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Car-Safety.Org Carseat FAQ

Carseat and Child Passenger Safety Frequently Asked Questions

The recommendations in this list are based on current best practice in the United States.
You must carefully read the owner's manuals for your vehicle AND car seat.
The recommendations in the manuals should be followed if they differ from those given here!

Q1: Why should I have my child in a child restraint?  Why do I need a seatbelt?
Q2: But aren't there reasons against using a seatbelt?
Q3: What are the laws for child restraints?
Q4: How long should children be in a car seat?  In their seatbelts?
Q5: Does the government give any advice?
Q6: How long should a child remain rear-facing?
Q7: When should a child be put into a booster?
Q8: My child is over 40 pounds, but isn't mature enough to use a booster.  Are there any options?
Q9: When can my child be in a regular seatbelt without a booster?
Q10: What is the safest carseat?
Q11: How can I find out if my carseat has been recalled?
Q12: How do I contact the manufacturer of my carseat or vehicle?
Q13: Which car seats are compatible with my vehicle?
Q14: Is a built-in child seat safe?
Q15: Do I need a separate carseat if my vehicle has an integrated child seat already?
Q16: Which carseats have higher slots or fit larger babies?  Which ones are narrow or short enough to fit a small back seat?
Q17: Which carseats have the most features?
Q18: Should I buy a carseat with a harness or a shield?
Q19: Which other features are important?
Q20: Are combination systems with strollers and carseats any good?
Q21: My baby is N years old and weighs X pounds.  What carseat should I buy for my model vehicle?
Q22: I have a very small newborn.  What seat is best?
Q23: Where can I find a car bed or carseat for a child with special needs?
Q24: Which carseats can be used on an airplane?
Q25: How many years can I use my carseat?
Q26: Are used carseats safe to use?
Q27: My carseat was in a crash.  Can I still use it?
Q28: A review at Epinions, BabyGearReview or Viewpoints said my carseat is not a good one.  Should I get a new one?
Q29: The IIHS or Consumer Reports said my booster may be unsafe!  What should I do?
Q30: Consumer Reports rated my carseat very low.  Is it safe?
Q31: My child won't use a carseat/booster.  My child escapes his carseat.  What can I do?
Q32: Where can I have my carseat inspected?
Q33: Is my carseat tight enough?
Q34: The top of my rear-facing carseat moves easily.  Is that unsafe?
Q35: I can’t get it installed tightly enough. What can I do?
Q36: My carseat is tight, but I'm worried that it might gouge the fabric or leather in my car.  What can I do?
Q37: What is LATCH?  Is it safer?  Does my car or carseat have it?
Q38: What are tethers?  Can I use one with my car/carseat?
Q39: Can I use my tether strap when the carseat is rear-facing?
Q40: What is the safest position for my carseat?
Q41: My car has a fold-down armrest in the rear seat.  Can I install my carseat in front of it?
Q42: My car only has lapbelts. What can I do?
Q43: Can I install a carseat in the side-facing jump seats in a pickup, or a rear-facing seat in a wagon?
Q44: Can I install a carseat/booster in a position that does not have a headrest?
Q45: Can I put my carseat in the front seat of my vehicle?
Q46: How far should my carseat be reclined?  Should it tilt to one side?
Q47: Is it OK to put a towel under my carseat to adjust the angle?
Q48: My rear-facing carseat is touching the back of the seat in front of it.  Is that OK?
Q49: What is a locking clip?  Do I need one?
Q50: I only have a lap belt.  Can I use a locking clip to make it tight?
Q51: Can I use non-regulated [aftermarket or third party] products to help install carseats or position seatbelts?
Q52: Can I use an infant head support?  Is it OK to put a padded cushion under my child for comfort?
Q53: Which harness slots should I use?
Q54: How tight should the harness straps be?
Q55: Does it matter if the harness straps are all twisted?
Q56: Where should the chest clip (harness retainer tie) be on my child?
Q57: Can my child wear a winter coat in his/her carseat?
Q58: Is my child too tall or heavy for his/her carseat?
Q59: Is it OK to leave the handle upright on my infant carrier?
Q60: I think my infant or carseat is too hot.  What can I do?
Q61: Is it safe to install my carseat near an airbag?
Q62: What about buses and airplanes?
Q63: Who can I ask if my question isn't answered here?
Q64: Can you recommend some articles for further reading?
Q65: What are some other good Child Passenger Safety resources?






