Common Mistakes We Make when Using Car Seats
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Common Mistakes We Make when Using Car Seats

Vehicle seats, restraints, and airbags are designed to protect full-size adults, not children. To get around this, baby and booster seats use existing safety features while accommodating smaller bodies. However, since they aren’t built into cars, there are a lot of ways they can be installed and used incorrectly. The NHTSA estimates that 46% of car seats have at least one use error, reducing their effectiveness in a crash. Here are the most common car seat mistakes, and what you can do to prevent them.

Using the Wrong Seat Attachment

Car seats can attach to the vehicle using either a seat belt or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) connections. These attachment systems are equally safe when used correctly, but there are times when you should choose one over the other. The LATCH system makes it far easier to fit an infant seat, reducing both frustration and installation errors. However, it can only handle children up to 40 lbs. Larger seats must be attached with a seat belt. If your child is over 40 lbs. and can fit in a LATCH-compatible seat, you should use the seat belt to mount the seat in your car.

Leaving the Seat Too Loose

Once you’ve fitted a seat, make sure it’s tightened down correctly. You should not be able to move the seat more than one inch in any direction.

Using the Wrong Seat Angle

The bottom cushion on a vehicle seat can be at a range of angles, so rear-facing seats have an adjustable angle range to compensate. If the seat is too upright, the infant’s head may fall forward, restricting breathing. If the seat is tilted too far back, it won’t protect the child as well in an accident. Check your seat’s instructions on how to set the angle. Most infant seats have an angle gauge on the side, making it easy to get the seat into the right position.

Attaching the Seat at the Wrong Points

Between slots for LATCH and seat belt installations, plus paths for forward and rearward mounting positions, installing a seat can get confusing. Double-check the instructions to make sure you’re attaching the seat correctly for your intended setup. If you switch a seat between being forward or rearward facing, you may need to change the way it’s attached to the seat. Always use the top tether when installing a forward-facing seat using the LATCH system.

Using the Wrong Seat Size and Position

Don’t switch from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat until the child has reached the weight or height limit of their current seat. It may be comforting to be able to check up on your child from your rear-view mirror, but rear-facing seats are safer for small children. If you have a convertible seat, keep it facing forward until the child has reached the manufacturer’s height and weight recommendations for front-facing seat use.

Likewise, don’t make the switch to a booster seat until the child is too big for their baby seat. This can be anywhere from 40-80 lbs. depending on the seat.

Booster seats should be used until a child is 4’9” and can sit comfortably with their back against the seat and their knees bent. The seat belt should run across their hips and shoulder. Children under 13 should sit in the back seats. Even with new weight-sensing airbags, the bag impact increases the risk of injury for small children.

Using the Wrong Harnesses Tension and Position

If the harness is loose, it won’t keep your child from moving around during an accident. Fortunately, harness tension is easy to check. Pinch the seat belt next to your child’s shoulder. If you can pull together some of the webbing, the belt needs to be tighter. Both sides of the harness must be the same tension for maximum protection. Be sure to check the seat belt frequently, so you can adjust as your child grows.

Rearward-facing seats need a harness position that’s different from forward-facing seats and seat belts. The top straps should sit below your baby’s shoulders, not over them. For forward-facing seats, these straps should be slightly above the shoulders. For both seats, the chest strap should be armpit level.

Remove thick coats and other winter clothing before buckling in your child. Otherwise, the material can interfere with the harness, keeping you from properly tightening the harness. Likewise, using padding that isn’t made specifically for the seat may keep the harness from working correctly.

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