The Secret to Finding the Right Car Seat

National Child Passenger Safety Week

By Sara Yaniga September 1, 2022
It's a great privilege and responsibility to care for the tiniest of humans 24/7, but it can also be overwhelming with the myriad of things to learn and decide from the moment you learn a child will be joining your family. Personally, back in 2011 as a soon-to-be-mom for the first time, the car seat aisle at the local baby store filled me with dread. My head was flooded with questions: 
  • are the expensive ones "better" than the more affordable options? 
  • Is one safer than the other?
  • how easy is it to install? move to a different car?
  • should we buy an infant or convertible seat?
  • when is it time to switch from rear-facing to forward-facing?

Sobering statistics tell us that car crashes are the leading cause of death for kids under the age of 13. Car seat usage is around 90% for kids up to age 4, but it drops drastically to about 20% for kids ages 4-7 who should still be using a booster seat. On top of that, it is estimated that 70% of child safety seats are either installed or used, incorrectly. 

It was this very experience and knowledge that inspired me to become a certified car seat safety technician through Safe Kids Worldwide. Not only did I want to educate myself, but I wanted to be able to help other parents who were very likely having the same doubts, concerns, and questions themselves.

National Child Passenger Safety Week, September 18-24, 2022, is a terrific chance for all of us to take a minute and review the basics of what we need to know, debunk some misconceptions and ensure we are using the right restraints for our children.

Know the Laws

  • Laws vary state by state which is important to know when traveling as a family.  You can research different laws HERE
  • In Illinois, all passengers, no matter where they are sitting in a vehicle, must use a proper restraint - either a seat belt or a child car seat
  • Children must be rear-facing at least until age 2
  • Children up to age 8 must be secured in a proper child restraint, unless over 40" tall and/or over 40lbs, or in a vehicle weighing more than 9000 lbs

Which Seat is the Best Seat?

This is extremely important for everyone to know. The most expensive seat is not the "best" or "safest" seat. Neither is the more affordable seat. The "BEST" seat, the safest seat, is the one that:

  • fits your budget
  • fits your vehicle
  • fits your child (age, height, and weight)
  • and is installed and used properly. 

Remember, every car seat sold in our stores must pass the same US Federal Safety Standards.

A note on used car seats - It is not recommended to ever purchase or borrow a child car seat from someone you do not know well. Not being able to know the seat's entire history puts you at risk of using an unsafe seat. Car seats that have been in an accident, have had a safety recall not attended to, have expired, or are missing parts or labels should never be used.

Common Myths, Misuses, and Misconceptions
  1. You should turn your child forward-facing when they turn 2 years.  This is a common thought but many do not realize that car seats are specifically designed to absorb the impact in a crash more evenly while also protecting the head, neck, and spine. Also, many seats on the market allow for extended rear-facing - some even up until a child is 49" tall and/or 50 lbs - so turning the seat around is not necessary until the seat's requirements indicate it is time for the transition.
  2. Shoulder Harnesses are often not adjusted properly and are too loose. This is especially common in winter months when thick clothing and jackets come out. The shoulder harnesses are what limit the child's movement with the seat on impact - too loose and the child could actually slip out of their seat. Tips to help get a secure fit. The shoulder straps should come from BELOW, or AT, a child's shoulders when rear-facing and from ABOVE their shoulders when forward-facing. Straps should be flat, not twisted, and you shouldn't be able to pinch extra webbing. In winter, thick coats should not be worn when secured into a car seat.
  3. Seats are often not properly installed using the vehicle's seatbelt or LATCH system. You can remove excess slack in the belts by putting weight into the seat and pulling the LATCH webbing or seat belt to get a secure install. Some seat belts need to be "locked" into place by pulling the belt completely out and then slowly releasing it into the retractor to lock it in place, or a latch plate can be used. The seat should be tight enough that when you hold it on either side and try to shake it there is minimal movement.
  4. The LATCH system in your vehicle is not being properly used. Different cars have different specifications for the weight their anchors and latches can sustain. For example, some LATCH systems are not suitable for use with a combined weight (child and seat together) over 65 or 69 lbs.  Older vehicles may have lower limits, but you can find this information in a vehicle manual.  Please be sure to read the manual for your car seat and vehicle before selecting the best method for installation. A seat belt or LATCH install are both safe options when done properly.
  5. Forgetting to register your car seat. This is important if there is ever a safety recall or modification needed on your car seat. The manufacturer will be able to notify you directly if your seat is registered. It is also a good idea to write emergency contact information on your seat with a permanent marker. (this is helpful for airline travel too if you check a seat!)
    Some other mistakes I have seen:
    - Trying to use a seatbelt and LATCH system to install the seat.  This is NOT safer!
    - Failing to use the top tether on a forward-facing car seat. The top strap should be used no matter which method you used to install the seat (seat belt or LATCH) because it prevents the seat from moving forward too much in a crash.
    - Not remembering to periodically check your installation to make sure the seat is still tightly installed in the car
  6. Moving to the next seat too soon. You will know it is time to transition when your child has outgrown the height and weight limits of their current seat. With each move kids lose a layer of protection - rear- to forward-facing and harness to seat belt - so it is not recommended for them to move until they absolutely need to.
  7. Not securing, or reducing, loose objects in a car. Keep in mind that anything that is not secured has the potential to become a projectile in an accident - toys, mirrors, diaper bags, strollers, etc - should be made as secure as possible while the car is in motion.
  8. Not asking for help when it comes to installing or selecting the right seat . You can locate a car seat technician to help with installation in your area by contacting your pediatrician, hospital, fire station or by using this online tool. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also created a very easy to use tool to help you identify which type of seat is right for your child by age, height and weight PLUS they have an "ease of use" rating, info on recalls and installation instructions.
Ride Safe and Buckle Up Every Time!