Q1: Why should I have my child in a child restraint?  Why do I need a seatbelt?

Motor vehicle crashes are the #1 killer of children from ages 1 to 14.  About 50% of these deaths to children under 5 involved children that were unrestrained.  Of those that were restrained, misuse is reported in 80-95% of cases.  Injuries requiring hospitalization are even more common, and many involve the head, neck, and spine.  Some of these injuries are permanent.  Child restraints are VERY effective for reducing deaths and injuries.  Also see:
NHTSA Statistics on Seatbelt Use
NCIPC Child Passenger Safety Fact Sheet

Q2: Isn't it safer to hold my baby?  Won't I be safer if I don't use a seatbelt and can be thrown from the car?  Won't it be harder to escape after a crash if I use a seatbelt?

No.  No.  No.  These are three of many myths used by people to avoid proper use of child restraints or seatbelts.  Statistics prove that those ejected in a crash are four times more likely to die.  The forces in a crash can be hundreds of pounds or much more, too great for someone to hold a child safely.  Plus, the reaction time needed in a crash makes it virtually impossible to restrain another passenger.  It is far easier to escape a vehicle if you don't suffer the serious head and chest injuries associated with crashes where seatbelts aren't used.

Q3: What are the laws for child restraints?

Laws can vary by state and municipality. See the IIHS List of State Laws for Vehicle Restraints or the Inventive Parent Carseat Laws Page.

Q4: How long should children be in a carseat?  In their seatbelts?

Children should be in an appropriate safety seat until the vehicle seatbelt fits them correctly, generally when they are about 8-12 years old and 4'9".  After that, they should be properly seated with a lap and shoulder belt.  Children 12 and under should remain in the rear seat.  All passengers should wear lap AND shoulder belts at all times.

Q5: Does the Government give any advice?

Yes.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has many resources.  This website is a great starting point:NHTSA: Traffic Safety, Child Passenger Safety Program

In Canada, start here:
Transport Canada Child Safety

Q6: How long should a child remain rear-facing?

Rear-facing IS safest.  It is best to remain rear-facing to the weight and height limits of the carseat.  Most convertible carseats have 35 or 40 pound rear-facing limits.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be kept in rear-facing seats for at least 2 years and preferably as long as possible. In all cases, infants should be rear-facing until they are BOTH one year AND twenty pounds at an absolute minimum.    See these links for more details:
Why Rear-facing is Safest.
Rear-Facing Carseats: What you need to know, by Kathleen Weber

Q7: When should a child be put into a booster?

Many convertible and forward-facing seats have 40 pound weight limits when using the harness.  A convertible or forward-facing seat with a 5-point harness is the safest option for children who have outgrown their seat rear-facing but have not outgrown their forward-facing carseat.  If a child's shoulders are above the level of the top slots in their regular carseat, or the tops of their ears are above the top of the shell, then they may be able to move to a booster or another forward-facing seat which accommodates taller children.  Usually a child can be moved to a booster when they are too big for a harnessed carseat, and once they are able to sit properly in a seatbelt.  A child should be in some type of booster seat until the adult seat belt fits correctly, generally around 8-12 years old and 4'9" tall (Also see Question 9 below).

Q8: My child is over 40 pounds or too tall for his carseat, but isn't mature enough to sit in a seatbelt with a booster.  Are there any options?

There are now many Forward-Facing and Specialty Models for this situation.  Models that have forward-facing weight limits higher than 40 lbs include the Britax Boulevard 70 and Marathon 70 convertibles, Britax Frontier 80 and 85, Evenflo Maestro, Graco My Ride, First Years True Fit, Diono Radian, Graco Nautilus, and the Safety First Complete Air. You may also use a Safe Traffic Systems RideSafer Vest or E-Z-ON Kid-Y harness/booster.

Q9: When can my child be in a regular seatbelt without a booster?

Children are not ready to be in a regular lap/shoulder seatbelt until:

  • They are tall enough so that their legs bend at the knees at the edge of the seat; and
  • They are mature enough to remain seated with their backs flat against the back of the seat and not slouch; and
  • The lap belt sits high on the thighs or low on the hips (NOT on their tummy!); and
  • The shoulder belt crosses the shoulder and chest (NOT on their arms or neck!); and

Each passenger must have their own lap and shoulder belt!  Never allow children to share a seatbelt.

