Position the chest clip at the child’s armpit level.
Babies especially have flexible shoulders. Keeping the chest clip at armpit level helps keep the shoulder straps correctly positioned on the child’s shoulders and prevents baby from being ejected from the seat in the event of a crash.
Install the seat with EITHER the LATCH anchors OR the seatbelt, but not both.
This is hard for a lot of parents, because it’s easy to think more is better. Car seat manufacturers crash test their seats with seatbelts or LATCH, but never together. Using both systems together could negatively impact the seat’s ability to protect your child during a crash. Also, don’t use extraneous systems like bungee cords to secure the seat to the vehicle.
Many parents (ourselves included prior to our training) feel that LATCH is safer to use than seatbelts. Remember that vehicle seatbelts are designed to hold adult males securely in the event of a crash, so it will hold the car seat securely as well. Use whichever method fits your car best, works best with your car seat, and which you can install safely every single time.
Car seats expire.
Plastic isn’t permanent. Regular exposure to the elements – heat, cold, direct sunlight – will deteriorate plastics over time and affect the performance of the seat. Check your car seat’s manual or labeling to determine the seat’s expiration date. Replace the seat if you notice fatigue in any area of the seat or the plastic gets brittle, whether the seat is expired or not. If you can’t determine the expiration date of your car seat, assume it’s expired after 6 years.
Harness position is important.
Rear facing = at or BELOW shoulders
This prevents a rear-facing child from being thrown or compressed against the straps.
Forward facing = at or ABOVE shoulders
Don’t use aftermarket products that are made by a manufacturer other than the manufacturer of the seat.
Car seat manufacturers don’t crash test their seats in conjunction with other manufacturer’s accessories, such as seat savers, seat covers, toys, etc. If you must use an accessory with your car seat, try to purchase one made by the car seat manufacturer.
Other things to consider:
- If your car seat has been involved in a crash of any kind, check your car seat manual for advice. Some seat manufacturers include specific criteria for whether a seat should be replaced after a crash, some state flatly that it should be replaced after any type of crash. Most car insurance companies will cover the cost of a replacement seat, but you will likely need a copy of the police report.
- Harness straps should fit snugly. This is the pinch test – tighten down the harness, then pinch the webbing at the child’s shoulder. If you can pinch any webbing between your fingers, the harness is too loose and needs to be tightened further.
- Don’t forward-face a child too early because their legs are bent or hanging over the edge of the seat. In the event of a crash, it’s very unlikely that a rear-facing child whose legs dangle over the sides of the car seat will suffer a leg injury. Even if they do, a child is more likely to recover fully from a leg injury than from a spinal injury suffered when forward-facing.
- Seat installation needs to be tight. Whether you install the car seat with the LATCH or seatbelt, put your weaker hand (if I’m right-handed, my left hand is the weaker hand) at the belt path and try to move the seat. The car seat should move less than one inch side to side or up and down at the belt path.
- Know the weight limits for LATCH. Some vehicles and car seats have weight limits for LATCH. Check your vehicle manual and car seat manual for these limits. If no limits are indicated, assume you should stop using LATCH and install the car seat with the seat belt at 40 pounds.
- Don’t machine wash car seat straps. Harsh detergents, water or dryer temperatures, and machine agitation can damage car seat straps. Check your car seat manual for instructions on how to clean all parts of the car seat.
- Bulky winter coats & carseats don’t mix. Adjust your child’s car seat harness to fit properly while they are wearing regular clothing (shirt and pants). If you have to loosen the harness to fit the child in the seat while wearing a coat, the coat is too bulky. The air spaces in the coat that keep your child warm compress during a car crash and prevent the seat from holding your child securely. We know cold babies can be unhappy babies, so here are a couple of tips for safe winter car seat use: Take your child’s coat off right before you put them in the seat. Secure the harness, then put their coat back on backwards. Keep a small blanket by the door in the house (so the blanket is warm). Take it to the car with your child, secure them in the seat, then tuck the blanket around them. Warm the car up for a few minutes before loading your child into the car. Just remember to keep your car doors locked. If you park your car in a garage, never let it idle with the doors closed. Open the garage door for proper ventilation.
Have more questions? Call Green Bambino today to schedule a car seat check by one of our nationally certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs).