Here are my 10 car seat safety tips!
1. Read your manuals
Your very first steps before installing and using your car seat are to read both the vehicle’s and car seat’s manuals.
Your car seat’s manual will walk you through different methods of installation, how to properly fit the seat to your child, how to clean it, what its minimum and maximum limits are, when it expires, and much more.
Your vehicle manual will tell you what kind of seat belts you have and how they lock, your UAS and Top Tether locations and how to use them, any important information about airbags and car seats, any prohibited seating locations and any other restrictions or important information about safely using a child restraint in the vehicle.
Both your vehicle and car seat manual work together to provide you with the information you need to properly and safely use YOUR car seat in YOUR vehicle. Remember that not all car seats and vehicles are the same and installation will often vary from one to another.
2. Don’t rush! Practice maximums not minimums
There are 4 stages of car seat safety – Rear Facing, Forward Facing, Booster Seat, and Adult Seat Belt. Ideally you want to spend as much time in each stage as your car seat allows, making sure not to rush to the next stage once its minimums are met. It is important to know that to safely and legally use a car seat all the stated minimums must be met and that the seat can no longer be used once any of the stated maximum limits have been reached.
3. Ensure your child is properly buckled
You always want to make sure the harness is nice and snug. Use the ‘Pinch Test’ to test the harness for tightness. After removing all the slack from the harness, use your thumb and pointer finger to pinch the harness at the collarbone. If you are unable to pinch a fold in the harness, it is tight enough. The chest clip should be placed even with the armpits and the harness should be placed even with/below the shoulders for rear facing and even with/above the shoulders for forward facing. Check your car seat’s manual for specifics.
4. Check replacement requirements after a collision
Most car seats require replacement after any collision, including minor fender benders. Check your car seat’s manual for its replacement guidelines and contact the manufacturer if you are unsure.
5. Choosing your installation method
Most car seats do not allow the use of UAS and seat belt together. Make sure you read your car seat manual and check your vehicle manual to see what methods they allow. Choose UAS or seat belt and if you are installing forward facing, don’t forget to use the top tether.
6. Checking for movement after installation
After you install you car seat, you will want to check to see if it is secure. With your non-dominant hand, grab the seat where the seat belt or lower anchor strap is threaded through (this is called the ‘belt path’. If you have a rear and forward facing seat, make sure you are using the correct one) and with the force of a firm handshake try to move the seat in all directions – checking for less than 1” movement either way.
7. Fill out your registration card
All car seats come with a registration card that contains your seats model name and number that should be filled out and sent back to the manufacturer. If there ever is a recall or public safety notice for your car seat, this is what the manufacturers use to contact you to inform you and send any remedy kits if necessary. You can often register your seat online or by calling in as well.
8. Car seats expire
Car seats deteriorate over time. Plastic can become brittle, metals can rust, parts can wear out etc. This can affect the seats ability to protect your child and keep them safe as intended in the event of a collision.
You can often find expiry dates stamped into the plastic on the back of the seat, on the manufacturer sticker, or in the manual. In a case where you are unable to find your seat’s expiry date or lifespan, contact the manufacturer.
9. Clean your seat safely
The dreaded task: cleaning car seats!
There comes a time when all car seats will need to be cleaned. All seats have different cleaning instructions ranging from spot clean or hand wash and air dry all the way to fully machine washable! Read your car seat’s manual and follow your instructions carefully. The harness should never be submerged in water or thrown in the washing machine, instead use a damp rag with some mild soap or a diaper wipe.
Remember that natural products aren’t always gentle and can’t always be used on a car seat.
10. Meet with a CPST
CPST is the acronym for Child Passenger Safety Technician and is someone who is certified and trained to help parents choose, install and properly use their child restraints/car seats. While they are never a replacement for your car seat and vehicle manuals and manufacturers, it is often beneficial to meet with a CPST one on one to ensure that you can safely and confidently install and use your child’s life saving device. Locate a CPST near you here.
In the US? Find a CPST through Safe Kids. Use only your State & County for best results.