Don’t Make One of These 10 Car Seat Safety Mistakes

car seat safety mistakes
Image via Sara McTigue

From that first nail-biting ride home from the hospital, it's easy to see why keeping your little one safe in the car should be a priority. Auto accidents are a leading cause of death in children and as a parent it's easy to say you'll do anything in your power to protect them. But there are so many details to consider that it can seem overwhelming.

This week marks Child Passenger Safety Week, so we're looking at some of the mistakes parents make regarding car seat usage, so we can help make car safety a priority for your precious cargo.

{ MORE: Babyproofing 101: When Do I Really Need to Babyproof? }

The first mistake many parents make comes into play before baby even arrives. Find out what it is – and how to avoid it – next.

Thinking that price is directly connected to safety.

I've got good news for you. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “All car seats rated by NHTSA meet Federal Safety Standards & strict crash performance standards.” This means that parents shopping with any budget can find a seat that will protect their child. So why are some seats so expensive? There are several factors, including brand recognition, additional features for safety and comfort, and how easy they are to use. As NHTSA notes, ease of use factors into cost and parental preference for particular seats. They provide ratings of various seats, based on the quality of the instructions, the ease of use for the process of installing the seat, the quality of the labeling for the seat, and the ease of use for the features used to secure the child.

So which seat is the best? According to the AAP, “The best seat is the one that fits your child's size, is correctly installed, fits well in your vehicle, and is used properly every time you drive.”

buckling into car seat
Image via iStock

Using a seat that is too small for your child.

Many parents bring their little one home in an infant seat, but aren't sure when to move up to the next step. Sometimes it's easy to gauge if a seat has been outgrown. If your child passes the height or weight limits for the seat, you need to change to a new seat that accommodates their size. But there are other considerations for when a child has outgrown a seat. As Britax Passenger Safety Advocacy Manager Sara Tilton shares, “Seated shoulder height is often overlooked.” You can check your manufacturer's site for information like Britax provides here to gauge whether your car seat is still a good fit.

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Changing to forward facing or a booster too soon.

The AAP policy statement suggests keeping children rear facing “recommends children remain in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. Previously, the AAP specified children should remain rear-facing at least to age 2; the new recommendation removes the specific age milestone.”


Some will question this policy, but there is no denying the facts. As the AAP explains, “When a child rides rear-facing, the head, neck, and spine are all supported by the hard shell of the car safety seat, allowing the car seat to absorb most of the crash forces, and protecting the most vulnerable parts of the body. When children ride forward-facing, their bodies are restrained by the harness straps, but their heads – which for toddlers are disproportionately large and heavy – are thrown forward, possibly resulting in spine and head injuries.”

Many newer seats are equipped with higher height and weight limits to encourage extended rear-facing. Many organizations, like Car Seats for the Littles, share more information on extended rear-facing in efforts to dispel the myths.

Additionally, just because your child meets the minimum weight requirement for a booster seat does not mean that they are ready to make the switch. They have to be capable of sitting correctly in the seat to maintain proper belt position at all times – and I'm barely capable of that some days.

Using both LATCH and the safety belt OR using the wrong LATCH anchors OR using LATCH past the weight limit.

Depending on your car and your seat, one or the other may provide a better option for you, but don't ever use both together. Additionally, you must check your car seat manual to be sure that the anchors you are using are the right ones. Most cars don't have a center LATCH location, and stretching the belt to use the outside locations is a no-no.

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Also, as Sarah Tilton reminds us, “When using LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), be aware that your vehicle's lower anchors have weigh limits. You must switch to vehicle seat belt installation when the weight of the car seat and the child exceed 65 lbs.”

cleaning car seats
Image via Sara McTigue

Thinking a used seat would be a better deal.

There are many reasons to avoid purchasing used seats. Car seats come with expiration dates, should not be used after an accident (even a minor one!), and require that you know all details in order to insure safe use.

There are many organizations that offer inexpensive options. Your hospital may even offer a program wherein taking a car seat safety course entitles you to a free seat. Ask around for deals and discounts, or participate in a trade-in program (you can trade in your aunt/sister/neighbor's hand-me-down seat for a new one).