Some organizations will also give limits like 80 or 100 pounds, 4'9" in height or 8 years old.   These are rough guidelines, not absolute limits.  The criteria above are most important.

Q10: What is the safest carseat?

There is no single safest child safety seat for all children and vehicles.  The safest seat is one that fits your child, fits your vehicle and one you will use correctly each and every time.  Please also see:
Guide to Carseat Basics on Selection and Use

Q11: How can I find out if my carseat has been recalled?

There is a very good recall list here (Adobe PDF format):
SafetyBeltSafe Recall List

Or here:
NHTSA Recall List
Or call the NHTSA at:
1-800-424-9393
1-888-DASH-2-DOT

Or Seatcheck at 1-866-SEATCHECK

Q12: How do I contact the manufacturer of my carseat or vehicle?

First, check your owner's manual or the labels on the carseat.  This website also has a very thorough contact list:
SafetyBeltSafe Carseat Manufacturer Contact List

Carseat Manufacturer Websites:
Angel Guard | Baby Trend | Britax | Century | Columbia Medical | Learning Curve (Compass, The First Years, Tomy) | Diono | Dorel (Cosco, Safety 1st, Eddie Bauer) | E-Z On | Evenflo | Gerry (Evenflo) | Graco | Learning Curve (Compass, The First Years, Tomy) | Mia Moda | Peg Perego | Recaro USA | SafeGuard | Safeline | Snug Seat | Sammons Preston | Tumble Forms |

Vehicle Manufacturer Websites:
Acura | Audi | BMW | Buick | Cadillac | Chevrolet | Chrysler | Daewoo | Daihatsu | Dodge | Eagle | Ford | Ford Motor Co. | Geo | General Motors Corp | GMC | Honda | Hyundai | Infiniti | Isuzu | Jaguar | Jeep | Kia | Land Rover | Lexus | Lincoln | Mazda | Mercedes | Mercury | Mitsubishi | Nissan | Oldsmobile | Plymouth | Pontiac | Porsche | Range Rover | Saab | Saturn | Subaru | Suzuki | Toyota | Volkswagen | Volvo

Q13: Which carseats are compatible with my vehicle?

It may be impossible to tell in advance if a carseat will fit tightly in a particular vehicle.  The best advice is to see if you can try the carseat in your car with your child before you buy it.  Also make sure you have a good return policy in case it doesn't fit. 

Q14: Is a built-in child seat safe?

Yes.  Make sure your child is within the age/weight limits listed in your vehicle's owner's manual.  If the seat fits your child and is used properly, it should be very safe and, of course, you never have to worry about installing it in the vehicle.  There may be some disadvantages to integrated carseats (see #15, below).

Q15: Do I need a separate carseat if my vehicle has an integrated child seat already?

Maybe.  Integrated carseats, especially those with a harness, may have some disadvantages when used as the primary restraint for a child:

  • Emergency personnel often prefer to remove a child in a separate carseat.  This keeps the child immobilized in case of head/spinal injury and may allow for safer transport in the ambulance.
  • Integrated seats do not function rear-facing.  Rear-facing is safest for children, and many separate carseat models allow for rear-facing use to 35, 40 or even 45 lbs.
  • Integrated seats do not usually have any form of side impact protection.  Many separate carseats have some form of protection, and a few have special foam or plastic specifically for side impacts.  Deep wells on the side also help keep a sleeping child's head more upright.
  • Harnesses on some integrated seats can be difficult to adjust, and may not fit tightly, especially on smaller children.  This can lead to an unsafe fit, and make it easier for a child to remove all or part of the restraint.  Some integrated seats have limited or no harness height adjustment, a feature found on most separate carseat models.  This means a child may be too tall for an integrated seat well before they exceed the weight limit.
  • Using an integrated carseat as your primary restraint may leave you without a method to transfer your child to another vehicle (relative, caregiver, vehicle being repaired, etc).
  • The comfort on some integrated seats is far below the level found on most separate carseats.  Integrated seats also tend to be less comfortable for an adult when folded.
  • Optional integrated seats are often more expensive than most separate child restraints.

