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Deadly Mistakes You're Probably Making

You've anticipated this for 9 months and now the time has finally come! You'd do anything to protect your little bundle of joy, so why is it that 98% of car seats are used incorrectly?

The fact is that most parents don't think they are doing anything wrong. Below you will find 20 of the most common and potentially deadly mistakes that you may be making every time you get in the car with your child.

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#20- That little thing that's called a chest clip...it goes on the chest, no really- IT DOES!

If your child's chest clip looks like this, then you are doing it wrong.

This is the proper placement of the chest clip (a general rule of thumb is to have it even with the armpits, you can never go wrong if you remember that).

What could happen:

The chest clip is designed to keep the harness straps properly positioned on the child's shoulders; this is important because the harness is the component that keeps the child restrained in the car seat. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that 59% of child harnesses are not tight enough. If the harness is loose and the chest clip is too low, one or both harness straps can slide off the child's shoulders, allowing the child to potentially be ejected from the car seat in the event of a crash.

In a collision, the chest clip can cause damage and/or internal bleeding to vital organs in your child's abdominal region, which is not protected by the ribcage.

#19 Harness straps should fit snugly!

The easiest way to check to see if your harness straps are too loose is the pinch test. Secure your child in the car seat and buckle the harness as usual. Using your thumb and index finger, try to pinch one of the harness straps at your child's collarbone level. If you're able to pinch the strap, the harness is not tight enough. You should not be able to pinch any excess.


Be sure that you don't get the harness straps TOO tight-there is such a thing. You don't want it digging into the child's body, making it uncomfortable for them.

What can happen:
Loose harness straps leave your child at an elevated risk of injury during a crash because they may allow your child to move out of position; they can even lead to ejection from the child seat during a crash.

#18 Installations need to be TIGHT

This video speaks volumes.

If that wasn't simple enough for you...

You should not be able to move your car seat side to side more than 1inch...that's it, an inch. In a car accident, the force is much stronger than you are, so that 1 inch becomes even looser. Unless you want your child's seat thrown around like a rag doll (as shown in the video), keep their installation tight!

What can happen: besides the obvious, whiplash...severe shaking of the brain could cause swelling and bleeding and possibly death. Imagine the car seat striking the window or another passenger.


#17 Car seats expire just like your food does!

Why do car seats expire?

***Technology gets better, standards change. For example, in 2002, car seats were not even equipped with Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children (LATCH). Now however, they are a standard feature in nearly all seats and all vehicles made after 2004 are equipped with LATCH. Car seat expiration dates ensure that seats being used are current and safe for use.

***Materials wear down, just like clothes get holes in them. Nothing was made to last forever. Over time, the seat base can develop hairline fractures which may shatter in a crash, and belts can become more loose and relaxed after years of use, both causing a car seat to fail.

***Seats are only tested for a certain period. After X amount of time, manufacturers do not test seats. They cannot attest to how older seats will perform in an accident.

This is a quick 16 second video showing what happens if you get into a car accident with an expired car seat.
What could happen: see above video

#16- Washing your car seat straps

Let's face it- kids are very messy. If yours are anything like mine, their car seat straps have been covered in candy, juice, and some odd sticky stuff that you'd rather not know what it is.

So you take the car seat cover off and throw the whole thing in the washer, right? Wrong.

Harness straps may not be washed, they are not to be submerged.

Why not: Soaking the straps in even just plain water can wash away the fire-retardant chemicals on the harness and currently, there is no way to get that back. Even worse, washing with detergents that have bleach alternatives, optical brighteners, and a laundry list (no pun intended) of chemicals can weaken the integrity of the straps, causing them to fail in an accident.

Your best bet is to wipe down the straps with a damp wash cloth. If you can't fathom using only water to clean up the grime, most car seats allow the use of a mild soap like dove. Just be sure to check your manual first.

If you have already washed your straps before reading this, call your car seat manufacturer and explain the mistake. Most of them will ship you replacement straps for free as a courtesy.

#15- Incorrect harness position

So your straps are tight, the chest clip is up, you're all set! Not quite...

There are other factors that can cause a child to be injured in a car accident even when the most obvious precautions are taken.

When a child is rear facing the harness straps should be coming out AT or BELOW shoulder level. Here is a dummy-proof picture.

So why is this?

Most car collisions happen when the car is moving forward causing a rear-facing child's back to be pressed against the seatback of the car seat. This makes it extremely important to keep the child's body from sliding upwards against the car seat's seatback.

Any additional acceleration of the child upward influences the performance of any rear-facing car seat. Also, every tiny increment of increased distance the child moves exponentially amplifies the forces on the child's body. The more a child's body accelerates, the more the child's head and chest are subjected to increased g-forces both at the beginning of the collision and during the deceleration after the collision.

For FORWARD FACING seats however, the harness straps need to be positioned AT or ABOVE the shoulder level, like this.

If the child is forward facing during a frontal collision, the crash forces will cause the child's body to be thrown forward. The harness straps should be positioned at or above the child's shoulders when forward facing to most effectively decrease the amount of distance the child will travel when propelled forward and to limit the forces on the child's spine and shoulders.

#14- Re-using a crashed car seat

Car seats are a one time use deal.

Most car seat manufacturers state to replace a car seat after any crash regardless of the details of the crash. Here is a list of some of the popular brands, just check your manual if you don't see your brand listed here.

Combi's website says " Q: Should my car seat be replaced after a vehicle crash?
A: Combi recommends replacing a seat after any crash. This includes the seat base if it was in the vehicle when the crash occurred. "

HOWEVER, If you consult your Combi Coccorro manual, it will say they follow the NHTSA guidelines and the seat may be reused after a minor crash. In this case, it would probably be best to contact the manufacturer directly in the event of an accident.

Graco says to replace the carseat after any type of crash. http://www.gracobaby.com/ CustomerServic e/Pages/ faqTopic.aspx?page=FAQ&CatI D=2

Graco's FAQ page-
I was recently in an accident. Do I have to replace my child's car seat? There doesn't appear to be any damage.
Answer: Yes. You must replace your child's car seat if it was involved in an accident, no matter what. Even if there appears to be no damage to the car seat on the surface, the impact and force of a collision can cause unseen structural damage to the interior of your car seat. Any such damage may prohibit your car seat from properly protecting your child in the event of a sudden stop or crash.

Evenflo's FAQ at https://plweb.evenflo.com/ faq_detail.aspx?faqid=4544 instructs parents to discontinue using the crashed seat immediately and to contact Evenflo for additional guidance.

For Dorel Juvenile Group (Cosco/Eddie Baurer/Safety First) ever manual states "Do not use a child restraint that has been in a crash.You must get a new child restraint" Here is just one example: http:// www.coscojuvenile.com/usa/ eng/DJGFiles/ ProductDocuments/ 43583614D.pdf

Britax is one of the only brand that is safe to reuse in a minor crash. Their FAQ refers to the NHTSA criteria for carseat replacement after a crash at http://www.britaxusa.com/ customer-se...r-seat-basics /

Q: What should I do with my child restraint that's been involved in a crash?

A: Britax recommends that use of a child restraint be discontinued if it has been in a severe crash. We further advise of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) position that it is not necessary to replace a child restraint after a minor crash. A minor crash is one that meets ALL of following criteria:

* The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site;
* The vehicle door nearest the child restraint was undamaged;
* There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants;
* The air bags (if present) did not deploy; AND
* There is no visible damage to the child restraint.

Sunshine Kids products states "Do not use restraint after it has been involved in any accident. Damage to the restraint may have occurred which could impair its ability to adequately protect a child." Here is the manual, it is on page 4 of the pdf or page 7 of the manual http://www.skjp.com/simg/ 19544803.pdf

This holds true for the original Sunshine Kids Radian seats, but I was made aware that the Diono brand (which is what SK is now called), does in fact allow the reuse of their new seats in a minor crash. Please check your manual to be sure.

Here is a link to a Recaro manual http://www.recaro.com/ uploads/media/ prosport_manual.pdf which states on page 5 "If the ProSPORT was occupied during a crash or vehicle accident, it must be replaced. Do NOT use the child restraint again. A crash can cause unseen damage and using it again can cause serious injury or death."

Please note that the above manufacturer's crashed seat FAQs and NHTSA criteria do not differentiate between an unoccupied and occupied seat. (aside from a Recaro seat used as a booster) The car seat has been subjected to crash forces even if it was unoccupied at the time of the crash. There could be unseen damage from the stress of the crash that could potentially cause the seat to fail to properly protect a child in the event of another crash.

If you have been in an accident and your car seat should have been replaced, immediately contact your car insurance agent and explain the situation. The majority of insurance companies will reimburse you or pay for new seats after an accident. I was able to get Progressive to pay for 3 car seats, totaling over $600, for an accident that had occured over a year before, once I learned that crashed seats couldn't be used.

If you have any problems with your insurance company not cooperating, shoot me an email and I will be happy to provide you a form letter that has worked in every situation.

#13- Purchasing a used car seat

Everyone loves a good deal! Consignment stores, friends...Craigslist, the mecca of bargain shoppers.

Any given day, you will get hundreds of results if you search your local Craigslist for a deal on a previously owned car seat.

There are some things you must not buy used, underwear would be on that list.

However, I'll try to stay on the subject of car seats.

What is wrong with a used car seat you might ask...well, the problem is, we just don't know. So many people just want to make a quick buck and you can't verify the safety of anything that you don't know the full history of. Has it been used in a car accident? Did the owner ever wash the straps? Is it expired? Believe me, when someone is wanting to make a sale, they are less inclined to disclose truthful details and will more often than not, tell you what you want to hear.

We already know what could possibly happen if you buy a faulty seat, so let's just skip the "what if's" and only buy new. It may cost a little bit more, but your child's life is invaluable.

#12- Winter Coats and Car seats don't mix!

I can't really put this into words any better than these videos, so take a quick look.

Video #1

Video #2

#11- No Aftermarket Products

Most simply put: If it didn't come with your car seat, it isn't safe to use .

Those cute little puppy dog harness covers, the newborn head support, the notorious JJ Cole. All of these (and ANYTHING that attaches to your car seat) are not only potentially dangerous because they alter the fit of the seat, they also void manufacturer warranty in the event of a crash and the car seat fails. Take them back and get a refund!

#10- Use your LATCH system or seatbelt, but not both

Often times, I have heard moms tell me that they install their car seats with the latch and then the seat belt, just as a precaution. The common misconception is that using both is doubly safe. In fact however, it is the opposite.

It seems like common sense that it would hold the seat in place better, but actually, a car seat is supposed to be able to move and flex a small amount during an accident to absorb some of the impact. If you used both, it could possibly cause too much of the force to be transferred to the child...or having two straps could simply put too much stress on the car seat's belt path, causing the plastic to break and have the child and car seat fly out of the windshield.

Truth of the matter is this: we don't know WHY we can't do it, all we know is that EVERY.SINGLE. car seat manufacturer says not to, so it would be safe to assume that it has failed for some reason or another. Since they don't release crash test info, we can only speculate on theories.

#9- Not knowing when your child REALLY outgrows their rear facing seat.

1 inch.
1 inch from the top of the shell is a rule of thumb for the MAJORITY of infant seats.

What does that mean?

If your child's seat is one of those and his head is hanging over PAST the top of his car seat (while rear facing), he has outgrown it. If his head is flush with the top of his car seat (while rear facing), he has outgrown it. His must not extend past 1 inch from the top of the seat. This inch ensures that as the child slides up the seat in a crash, his head will stay protected.

Now, there are some seats (more often than not, they are convertibles that have a specific height limit. Diono brand seats use a 1.5" rules as opposed to one inch. To determine what the guidelines are for your seat, always consult the manual.

Now this doesn't always mean you need to forward face, especially if your child is just tall. There are many other options in the store and you can always go and let your child sit in each one to see how long the seat will last you, before you purchase it. Given the design of most car seats, the majority of children become too tall for rear-facing seats before they become too heavy. If you have tall children, keep that in mind when looking for new seats, and always try to get one that has a taller shell height.

