I've heard that the majority of car seats are used incorrectly, and I don't want that to be the case in my family. What are the most common mistakes, and how can I avoid them?
A: To ensure your child’s car seat offers maximum protection, don’t fall victim to these common pitfalls.
Not reading the instructions
The most important thing you should do before even thinking about installing your car seat is 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 instruction manual, search the index for “car seats” or “child restraints” to find the appropriate sections to review.
Loose or twisted harness
It is important that the harness remains flat on the child and is not twisted. 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.
Using the 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 for installation details.
Facing forward too soon
Safety experts agree: Infants and young children should remain rear-facing as long as possible. Once your child has outgrown her infant carrier, move her to a convertible car seat installed in a rear-facing position, and keep your child rear-facing until she reaches the upper weight and height limits of the seat.
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. The tether is typically only used for forward-facing car seats.
—Sarah Haverstick, safety advocate and certified car seat technician instructor with Evenflo