Q16: Which carseats have higher slots or fit larger children?  Which ones are narrow or short enough to fit a small back seat?

Some seats will accomodate taller children more easily.  Also, it is important that at least 80% of the base of the carseat is in contact with the vehicle seat. (Some models require that 100% of the base is in contact with the vehicle seat - check your car seat manual.)   This website has measurements and slot height listings for some models:
Carseat Model Measurements and Slot Heights

Q17: Which carseats have the most features?

The best way to compare features is to try carseats yourself in person.  You may find some features simply aren't important to you.

Q18: Should I buy a carseat with a harness or a shield?

A 5-point harness is considered safest.  T-shields and overhead tray shields are no longer produced and may be less safe, especially for small infants.  Also see:
SafetyBeltSafe Best Car Seat
NHTSA Tips

Q19: Which other features are important?

Many features can enhance safety or convenience.  See this feature guide for some information:
Car-Safety.Org Carseat Buying Guide

Q20: Are combination systems with strollers and carseats any good?

The carseats in combination travel systems are all tested and safe.  You may find you don't get all the features you want in the carseat or stroller when buying a system.  On the other hand, some infant seats have convenient bases that allow you to move the carrier from one car to another car to a stroller without waking your infant.  Only you can decide if one is right for your situation.

Q21: My baby is N years old and weighs X pounds.  What carseat should I buy for my model vehicle?

Specific recommendations are beyond the scope of this FAQ.  For recommended carseats, please visit CarSeatSite.Com and our Recommended Seats.  Finally, these questions are also very appropriate for our Car-Seat.Org Forums.

Q22: I have a very small newborn.  What seat is best?

Check the manufacturer's instructions for the minimum weight.  For premature or very small infants, you can also try a car bed or infant seat with low or no minimum weight limit.  For a list of seats, see Car Seats with Best Fit for Preemies and Small Newborns from Safe Ride News.  While many convertible seats have limits as low as 5 pounds while rear-facing, a typical rear-facing infant seat may be a better fit and be more convenient as well.  Carseats with shields are not recommended for small infants.

Q23: Where can I find a car bed or carseat for a child with special needs?

Currently, the best resource for special needs carseats is a local hospital.  You should also be able to contact a local fitting station and a certified technician should be able to put you in contact with someone who can direct you to a source for these carseats.  These links have additional information:
List of Special Needs Carseats. (PDF)
American Academy of Pediatrics: Transporting Children with Special Needs
Indiana University School of Medicine: Special Needs Transportation

Q24: Which carseats can be used on an airplane?

Carseats should have a label with FAA approval for use on an airplane.  Most infant and convertible models have this label.  Most booster seats, safety vests and carseats over 16" wide cannot be used on an airplane.  Once a child is 40 pounds, they can generally use the regular seatbelts on an airplane.  The CARES Harness is specifically designed for children 22-44 pounds and is attached to an airplane seat and seatbelt.  Please check the instructions for your carseat for specific details.  It is always best to buy a separate ticket for your child to guarantee a seat; some airlines offer discounts for small children.  Many airlines prefer a carseat to be put in the window position; contact your airline for specific rules.

Q25: How many years can I use my carseat?

Many manufacturers now put "expiration" dates on their carseats.  Six (6) years is the general recommendation.  At most, 10 years is the accepted maximum lifetime of a carseat.  The reasons for these limits involve possible degradation of the plastic shell and other parts, the possible loss/breakage of parts, and the fact that older seats will often not meet current government safety standards.

Q26: Are used carseats safe to use?

If you are unable to verify that the carseat has never been involved in a crash, do not use it.  Above that, you should inspect it carefully to make sure all the parts and labels are intact, and that there are no visible stress marks.  You should also verify that the stickers with the manufacturer, model number and date of manufacture are legible.  You must also have the owner's manual, or get a copy from the manufacturer.  Finally, you need to make sure the used carseat has not been recalled (or if it has, that the appropriate corrections were made).  Older seats may not meet current safety standards.  Older seats may also be less convenient and more difficult to use, and may lack the latest safety features.  If there is any doubt on the condition or history of a used carseat, please destroy it completely and permanently (using a saw or otherwise) and purchase a new one. Our community forum offers an environment with safety advocates to buy, sell and trade used car seats at Carseat Swap.