Taking children out of seats too soon.

Children are ready to ride with only the safety belt when he or she can sit all the way back in the seat, with knees bent over the edge. The belt needs to cross the shoulder and the thighs – not the neck or stomach. Finally, the child needs to be able to stay in this position throughout the ride, not moving the belt aside or slouching in the seat. Even if they fall asleep! That could make for some challenging road trips.


Many states require the use of a booster through age 8 or 9. You can view laws by state here.

{ MORE: What To Do When You Just Can't Set Your Crying Baby Down }

Using the chest clip incorrectly.

The chest clip may seem like an afterthought, but it is an important part of the safety features of your seat. The clip positions the straps so that in the event of an accident the straps will remain secure on your child's shoulders, holding them in place to benefit from the full protection of the car seat shell. A clip in the wrong place could allow the child to be ejected from the seat or cause internal injuries in an accident. Always place the clip at armpit level.

Leaving the straps too loose.

When your child is buckled in the seat, you should not be able to pinch any excess strap between your fingers. If the straps are twisted or gaping, they are too loose.

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This is why it is advised to never buckle in a child wearing a puffy coat or jacket. While the material appears to add bulk, in an accident it will compress, leaving space that may decrease the safety of the straps. Buckle up, then place a blanket or coat over the child.

Mom buckling little boy into car seat
Image via iStock

Using the wrong harness slot.

Check your car seat manual for directions specific to your seat, but the typical placement depends upon the facing direction.

If your child is rear-facing, the straps should be threaded into the harness slot at or below their shoulders.

If your child is forward-facing, the straps should be threaded into the harness slot at or above their shoulders.

Using the car seat for things other than protection while in a moving vehicle.

Car seats aren't meant to be beds, high chairs, or shopping cart attachments. The recline angle of a seat when properly installed in a vehicle is carefully chosen by the manufacturer. Using a seat sitting on the floor to continue naptime can allow the baby's head to fall forward, compromising breathing. And the risks of using a car seat on top of a grocery cart are well documented. According to the CSPC, “Falls from shopping carts are among the leading causes of head injuries to young children.”

{ MORE: Positional Asphyxia: What You Need to Know }



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Before using your seat, take the time to have your installation inspected by a certified technician, often for no cost. Find an inspection location near you here.

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Don’t Make One of These 10 Car Seat Safety Mistakes

Sara McTigue is a secret agent, cupcake chef, award winning author, photographer, and PTA mom. At least, that is how things look in her mind. When she isn’t testing the bounds of her imagination, she is a mom to three amazing and hilariously funny children, wife to a charming and handsome man, and thoroughly addicted to reading. With a BS in English Education and an MA in English Literature, words – and their ability to shape our lives and thoughts – are an everyday fascination. Af ... More

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  1. Mollie says:

    I would have liked to have seen “Use of after market products in the car seat” as one of the mistakes. Products like the Bundle Me, head supports, etc. that do not come with a seat have not been crash tested with that seat and are not safe. There should be nothing between the child and the car seat, except a thin coat when it’s cold. Use blankets, put the coat on backward after the child is in the seat.

    • Mollie – That is another great point! It’s hard to include everything you’d like. I also wanted to include reminders about airbags, keeping kids in the backseat until they are at least 13, and keeping your car clean and free of items that could become projectiles in a crash. Maybe we can run additional posts with some more of these important tips.

  2. jamie says:

    look any safety for your kids is the best please on July 5 2014 I was so tired and didn’t want to fight with my kids to stay in care seats that day my tread came off my tire and I couldn’t control the van and the van rolled down an embankment. just for one simple tire.I lost the life of my little 3 year old girl.please even if your tired or in an hurry or just lazy Dont take the can always make another apt,or get sleep or even buy another car but,your child you cannot replace.please follow all rules and go to more extent to make sure your baby is safe.

  3. William says:

    Rear facing till 2? Really…I have never heard that!!

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