We all know that installing and using car seats correctly can be overwhelming and challenging. Laws and recommendations are constantly changing and it’s almost impossible to stay on top of the latest research and guidelines. Fret no more!
We have compiled a list of the TOP 6 MOST COMMON CAR SEAT MISTAKES. We see a LOT of car seats and help a TON of families find the right seat for them. So read our list below (in no particular order), and avoid making these easy to correct mistakes.
#1 Harness Straps are TOO LOOSE
We often hear parents ask how tight they should pull the straps on their child’s car seat to properly secure it. And we’re sure you’ve seen many children with loose straps that fall off their shoulders or sag while you’re out and about. When the straps are too loose, there is a risk that the child could slip out of his/her car seat in the event of a sudden impact, resulting in injury of death.
A quick test is to do a ‘pinch test‘ once your child is secured. Using your thumb and index finger, literally pinch the fabric on the strap. If you CAN’T pinch the fabric together, your child is secured properly. If you CAN pinch some fabric together, then tighten the straps and re-test.
Some car seat manufacturers (like Britax) are now including an audible click to advise parents when the straps are tight enough. Even though you hear the click, make sure your straps are properly positioned on your child and tighten the straps a bit more to be sure you have the best fit.
#2 Incorrect Height of Shoulder Straps
It might come to a surprise to many parents and caregivers that the height of the shoulder straps matters and changes whether the child is rear-facing or forward-facing.
When the child is rear-facing, most typically in an infant seat or a rear-facing convertible seat, the shoulder straps prevent the child from sliding up in the seat during an impact. For that reason, the shoulder strap height should be AT or slightly BELOW the shoulder of the child.
When the child is forward-facing, most typically in a forward-facing convertible seat or Harness-2-Booster seat, the shoulder straps help decrease forward motion of the child during an impact. For that reason, the shoulder strap height should be AT or slightly ABOVE the shoulder of the child.
#3 Car Seat is Facing Incorrect Direction
This is probably one of the most widely debated topics regarding car seat safety. The infamous question being “WHEN CAN MY CHILD FORWARD-FACE. SHE WANTS TO SEE THE WORLD”. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news (to some of you), but according to new research and to leading car seat safety experts, children should remain in their current seat UNTIL THEY OUTGROW IT for that particular facing position.
So, what does that mean? Well, if you have a convertible car seat, it is most likely suitable to rear-face from 5-40 lbs. In this particular seat, it would be HIGHLY recommended that your child remain rear-facing until 40 lbs. Technically, as of right now, the law (in most states, but not all) is that a child can face forward if they are 1 year old AND 20 lbs – although it is HIGHLY recommended that your child rear-face until they are at least 2 years old – or until they outgrow the rear-facing guidelines of their seat.
Here is where I throw in my professional opinion. I am also a Chiropractor and have seen and treated my fair share of patients that have been involved in auto accidents. Adults can have a VERY difficult time healing and moving past injuries that may have occurred.
Now, imagine those impact forces on a CHILD. Their bodies are not developed enough or strong enough to withstand such extreme forces. And by extreme, I mean even an impact at 25MPH can cause significant injury to those involved. Their car seats are their major means of protection and stabilization during a crash.
Being in a rear-facing position distributes the forces of the crash across the ENTIRE body of the child, minimizing the impact and damage. Once a child forward-faces (and they all will eventually), the forces of the collision are distributed across their shoulders, chest and pelvis. These are the points that their 5-point harness touch. When adults get into an accident, the force of the crash is distributed across our chests (with the shoulder belt) and across our laps (with the lap belt). I’d rather have less force throughout my entire body, wouldn’t you?
Eventually, all children will face-forward and will be safe doing so. By that time, hopefully, their bodies are developed and strong enough to withstand forces during a collision. But in the meantime, keep them rear-facing to give them that advantage.