Q27: My carseat was in an crash.  Can I still use it?

The general recommendation is NO.  You must replace it and destroy the old one so it can never be used again.  Some insurance companies will reimburse for carseats involved in a crash, and they are required by law to do so in some states.  Please call the manufacturer of your carseat if you have any questions.

You should also contact your car dealer after a crash, as it is very likely that the seatbelts, LATCH/tether anchors and integrated child seats may also need to be replaced.

The NHTSA has some guidelines for using carseats after a crash:
NHTSA: Child Restraint Re-use After Minor Crashes

Q28: A review I read online said my carseat is not a good one.  Should I get a new one?

Keep in mind that many reviews are written by parents who have no training and little knowledge about Child Passenger Safety.  Such comments and reviews may or may not be accurate.  If in doubt, please consult a carseat technician.  You may also find professional car seat reviews from certified child passenger safety technicians and instructors at CarseatBlog.

Q29: The IIHS or Consumer Reports said my booster may be unsafe!  What should I do?

The IIHS rates booster seats for correct fit using a dummy in various vehicles. They do not actually peform any crash testing or compile any injury data. So, their results may not be relevant to the booster you use with your child, in your vehicle. Please see The Safest Way to Boost 'Em for more information on IIHS ratings. Also, with any booster model, a child can put slack in the seatbelt.  The shoulder belt guides of certain boosters can catch the shoulder belt, preventing the retractor from taking in the slack.  This may even vary from one vehicle to another vehicle, depending on the location of the seatbelt retractors. These boosters may still be used safely!  Proper supervision is always necessary for squirmy kids or escape artists. Many children can compromise their safety by unlatching seatbelt and harness buckles, escaping various types of carseats and by putting shoulder belts behind their backs while in boosters.  With proper installation, instruction and supervision, the problem shoulder belt guides identified by Consumer Reports can often still be used safely.  First, make absolutely sure to follow the instructions in the carseat manual and make sure there is no slack in the seatbelt during the trip.  On taller children, these guides may not even be needed since the shoulder belt may already fit correctly without the guides.  Finally, some vehicles have locking seatbelt mechanisms.  If you pull the seatbelt all the way out, it will lock, taking up all the slack as it retracts and then preventing the child from pulling the belt out again (check your owner's manuals to see if this is allowed).

Q30: Consumer Reports rated my carseat very low.  Is it safe?

All carseats currently sold must pass minimum government requirements.  Consumer Reports has its own methodology and does not discuss how they derive their crash test ratings or how their ratings relate to the risk of injury.  They also conceal their results in colored circles, which don't tell you exactly how much safer a top-rated model is compared to a lower-rated one.  Also, a carseat that worked for the dummies on the car benches at Consumer Reports may not fit well in your vehicle or with your child.  A carseat should be safe if it fits your child, fits your vehicle, and you use it correctly every time.  Also, please see our Carseat Buying Guide.

Q31: My child won't use a carseat/booster.  My child escapes his carseat.  What can I do?

Some children can twist out of harnesses at an early age.  Others can easily undo the buckle mechanism.  Children may also be able to put too much slack in a seatbelt, and some children don't want to use a child restraint or seatbelt at all.  Driving is a dangerous activity, and like any other, it requires proper supervision at all times.

Parents can try many things.  You can try calling the manufacturer of your carseat to see if they have a buckle that requires more force to release, or a 2-piece chest clip instead of a "paperclip-style" chest clip.  Using a seatbelt yourself sets a good example.  Refusing to put the car in motion unless the child stays in their restraint is another.  Also, try to keep your child entertained or distracted if possible, and NEVER make an exception and allow them not to use their child restraint.  For severe cases, you can try a safety vest by E-Z-On (800-323-6598) that may be more difficult to remove.

Q32: Where can I have my carseat inspected?  Where can I find a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician?

You can find an online checkup and certified local technicians here:
Online Carseat Checkup
Free Inspection Resources in Illinois and Nationwide
SeatCheck Or Call Toll-Free: Seatcheck, 1-866-SEATCHECK

Q33: Is my carseat tight enough?

Grab your carseat at the base, where the seatbelt goes.  The base should not move more than an inch (1") side-to-side or front-to-back.  Some movement at the top of the seat is normal, though a tether will reduce this movement in forward-facing carseats.

