The thought of their child suffering injuries from a car accident is among the most terrifying nightmares for parents. Thankfully, by wearing seat belts and properly buckling their child into age and size-appropriate car seats, the risk of serious injury in a car crash declines dramatically.

How long, though, does that effectiveness last? More specifically, is the integrity of your car seat affected after an accident?

When Is a Car Seat Replacement Advised?

Nearly all safety experts – including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – agree that you should replace your child safety seat following a severe or moderate car accident.

There are some differing viewpoints, however, concerning what to do when the car accident is a minor fender bender or bump. 

While the NHTSA feels most child safety car seats can withstand minor crashes, most car seat manufacturers feel otherwise. Many say that even minor accidents can chip away at the strength of the car seat – weakening its ability to protect your child if there’s another accident.

What Defines a Minor Car Accident?

Going by standards set forth by the NHTSA, a car accident is considered minor when:

  • You were able to drive your car away from the accident scene
  • The vehicle door closest to the nearest car seat was undamaged
  • No injuries were reported by any passengers in the car
  • Vehicle air bags (if installed) were not deployed in the crash
  • Your car seat shows no signs of damage to the naked eye. 

Even though the NHTSA says you don’t necessarily have to replace your child car seat after a minor accident, you should rely upon the guidelines outlined by the manufacturer of the seat.

What Are the Georgia Child Car Seat Laws?

Georgia law requires that each child under the age of 8 be in a car seat or booster seat that’s appropriate for their weight and height. Also, passengers younger than 8 years old are required by law to ride in the back.

It’s recommended, but not mandated, that passengers 12 years of age and younger also ride in the back.

How Do I Know If My Car Seat Was Damaged in an Accident?

This is perhaps the most important question because in many cases the damage is not noticeable to the untrained eye.

Look at it this way: since the force of a car crash can literally bend the frame of a car that’s made of steel, it can easily affect a car seat that’s made primarily of plastic. 

A good way to identify signs of damage is to place the seat on a flat surface. If it does not make full contact with the surface, do not even question your decision to replace it.

Even if you can’t see it, a minor car accident can easily weaken the interior of a car seat. The result may lead to the seat not being able to protect your child in the event there’s a second crash.

My Child Wasn’t Even in the Seat During the Accident; Do I Still Need to Replace It?

Yes, it’s best to replace the seat even if your child was not in the car at the time of the accident. Even when empty, the car seat will most likely absorb at least some of the forces made by the accident. It’s best to be on the safe side.

Who Is Responsible for Paying to Replace My Car Seat?

Most insurance providers will reimburse you for the costs of a new car seat. In most cases, all that’s needed is a copy of the accident report and a receipt for the purchase of a new seat.

If your insurance provider is reluctant to cover the costs, show them the seat manufacturer’s manual that recommends never re-using the seat after an accident.

What About Car Seat Safety Issues and Recalls? 

It’s not unusual for manufacturers of just about any product to recall certain batches or models that are known to have problems.

That’s why the NHTSA encourages parents to register their car seats with the manufacturer so that you’re alerted when a recall or other safety alert is issued. 

When Do I Need to Contact an Attorney?

If you and your child have been involved in a car accident in which the car seat was damaged, the first thing you should do is make sure everyone is ok. If you or your child is hurt, even with a minor injury, consider speaking with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.