The Top Five Mistakes Parents Make With Car Seats
By Dana Sullivan
As many as half of the car seats in use today are installed
incorrectly. Here, a look at the top five mistakes people make when it
comes to car seats, with advice on how to correct them from Julie Prom,
a certified child passenger safety expert based in Stafford, Va.
- Buying the wrong seat for a particular car Some seats fit
better in certain cars than others. But the only way you'll know which
seats work best in your car(s) is through trial and error. If possible,
months before your baby is born, go to a baby store and ask to install
several different models in your car until you find one that fits. "I
tell people to do this before they start looking at cribs," says Prom.
"A safe car seat is one of the most important purchases a parent can
make for her baby." You can also call your hospital or fire department,
or visit the SafeKids Website, to find out when and where the next car-seat
safety check will be held in your area.
- Facing baby forward too soon and/or using a seat that doesn't fit properly
Infants should be in the rear-facing position, in either an infant
carrier (a seat with a carrying handle) or a convertible seat (a seat
you can turn forward when your baby is big enough) until they are one
year old and weigh at least 20 pounds, whichever comes last. If your
under-one-year infant is so tall that her head reaches the top of the
infant carrier, you need to switch her into a convertible seat but keep
her facing rear. Many convertibles accommodate children in the rear or
forward position until they weigh about 35-40 pounds.
- Not tightening the car seat enough Make sure the seat
doesn't move more than approximately one inch from side to side or
front to back. Read the car seat manufacturer's instructions so you
know where to thread the seat belt, and your vehicle's manual so you
know whether you must use a locking clip to secure the seat belt. Be
sure to install the locking clip next to the latch plate.
- Positioning the harness height incorrectly Read the car
seat's instruction manual to determine the proper harness height. Some
harnesses should sit level with your infant's shoulders, others should
be set just below. You will need to adjust the harness height as your
- Not tightening the harness enough Adjust the harness so
you can't slide more than two fingers between the harness and your
baby. And make sure that the chest clip is at your baby's armpit level
to keep the harness in place.
"This is one time it's essential to read instructions," says Julie
Prom, a certified child passenger safety expert based in Stafford,
Virginia. "Read the car seat manufacturer's guide and your auto manual
before you install a car seat."