Ideally, you want the child coupled as tightly as possible to the harness system and carseat, and the carseat coupled as tightly as possible to the vehicle with the seatbelt or LATCH system.  When you do this, the child gains all the benefit of "ride-down time" provided by the crushing frame of the vehicle in a crash.  With a loose installation of any kind, the child gets less ride down time and suffers a more severe crash into the harness system.  Also see this definition of ride-down time.

Q34: The top of my rear-facing carseat moves easily.  Is that unsafe?

No. Most rear-facing car seats are not designed to be tethered.  The top of the seat will be able to twist and rotate toward the back of the vehicle.  This is normal.  If the carseat rotates DOWNWARD into the seat cushion significantly, you may try to put your weight on it and install it a bit tighter.

Q35: I can't get it tight enough, what can I do?

  • Make sure you have read the owner's manual thoroughly and are using the correct path for the seatbelt.
  • Check your vehicle's owner's manual for information on the seatbelts.  Yours may have a locking retractor mode.  On some cars, you can pull the seatbelt all the way out and it will lock as it retracts.  You can then put your weight on the carseat as it retracts to take up all the slack.
  • Make sure to put your weight on the seat as you install it.  Rocking back and forth a little may also help.  As you apply weight, pull the slack from the lap portion of the seatbelt.  If possible, brace your back against the roof of the vehicle to add downward force.  In some cases, a second person is helpful to buckle the belt while the first applies force on the carseat.
  • In some vehicles, especially large SUVs and vans, you can move the vehicle seat back and recline the back of the seat.  Do this, then install your carseat.  When you have it as tight as you can get it, then move the vehicle seat forward and move the seat back upright again.  This may help get it even a little tighter, especially for a forward-facing carseat.  Make sure you check your vehicle seat and child restraint each time you use it, in case someone else moves the vehicle seat back or reclines it.
  • Try a tether for a forward-facing seat, and make it tight.
  • You may need a locking-clip or belt-shortening clip.  Please consult the owner's manual for you vehicle and carseat.  Incorrect use of these clips can be very dangerous.
  • If you need further detail, try the CarSeatSite.Com Installation Tips, consult a local technician or post your question to our forums.

Q36: My carseat is tight, but I'm worried that it might gouge the fabric or leather in my car.  What can I do?

Unfortunately, a good installation does put pressure on your vehicle's interior fabric.  You may put a THIN towel or mat under your carseat to prevent gouges.  You must NOT put thick towels or any compressible material under a forward-facing carseat, as this can reduce the safety of your installation.

Q37: What is LATCH?  Is it safer?  Does my car or carseat have it?

LATCH (also ISOFIX) is not necessarily safer than using seatbelts to install a carseat.  It may make it easier to get a safe installation.  LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren.  Most newer vehicles and child seats have this system.   For more information, see our comprehensive guide:
Car-Safety.Org LATCH and Tether Information

Q38: What are tethers?  Can I use one with my car/carseat?

Tethers are straps that prevent the top of a carseat from moving forward in a crash.  They may also increase overall stability.  Many newer cars and carseats are compatible with tethers or can have them installed.  Tethers allow newer carseats to meet stricter safety standards.  See:
Car-Safety.Org LATCH and Tether Information

Q39: Can I use my tether strap when the carseat is rear-facing?

Generally, NO, unless it is specifically mentioned in your manual.  In the USA, some models manufactured by Safeline Sit-n-Stroll, Britax,Combi and Diono may use a tether when rear-facing.  You can find some instructions for tethering the Britax models in the Britax Online Instructions.  

Q40: What is the safest position for my carseat?

The center of the rear seat is usually safest since it is farthest from a possible side impact, but only if your carseat fits well in that position.  Any position in the rear seat is acceptable unless prohibited by the vehicle or child seat owner's manual.  The seat behind the passenger may be slightly safer than the seat behind the driver, since it allows you to unload the child on the curb side, allows you to see your child more easily from the driver's seat and is very slightly less likely to be hit on that side in a side impact.  There is also a small risk that a front seat-back could collapse in a severe rear-end crash, and the passenger seat is less likely to be occupied by a heavy adult who could crush a carseat in this situation.  The front seat is generally not advised for children 12 and under, especially if an active airbag is present.

