replacement after any type of crash.  The NHTSA guidelines are as follows:

What defines a minor crash? A minor crash is one in which ALL of the following apply:
  • 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.
NEVER use a car seat that has been involved in a moderate to severe crash. Always follow manufacturer’s instructions.

Here is a list of a few things to think about should you find yourself in this situation:

Will insurance cover this cost?

The state laws in MI do not require any insurance company to cover the cost of a replacement car seat.  That said, most will, but just like anything good in life you have to ask nicely.  I can tell you from personal experience that it helps to be firm but kind.  If your insurance company is reluctant to pay for a replacement, kindly remind them that a car seat is a lifesaving device and a legal requirement to transport children under 8 years old.  That may appeal to their sensibilities.

Your insurance company may follow NHTSA guidelines – but your child restraint manufacturer may not.

You should replace the car seat anyway.  Even unoccupied seats can sustain damage, even in low impact collisions, and it’s nearly impossible to tell if a seat has been compromised.  It’s just not worth the risk of the seat potentially not doing its job the next time you become a statistic.

Can the seat be recycled or repurposed?

Some car seat manufacturers, like Clek, have a recycling program.  If you have a Diono seat you can inquire about their crash exchange policy.  In the absence of a similar program you could contact your local recycling centers.  If all else fails, cut the straps from the seat and place it in a black trash bag to deter people from “rescuing” a crashed seat from the side of the road.  Some CPSTs have been known to use crashed or expired car seats as teaching tools – if you know a CPST you can reach out to see if they’re interested in yours!

  • Do not use the seat again, even for quick trips.  
  • Do not use the seat as a backup for use in another caregiver’s car. 
  • Do not give the seat to a shelter.  Your heart may be in the right place here but all you are giving is a false sense of security – and you are potentially endangering children.

Picture your family a few years down the line

If the seat you need to replace is one that your child is about to outgrow, consider replacing it with one that will last a little longer (ie: replacing an infant seat with a convertible).  If you’re using insurance to pay for the replacement they may have rules on what you can buy, so make sure to check with them.  But if not don’t feel pigeonholed into buying the same exact model you had before.   For instance, my husband was in a minor fender bender with a Graco car seat and we ended up replacing it with another Graco, only a different model that she got more use out of.  Usually, as long as the replacement doesn’t cost more than the original seat the insurance company doesn’t mind a different model – but again, don’t take my word for it, ask!

Bottom line: The manufacturer will be able to clear up any questions you have about replacing a seat after a crash.  And if you have trouble, don’t be afraid to reach out for help!

Author: Dana

Dana is the lucky mother to two incredible kids (aged 10 & 6) and the happy wife of Nate. She stumbled around in her adult life for a while before finally realizing that she could get paid to pursue her passion: keeping kids safe. In 2013 she started working at Modern Natural Baby in Ferndale where she eventually became a Child Passenger Safety Technician with additional Special Needs training. Dana also runs the child passenger safety-focused Facebook page Buckle Up Detroit and works with the amazing lady bosses at Metro Detroit Doula Services offering car seat classes, consultations, and more!