Watch out for these 9 common car seat mistakes (2023)

Car Seat Safety: Avoid 9 Common Mistakes

Car seat safety is no child's play. Discover nine common mistakes parents make when installing and using car seats.

By the staff at the Mayo Clinic

Knowing how to seat belt your child as he grows can seem daunting. Check out nine common mistakes parents make when it comes to car seat safety. Then learn the right ways to keep your child safe on the road.

1. Get a used car seat without doing your homework

If you're considering buying a used car seat for your child, make sure the car seat:

  • Does it come with instructions.
  • It also comes with a label that shows the car seat's manufacture date and model number.
  • It has not been recalled by the seat manufacturer due to faults, safety issues or other issues.
  • Not expired or older than six years.
  • It does not appear to be damaged or missing parts.
  • He has never been in an accident.

If you don't know the history of the car seat, don't use it.

2. Putting the car seat in the wrong place

The safest place for your child's car seat is in the backseat, away from active airbags. The front seat airbags are designed to protect the head and face of an adult-sized person wearing a seat belt. If you put the car seat in the front seat and the airbag inflates, it could be dangerous. It could cause serious injury or death if the air bag inflates and hits the seat or child.

Some vehicles only have one row of seats, such as some pickup trucks. Don't use a car seat in them unless you can turn off the airbag.

If you only place one child seat in the backseat, install it in the center of the seats. Just make sure you can fit right in there. Placing the car seat in the center reduces the risk of injury during a collision.

3. Installing your child's seat or harness incorrectly

Illustration of a unique baby car seat

Illustration of a unique baby car seat

Watch out for these 9 common car seat mistakes (1)

Illustration of a unique baby car seat

Baby-only car seats usually have a handle for carrying them. They can be snapped in and out of a vehicle-mounted base.

Illustration of a convertible car seat

Illustration of a convertible car seat

Watch out for these 9 common car seat mistakes (2)

Illustration of a convertible car seat

Convertible car seats can be used rear-facing or forward-facing. They typically have higher rear-facing weight and height limits than baby-only car seats.

Before installing a car seat, read the seat manufacturer's instructions. Also read the section on car seats in your car guide. Make sure the seat is securely fastened. To check, hold the bottom of the seat near the attachment points. If you can move the seat more than 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) from side to side or front to back, it is not properly secured. Also make sure the seat is facing the right way.

If you use an infant-only seat or a rear-facing convertible seat, keep these tips in mind:

  • Use the harness slots described in the car seat instruction guide. Slots are usually located on or below the child's shoulders. Place the harness straps over your child's shoulders.
  • Tighten the harness straps and chest clip. Make sure it fits perfectly. The chest clip should be flush with your child's armpits. Make sure the straps and clip lie flat on your child's chest and hips with no slack. If necessary, place small, tightly rolled blankets next to the baby to support the head and neck. If the car seat manufacturer allows it, place a rolled-up scarf between the crotch strap and the baby for added security.

4. Reclining your child at the wrong angle

If your child's seat faces the rear of the car, follow the seat manufacturer's instructions for reclining the seat. Do this so your child's head doesn't fall forward. Infants should travel semi-recumbent to keep the airway open. Many seats include parts that allow you to change how far the seat reclines. Many also include a device that helps you find the correct angle to recline the seat. As your child grows, you may need to change the angle. See the seat manufacturer's instructions for more details.

5. Transferring to a forward-facing car seat too soon

Parents often want to see their child's face in the rear view mirror. This means they may want to turn the car seat forward before being recommended. But riding backwards for as long as possible is the safest option. It is suggested until the child reaches the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer. You can start with a convertible seat. It can be used in the opposite direction to the march and, later, in the direction of the march. It typically has a higher rear-facing height and weight limit than an infant-only seat. Or, you can switch from an infant-only seat to a convertible car seat as your baby grows.

When your child reaches the weight or height limit for the convertible seat, the seat can be placed facing forward. When making the change:

  • Install the child seat in the rear seat according to the child seat manufacturer's instructions. Use a seat belt or the Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren (LATCH) system.
  • Use the tie strap to keep the seat more stable. It's a strap that attaches to the top of the seat and attaches to an anchor in the car.
  • Adjust the harness straps so they are at or above the child's shoulder height. Make sure they fit comfortably.

6. Do not remove heavy clothing from your child

Bulky outer layers of clothing and blankets can prevent the harness straps from properly securing your child. There is a safer way to keep your baby warm. Buckle up. Then place a coat or blanket over the harness.

7. Switching to a booster seat too soon

Older children need booster seats to help an adult's seat belt fit comfortably. You can switch from a car seat to a booster seat when your child has exceeded the maximum height or weight allowed by the car seat manufacturer. It is also important to know your state's booster seat laws. Different states have different laws about how old a child must be before they can stop using a booster seat. Don't forget, though: Your child is safest when they stay in a car seat for as long as possible.

8. Using a booster seat incorrectly

You must use booster seats with a lap and shoulder belt, never a lap belt only. Make sure the lap belt sits low on your child's thighs. Also make sure the shoulder belt crosses the middle of your child's chest and shoulder.

9. Switching to Seat Belts Too Soon

Most children can safely use an adult seat belt between the ages of 8 and 12. Here's how you'll know your child is ready:

  • Your child reaches a height of 4 feet 9 inches. That's almost 1.5 meters.
  • Your child sits against the back of the seat with their knees tucked in comfortably on the edge of the seat.
  • The lap belt sits low on your child's upper thighs, not their belly. The shoulder belt sits across the middle of your child's chest and shoulder, not across the neck or face.

Please note that the back seat is the safest place for children under 13.

It might be a good idea to attend a local car seat clinic or inspection event. This can be helpful if you have questions about child passenger safety laws or need help installing a car seat. You can also check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for help finding a car seat inspection station.

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May 23, 2023

  1. DurbinDR, et al. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Policy Statement — Child Passenger Safety. Pediatrics. 2018; doi:10.1542/peds.2018-2460.
  2. DurbinDR, et al. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Technical Report — Child Passenger Safety. Pediatrics. 2018; doi:10.1542/peds.2018-2461.
  3. Recommendations for car seats for children. National Highway Safety Administration. Accessed September 17, 2020.
  4. Child passenger safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed September 17, 2020.
  5. How to install a rear-facing only child seat. National Highway Safety Administration. Accessed September 17, 2020.
  6. Altman T et al., eds. Keeping your child safe. In: Caring for Your Baby and Toddler: Birth to 5 Years. 7th ed. rooster books; 2019.
  7. Used car seat safety checklist. National Highway Safety Administration. Accessed November 1, 2022.
  8. Booster Seat Planning Guide. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed November 1, 2022.

See more in depth

See too

  1. car disease in children
  2. childhood immunizations
  3. COVID-19 in infants and children
  4. Coxsackievirus in children: how serious is it?
  5. Don't let your children burn
  6. Enterovirus D68 and parechovirus: how can I protect my child?
  7. flu vaccines for children
  8. Hand washing tips
  9. Hygiene hypothesis
  10. Iron deficiency in children
  11. language development
  12. Mayo Clinic Minute: Are you keeping your child as safe as possible in the car?
  13. baby rashes
  14. Thermometer basics
  15. Thermometers: Understanding the options
  16. vaccination schedule
  17. Mayo Clinic Immunization Guidance
  18. vital vaccines
  19. When to take your child to the emergency room


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