If you have more than one child, the safest arrangement may not be obvious.  Usually, it is preferable to put the child with the most protection in the outboard location; rear-facing seats offer the most protection from side impacts.  These types of questions are very appropriate for our forums.

Q41: My car has a fold-down armrest in the rear seat.  Can I install my carseat in front of it?

Generally, yes.  Though there appears to be no evidence that this is unsafe, at least one company, Evenflo, used to recommend that you do NOT install many of their carseat models in front of a fold-down armrest.  Some vehicles may have had this recommendation, also.  Please consult the owner's manual of your vehicle and carseat before making this decision.

Q42: My car only has lapbelts, what can I do?

Lapbelts alone are not safe for any passenger, though they are better than no restraint at all.  Some suggestions:

  • A lapbelt is usually fine for installation of a carseat.  This includes most infant, convertible and forward-facing carseats with a harness.  In rare cases, a lapbelt that does not keep a carseat tight may need a special belt-shortening clip.
  • A lapbelt is NOT adequate for a booster.  Children in booster seats must have a lap AND shoulder belt for protection.
  • There are some forward-facing and specialty models for larger children who must sit in a lap only belt position.
  • Some vehicle manufacturers will also install a shoulder belt in some older models.  This may be the best solution. Because of limited availability, you will need to contact your manufacturer or dealer for details. 

Q43: Can I install a carseat in the side-facing jump seats in a pickup, or a rear-facing seat in a wagon?

Carseats and boosters should NEVER be installed in side-facing jump seats.  Unfortunately, that means that children under 8 years old (about 80 pounds) should not ride in these types of seats.  Children should never ride in the cargo area of a pickup.

Rear-facing seats in wagons vary.  Usually, you will not be able to install a carseat, but children in seatbelts may be seated there in some models.  Please consult your owner's manual or vehicle manufacturer for recommendations.  Some newer wagon models may have weight limitations for the rear-facing seat, and it may be best not to use rear-facing bench seats in older models at all.

Q44: Can I install a carseat/booster in a position that does not have a headrest?

The child MUST have some type of head support behind the head, to at least the midpoint of the skull, or around the tops of the ears.  This head support is provided by infant seats, convertible seats, forward-facing only seats with a harness and high back booster seats.  If a child is using a backless booster, or is old enough to use the lap/shoulder belts alone, then they should not be seated in a position without a headrest if the midpoint of their head is above the top of the vehicle seat.  If no rear seating position with a headrest is available, then they should be in a high-back booster model (some of these models are rated to 100 pounds).  Whiplash is a serious injury, even in a minor rear-end crash.  Adults require adequate head support just as children do.

Q45: Can I put my carseat in the front seat of my vehicle?

Airbags can be deadly to infants in rear-facing carseats, and to children 12 and under using the seatbelts.  The front seat is generally not recommended for children 12 and under.  The airbag MUST be disabled if you must use a rear-facing child seat in the front.  Some vehicles without a rear seat, especially pickup trucks, have an on/off switch for this purpose.  If a child must ride in the front, you should also move the front seat as far back as it will go.  Please only consider a front seat if no other option is available.  Also see:
NHTSA Tips on Air Bag Safety

Q46: How far should my carseat be reclined?  Should it tilt to one side?

It is recommended that newborns and young infants sit in a rear-facing carseat at a 45 degree angle (maximum).  Some infant carseats have a built-in level indicator.  Older infants should have less recline once they are able to support their heads.  Forward-facing carseats should not be reclined.  Though some forward-facing and convertible models are approved in a semi-reclined position, this recline does concentrate crash forces in the crotch so an upright position is preferred.

A slight tilt in not a problem in forward- or rear-facing seats.  This tilt should not be so severe that it lifts part of the base of the carseat off the vehicle seat.  This issue is generally more common with rear-facing carseats, and in some cases a locking clip can be used if nothing else works to reduce the tilt caused by a locked shoulder belt pulling up on the carseat.

Q47: Is it OK to put a towel under my carseat to adjust the angle?

You may put a tightly rolled towel or foam pool "noodle" under the front of a rear-facing carseat (near the crack of the vehicle seat) to get the necessary recline.  You must not put a noodle, thick towels, or any compressible material under a forward-facing carseat.

