We see you, parents. No matter how many you’ve installed, car seats can be daunting. There are a lot of moving parts with car seat installation and use, so it’s important they’re all moving in the same direction. Whether you’re installing your very first infant car seat, switching to a convertible seat, or putting in your tenth seat, carrying your children, safely, wherever you’re going is a big responsibility. But with a little bit of practice, and these 10 car seat safety tips, alleviate some of that car seat stress and drive with the confidence that your little ones are as safe as can be.
1. Avoid secondhand seats.
Used car seats have lived a whole life before carrying your little one. It’s impossible to know everything that’s happened to it, or if it’s been in an accident before. If you’re planning on reusing a seat from your older child, check the expiration date on the seat to make sure it’s still safe to use.
2. Always consult the manual.
There are two sets of instructions you should get comfortable with as soon as you buy your new car seat: the car seat manual and the vehicle manual. Every car seat is different, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with your car seat’s quirks, like when to remove the infant inserts. Similarly, your vehicle manual can tell you things like how to lock the belt in your car, or where to locate the tether anchors for forward-facing seats.
3. Install with the vehicle seat belt OR Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children (LATCH).
But not both! Which installation method you can use will depend on your seat and the weight limits – LATCH is not permitted after your child passes 40 lbs. Consult the manuals for specific rules and exceptions.
4. When using a five-point harness, make sure it passes the pinch test.
If you can grab hold of the harness fabric between your pointer finger and thumb when your child is belted into the seat, the harness is too loose. The harness should lay flat against your child’s chest with no give or twists.
5. Ensure the chest clip is in line with your child’s armpits.
A properly aligned chest clip means less movement, keeping your child secure in their seat.
6. Anchor when forward-facing.
Seats that can face forward come with a tether strap that connects to the back of your vehicle. This is an essential connection that keeps the seat stable in the event of a collision.
7. Make sure the harness straps are in the right slot.
You might be surprised to learn that car seats need adjusting as your kiddo grows to best protect them. When your child is rear facing, the shoulder straps should come through the car seat slots at or slightly below your little one’s shoulders. When your child is forward-facing, the shoulder straps should come through the car seat slots at or slightly above their shoulders.
8. Avoid dressing your child in bulky clothing.
It may look like the harness is pulled tight, but those winter jackets can be deceiving. Bulky coats and heavy sweaters leave extra space between your little one’s body and the harness, which hinders its effectiveness. Instead, dress your little in layers you can easily put on and take off during car rides, or place their jacket or a blanket over the harness after they’re buckled in to keep them warm.
9. Avoid hard-sided toys, cups, and other items that could be considered projectiles.
Projectiles are any items that can get flung around the car due to sudden movement like an abrupt stop. Opt for soft toys and drinking cups, and store other items, like your cell phone, in the center console or glove box, somewhere secure.
10. Make sure everyone in the family knows how to properly use the car seat.
Grandparents, babysitters, aunts, uncles. You never know when someone else will need to use the car seat. Give yourself, and everyone around you, peace of mind when you’re away from your child by teaching them the ins and outs of your car seat.