When you have kids and spend any amount of time at all traveling by car, a car seat is essential. But finding the right car seat? That’s truly a challenge unto itself. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all your options, and once you find your car seat, then you have your next challenge: installing it and using it correctly.
Every car seat is unique and will have its own installation guidelines. But regardless of which type of car seat you’re looking for, here are a few tips to help you make sure you choose one and use it in a way that will help your child stay as safe as possible in the event of a car accident.
Say No to Used Car Seats
I totally get it: kids are expensive. And it’s smart to try and save money on the things you buy for them whenever possible. But while it can be a great idea to buy something like clothing secondhand, buying new is best when it comes to car seats.
With used car seats, it’s very unlikely that you will be able to know exactly what a car seat has been through before it reaches you. If that car seat had been through a car crash in the past, the force of the crash may have affected the seat’s components and diminished its ability to protect your child. Even if a car seat looks fine, remember that crashes can damage the internal components of a car seat so there may be damage hiding beneath the surface.
There’s also a chance that a used car seat may have open recalls on it or be past its expiration date. It might seem kind of silly, but car seats really do expire. Plastic tends to weaken over time, so an expired car seat might not be able to protect your child as well as a new one would. In some cases, an expiration date will be stamped directly on the seat, but it might also be printed on a label attached to the seat or in the manual, which might be missing with used car seats.
Beware Counterfeit Car Seats
If you want a good deal on a new car seat and buying used isn’t a good idea, your next thought might be to shop around online. But if you do, you have to be very careful to make sure you don’t end up with a counterfeit version of the car seat you think you’re buying.
You’ve probably heard about things like counterfeit designer purses and sunglasses, but counterfeit car seats? Really? Yes, those are a thing! And you might be surprised by how easy it is to buy one online by mistake, even on websites you know and trust. In the past couple of years, there have been reports of counterfeit car seats being sold by third-party vendors on popular sites like Amazon and Walmart.com.
While people might think they’re getting a good deal on a new car seat, they may not even come close to getting their money’s worth if it’s counterfeit. Counterfeit seats often lack parts like chest clips and fail to meet government safety standards. In 2019, CNN did a crash test with a counterfeit car seat and the seat couldn’t even withstand the force of a 30 MPH collision. While that seat was very cheaply made, it was very expensive for what it was. The car seat CNN tested cost $299 — a pretty steep asking price for something that fell apart in a moderate-speed crash.
Because of differences in how intellectual property and product liability laws apply to ecommerce sites and brick-and-mortar stores, counterfeit car seats are much more likely to be found online than in brick-and-mortar stores. But you can absolutely shop for safe car seats online — you just have to watch out for those third-party vendors. For example, if you’re shopping for a car seat on Amazon, look under the “Buy Now” button to make sure it says “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.” Car seats sold directly by Amazon will be the real deal.
If you’re not sure if a seat you’ve bought is authentic or not, check to make sure it comes with safety manuals, a product registration card, and has a safety label signifying that it meets FMVSS standards. Counterfeit seats commonly don’t come with paperwork or labels, and if they do, they’re often full of spelling and grammatical errors. The product itself should feel sturdy, not flimsy. Registering your car seat is another way to make sure your car seat is authentic. Some manufacturers of counterfeit car seats go as far as to create labels with fake serial numbers or serial numbers that have already been used.
If you believe you purchased a counterfeit car seat, contact the site you purchased it through. Ideally, they will give you a refund and remove the listing for that product. They may also ask you to return the car seat. If they don’t, make sure you dispose of the seat in a way that ensures nobody else will take it and try to use it.
Register Your Car Seat
Kids definitely keep you busy, but once you buy a new car seat, it’s important to make sure you find just a few minutes to register it because recalls for car seats are more common than you might realize. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, over 6 million car seats were recalled in 2014, but less than half of them were fixed. A Safe Kids Worldwide survey also found that only about 42% of registration cards are returned.
Registering your car seat is the most effective way to make sure you’re informed if your car seat is recalled. If you’ve registered your car seat and there’s a recall, the manufacturer will be able to let you know which steps need to be taken next. For example, if the problem is something that can be easily fixed, the manufacturer can send you a repair kit without you even having to ask for one. Convenient, right? If you don’t register your car seat and you hear about a recall, you can still get a repair kit free of charge, but you’d have to contact the manufacturer to request one.
To register your car seat, you can do so online or by mailing in the registration card that came with the seat. To register online, you can go through the NHTSA website or your car seat manufacturer’s website. A few minutes is all it takes — I promise!
Take Advantage of Car Seat Inspections
Car seats are one of the most commonly used types of child products, but they’re also one of the most difficult to use correctly. Even people who have lots of experience installing and using car seats can — and do — make mistakes. In 2015, a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that 95% of car seats are misused in one way or another.
Since it’s so easy to make mistakes with car seats, it’s a very good idea to look for car seat inspection stations in your area. Car seat inspection stations are often located in places like fire departments, hospitals, insurance company offices, and other public safety departments. When you stop by for an inspection, a certified technician will be able to inspect your seat, help you install it, and answer your questions about how to use it. Best of all, these inspections are usually free!
Take Off Bulky Coats
Nobody ever wants their kids to be cold during the winter months. (Or at any other time of the year, for that matter.) But for kids in car seats, being too bundled up might make it hard for a car seat to do its job.
Thick, puffy coats are nice and warm, but if you try to adjust a car seat harness while a child is wearing one, the extra bulk can lead to the harness being too loose. Even if a harness seems to fit perfectly when it’s adjusted over a puffy coat, the force of a car crash can cause the filling in the coat to compress and create extra space between the harness and your child. This video is a great demonstration of how loose a harness can actually be when it’s adjusted over a thick coat.
Instead of putting your child in the car seat while they’re wearing a thick coat, dress them in thinner materials like fleece and sweatshirts, or in layers. Once they’re in the car seat, you can either put a blanket over them or put their coat over them backwards so that their arms go through the sleeves. Just make sure they go over the straps! That way, they can stay nice and warm while being well protected.