10 Things You Might Not Know About Car Seat Safety
Car seat safety is one of those things that, as a new mom, you kind of have to figure out on your own. I was shocked at how much I didn’t know until I stumbled upon information and realized I was doing everything wrong! Little ones are much safer for much longer when the best practice for car seat safety is used, and I know that there are so many mommies who have no clue they haven’t been doing it right. I recently did a video about this in my Facebook group for Christian SAHMs, and realized that I wanted to take it a little further because I I am just here to share what I learned from my mistakes and research along the way–and I’m thanking God for opening my eyes to the safest way to transport my little guy!
This is going to be a little different than my normal posts because the Bible doesn’t have any clear instructions about car seat safety 😜, but it has been something on my heart ever since I started realizing just how hard this important information is for new moms to come across without having someone present it to them. I’m hoping that this helps equip others to make sure their children stay safe in the car!
Disclaimer: I am not a car seat expert or a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST)–these are just things that I have learned on my journey as a mom looking for the safest way to travel with my son in the car. ALWAYS refer to your car seat manual, your car’s manual, a CPST, the seat’s manufacturer, and/or whatever other relevant resource you can think of before making any changes to the car seat or methods you use to secure your child! So here are a few things you might not know about car seat safety:
1) Most Kids Can Safely Rear-Face Until Age 4
I’m sure you heard that rear-facing is the optimal position for maximum car seat safety. Many states require by law that children rear-face until at least 2 years old, but many convertible seats have weight and height requirements that can safely allow children to continue RF until age 4 (maybe even older)! Riding rear-facing is even safer for us adults, so it is best practice to keep your little one RF until they max out the limits of their seat.
2) Proper Use of the Harness
This can depend on your specific seat, so definitely check your manual, but these are two pretty universal harness tips. This is something I didn’t do correctly right away. I thought that I had it right, but it turned out that I had the chest clip down a tad bit too far most of the time because I thought it was as high as it could go without really being uncomfortable. The chest clip should be level with your child’s armpits. I did get the tightness right, though! You should be able to fit two fingers between your child and the chest clip snugly, and you can try the pinch test to ensure it is tight enough! The pinch test is just making sure that you can’t “pinch” the belt (pictured below is a FAILED pinch test as an example–you DO NOT want to be able to do that!).
3) You Aren’t Supposed to Add Anything to the Seat
Speaking of uncomfortable, the reason I had the chest clip a little bit low was because–before I knew better–I had some strap covers for my little man so that his belt wouldn’t rub against his neck. Had I not come across this info in another Facebook group, I’d never have given it a second thought! However, I learned that you aren’t supposed to add anything to your child’s car seat that hasn’t been tested for safety by the manufacturer. This includes seat protector or sprays for all my potty training mamas (booo–we love this travel potty)! There are a few manufacturers that do test and sell certain products for their seats so always make sure to check with your seat’s manufacturer if you are hoping for something you can use.
4) Take Your Little One’s Winter Coat Off
This tip seems to have gotten some spotlight on social media lately, but the many responses revealed that it was pretty widely unknown by many of the moms stumbling upon it. I was lucky to learn about this before the weather was cold enough where we needed to worry about this, but it is another thing that I would have had no clue about. Like, where are you supposed to learn this stuff?! They should do safety classes at the hospital for car seats along with birthing and breastfeeding classes 😜 But seriously, the reason for this is that the material in the coat doesn’t allow you to get the harness tight enough to safely secure your little one. It seems tight but with an impact the material looses air, and is usually already slippery, which can cause the child to slip right through and become a projectile–definitely something we want to avoid. You can always keep a blanket in the car, or use your child’s coat as their blanket once you remove it as they are getting into the car. I found this post through the AAP’s online database that makes for great supplemental reading on this!
5) How to Wash the Car Seat Safely
Another guideline set by manufacturers that you want to be aware of for the best car seat safety is how to properly clean the seat. Check the manual or give them a call–there are surprisingly many do’s and don’t’s! You can’t use certain cleaning products on the materials (even including baby wipes in some cases, or submerging the straps or material for certain brands) because it could degrade them without your knowledge, causing the seat to become unsafe. There are certain rules for washing the straps as well as the padding or other material, so make sure that you are clear on what is safe to use (sometimes these are in listed in the manual and sometimes not). Our seat cover can luckily go right into the wash with a gentle detergent.