#4 Chest Clip is in Incorrect Position
The position of the chest clip is crucial in ensuring that your child is fully protected in the event of a collision. If the clip is too high, the child may choke or have their airways blocked or injured during an impact. A clip that is too low might allow for the child to be ejected from the seat. The chest clip needs to rest on the strongest part of the chest, the sternum. It ensures a 5th point of contact and will help properly secure your child.
#5 Child is in Inappropriate Seat for their Age/Size
Many parents view the transition of their child into the next seat up as a milestone, or graduation event, signifying their growth. It’s an exciting moment but you could be unknowingly doing your child a disservice. Just because your child has met the minimum requirements for their “big boy” or “big girl” seat, doesn’t mean that they’ve necessarily reached the maximum height and weight for their current seat.
Not to preach to the choir, again, but it is HIGHLY recommended that your child stay in their current seat until they have reached the maximum allowance for it. Each type of car seat is uniquely and specifically designed to protect our children as best as possible at each stage of development.
Both infant and convertible seats are concave to embrace the spine and shelter it during an impact. Booster seats (with or without 5-point harness) raise the child to the appropriate level on the seat so that their legs drape over the vehicle seat and the shoulder belt can lay safely across their chest.
Another common question is “How long does my child need to be in a booster/car seat for”? Kids don’t usually think car seats are cool, especially as they get older and maybe their friends are no longer using a booster. What you need to know is this: Your child must be 6 years old AND 60 lbs to even start thinking about not using a booster seat, and it is highly recommended to wait until your child is 8 years old AND 80 lbs.
If they do meet these requirements, make sure you do a fit test. Have your child sit in your vehicle seat, with their back on the back of the vehicle seat. Are their legs long enough to bend over the vehicle seat at the knee or do their legs stick straight out? Are they tall enough so that the vehicle shoulder belt drapes across their shoulder and chest or does it cut into their neck? A shoulder belt that hits the child in the face can cause significant injury during a crash. Also, if their legs are straight out, they could receive significant fractures to the legs and pelvis if a force pushed them into the seat ahead of them.
#6 Seat is installed Incorrectly in the vehicle
It can be very daunting to install a new car seat in your vehicle. Make sure you always check your vehicle’s instruction manual, as well as the instruction manual of your car seat. Both will advise you on the best location and best way to secure your car seat to your vehicle seat.
Many car seats will include a LATCH system, yet they can also be installed using your vehicle’s seat belt. TRUTH: No way is safer than the other – the safest installation method is the one that you can perform correctly time and time again and the one that you are the most comfortable with. If you cannot seem to get the LATCH tight enough but can get a snug fit using a seat belt, then use the seat belt method.
NOTE: Check your vehicle manual or car seat manual to see when using the LATCH method of installation is no longer allowed. Many car seats can be installed with LATCH up until 40-45lbs. Once your child exceeds that weight, it is NO LONGER SAFE to secure your seat and child using that method. You must then switch to a vehicle seat belt installation method. Always follow the directions outlined in your car seat and vehicle manuals.
Once your seat is secured in your vehicle, it should not move more than 1 INCH at the belt path. DO NOT WORRY IF THE OTHER END OF THE SEAT (the non-secured end) WIGGLES MORE THAN THAT. They are designed to do that to take forces away from your child. Also, don’t worry if your infant seat seems like it can flip up towards the back of your seat. They are cocoon-shaped to further protect your child.
It’s easy to overlook some seemingly small errors when installing your seat or securing your child in the seat. Always make sure that your seat is level by using the level indicators on your car seat back, or bottom of your seat. You can use a pool noodle or foam roller to help adjust the level of your seat if it does not include a self-adjusting mechanism.
Also, always check the expiration date of your seat. If it’s expired – toss it. The foam and materials of the seat degrade over time and an expired seat might not protect your child as well as when it was new. If you cannot afford a new seat, most cities have programs in place to help issues new, safe seats to families in need.
Finally, if you have any doubts, or just want to be safe and learn more, you can visit any Fire Station in your area or visit safekids.org for a list of certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians in your area. You can also leave your question in the comments section and we’ll help you navigate your seat .