6 Easy-to-Follow Tips to Keeping Your Car Seat Safe

06/10/2010 at 07:00 AM ET

We all know that securing all car passengers — including mini ones — is super important. So in honor of National Safety Month (June!), we chatted with Regal Lager‘s president, Bengt Lager, and marketing coordinator, Elisabeth Bergöö to get their thoughts on car seat safety.

According to the Regal Lager team, about three in four car seats are incorrectly installed. But when mounted properly, they can reduce the risk of death by 71 percent for infants, and 54 percent for children ages 1 to 4. That’s why it’s key to set everything up properly from the beginning.

Click below for their top tips!

Keep children in rear-facing seats longer. According to Lager, an American Academy of Pediatrics ruling about flipping your child to a forward-facing position at 12 months (or 20 lbs.) is currently being reworked.

In the event of an accident, children who ride facing the rear are less affected by crash forces because the back of the seat acts as a buffer protecting a baby’s head and upper body explains Lager.

“If they’re facing forward, there’s nothing to protect their head so they jut forward in an unnatural way which can cause serious head injuries.”

For this reason, consider a seat with a fairly high weight limit — 33 or 35 lbs. — and maximum lengths of 30-32 inches for longer use. Lager also adds that the safest place for a car seat is generally the center backseat, away from any points of impact.

Don’t keep loose objects in your car. “Anything can become a projectile in a crash,” Lager warns. “Even simple things, like a bag of groceries in the backseat that happens to have cans in it.”

It’s best to put groceries in the trunk and keep trinkets to a minimum. Additionally, avoid hanging heavy-duty window shades next to your baby’s car seat — they could turn dangerous in a crash. “It’s better to use a thin, cling-on shade,” Lager says.

Be mindful of your car seat’s expiration date. Like many things in life, you get what you pay for. If you want to save money, buy less-expensive, yet good-quality seats that are brand-new suggests Bergöö. A car seat sold at a garage sale or on an online auction site doesn’t come with a history — so you won’t know if it’s been in a crash, or is expired.

According to Bergöö, car seats generally expire about seven years after purchase. “You can easily use one for two of your own children within that safe period, but the material in the product does age and deteriorate.”

If you’ve been in a crash, replace your seat. “Certain insurance companies will actually help you replace car seats after an accident,” Bergöö says. Though fender-benders will probably leave your seats unscathed, it’s better to be safe than sorry. She recommends visiting Britax to read guidelines on ‘minor’ crashes.

Check, and re-check, your installation. Be sure the seat’s reclined a bit when installed. “If babies, especially newborns, sit too upright, the head falls forward, and it can block the airway,” Lager explains.

As for the harness, adjust it so the anchor point is at shoulder level or below in a rear-facing seat (for forward-facing seats, it should be at or above shoulder level). “If it’s above the shoulder and you’re in a crash, it means a child can slide upwards and hit their head above the edge of the seat,” Lager says.

He suggests having an adult ride in the backseat next to the car seat the first few times your baby is in the car, to observe the position of the seat and harness.

Remember the one-inch rule. Want to ensure your seat is properly installed? Grab the base — it’s the part of the seat where the seatbelt or latch strap goes through — and try to move it sideways, forward and backward.

“It should move less than an inch in each direction,” Lager says. “In a crash, you want as little movement as possible, because that’s what absorbs the impact away from the child.”

Kate Hogan

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cris on

One of the best tips I ever got was to physically put all of my weight on my knee inside the seat of the carseat when buckling it in…do this and it will barely move. It makes me so angry when I see carseats that are tipping to one side or the other!

mk on

There is one potentially dangerous thing said in this list. It says to make sure the shoulder straps are at or below shoulder level. This is only the case for rear facing seats I believe. I know that for my toddler – and it’s been like this for some time now – that the shoulder straps need to be at or ABOVE the shoulder level.

Kristen on

It drives me crazy the more people don’t take installing their car seat seriously. They rely solely on the seat belt and not proper installation. If you are able to easily take your seat out to change cars then it was not installed properly. I have seen too many people just belt the seat in less than a minute without a care in the world.

Mrs. R on

Good point MK!

JenQu on

Turning at four months? Even if you are trying to correct people’s perceptions, this is a huge misrepresentation of what the AAP used to say. It was 20lbs and ONE YEAR.

Sharone on

One of the best things I did was to take my car to the local DMV office and had the local CHP do a thorough inspection on the carseat to make sure that it was properly installed. I took my car for an inspection when I had the infant seat, and went again when we installed the carseat rearfacing, then went again when we changed the seat forward facing. If you do not know how to install your carseat, they can even install it for you, not only do the checkups. I would highly recommend that all parents do this, epsecially since the statistics state that 3 in 4 carseats are not properly installed.

