Top 10 Car Seat Tips (in no particular order)
1. Rear Face as Long as Possible
Trust me, it’s possible to rear face for longer than you think. I know your child is tall, 99th percentile even, it’s still possible! Rear facing is safest and so we encourage parents to keep their children rear facing as long a possible. The AAP now recommends rear facing until the child has outgrown the seats limits, but there are a variety of manufacturers that now make seats that keep children facing the trunk until age 3 and beyond. Try here for more info.
2. Read the manuals
Have you ever installed a car seat before? Many times parents say no to this and then I wonder why we think we know what we are doing and are surprised when we don’t get it right. We don’t read manuals (for things other than car seats as well) and we set ourselves up. The manual offers great insight as to how to get started on an installation and also covers how to use the seat properly. Don’t skip reading all the warnings either, those have important information too. Check out your vehicle manual as well, sometimes they slip something important in there about installation of car seats that you will never know if you don’t check. Is it annoying? Sure. Is it worth is? Absolutely.
3. Try Before you Buy
See a seat you love in store? Talk to a sales associate about taking that demo out for a test install. Be cautious of just using measurements or word of mouth, it’s worth the 20 minutes to actually take it and install it. Properly installing a seat will give you the best idea on if it works in your vehicle and how much room it might take up. They don’t all play nicely together so this is a key step when shopping. Try the seat forward and rear facing (if it does both) to make sure that it will still work when it’s time to turn it around. Does your vehicle head rest push out too far? Does the seat make the front seat unusable? Do you still like it? Is it a seat that you will be able to install properly again?
4. Use the Top Tether when Forward Facing
In Canada, you legally MUST use the top tether when using a forward facing, harnessed seat. This isn’t an option, it’s the law. If you don’t have a proper top tether anchor point (check your manual or call your vehicle manufacturer or local CPST to find out where yours are) you cannot install a forward facing harnessed seat there. Full stop, no excuses or exemptions here. Top Tethers limit forward head excursion (see the difference here) in the event of a collision and that’s a very important job. One seat per top tether anchor (unless you drive a pick up truck - they have a bit of a different system), so if you have a third row that only has one anchor, you CANNOT install more than one FF harnessed seat in that row. No way around it, sorry.
5. Secure your Cargo
If it can move, it will move in the event of a collision and it will likely move farther and faster than you think. Minivans and SUV/CUVs tend to be the biggest offenders when it comes to this. Ideally we have cargo fencing or barriers in vehicles where the cargo storage location is open to the cabin of the vehicle, but if that isn’t an option for you, use ratchet straps and other methods of properly securing any cargo that would prove to be a projectile in a collision (strollers, tools, sports equipment etc.) Car Seat Lady writes about cargo here.
6. No Bulky Clothing
Those super fluffy bunting bags are really great for strollers but they are definitely not safe for car seats. Puffy coats, costumes and uniforms/sport gear are also things to avoid use of in a car seat or in any seat belt use (so it applies to you adults as well). We don’t want anything that interferes with a seat belt or harness fitting snugly against the body. If it will compress in a collision, it will create slack in the seat belt or harness. Try a car seat poncho, blankets, fleece or any form of thin, well-fitting layers instead.
This is directly from a car seat manual (and I bet yours has something like this in it too!):
7. No Aftermarket Products
If it didn’t come with your seat you should ask questions about using it. If there is an issue with your seat and you think an aftermarket product will solve it, consult the manufacturer of the seat or a CPST first, they might have a safer recommendation. Just because stores can sell it doesn’t mean you should use it.
8. Use Your Car Seat as a Car Seat
No car seats on top of carts, on boats, on soft surfaces, on tables or chairs etc. Car seats are meant to be used in vehicles, with their strollers or on the floor. I understand your child is sleeping when you get home, but best practice would be to remove the child from the seat and place them in a safe sleeping spot. With newborns and young infants it is especially important to pay attention to the recline of your seat when it isn’t installed in the vehicle (and obviously when it is as well). When a car seat is installed properly in a vehicle, it is done so according to the manufacturers instructions and is at an approved recline specific to age/size/weight of baby and this is to ensure that the risk of airway blockage is reduced. When you place a car seat on the floor or anywhere other than in a vehicle, this recline is still important. If a newborn is in their bucket seat and napping airway blockage can occur if the seat is too upright. If your stroller has a bassinet or other feature for newborns, use that! ALWAYS have all buckles secured whenever your child is in their seat. Make this a habit, it’s very important and reduces the risk of death by asphyxiation caused from children becoming trapped.
9. Don’t Booster too Soon!
Booster seats are designed to give big kids a boost so that the adult seatbelt fits their smaller bodies properly. Leaving the harness behind and switching to a booster seat is often seen as a graduation, but there is still science involved. Don’t change your seats before your child is ready and conversely, don’t ditch the booster until it’s the right time for that too. Ready for a booster seat? Read here first.
10. Get Help from a Professional
It is estimated that misuse averages about 90% with car seats. 90%. Even if that number is inflated it is still far too much. Consult with a Child Passenger Safety Technician that will work with you to help you learn to properly and confidently use and install your child’s seat. You won’t regret it, we are passionate about reducing injury and we are here to help. Ask to see their certificate too, it never hurts to make sure a person is who they say they are. Some charge a fee and some do not, if cost is a barrier for you, be honest and upfront about it. Do understand the value in the service CPSTs provide and the cost that is required to be certified and provide this service.