According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car crashes are the leading cause of death for children under the age of 13, which is why having a car seat that is in good working order is so important. 
A damaged car seat may be covered by insurance, depending on the company and the laws in your state.
A car seat needs to be properly disposed of after an accident, which means recycling it, trading it in, or destroying it so it can’t be used again.
If your insurance won’t pay to replace your car seat after an accident and you can’t afford a brand new one, there are some government programs or charities that provide free ones.
A car seat needs to be replaced after a moderate or severe accident (even if your child wasn’t in it at the time), and in many cases, your insurance will pay for a new one.  But it isn’t always a guarantee that your car insurance company will pay to replace it. Luckily, there are other steps you can take to get your car seat replaced after an accident.
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Does insurance cover car seat replacement after an accident?
Yes, depending on the situation. Every company is different and laws vary from one state to another, so whether or not your claim for a damaged car seat gets paid is determined by a number of factors.
Some car insurance companies will replace a car seat after an accident if you ask them to, while others will only pay for a new car seat if the law requires it. Some companies have a policy of replacing a car seat only if there was a child in it at the time of the accident, while others will require you to replace the car seat and send proof that the old one has been destroyed.
If you were in an accident while your child’s car seat was in the car, check with your insurance company to find out exactly how a car seat replacement is covered by your policy.
Can I get a free car seat replacement after an accident?
Yes, generally your insurance will pay for a new car seat, but even if it doesn’t, you may still be able to get a new one for free. There are a few ways you can get a free car seat replacement after an accident, including:
File a car insurance claim: If you are filing a claim for the accident, you can include the car seat as part of the claim, but it may not be covered under your insurance policy.
Government programs: Medicaid may offer a free car seat to drivers in your state who complete a car seat safety course, while local police and fire departments sometimes have programs designed to give away car seats to parents and caretakers in need.
Charitable organizations: Many churches and charities, like Buckle Up For Life, provide free car seats to families in need. 
Filing a car seat claim
If you’ve been in a car accident, you might be able to include the damage to your car seat in your car insurance claim. Your insurance company may even ask about it specifically.
If you were hit by another driver and they have been found at-fault for the accident, you can include the damage to the car seat in your property damage liability claim. Be sure to include:
Pictures of the car seat after the accident (if the claim is approved, your insurance company may require you to submit pictures with the straps cut out of the chair.)
A copy of the manufacturer’s instruction manual.
Any receipts (if you’ve already purchased a new car seat.)
If you are at fault for the accident or you’ve been hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver, you’ll need to file a collision claim with your own insurance company. If you don’t have collision coverage, you’ll be expected to pay the costs of the claim out-of-pocket.
Laws and regulations are different in each state, so your car seat claim may be denied. If this happens you can call the insurance company and fight the denial, but many states don’t require insurance companies to pay for damaged car seats, so there is a chance you may need to pay for a new one out-of-pocket or find another way to replace your car seat.
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Why do I have to cut the straps on a car seat for insurance?
When your insurance company pays to replace your car seat, it is because the seat was damaged in an accident and is no longer safe to use. Your insurance company may require you to prove you have cut the straps out of the old car seat to make sure no one else can use it (or resell it).
➞ Learn more about how to file a car insurance claim
State laws regarding replacing car seats
Each state has their own laws about replacing car seats after an accident. For instance, both Illinois and California have laws requiring insurance companies to pay for a new car seat after an accident.
But even in states that don’t have laws requiring insurance companies to pay for replacement car seats, some insurers still do so. Many insurance companies require you to submit a copy of the manufacturer’s instruction manual to get a car seat replaced if it isn’t required by law.
➞ Learn more about car accidents by state
How should I dispose of a car seat after an accident?
After a car seat has been in an accident, there are several ways to properly dispose of it, including:
Trade it in: Many big box stores offer a trade-in program for damaged or expired car seats, allowing parents to exchange them for a gift card or store credit toward the purchase of other baby items.
Recycle it: Many city recycling centers, junk yards, and other facilities have recycling programs specifically for damaged or expired car seats.
Destroy it: If you can’t find a way to recycle a car seat after an accident, your next best option is to render it unusable. Cutting off the straps before throwing it away is the easiest way to make sure nobody else will be able to use it.
Frequently asked questions
Will Graco replace a car seat after an accident?
Graco will not provide you with a replacement car seat, but you can contact the Graco Consumer Service department to get a letter explaining their car seat replacement policy to provide to your insurance company when you file a claim.
When should a car seat be replaced?
A car seat should be replaced after a car accident, when your child outgrows it, or when it has passed its expiration date.
Why do insurance companies ask about car seats?
If you’ve been in an accident, your insurance company will likely ask about your car seat because it can’t be used again. They’ll likely want to make sure the seat gets properly recycled or destroyed.