TC on

One thing they didn’t mention are those mats you can buy that protect the seat from the car seat and spills. I have leather seats and bought one of those mats and tried to put the car seat on it, it was not secure no matter how tight I had the seatbelt. I returned it and I cringe every time I find out a friend of mine uses it. It may help protect your seat and in the long run your resale value but to me it’s just not worth the risk.

I do what cris does and put my knee or knees in the seat and tighten the belt, it’s harder to do that with a rear facing seat though.

Liza on

12 months and 20lbs, not 4….

JenQu on

@TC- any aftermarket product you use with a carseat will invalidate the car seat’s warranty making it null and void. This includes seat covers, tighteners, mats, straps, head supports, padding, toys, etc.

njarroyo on

It amazes me that some parents will spend more on a haircut than their child’s car seat. I sell car seats and most people are looking for the cheapest seat they can find, and most don’t even look at the installation manuals. If you read the manual, than installing a car seat is not difficult especially if your car has the latch system.

Elisabeth Bergoo on

Thank you CBB for an article on such an important topic. There are a couple of misunderstandings in the article, that I wish to clarify so no reader is mislead:
1. For a child in a Rear facing child restraint harness slots to be used are AT or BELOW shoulder level.
For a child traveling in a Forward facing child restraint, it is AT or ABOVE shoulder level.

2. “Don’t be in a hurry to turn baby facing front”. Always without exception use the REAR facing position to the highest weight/height limits allowed by the manufacturer’s instructions for the child restraint. (Often considerably later than 12 mos/20 lbs.) Best practice is to have child travel in the rear facing position also after 12 mos/20 lbs following your owner manuals instructions on weight/height limits. (The “4 mos” mention in the article is just an unfortunate typo).
The reason? Children traveling rear-facing get increased protection in the unfortunate event of a crash as crash forces are spread along the entire head, neck and back. The child restraint absorbs more of the forces of the crash and protects head, neck and spinal cord better.
3. I agree with Sharon’s comment – please ask for help with installation. There are nationally certified Child Passenger Safety Technicans working locally organized car seat check up events all over the country. Thanks again for a great article!
Elisabeth Bergoo, CPS Tech

Lanna on

With bigger convertible seats like Britax’s Marathon or Roundabout or the Sunshine Kids Radians, you can have a child rear-facing for a while.
My kids have all been around 20-some months old when we finally turned them forward facing (usually due to having another kid and space for carseats being at a premium).

My one major, major issue though is most people focus on the weight limits.
And not the height limits.
If we go by weight alone, my skinny, gangly older child would’ve been in his infant bucket seat until 20mo, when he finally hit 18-20lbs – not exactly safe. He was in a rear-facing Marathon by 6mo due to his height. 😀

Lorus on

My daughter is 2.5yo and still happily rearfacing in her Britax Boulevard and Recaro Como. She’ll remain this way until she outgrows the seats by height or weight. My older daugher remained rearfacing until 4y3m when she finally reached 33lbs which was the limit of her Britax Marathon.

Dee on

FTR– there are seats that RF a lot longer than 33-35#.

Several RF to 40# and 2 RF to 45#. And it’s not 32″ unless you’re talking solely about infant seats… most kids need a RFing convertible seat too.

RFing is outgrown by height when there is less than 1″ of hard shell over the kiddo’s head or they’re over the weight limit, whichever happens first.

Sarah M. on

For those correcting the strap placements, it says directly in the article that for front facing seats the parameters change (it lists what the parameters are for front facing in parenticies right after is lists the parameters for rear facing).

I know in the US, there has seemed to be more of a focus on switching the seat to front facing right at a year, in the past. I have heard of more and more people recently who are keeping their kids rear facing longer. One family I know of is doing it for the safety benefits, their kids could go front facing any time as they meet all the requirements to do so. Another, it’s a set of 2 year old twins and one of the twins meets the requirements to be front facing and the other still doesn’t meet the weight requiremtnts for that to happen, so they are both still rear facing.

I’m a nanny, and for each different family that I’ve had, I have actually gone to a firehouse and had them check to make sure it was installed correctly. (I do have the latch system in my car, so that makes installing them easier. I also use the seat belt, though. I figure it can’t hurt to use both.) That’s after one of the parents have put the seat in my car and made sure it was in right. Or after I’ve put it in and both of the parents and I are 99% sure it’s installed correctly. (In over 10 years of caring for children who use car seats, I’ve only come across 1 seat that I couldn’t figure out!) I just feel better about driving with children, especially other people’s children, if I’ve had it checked by someone who knows exactly how EVERY seat is supposed to be installed. Each and every time I’ve been told that it’s in correctly and I have nothing to worry about. I just feel better hearing them say it. 🙂

Crystal on

You aren’t supposed to use the seatbelt and the latch, it is dangerous.