#8- Putting infant seats on top of a shopping cart

Every time I tell a group of friends this, one person inevitably says "oh I wouldn't do it if I didn't know it was perfectly safe, but mine snaps on perfectly"

No...it doesn't.

Every infant car seat manual, I repeat, EVERY infant car seat manual says not to attach it to a shopping cart.

***EDIT*** I was informed that Babytrend does allow you to use their car seat on a cart *if it locks on* Sadly, I checked it and their manual does say this. However, we owned a flex-loc with my youngest daughter and on numerous occasions, before we knew better, we tried to put the seat on top of carts (Wal-mart and Target) and even when it was locked onto the cart, a simple jolt was enough to unlatch it. Looks like I will be making a call to Baby Trend today because in my opinion, they should not be encouraging something that is potentially very dangerous. ****

But if it appears to snap on, then what's the big deal? The problem lies in the fact that something as simple as a child running around the store and bumping into your cart and that car seat that you THOUGHT was latched on, can cause your baby (and seat) to be upside down on the concrete floor in a split second. Studies show over 80% of all car seat/shopping cart accidents happen within an arm's reach of the carrier so the "I always am RIGHT THERE" line just doesn't work. The cart also becomes top heavy and can flip over with the slightest amount of force.

Car seats are meant to latch onto 2 things: the base or the stroller. NOTHING ELSE. Each of these has a special bar, that matches up with that exact car seat type.

Each year, over 21,000 injuries occur because of babies falling out of the cart. Please don't let your child be a statistic. There are other solutions: baby wearing, leaving baby with another person while you shop, or put the entire carrier inside the cart if you must, not ON it. Read here about one of the most recent publicized deaths due to a shopping cart accident- it can happen to you.

For a great animated blog post about shopping carts, see this!

#7- Projectiles can kill your child...and yourself!

Look at this cd that was embedded into the windshield during a crash.
Basically, if it wouldn't be safe to throw an item at your child's face with all of your strength (not saying you have to try it out), it should not be left unsecured in your vehicle. A trunk, a glove compartment, a center console: these all can store the things you think you need to take with you on a trip. Stuff the diaper bag under the seat.

You may not think a cell phone could do that much damage. The weight of an object, multiplied by the speed at which you're traveling equals the force at which that item would hit something if your car comes to a sudden stop (like hitting something head on). What does an average cell phone weigh these days? 6oz? So you take 6oz and multiply it by the speed you are traveling...let's say, 45mph? 6 x 45 is 270. 270oz or about 17lbs. Would you ever consider throwing a 17lb object at your child?

Read JD's story.

Time to go clean out the car!

#6- Myth: Infant Carrier position doesn't matter

A lot of people believe that the carrier handle must always be down in the car.
Even more people believe that the carrier handle can be in "carry" position.

They are both right.
And they are both wrong...
depending on the car seat each person has.

Consult this chart (or your manual) for your safe travel handle positions- each manufacturer has different rules, based on what has been crash tested to be safe. Usually, if a car seat has a reinforced handle, the manufacturer allows for it to be in any position.

This is the most current chart in circulation but it is always a good idea to check your manual.


#5- Car seat installation MUST be tight!

Deja Vu?

Nope, I just figured it was important enough to repeat.

Depending on which study you quote, anywhere from 80-99% of car seats are installed incorrectly.

Remember, no more than an inch of movement side to side at the base. (Chances are if you grab the top of the seat, it will move more. The top of the seat should always be tethered but the base is what we measure for movement)

#4- Moving to a booster too early

Provided that your child does not exceed weight limits, and their straps come out above their shoulder level, they should remain in a 5 point harness. Basically, if they fit in a 5-point harness, there is no reasoning to "graduating" them to a booster.

Without any words at all, this video speaks volumes.

Many car seats accommodate older children in a 5pt harness for a longer than average time.

This chest clip could stand to be moved up 1/2 an inch or so, but it was only for picture purposes.
This is Avery, she is 7.
She weighs 49lbs, is 47inches, and still has 1 more slot to go (so another couple of inches of growth) before she outgrows her 5-point harness. (Recaro ProSport combination seat)

A lot of 5 point harnesses offer more side impact protection than boosters, especially backless boosters which is a given. Does your child have a tendency to lean over and poke their brother? Reach to the ground to get toys? Fall asleep? If your child does not possess the ability to stay upright and with the belt positioned correctly at all times, it is not safe for them to be in a booster seat without a harness.

