7 Common Car Seat Mistakes

Istock 000014782038xsmall

Approximately 70 percent of car seats across the country are not used correctly. The following include some of the most common mistakes that parents make.

1. Not reading the instructions. Before you even think about installing your car seat you should thoroughly read the instruction manuals for both your car seat and vehicle. They are full of information that will make it easier for you to properly install your car seat! In your vehicle manual, search the index for "car seats" or "child restraints."

2. Not using the tether. The tether strap is attached to the back of the car seat and hooks to the tether anchor in your vehicle. When properly installed, the use of the tether can help reduce the distance a child's head moves in a crash by 4 to 6 inches!

3. Seating your child forward-facing too soon. At a minimum, infants should remain rear-facing until 1 year old and 20 pounds. However, safety experts agree: infants and young children should remain rear-facing as long as possible. Once your child has outgrown their infant carrier, you should move to a convertible car seat installed in a rear-facing position and keep your child rear-facing until they reach the upper weight and height limits of the seat.

4. Harness is too loose or twisted. It is important to make sure the harness remains flat on the child and is not twisted. When checking for twists don't forget to look behind the car seat, especially if you have recently removed the car seat from the car or the seat pad from the car seat for cleaning. To make sure the harness is tight enough, try to pinch the harness webbing together at the child's shoulders. If you can pinch the harness webbing together, it is too loose. If your fingers slide off the webbing when you test, it is appropriately snug.

5. Use of seat belt and lower anchors together. If one is good, two must be better, right? Wrong. In most situations, a harnessed car seat should not be installed using both the lower anchors and seat belt. You should choose either one or the other. Consult your car seat manual to be sure.

6. Incorrect installation of lower anchors. Some car seats use "hook" style lower anchor connectors, but they are often installed upside-down. When properly installed, the rounded nose of the hook should be on top, with the flexible portion of the connector situated below so that it can clip onto the lower anchor bar. Some car seats have "push-on" connectors which usually indicate the appropriate direction for installation via a label or imprinting on the plastic.

7. Nonuse of car seats or booster seats. Finally, perhaps the most costly mistake is not using a restraint at all. Unfortunately, this is quite common among older kids that could benefit from the use of a belt-positioning booster. A study by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia indicates that more than one-third of children ages 4 to 8 are not using booster seats — and should be. A belt-positioning booster seat is designed to ensure the lap and shoulder belts in your vehicle (which were designed for an adult) will fit your child appropriately – with the lap belt low across the hips (not the tummy) and the shoulder belt crossing the shoulder (not the neck or face). The use of a booster seat can reduce the risk of injury in a crash by 45 percent by enabling your child to use the vehicle's belt system properly.

Although it may seem intimidating, you do not need an engineering degree to properly install a car seat. When in doubt – ask for help

Sarah Haverstick is a safety advocate for Evenflo.