A forum member was involved in a car accident last week and recently asked whether or not her kids' car seats needed to be replaced after the crash. An older recommendation was to always replace car seats after every crash, no matter how minor. That standard has changed, though. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released new recommendations on when to replace car seats after car accidents, and now you'll need to go through NHTSA's checklist and make sure that your vehicle and car seats meet all five criteria in order to be safely re-used. If your vehicle and car seats don't meet all five criteria, the car seats should be replaced.
One caveat is that some car seat manufacturers still state in the user manual that their car seats should be replaced after any crash, no matter how minor. The manufacturers instructions take precedence over other agency suggestions, so take a look at the manual before deciding to use a car seat after a crash.
You may hear that a visual inspection is sufficient in deciding whether or not to re-use a car seat after a crash. However, crash damage is not always visible to the naked eye. There are some scans and x-rays that can find hidden damage, but the cost of these tests is usually greater than the cost of the most expensive new car seat.
Talk to your insurance company about reimbursement for car seats. Since safe car seats are required in all states, insurance companies should pay the entire cost of a new car seat. Some companies may try to pro-rate the cost of a car seat based on the age of the damaged seat. Pro-rated compensation is unacceptable, though, since it is not safe to purchase an older, used car seat for your baby.