#3- Not registering your car seat

Each seat comes with a product registration postcard. Tear it off and mail it in to the manufacturer. This ensures that if there are any recalls, they can get a hold of you quickly to let you know to discontinue using that seat.

If you don't register your product, you may not know that the seat you have has been recalled for straps loosening on their own...and what if yours does that in a wreck?

It is VERY important to have your car seat registered.

And I'm guilty, 0 out of 3 of mine are registered. I'm trying to justify it because I check the recall site weekly, but still, I should just send the post cards back.

If you lost your registration card, call your manufacturer and they can either register you over the phone, walk you through the process online, or send you a replacement card.

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If you haven't noticed the trend already, the only way you can ever be sure your child is as safe as possible is by checking with the manufacturer. When in doubt, consult your manual! It has the answers to EVERYTHING :)


#2- Forward Facing too early

Before we get started, yes I understand the law states you can turn your child forward facing at age 1 or 20lbs/1 and 20lbs (depending on where you live). I know many people who have said "If it weren't safe, it wouldn't be legal!" Just because it is legal, do you really think it is safe? Cigarettes and alcohol are both legal, so that is a bad argument. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rear facing until AT LEAST the age of 2- "at least" being the key words.

Studies have shown that extended rear facing is FIVE times safer in the majority of auto accidents (that's 500%). When a child is rear facing, the seat absorbs most of the crash forces. The seat distributes the force of the crash over the entire body which helps protect the head, neck, and spine of your child. When a child is forward facing in an accident, the head abruptly moves forward and this puts stress on their neck and spine and in even some minor crashes, the spinal column can stretch too far and snap, causing death.

Extended rear facing does not mean cramming your child into an infant carrier. There are many options out there for a convertible car seat that will allow your child to rear face well into the toddler years, and comfortably at that!

Common misconceptions about rear facing a toddler:

-"My toddler has really long legs so he will be uncomfortable." or "My child is too big"

These are both untrue in most cases. Young children are flexible and they easily position themselves to be comfortable. They simply bend their legs, prop them up on the back seat, dangle them over the sides or sit cross legged. ALL of these are comfortable for a child. Don't believe me? Call your child over to you and tell them to have a seat. I can guarantee you that the majority of children will not come and sit with their legs straight out in front of them, so why should they sit that way in a car seat. Did you know that forward facing for too long (road trips etc) can actually cut off their circulation, so not only making it uncomfortable, but painful too?

-"If they have long legs couldn't they break in a crash if they are rear faced?"
Yes, although unlikely, their legs could possibly break, but as of now, there are ZERO documented cases of broken legs, hips, feet etc due to rear facing. Studies actually show that forward facing kids are more likely to injure their legs in a crash from being thrown forward into the seat in front of them. Either way, broken legs-cast it...broken neck-casket. Which would you prefer?

-"My child cries too much, she isn't happy if she can't see me"
While I understand it may be frustrating, your main focus should always be on driving and not trying to keep your child happy. She may be upset, but at least you know she is safe. If you turned her forward facing, she may be happy for a little while, but soon the excitement will wear off and she will still be crying every time she gets in the car. It's not rear facing they hate (especially when they don't know anything else), it's being strapped down.

"My parents did it and I lived"

You're right...congrats. Now, tell me how many people in the world cannot say that because...well, they aren't alive to say it. There are people who can say that they swam in shark-infested waters with steaks tied around their extremities and they lived...but I don't think I'd recommend it for everyone else to do.

There are many, many more excuses I have heard as to why parents don't rear face their children past the bare minimum, but it all boils down to just that: they are excuses. Not one is valid. If you really think you have a good reason not to, feel free to comment on here and I will address each one individually.


Kaylee, rear facing in a Radian XTSL at 2 years, 7 months (34" and 26.5lbs). She is completely content and her legs barely touch the seat when they are straight out, even though she prefers to have them bent a little. She will easily fit rear facing in this seat beyond 3 years.

