Common Car Seat Mistakes Parents are Making

If you’re a parent, you probably remember the anxiety of purchasing and setting up the perfect car seat to safely transport your newborn home from the hospital. If you’re a new parent, you might be living it right now.

Choosing a safe car seat is only the first step in securing your child in your vehicle. You will also need to learn how to use the car seat correctly in every stage of your child’s life, from infanthood until they are old enough to travel without one.

Read on to learn the 10 most common car seat mistakes parents are making and how to avoid them.

Related: Our guides to the best toys for babies and toddlers

How to Use a Car Seat Properly

Children should be strapped into their car seats without outerwear or other non-safety-certified car seat accessories. Car seats should always be installed in the back seat to avoid potential airbag-related injuries during a crash.

Always follow the car seat installation manual to correctly install a car seat in your vehicle. Be sure to choose a car seat appropriate for your child’s age, weight, and height.

Top 10 Common Car Seat Mistakes Parents are Making

Even the most well-intentioned and experienced parents can make mistakes when using their car seats. Sometimes mistakes come from being rushed or flustered in hectic situations, but they can also happen if you aren’t aware you are doing something incorrectly.

According to the CDC, an estimated 46% of car seats and booster seats are misused in ways that make them less effective at protecting your child during a car accident.

Take the time to review each of these common mistakes to avoid making them yourself.

1. Installing the Car Seat Incorrectly

If your car seat is installed correctly, it should not move more than one inch in any direction when you tug on the base.

Use your car seat manual to follow the specific instructions to install your model. Different car seats have their own ways of threading the seatbelt through the seat path. Follow the instructions carefully and read the entire manual before using the car seat.

After installing your car seat, make sure it is appropriately reclined depending on your child’s age. For example, infants will need a further reclined car seat than toddlers and older children.

Many fire departments and other locations will check your car seat to ensure it is installed correctly. This free inspection takes five minutes and can give you some peace of mind that your child is well-protected. Find a location near you on the US Department of Transportation website.

2. Putting the Car Seat in the Front Seat

Don’t put your child’s car seat in the front seat. The safest place for your car seat is in the backseat, away from any active airbags.

An airbag can hit the back of a rear-facing car seat and cause injury to your child’s head. If your child rides in a forward-facing car seat in the front seat, the airbag can hit them directly, also causing harm.

Suppose your car only has one row of seats (some pickup trucks, for example). In that case, you should only use the car seat in your vehicle if you can turn off the airbag entirely before installing the car seat.

3. Using the Wrong Car Seat for Your Child’s Age

Choose the right car seat based on your child’s age and size. Car seats will need to be updated and changed as your child grows. Be aware of your car seat’s weight and height recommendations to know when it is time to move to a new one.

Many parents love convertible car seats because they grow with their child. These are great money and space savers for growing families. However, if you use these, be sure to adjust them as your child grows.

The US Department of Transportation provides this excellent tool to find a car seat that will protect your child based on their age, height, and weight.

4. Moving from Rear to Front-Facing Too Soon

Generally, kids should remain in rear-facing car seats until they are four years old or hit their rear-facing seat’s maximum weight and height. Generally, you want to keep your child rear-facing as long as possible.jf

Babies and small children are at increased risk of injury in a car accident because their heads are disproportionately large compared to their bodies. This means they have less head control than adults, so their heads can be thrown in any direction during a crash, leading to severe injury or death.

Rear-facing car seats are the best way to protect your young children, so keep your child in the rear-facing seat until they are at least four years old.

5. Loosening the Harness Too Much

The harness should fit snugly against your child’s body to bring them to a gentle stop if a crash starts to propel them out of the seat. You should only be able to fit one finger between your child’s collarbone and their harness. You should not be able to pinch any slack in the straps.

The more space between your child and the straps, the more forcefully they will hit the straps. This can result in injury to your child’s delicate bones or other parts of their body.

6. Putting Children in the Car Seat in Outerwear

Outerwear can create too much slack between the car seat’s straps and your child, so remove it before strapping them in. Instead, use a blanket or other covering over the car seat’s straps rather than underneath them.

While it might not seem like the outerwear is making the car seat too loose, most jackets will become compressed during a crash. The padding or puffy exterior will be pushed towards your child, making the straps too loose to secure them in the seat.

7. Positioning the Chest Clip or Straps Incorrectly

The chest clip should be aligned with your child’s armpits. If it is too high, your child is at risk of a neck injury. If it is too low, they could be ejected from the car seat during a crash.

Straps should always be snug against your child and should never be twisted against them. The straps will keep your child safely in their car seat during an accident, so take care to ensure they are correctly positioned.

8. Using Accessories That Are Not Certified for Use with Your Car Seat

Car seats are certified for use after extensive testing and expert inspections. Avoid adding accessories to your car seat that were not designed for and safety tested with the seat. Doing this means your car seat is no longer guaranteed to protect your child during an accident.

Typical uncertified accessories added to car seats include:

  • Head positioners
  • Car seat covers
  • Back supports
  • Chest clips

Some of these accessories are known to cause additional damage to your child during a crash. If the item was not safety tested with your specific car seat model, never use it for your car seat.

9. Using a Damaged or Expired Car Seat

Car seats have an expiration date, usually within 6 years of the purchase date. You can usually find the date in the owner’s manual or printed on the car seat itself. After this date, parts are weaker and no longer guaranteed to protect your child in a crash.

Car seats are also no longer safe to use after an accident. While they might look fine on the surface, they could be weaker or damaged, making them less likely to protect your child in another crash. Since it is nearly impossible to know if a used car seat has been involved in an accident, avoid purchasing a used car seat.

We know how tempting it is to purchase a used car seat or inherit a hand-me-down, especially when the baby-related bills are starting to pile up. It’s essential to know the car seat history if you must do this.

When in doubt, air on the side of caution and purchase a new car seat for your child.

10. Taking the Child Out of the Car Seat Too Early

Children are ready to transition to a booster seat when they have reached the maximum height and weight of the car seat. Most children are ready to use the seat belt between ages 8 and 12.

Keep your child in their booster seat until they meet ALL of the following characteristics:

  • Over 4′ 9″ tall
  • Sits with their back firmly against the back of the seat and their feet flat on the floor with knees bent comfortably over the edge of the seat (remains this way for the entire ride)
  • The seatbelt crosses the chest from between their neck and arm
  • The lap belt sits low across the tops of their thighs

Transitioning to a seat belt too early can result in significant injury during a car accident.

Wrapping Up

Be sure to choose the right car seat for your child based on their age, height, and weight. Always follow the owner’s manual to install your car seat safely in the backseat of your vehicle. Strap your child into the seat following safety guidelines and avoiding the common car seat mistakes parents are making.

Brett Gordon

The brains behind The Toy Report. Having clocked tons of time in toys research and online resource development, today, Brett is dedicated to making The Toy Report a trusted space in the world of toy reviews and recommendations.