6) When to Trash or Replace the Seat
Did you know that you need to replace your child’s car seat after any size accident, even a seemingly very small one with no noticeable damage to the seat? It’s true! Any impact can cause unseen damage or stress fractures that you definitely don’t want–especially in the case of a second crash. The responsible party would be liable to replace the seat and it should be covered by insurance. You should also replace the seat if it has ever been drenched or submerged (so be careful where you leave it if you are switching it into another car–out of the rain and clear of anything else that could cause the seat to be saturated).
*Bonus car seat safety tip: Checking a car seat on a plane is dangerous. They are unsecured and the damage done (especially internal and unseen) can be just as bad as if the seat had been through an accident. Always bring the seat onto the plane with you and have your little one sitting in it for the safest practice!
7) Proper Install
Maybe this should have been the first point? But here we are! Just a friendly reminder to make sure that you are referencing your manual every time you re-install the seat. There are usually a few things to consider that will easily slip your mind the next time around. We have a Graco seat and we need to make sure that the level indicator is in the correct position, the latch and regular straps are properly stored on their hooks (depending which install method we are using), my son’s head is 1 inch from the top of the adjustable headrest, and that the seat doesn’t move more than an inch to the left or right once installed. You probably have a few of the same! Make sure that you aren’t forgetting the little details in the monotony that could save your child’s life.
*Bonus car seat safety tip: Our local fire dept. offers to have car seat installs checked out for free by a CPST–check with yours to see if they offer the same or ask around (maybe in a local mom’s Facebook group?) to see where you can find one in your area!
8) Always Buy New or Bring Your Own
It is safest to ALWAYS use a new seat. If you are traveling and hoping to rent, or you just want to save money and buy a used seat–please reconsider. You never know whether it is up to safety standards. There is no way to tell whether or not the seat has been in an accident, has been submerged, has been checked on a plane, has been washed inappropriately, or otherwise damaged in a way that isn’t obvious right away and could cost your child’s life. Whenever possible, buy a new seat (or bring your own rather than rent). If you can’t afford one, check with churches, charities, or other resources in your area–many are willing to provide assistance–there are some less expensive seats that are still perfectly safe to use.
9) Car Seats Expire
I didn’t know this at first, and while many seats do have expiration dates, some (like ours) only have manufacture dates. You can easily find out when your car seat expires by contacting the manufacturer or checking their website if yours is one that doesn’t have a listed date. While it can be tempting to use an expired seat a little past the deadline, companies use these dates as a guide for best practice–as you know, plastic and other materials degrade over time and you want your little one’s seat to be in top shape to protect your child!
10) How to Dispose of a Car Seat Properly
So, this isn’t a typical car seat safety tip in that it isn’t so much useful for you as a potential harm for another who may come across the seat. You don’t want to leave it out where someone could grab it and reuse it if it is expired or otherwise damaged (like in a rainy or snowy season). Cut the straps before you dispose of the seat, or–even better–wait until your local store (BRU used to do it but now it looks like Target has taken over) has a trade in event where they take the old seats to properly recycle them and give you a discount on another seat, stroller, or something of the like.
Do You Practice Optimal Car Seat Safety?
Please remember to reach out to a CPST, your car seat manufacturer, or reference your manual for the seat or your car before implementing any of these changes or if you have any further questions/need clarification!
*Bonus car seat safety tip: One last tip! This isn’t just for car seats, but does protect your child in the car so I wanted to include it–anything that is in the car, especially anything on the landing by the rear window, will become a projectile in the case of an accident. I am guilty of having a few things in my car that I could probably move into the trunk or the house, and I know many others do as well so I knew it was worth a mention!
I’d love to know if you have any other important car seat safety tips to share with us, or if you learned something new from this list! Drop a comment below and let me know.