7 Common Car Seat Mistakes You Might Not Know You’re Making

Read the dang manual.

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a young married couple with a child cares about safe driving
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There are activities in life that you don’t know you’ve failed until disaster strikes. Rigging a building for demolition with explosives is one. Installing a deep sea blowout preventer on your offshore drilling rig is another. But for parents, the worst-case scenario is finding out you failed at proper car seat use. Honestly? You’d probably rather pollute the gulf of Mexico or crush a city block.

The thought of car seat failure should scare the crap out of you. In the end, your ability to safely install the seat and strap your kid incorrectly is often what stands between “that was a close one” and “how do we go on from here?”

Of course, there are the obvious car seat mistakes that you’re not going to make (like poor seat and strap positioning, or deciding not to use it because you’re just going a couple blocks). But while you may know all the basics, and feel like your car seat game is on point, here are a few blind spots you may have missed.

Car Seat Mistake #1: Buying Used

Among the many things you do not want to buy used are underwear, contact lenses and car seats. The reasons for the first two are (hopefully) obvious, but it might be a bit more tough to understand not going second hand on a car seat.

Just like you don’t want to drive a car that has a history of major accidents, you don’t want to buy a car seat that might have been put through the wringer. But it’s harder to determine if that’s the case for the seat. Also, technology and regulations in car seat safety change very quickly and they have a tendency to be occasionally recalled. So you may be strapping your kid into an antiquated death trap.

Sure, a great deal of due diligence could mitigate some of these issues. But there are too many things you could miss. Instead, buy new. And buy something that can change with your kid as they grow. Sadly, this is not something you can do with underwear.

Car Seat Mistake #2: Bulky Coats Or Clothing

Whether it’s the middle of winter or a particularly brisk summer morning, your inclination will be to keep your kid warm in the car. But your priority should be keeping them alive in the car.

A bulky coat under car seat straps can allow enough room for your kid to slip out in an accident. The problem is that bulky outerwear is mostly made of air-filled material that can (and will) compress under the intense forces of a crash. This can lead up to 4 inches of slack between the strap and your kid’s body.

There’s a good way to determine if your kid’s coat is too bulky. Here are the steps:

  1. Strap your kid in their seat while they wear the coat.
  2. Adjust and tighten straps as you usually would, making sure that you cannot pinch the strap material together.
  3. Unbuckle the straps without loosening them and get your now incredibly confused kid out of the car seat.
  4. Take off the coat.
  5. Buckle the kid back into the car seat without adjusting the straps.
  6. If the straps are clearly loose, or you are now able to pinch the straps, your kid’s coat is too bulky.

So how do you keep your kid from freezing? Remove the coat when they’re in the car, buckle them up and then put the coat on backwards like a blanket. Their little arms will go right back through the sleeves. Add another blanket on top for extra warmth.

It should be noted that pinch test is also a great method to make sure that your car seat straps are tight on a day to day basis. So pinch away.

Car Seat Mistake #3: Adding Extras To The Car Seat

Aftermarket car seat customization is a bad idea. It’s kind of like adding a plastic skirt on your bland family sedan to give it a sick, fake, low profile. It just doesn’t belong.

Changing out car seat covers or adding special bunting or padding can actually create a dangerous situation. It’s like those bulky winter coats. If you’re adding anything to the car seat that didn’t come with it, stop. Well, unless it’s your kid.

Car Seat Mistake #4: The Tether

That super long strap that dangles off the back of the car seat is really important. It helps anchor the top. Not using it means that your kid could be thrown forward, despite being fully strapped in. So there’s a theme here. Don’t add anything to the car seat and use it as it’s intended.

Car Seat Mistake #5: Not Reading The Manual

Manual reading is an activity that seems to run completely counter to the prime directive of many dudes. You’re a smart guy. That’s just an undeniable fact. That said, you’ve probably never designed and manufactured a car seat. The folks who have basically wrote a book about the exact model you’re using. Yeah, there’s not much of a plot, but the manual answers nearly every question you might have. So read it already.

Car Seat Mistake #6: Not Transitioning At The Right time

The magical car seat manual has information about exactly when and how you should transition your kid to the next phase of seating. Make it a habit to check it out the day before or after your kid’s birthdays. This annual (at least) car seat self-check-up should keep your seat adjustments safe and on track.

Car Seat Mistake #7: Neglecting To Belt Yourself

Okay, this one isn’t about the car seat, but it’s still crazy important. For one thing, your kid is watching everything that you do. If they see you’re not strapped in they might wonder what all the fuss is. More importantly, people who are strapped in are 2 to 4 times more likely to be killed in a car crash when someone in a back seat is not strapped in. So buckle up no matter where you’re sitting, buckeroo.

And now that you have all that figured out, maybe it’s time to try your hand at offshore drilling safety and explosive demolition. Why not? Frankly, it’ll probably be less stressful.

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