Heads up - I called TWICE before listening to the whole message and realizing that Customer Service was open 8am-4pm (I think) EASTERN TIME. Otherwise replacement was a breeze, and per my representative, if your munchkin is still rear-facing, the pads can and should be taken off until the new pads arrive. The pads are to assist in stopping forward movement of the child, and are therefore redundant (and a choking risk) for rear-facing children.
In other news, my kid was one of the kids that chewed off some pieces and yes, may have swallowed them. Awesome.