Car seats can be a tricky thing to figure out. In fact, four out of five car seats are used incorrectly on a daily basis, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Of those incorrectly installed car seats, 96% of parents didn't even know it was improperly installed.
It's a sad statistic, but motor-vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death in kids aged one to 19, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. In children younger than one, it's the second leading cause. Car seats are proven to save lives when installed and used properly, so we've compiled five of the most common car seat errors:
To ensure proper installation, make sure you read the manual carefully or watch official or expert YouTube videos for your exact model of car seat. And if you're not sure or don't feel uncomfortable, take it to a certified professional. (You may have to pay a fee for this service, which varies from community to community, but it shouldn't be astronomical.)
Keep in mind that car seats can become loose over time so it's important to check to see if your child's seat needs adjusting. A properly installed car seat should be tight enough that the seat cannot move more than one-inch from side-to-side or front-to-back. Give your car seat a shake from the top where the belt path is.
All seats have five-point harnesses, but there is a right and wrong way to connect them. The shoulder and lap straps should not be twisted and should lay flat. The chest clip should be snug, and positioned in line with the child's armpits. The crotch buckles should be snapped into place and should not come away when tugged on. The harness should be tight enough that only two fingers can fit under the straps when buckled.
Harness webbing sometimes needs replacing as well. Milk, juice and even cleaning products can compromise the structure, making the harness brittle and stiff. When it comes to cleaning, make sure to only follow the manufacturer's instructions, and if you need to clean your car seat often, replace the harness on a regular basis. You can call the manufacturer to ask how many times a harness can be cleaned before needing to be replaced. (If you're unsure if the harness is installed correctly, have it checked by a car seat professional before use).
Be mindful of expiry dates. Just like eggs and milk, car seats have them, too. Important parts of the car seat can wear out over time, compromising the integrity of the seat. Look for expiry dates on a label, embossed on the shell of the seat, or included in the manual. When in doubt, call the manufacturer.
Parents sometimes forget about the top tether, especially if the seat is installed using anchors (these are pretty standard in newer model cars), but it is an important part of the installation. Be sure to check the manual for proper use of the tether, though, as there are instances where it is not recommended.
It's also tempting to add other car seat accessories, but the experts say this is a no-no. There should be nothing between baby and seat except for a diaper and a single layer of clothing. Canadian parents tend to want to dress their babes in warmer clothing in the winter, but bulky clothing can really impact the effectiveness of the seat. Instead, use a cover over the seat on the way out to the car, and then remove and tuck blankets around your little one when the seat is snapped into place. Once your child is out of the bucket seat, get them out to the car in their coats and then remove and use blankets for warmth.
Finally, don't be in a hurry to turn your baby around or move your kiddo up to the next level of car seat. The longer you can keep them rear-facing and in a five-point harness, the better. Adhere to age, height and weight guidelines to know when it's appropriate to transition to a new option. Remember, older kids often need a booster seat well into their childhoods, to ensure the seatbelt is positioned properly across their chests.
If you're ever unsure, at any point during installation or use, just go see a car seat professional for advice. Your peace of mind and your child's safety are most important (even if you feel like you should know how to handle it alone!).