Probably not. Crash forces are extreme; they’re strong enough to bend the steel frame of the car, and can easily damage a car seat too. Even though you may not be able to see the damage, the plastic in the car seat could be weakened by these crash forces and may not protect the child properly in a 2nd crash.
YES. The car seat will still take some of the crash forces even when a child is not in the seat. Therefore, if the manufacturer says to replace the seat, it should be replaced regardless of whether the child was or was not in the seat.
Minor taps in a parking lot – which typically don’t even damage the fragile bumper of the car – are likely not going to damage the car seat either.
Depending on where you live, recycling the car seat may be as simple as putting it out with the rest of your curbside recycling. See here to learn more about ways to recycle a car seat. If there is textile recycling at your local farmer’s market, they may accept the fabric cover. Others have repurposed the covers as dog/cat beds and the straps for carrying firewood.
If you have a Clek car seat or booster, they have a recycling program where you can mail your seat back to them for $40 (covers shipping) and receive a $40 coupon towards the purchase of anything on Clek’s online store.
Another way to keep the seat out of the landfill is to see if your local SAFE KIDS coalition may be able to use the seat for training purposes.
If recycling is not an option, make sure to take the seat apart in a way that no one will pick it up out of the trash and try to re-use it. Remove all the fabric, foam, and straps – and throw them away separately. Using a permanent marker, write on the plastic shell of the car seat “NOT SAFE. DO NOT USE”.
Only a handful of manufacturers allow you to reuse the seat after a crash, and, among those that allow reuse, there are caveats. We’ve made a chart to help you figure out whether or not you need a new seat. The information in this chart is taken directly from the car seat instruction manuals. If you still have questions, call the manufacturer before reusing the car seat. When in doubt, do not reuse your car seat after a crash.
If you are a CPS Technician or Instructor and would like to print a PDF of this chart to have at seat checks, click here.