Do I need to replace my son's car seat?
April 22, 2009 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Last night my husband was involved in a very low-speed crash -- the other party was a cement pylon. The crash popped the airbags and broke the plastic grill on the front of the car, but we don't see any other damage. My son's car seat was in the back of the car. (My son was not in the car.) Do I need to replace the seat?

I know there was an Ask question about this a year or more ago, but I cannot locate it on search. Google results seem to be divided on "replace or not replace" but they guy at the repair shop (not an expert, I know, but he is a volunteer firefighter) saw the seat and basically said "ooohhh, you'll need to get a new one of those" even after we told him my son was not in the seat at the time.

Checking the NTSB site this accident met all the criteria for a "minor" crash except that the airbags did deploy.
posted by anastasiav to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total)
 
I'd give a vote for not replacing the seat. As kiddo was not in the seat during the crunch, it was presumably not subjected to the stresses that would otherwise make it (un/less) safe to continue to use.

Assuming that you similarly did not have a sack of flour/sugar/potatoes/other heavy object in the car seat at the time, again, my recommendation would be continued use of the seat.
posted by LoraxGuy at 9:53 AM on April 22, 2009


I think each manufacturer may have its own criteria as well. You might check with them.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:53 AM on April 22, 2009


I'm aware that the manufacturer may just want you to buy a new one, regardless,since then they get to sell you a new one, but I still think it's worth investigating. Also, I think some brands (Britax?) may have an indicator for when the seat needs replacing.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:56 AM on April 22, 2009


It sounds to me like the airbags deployed in a crash that didn't meet the criteria where they were supposed to -- hitting a wall at 14 MPH or another car at 28 MPH. So it's still a minor crash with improper airbag deployment as a complication. I'm going to go out on a limb and say you don't need to replace the seat because of that.
posted by FishBike at 9:58 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not an expert, but I can't imagine why you'd have to replace the car seat unless there's visible damage, especially if there was no one in the seat. And any damage ought to be clearly visible (bumps and discolorations in the plastic).

A styrofoam bike helmet could have invisible damage, but I don't see a car seat having it.
posted by musofire at 10:04 AM on April 22, 2009


You don't mention what brand car seat it is. Graco says to replace seats after any accident, no matter how minor. Britax says to follow the guidelines you linked to from the NHTSA. The airbags deployed. QED, replace the seat.

My opinion (i'm not a car seat expert!): you should at least have the seat checked. I certainly would. If nothing else, it will give you peace of mind. The manufacturer (or your local baby store, such as Buy Buy Baby or Babies R Us,) can suggest someone.

http://www.seatcheck.org/ lists inspection locations where you can determine if a seat is properly installed. (Our local children's hospital does them monthly.) The folks there were able to check my twins' seats for damage after my Corolla was rear-ended. My kids were in their seats, but the impact was light enough that the seats didn't need to be replaced.
posted by zarq at 10:08 AM on April 22, 2009


This is a more direct link to the child safety seat inspection station locator.
posted by zarq at 10:13 AM on April 22, 2009


I'm sure I've done more damage to a carseat tossing it out of the car onto the driveway while digging around in the back seat.

It took no more shock than being dropped in shipping and such.
posted by Rendus at 10:16 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Psychologically, it might be money well spent; you will worry about this and never forgive yourself if something happens to your child in the old seat on some future occasion.

That said, if it were me, I would not buy a new one. Perhaps I don't understand the engineering issue well enough, but I believe there is a substantial difference between the effects of a crash while the seat is in use by a child and those when it is not, and I'd be skeptical of any advice from a manufacturer or otherwise that isn't focused on that difference. It is much easier for them to urge replacement, if not for the additional sales then for liability reasons.

I also find it hard to believe that the crash damaged the seat more than handling prior to installation would have, and seriously doubt that any impairment of the seat approaches the significance of proper installation and expert administration of the seat on your child at all points during your son's use of it -- which I can guarantee will not occur.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:20 AM on April 22, 2009


Both times I've been in an accident with kids in the car, the insurance company paid to have me replace the carseats without so much as a question. They said for me to send them the receipt and sent a check. Maybe check with your insurance company to see what their policy is. (In both my cases, I was not at fault, so I was dealing with someone else's insurance company, if that makes a difference.)
posted by artychoke at 10:24 AM on April 22, 2009


Maybe check with your insurance company to see what their policy is.

We only have liability on this car (its a 1999 VW Passat) not comprehensive collision. So the insurance company isn't involved.
posted by anastasiav at 10:37 AM on April 22, 2009


Rendus writes "It took no more shock than being dropped in shipping and such."

The concern wouldn't be with the shell but rather the straps. Any straps integral to the seat would be loaded in an accident and not during shipping or handling.

As to whether to replace the seat: At one end you have racing seat belts which are replaced after any crash and also after a few years of use (IE: they have an expiry date because of dirt and UV). At the other rarely do seat belts in street cars get replaced even after an accident or after 40 years of exposure to contaminants and UV. Most people treat car seats somewhere in the middle.

