How tight does the harness need to be on my child?
Harnesses should fit snugly to provide the best protection. What is snug? There are 2 tests. The first is a pinch test. Buckle up baby and tighten the harness. Pinch a harness strap north to south, near the shoulder (there's usually more slack over the belly, so that's why you check near the shoulders). If you can pinch it, the harness isn't tight enough. The second test is a finger test. You should be able to fit only one finger under the strap at the shoulder. The finger test is considered outdated because a variety of factors can influence its accuracy including finger size, what the child is wearing, harness strap pads, etc. Really, kids feel more secure when snug as a hug! Click here to learn more about correct harness use. (Source: SBS USA )
Which harness slots should I use?
Rear-facing seats: at or below shoulders (Source: SBS USA. Car-Safety.org )
Forward-facing seats: at or above shoulders; a very few seats require use of the top slots (read the harness use section in the manual). Click here to see a seat where the wrong slots were used. Click here to learn more about correct harness use. (Source: SBS USA. Car-Safety.org )
How should I clean the harness straps?
Soaking the straps will remove the chemicals that make the harness fire resistant. The water won’t damage the fibers. Using detergent on the straps can weaken the harness fibers. Also, putting them in the washing machine can stretch the fibers if they get caught around the agitator. Never iron the straps to try to flatten them or use any other chemicals such as Febreeze, a fabric softener, bleach, starch, etc. Remember that vinegar is an acid and can adversely affect the safety of the straps, even if it is considered a gentle cleaner for use in your house. If in doubt about how to care for the harness, use a damp wash cloth and wipe it down. A toothbrush is great for getting in the little crevices of the straps. Each carseat manual will have instructions in the last few pages telling you how to clean the straps. Caution: some harness straps cannot be removed from the carseat, so it's essential to treat them carefully. You may not be able to order a replacement set if they are ruined. (Source: Professional CPS Discussion Board, Various Child Restraint Manuals)
What does the chest clip do?
The chest clip. the plastic piece on the harness above the buckle, provides pre-crash positioning for the harness. It keeps the harness in the proper location on the shoulders for maximum protection. It must be positioned at armpit level to provide this protection. (Source: SBS USA )
What is EPS foam? What is EPP foam?
EPS foam, Expanded Polystyrene foam, is the foam used in bicycle helmets and picnic coolers. It is a safety device added to some carseats to protect a child's head and upper torso from impact forces by absorbing those forces. It crushes, has almost no rebound to it and is considered to be a one-impact material (Have you ever put too much ice into a styrofoam picnic cooler or broken a piece of packing styrofoam? It breaks very easily.). EPS foam is what is most commonly used in child safety seats. EPP foam, Expanded Polypropylene foam, is similar to EPS foam, but has a more elastic nature. Many manufacturers are moving toward using EPP foam in their carseats because of the resiliency of EPP foam; it doesn't break as easily in day-to-day usage and tends to hold up better for consumers.
My child doesn't fit as well in the carseat with her winter coat on. Do I need a new seat?
No, take the coat off. A fluffy winter coat will introduce slack into the harness in a crash, which could lead to ejection for the child (see the "Coats in Car Seats" section on the Correct Harness Use page. The fluff in the coat will compress greatly, creating "dead space." There are many polar fleece coats on the market now that are thin enough to use under a harness, yet can keep a child very warm. Land's End and LL Bean sell very warm polar fleece jackets that are relatively thin. The North Face Moondoggy and Perrito coats have been tried by techs in cold, northern climates and suggested as good for carseat use. Also, consider putting the child into the carseat, then putting the coat on backwards after she's buckled in. Or try heating a bag of rice in the microwave for a minute or so, then putting it in the carseat for a minute to warm it up. Remove it and put the child into the seat. A Car Seat Poncho is also a nice alternative and stays on the child without getting between the child and the harness. Infant seats can be covered by shower cap-style fleece covers as long as there's no padding placed behind the child in the seat as a part of the cover. This review shows the difference between using an infant seat cover with a panel behind the baby's back and a shower cap-style fleece cover. Always keep extra heavy blankets in the car for everyone. (Source: SBS USA. Car-Safety.org. )
I put my child in a lap-only belt in the center of the back seat. Is this safe?
No. Lap-only belts are not safe for people. The center position of the back seat is not the safest choice if it has a lap-only belt. A lap-only belt does not provide upper body restraint, so in a frontal or side impact crash, the upper body will swing forward. Because of this lack of upper body restraint, severe, irreversible spinal cord injuries can occur as the body flies forward (commonly known as seat belt syndrome).
