10 Common Car Seat Mistakes

By Wendy Hennessy  |  10/27/2015
Mistake #1: Forward-Facing Too Soon

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children remain rear-facing in their safety seat as long as possible. When the child safety seat is in the rear-facing position, it protects the child’s head and neck by distributing the force of a frontal crash along the back of the seat and providing a cocoon-like effect for maximum protection until muscles and bones are more fully developed. Most children will grow out of an infant seat by age 1, so the next seat should face the rear at a higher weight limit. The seat will then face forward for most children at about 2 years of age.

Mistake #2: Incorrect Harness Strap Height

When your child is rear-facing, the harness height should be at or slightly below his or her shoulders. When your child is forward-facing, the harness height should be at or slightly above the shoulders. Children grow quickly, so you need to check the harness height regularly to ensure a proper fit.

Mistake #3: Loose Harness Straps

The harness should be nice and snug at the shoulders. Ideally, the harness should sit comfortably in a straight line without sagging or any slack at the shoulders or hips. Harness straps should never be twisted.

Mistake #4: Chest Clip Positioned Incorrectly

The proper position for the chest clip is on your child’s chest at armpit level. A properly positioned clip ensures they will be secure in the event of a crash.

Mistake #5: Not Using the Top Tether

Every inch counts when it comes to protecting your child in a crash and using a top tether can reduce the distance your child’s head moves forward in a crash by 4 to 6 inches, reducing the possibility of whiplash. All forward-facing seats are now manufactured with a top tether.

Mistake #6: Loose Car Seat Installation

Securely attaching the car seat using either the LATCH system or a seat belt is critical. When you install your seat, it should not move more than 1 inch side-to-side or front-to-back at the belt path. If you cannot obtain a tight fit, try a different seating position. Sometimes a center position may have a hump that will prevent a secure installation. You can also try a different method. If you are using a seat belt, you may want to try LATCH for the install as many obtain a more secure fit. You can also always schedule a free child safety seat check appointment if you are having difficulty.

Mistake #7: Exceeding the LATCH Weight Limits

Using LATCH to install your seat is a wonderful, safe and secure option, but you need to ensure that you use LATCH properly. LATCH and car seat manufacturers have lower anchor weight limits. As your child grows, he or she may exceed the lower anchor weight limits. Weight limits can vary from one vehicle model to the next. The most popular weight limit is a combined (weight of child plus the weight of the seat) maximum weight of 65 pounds for the lower anchors. However, you should check the vehicle owner’s manual to know what your lower anchor weight limit is.

Mistake #8: Installing Rear-Facing at the Wrong Angle

When using a rear-facing car seat, you want to have the proper angle so you can keep the child’s head and neck support in such a way that the airway is clear. Car seats have angle indicators that will let you know the proper angle for installation in your vehicle. The stickers on the side of the seat will explain how to use the angle indicator, as will your car seat instruction manual. For new babies, the recommended angle is 45 degrees. This will change as the baby grows older and displays increased muscle and bone development. Again, your child safety seat will note this or you can find information in the manual when this angle can be changed.

Mistake #9: Using an Expired Seat

Environmental factors such as heat, cold and sunlight can cause some materials in the car seat to degrade over time. For that reason, manufacturers are required to have an expiration date on their car seat. Older seats were required to have a manufactured date. On average, car seats expire six to 10 years from the date they were manufactured and new seats will have an expiration date on them. For safety reasons, you should not use a car seat after it has expired. If an expiration date does not exist, you should assume that it will expire within six years of the manufactured date or you can call the manufacturer for more details.

Mistake #10: Using a Pre-Owned Car Seat

We all like to reuse items to reduce costs and waste, but you should use caution when obtaining a used seat. If a pre-owned car seat is what you prefer, please make sure that all the labels are still present on the seat, the seat is not expired, the seat hasn’t been recalled, the seat has not been in a crash (car seats are built to withstand only one crash safely), the user’s guide is present for the seat and all required parts are present. Another thing to check is that all parts are of a consistent color and material, so you know parts haven’t been taken from multiple seats to create the seat you see in front of you now. You should also ask how the seat was cleaned. All car seat fabric is created with flame-resistant material or coating. Cleaning with harsh cleansers can remove the safety coating over time.

If you are unsure if your seat is installed correctly, you should make an appointment to get your car seat checked by a nationally certified technician. We offer child safety seat checks at Northern Dutchess Hospital, Vassar Brothers Medical Center and at our Health Quest Business Office. Call 845-475-9746 or email whennessy@health-quest.org to schedule an appointment.