Is Your Child’s Car Seat Safe?

By: Kay Green

We keep hearing about how 4 out of 5 car seats are installed incorrectly. How can you be sure your child’s is installed correctly? One way is to read the instruction manual that came with your child’s car seat and your car’s owner’s manual. That will give you some good clues. You can also have it checked by your local fire station or car seat safety clinic.

Parent’s January Magazine tells us the 8 most often made mistakes? Have you made any of them?

Mistake #1: Seat Too Loose
The seat should not move more than one inch right to left.

Mistake #2: Harness Too Loose
You should not be able to pinch the fabric of the harness belt.

Mistake #3: Facing Wrong Way
Forward facing can not happen until the child is 1 year old AND more than 20 pounds.

Mistake #4: Wrong Angle
Rear facing infant seat should be at a 45 degree angle.

Mistake #5: Retainer Clip Wrong
This clip must be at arm pit level.

Mistake #6: Wrong Slots
Read your car seats instructions.

Mistake #7: No Booster Seat
Children up to 8 years, 80 pounds and 4'9" need to be in a booster seat.

Mistake #8: Recalled Seat
Check your car seat against the recalled list often.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Harness Error - Another mistake I see often is taking kids out of the 5-point harness too soon. The child needs to stay in the harness until they are 4 years and 40 pounds. When you switch to a booster with no harness for a child over 4 years and 40 pounds remember to belt the booster seat into the car even when your child is not in it. If not the booster seat can become a flyer projectile in a wreck.

Right Size Seat - Is your child in the right size car seat? I saw a mom with a 17 mo old in an infant car seat. She said "He is under 20 pounds so I can not move him" WRONG. Car seats have weight, height, and age requirements. Most babies will be out of the height requirements for an infant car seat at 5-7 months. Their head should be at least one inches from the top of the car seat.

My daughter was under 30 pounds in her 40 pound limit convertible car seat and I thought fine. But then saw the straps were not staying on her shoulders well. She was too tall for it and had to move to a booster seat (with 5 point harness) that held 22-80 pounds. The forward facing car seat should have the straps coming from above their shoulders. When the child's shoulders are taller than the highest slot it is time to move them to a new seat.

Check your seats instructions to verify these for your seat.

Newborns birth to 26 inches - infant rear facing carrier seat

Babies over 20 pounds PLUS 1 year - rear facing convertible seat

Toddlers 1 yr PLUS 20 pounds to 40 pounds - forward facing seat with 5 point

Preschoolers 4yrs/40 pounds to 8yrs/80 pounds - Booster seat with cars belt over the top.

Emergency Contact Card - Additionally your child’s car seat should have emergency contact info attached. In a car accident professionals need to be able to reach dad at work or grandma if you are not able to help your child. A car seat ID card with a medical release signature will protect your child in a car accident giving medical professionals all the information they need to treat your child immediately.

Booster Seat Rules - Most state rules now require that children’s stay in the booster seat until 6 years AND 60 pounds. Some states say 8 years AND 80 pounds. The new federal guideline is until age 8 or 4' 9" tall. This means safer kids and fewer fatalities for children in car wrecks. I am glad to keep my child in her comfortable car seat. She is happier and healthier every time we go in the car. Since she is so comfortable in her favorite booster seat she travels much better.

Keep your child in a booster until the right age/weight for your states rules AND until your child can sit on the seat and have the seat belt fall across the chest without touching their neck/face, and until their legs bend correctly at the end of the seat. (Usually 4'9")

BOOSTER SEATS & the "5 STEP TEST - In order to work properly, a shoulder belt needs to be across the collarbone and the lap belt needs to be on the hipbones. However, children often slip the shoulder belt under their arm or behind their back, losing all upper-body protection. Or, they slide forward so their knees bend comfortably over the edge of the seat, making the lap belt ride up on the abdomen. In these cases, the seat belt CANNOT work properly! Children can slide down and out of the restraint, or the belt can be forced into the stomach, causing damage to internal organs. These types of injuries are known as "seat-belt syndrome."

Use the following 5 Step Test. If you answer "No" to any of these questions, your child must be in a booster seat:

1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
3. Is the lap belt touching the top of the thighs, not the tummy?
4. Is the shoulder belt centered on the shoulder and chest?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

Children 4-8 years - Children over 4 and 40 pounds should be in a booster seat without a harness (unless you have the one Britax seat that has harnesses rated to 65 pounds or the RADIAN rated to 80pounds). Most all boosters have harnesses only rated to 40 pounds so using them for your child heavier than that puts them at risk. I recently learned that my daughters booster seat should NOT be connected with the latch system and anchor strap when using it for her with automobiles seat belt (not the 5 point harness). The seats have not been tested with both latch belt, anchor belt and cars seat belt over the top. They have been tested with the cars belt only over the top.

Please take the time to be sure that your car seat is installed correctly, fits your child, has emergency contact information. Go to one of the many free Car Seat Safety Inspections to make certain. If the event of a wreck you will be glad you covered all the bases.


Infant car seat: until 20 pounds or 26 pounds or their head is one inch from top of seat. (The Graco SAFE SEAT goes to 30 lbs and 32”)

Rear facing car seat: until at least 20 pounds PLUS 12 months. It is preferred they stay rear facing until 18 months or more.

5 point harness car seat: age 1-4 years or more

5 point harness limit: most end at 40 pound weight limit. If you have a child heavier than 40 pounds and less than 4 years get the Radian or Britax car seat for higher weight limit.

Booster Seat: Age 4-8 or until 4’ 9”.
Our State rule says: until 6 yrs PLUS 60 pounds.
Federal guideline says: until 8 yrs or 4’ 9”.

Buckle Buddy: When moving a child over age 6 and less than 4’ 9” use the BUCKLE BUDDY to make the belt fit correctly.

Car Seat Safety Guide. Find out what the weight and height limits are for the car seat you own or are considering buying.

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About The Author: Kay Green is the founder of Children's Safety Products and Baby Gear. Kay has a passion for keeping kids safe and giving parents peace of mind. Kay & Russell, her husband of 27 years, live in Oregon with their 4 children. COPYRIGHT 2000-2007 My Precious Kid®, Kay Green. All rights reserved.

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