The person's head may also strike the front seats, causing severe head injuries. Lap-only belts also do not fit young children correctly and lie over the soft tissues of the abdomen. A lap-only belt is preferable to no seat belt at all, however. Using a lap-only belt to install a harnessed carseat is just fine, assuming you can get a good fit in that position.
Click on the picture above to see simulation slides of a properly restrained child in a lap/shoulder belt with booster seat (courtesy of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia ). Note where the child's head is in each slide.
Click on the picture above to see simulation slides of an improperly restrained child in a lap-only belt (courtesy of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia ). Note where the child's head is in each slide.
Many states now have booster seat laws requiring booster seats for children over age 4 and 40 lbs. It is NOT safe to use a booster seat with a lap-only belt. The booster seat may correctly position the lap-only belt over the hips, but because it boosts the child up higher, the child's head excursion (how far the head comes away from the back of the seat) will be greatly increased. E-Z-On Products and Safe Traffic System Inc. make harnesses that provide upper body restraint for use with lap-only belts. The 86-Y harness may also be used with the Ride Ryte booster seat available at E-Z-On Products. If you cannot use an E-Z-On harness or other harnessed restraint with a lap-only belt, it is safer to use the lap-only belt by itself without a booster seat. Also, check with your vehicle manufacturer to see if shoulder belts can be retrofitted in outboard positions (if you don't have them already available in those positions). Unfortunately, shoulder belts cannot be retrofitted for center seating positions. (Source: CPSafety.com. Car-Safety.org )
My car was hit yesterday in the parking lot. Do I need to replace the carseat?
NHTSA has developed a list of guidelines regarding replacing seats after a crash: NHTSA policy on child restraint re-use. If you are unsure if the seat is safe to use, replace the seat. The insurance company of the person at fault should pay for the new seat. Call the manufacturer of the carseat; some manufacturers may send you another seat for free at their discretion. Also, your car or house insurance may cover the seat; in California, this is mandatory coverage if the seat was occupied. If you're still unsure if you should replace the seat, get a new one. It's better to be safe than sorry and carseats are far cheaper than a hospital or funeral home bill if the seat fails in the future because of the collision. Also look into getting your seat belts replaced, since they, too, will have been stressed from the impact. (Source: SBS USA )
I'm using the same carseat for my 7 month old that my 8 year old son used. I was told this isn't safe. Is that true?
It is recommended that carseats older than 5 or 6 years be replaced. Look for a sticker or stamp in the plastic on the carseat that tells you when it expires or when you should no longer use it or look in the manual; some combination carseats have multiple expiration dates based on which portion of the seat you are using. carseats 10 years or older should never be used. Why? Older seats tend to have a lot of recalls on them of which you may not be aware. Replacement parts may be unavailable. Plastic and other parts of the seat wear down and may break. Some of this wear may not be noticeable to you. Also, technology has greatly improved the safety of newer seats and it will continue to do so. You should destroy the old seat as best you can by cutting up the straps and throwing away the shell of the seat in a black plastic bag. (Source: SBS USA )
The sun is in my baby's eyes. What can I use to shield her face?
Sun shades that stick to the window with suction cups can become projectiles in a crash. They are not recommended, especially the roller shade type. Tinting your windows may be the best solution, but it can cost more than you're willing to spend. Diono and Dorel make a vinyl tint cling that adheres to a window using static cling or you can check in the automotive section of a department store.
Can I use a body support for my baby?
No, not if it didn't come in the box with the carseat from the manufacturer; some carseats come with head supports and these carseats have been crash tested with these supports. Body supports and head and neck rolls, known as non-regulated products. are generally well-padded and used under a baby. These items can compress in a crash and leave the harness too loose on the child. A too-loose harness can lead to ejection and serious injury or death for a child. If your child needs support, buckle him into the seat first, then add rolled receiving blankets around his head and sides of his body. Nothing, except light clothing, should come between the baby, the harness and the carseat. On the other hand, if your carseat came with support padding and you'd like to remove it, you may at any time unless there are weight requirements attached to the padding. (Source: CPSafety.com. Car-Safety.org )
Is it safe to.
When this question is asked, the answer is generally "No" because it usually means you are asking about modifying the carseat or installation of the carseat in some manner that goes against manufacturer instructions. If you find yourself asking this question, consult your carseat manual or call the manufacturer.