Me I wouldn't replace it. The accident was relatively low speed so energies are low and the seat wasn't anywhere near it's maximum mass rating. However I also feel comfortable driving a 30 year old truck with simple lap belts.
posted by Mitheral at 10:38 AM on April 22, 2009


Replace it immediately. Firstly it will set your mind at rest.
Secondly, you have no way of knowing if any hairline cracks or stress points have been created in the plastic moulding that is the case of the seat.
Surely $100/$150 is a good price to pay to protect your kid
posted by cameronfromedinburgh at 10:59 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Surely $100/$150 is a good price to pay to protect your kid

I understand this impulse. But just to be clear, this is $100/150 multiplied by the incremental value in safety. In providing this advice, have you figured out whether that same amount of money is better spent on an eye exam for the driver, driving lessons, etc., or whether a larger amount of money spent on a car with a better side impact rating would be more efficient?

Time and money are scarce, and have to be put to their best use. Parental guilt is almost bottomless. Be wary of adding to the latter without being mindful of the former.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:24 AM on April 22, 2009 [14 favorites]


Time and money are scarce, and have to be put to their best use. Parental guilt is almost bottomless. Be wary of adding to the latter without being mindful of the former.

Amen. Have it checked by the seat-installation checking people.

Another question that might tip the scales for me personally would be how much longer you were planning to use the seat- is it a 40 lb weight limit seat or a 60 pound limit? If your son is within 5 or 10 pounds of outgrowing the carseat, maybe you could just bump up to the next size a little early and not frame it as a replace/don't replace dichotomy but simply as a "moving up a size" decision.
posted by ambrosia at 12:02 PM on April 22, 2009


Technically, yes, because there can be hairline cracks in the base of the carseat. Any time an airbag has been deployed, there's been enough force to pull at the plastic where the metal frame that holds the LATCH webbing attaches to the base of the carseat.

I know that it's easy to kind of blow it off, but I would never forgive myself if something happened, kwim? Also, you need to cut all the straps out of the old seat and remove all the styrofoam padding before you dispose of it to make sure that somebody doesn't swipe it from your garbage and throw it in their car. Save the cover if you get the same model seat so you have a backup clean one, though!
posted by dancinglamb at 12:02 PM on April 22, 2009


Another question that might tip the scales for me personally would be how much longer you were planning to use the seat- is it a 40 lb weight limit seat or a 60 pound limit?

We just bought it two months ago, intending for it to be the seat my now-40 lb son would stay in for a couple of years, at least.

Any time an airbag has been deployed, there's been enough force to pull at the plastic where the metal frame that holds the LATCH webbing attaches to the base of the carseat.

This is an interesting point. The car (see 1999 VW above) doesn't have LATCH - it has a tether anchor, but LATCH didn't become standard in cars until 2003.
posted by anastasiav at 12:09 PM on April 22, 2009


Isn't part of the replace argument actually related to sue happy American logic, though? I think part of the logic is that the manual says to replace the carseat in any accident and does not leave it up to you. Therefore, if you're in a real wreck and that car seat fails, when you sue the car seat company, they can pull the car's history and say haha, this carseat was in a wreck, it's not our fault. I could also be making shit up here. This may only part of the argument in my personal crazy head. (Planning for a future wreck and lawsuit seems crazy right? Disclaimer, I am not only not a lawyer, I'm the crazy mom with a nine year old in a booster and an eleven year old who was only recently allowed out of one. They are puny short children, in my defense.)
posted by artychoke at 12:49 PM on April 22, 2009


I am an engineer, but I am not YOUR engineer. I wouldn't replace it. It's not your fault the airbags deployed when they shouldn't have.
posted by Simon Barclay at 12:52 PM on April 22, 2009


Were you in the car at the time? Are you sure that the crash was as minor as it's been represented? I'm just saying that as a husband, I may have edited some incidents... and the tangible evidence is that the grill is broken and the airbag did deploy.
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:38 PM on April 22, 2009


I doubt that such a crash would damage a car seat, or its straps, especially if it was empty. Some things are really sensitive, like bike helmets, but those are made of delicate styrofoam, not tough plastic and nylon webbing. Are you replacing your seatbelts? I didn't think so, yet these most likely experienced far greater stress than anything on the car seat. As for the straps being stressed, you have a seat belt and a tether. The real weight is at the bottom so the seatbelt restrains that and the tether just keeps it from tipping forward, very little energy here especially in an empty seat. Again, are you replacing the seatbelt which holds the seat? Frankly, an empty seat just is not going to experience much stress in such an accident. I wouldn't replace mine, but being a parent I completely would understand going the extra, extra mile, just in case.
posted by caddis at 7:19 PM on April 22, 2009


My husband and I were in a minor crash with our small child. The air bags did not deploy, although there was $5k of damage to the car. My husband and I sustained whiplash. We took the car seat to the dump and asked the workers there to make sure it was crushed, so that no one could scavenge it and resell it. (Since people would thus be sold a potentially dangerous car seat.)

Your accident sounds more minor. But the grill broke and the airbag deployed. Where I live, a car insurance company can choose to check the date of your car seat manufacture and, if the history shows you were in accident before, your child might not be covered. That was enough to prompt us to replace the car seat. We also thought it was possible that there could be some sort of tiny hairline fracture that might result in greater injury to our child if there ever was an accident. And, for $300 for a new Britax, it was worth it to not ever have to question whether we should have replaced the car seat.
posted by acoutu at 7:25 PM on April 22, 2009


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