I found the shortest, straight to the point videos I can find so as not to lose your interest. Here is a forward vs rear facing video.

Here is a short clip of a forward facing crash test

And here is a rear facing crash test clip

#1- Not reading your manual-
Almost everything written above can be found in your car seat manual. It may not be the best book you've ever read, but it's guaranteed to be one of the most important. Take an hour out of your day, put down the Hunger games book, and familiarize yourself with your car seat and manual. You won't regret it.

To read about keeping your children safe on an airplane, check out this post!



35 Comments

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  • El 7/3/2014Delete

    lol if anyone sees the horse pregnancy post, here's the author of it.Report Abuse

  • Jenn Mervyn 7/10/2013

    Thank you so much! I was literally about to turn my son's car seat around to be front facing today! I had no idea that they are recommended to stay rear facing into the toddler years. I will now be leaving his car seat in the rear facing position for quite a bit longer :)Report Abuse

  • Jamie 6/25/2013

    I think the tone is meant to be light and easy to read...not condescending.

    As for the not putting the seat on top of the shopping cart...it actually says in your manual NOT to do this. I've been told it can actually mess up the lock mechanism because it isn't designed for that. I recently saw a lady who couldn't get hers off and was yanking on it, etc. That can't be good for it and could damage the way it installs in the car which could in turn affect performance. And I don't care if its 15 a year...my kid will NOT be one of those 15, some of those children have died! I'll keep mine alive thank you. Oh, and accidents are why mine don't stand in the cart when they get older either!!Report Abuse

  • Queena 6/20/2013

    When are auto makers going to "again" make integrated child safety seats? Or removable child safety seats that are easy to install and remove and are safe when installed? And whether they are forward facing or rear facing (and I do believe they are safer sitting rear facing) they are still very uncomfortable and there's no place for the kids legs! We have space travel and we've had air travel for a hundred years! There' GPS and back up cameras and a dozen cup holders! But this is the best we can do to keep our kids safe and comfortable in the car?Report Abuse

  • dissatisfied 6/20/2013

    How cute is he! Bet you are so happy! I hope someday I get to be a grandma!
    Love ya,
    Arline and danReport Abuse

  • Matthew 6/15/2013

    There was some very good information in this article, it was slightly annoying that the person writing needed to talk to us like we were all idiots, but if it keeps my kid safe, awesome! However, I take issue with the part about putting your child on the cart. Yes, there are 20,000+ accidents a year involving kids in carts, but only roughly 15 happen because of babies being put on top of carts in car seats. 15 out of 20,000+! This was simply to scare people into not doing something that this person seems to think the right answer is and that #$%$ me off. Carts are naturally top heavy and thus tip every easy. Most accidents happen because there is a bigger child standing in carts and fall out due to not being strapped in, over 58% or accidents happen this way. 26% of injuries happen due to carts tipping over and over 85% of those injuries were caused by the children tipping the cart over themselves with an average age of 2.5. This is a scare tactic and misleading info.Report Abuse

  • spud 6/14/2013

    My kid will be 2 1/2 next month and is completely happy riding rear-facing. Granted, he's a little guy (33" 23lbs) but that's all the more reason to keep him rear-facing as long as we can. He is forward facing in my husband's truck, as it's ht/wt requirements were different than the car seat in my vehicle, where he rides most often and for longer distances, family trips, etc. :)Report Abuse

  • Yowza 6/13/2013

    What if you are still under the height/weight limits when you start driving?Report Abuse

  • 6/13/2013

    Why is the tone in this article so condescending?Report Abuse

  • Caryn Heldt 6/13/2013

    My question is on #2. Convertible car seats are very big and I own a Jetta. The only place to put the car seat rear facing and not hitting one of the front seats is on the passenger side. Then the front seat is in all the way up to the dash board and it is not safe to have a passenger (meaning my husband) to ride in the front seat. I thought the car seat was not to hit the front seats because in a crash, the front seats will flex backwards and push on the car seat. This could either flip the car seat up or worse, buckle the car seat between the back and front seat. Can you explain what I am missing in this scenario?Report Abuse

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