Hidden dangers lurking in child car seats

If you're getting into a car with your children, knowing the facts about child seat safety could save their lives.

It's a call no parent wants to get.  Joel Feder is a father of two and an automotive journalist at The Car Connection.

"Very terrifying. The Nanny did everything right," Feder says.  "She said to me 'everyone is fine but we've been in an accident. Here's our location. We're fine.'"  

But what Joel didn't know was that although the accident was relatively minor and his kids were fine the car seats were not.

"Looks are deceiving," said Feder. "There are things inside that seat when you take a blunt force trauma in that car accident that could have broken inside that you don't know and you wouldn't that if you got into another car accident, the results could be devastating."

We reached out to some of the major car seat manufacturers and found out---they all have different guidelines.

For example, Graco says replace the car seat no matter how small the accident. Even a minor fender bender.

In their email to us, they pointed out that replacing your car seat after an accident is "not" covered by their warranty, but "may" be covered by your car insurance.

"The federal government has guidelines about when you need to replace your car seats after a crash even though they may still look fine," said Feder. "There are things inside that might have been damaged and they may not do their job the next time you need them to."

Britax, another major manufacturer, took a more nuanced approach following the federal guidelines.

"If any one of the following apply, we would say replace your car seat," said Sarah Tilton. "Did your air bags deploy? Did your car need to be towed? Was anyone in the vehicle injured?  Was the door closest to your car seat damaged? And, when you do a visible inspection of the car seat, do you see any damage, if anyone of those apply, replace your car seat."

And just like the food in your refrigerator, your child's car seat has an expiration date. 

Most car seats last between four and ten years and there is no federal guideline on how long you should keep a car seat.

You really have to go to the guidebook. A lot of them will have an expiration date on the car seat.