Q48: My rear-facing carseat is touching the back of the seat in front of it?  Is that OK?

Please consult the owner's manual of your carseat.  For most carseats, this is not a problem and may actually improve safety.  You should also check your vehicle manual to confirm that it allows a rear-facing car seat to touch the back of the seat in front of it; this may interfere with the "smart" air bag sensors in some newer vehicles.  Best practice from the NHTSA training manual states, "A rear-facing seat can be installed so it rests against the back of the vehicle seat ahead if not counter to manufacturers instructions....If the gap is small or the child is on the heavy side, it is much better to be already touching any forward structure prior to a crash than to hit it during the crash. Resting against a forward seat back is only one way to achieve these benefits."

Q49: What is a locking clip?  Do I need one?

Some vehicle lap and shoulder belts pull and retract freely, with no locking mechanism.  A locking clip allows you to clip together the lap and shoulder portions of a seatbelt, and helps prevent the seat belt from becoming loose before a crash.  This will fix the lapbelt at one length to hold a carseat.  The locking clip is always installed on the side of the carseat near the buckle, no more than one inch away.  If the locking clip is on the wrong side, it can actually cause more slack during a crash, and the forces can cause it to bend or fly off (also a serious hazard!).  Consult your carseat or vehicle owner's manual for details.  If your vehicle has locking seatbelts, you usually do not need a locking clip.  One exception is for a rear-facing carseat, where a locking clip may be used to prevent a severe tilt in the carseat.

A regular locking clip is not load bearing and cannot withstand crash forces.  Its function is to maintain a proper pre-crash position of the lap and shoulder belts.  In a crash, the seatbelt retractor will lock the seatbelt and carseat in the proper position.

For more details, see these links:
CarSeatSite.Com Locking Clip Information
BuckleUpNC Information on Seatbelt Systems

Q50: I only have a lap belt.  Can I use a locking clip to make it tight?

No.  In the rare case that you need to shorten a lap-only seatbelt, you need a special, heavy-duty belt-shortening clip.  Contact the manufacturer of your vehicle or carseat to obtain one.

Improper use of these clips can be dangerous.  For more details, see these links:
CarSeatSite.Com Locking Clip Information
CPSafety's Page on Seatbelts and Locking Clips
NHTSA Information on Heavy Duty Belt Shortening Clips

Q51: Can I use aftermarket products to help install carseats or position seatbelts?

In general, you should not use any products not recommended by the manufacturer of your carseat or vehicle.  Despite the claims of some companies, these products are NOT regulated by any federal standard, and have not been tested or certified by carseat manufacturers.  This is not to say these products do or do not work, but your choice to use them might compromise the safety of your carseat.

Q52: Can I use an infant head support? Is it OK to put a padded cushion under the child for comfort?

Generally, NO.  Unless such items come with the carseat or are recommended by the manufacturer of the carseat as an accessory, do not use them.  Aftermarket pads and cushions are not tested with the seat and any compressible material inside the harness may allow for more slack in the restraint.  With a small infant, it is usually OK to put a rolled towel or receiving blanket along the sides of the head (outside the harness straps) to keep it upright.  You may also put a rolled towel between a small infant and the crotch strap if there is a large gap, though you should never put towels or pads under a child in a carseat.

Q53: Which harness slots should I use?

Please consult the carseat manual first for specific instructions.  When rear-facing, you should use the harness slot which is at the level of the child's shoulders or slightly below.  When forward-facing, use the slots at the level of the child's shoulders or above.  For more information on correct harness use, please also visit:
Correct Harness Use from CarSeatSite.Com

One catch is that you MUST use the TOP slots on some older convertible carseats when they are forward-facing regardless of how high they are.  This is because the lower slots are not reinforced to hold in the forces of a crash.  This does not apply to carseats that are forward-facing ONLY, such as "toddler" or "combination" seats.  Most other seats also have at least one additional reinforced lower slot.

Q54: How tight should my harness straps be?

Harness straps should be snug with no slack, but not so tight as to be uncomfortable.  The top straps should be on the shoulders, and some prefer to say that you should not be able to take a pinch or get more than a finger in between the shoulder and the strap.  The lower straps in a 5-point harness should be fairly tight across the thighs (not on the tummy).  A tight harness can prevent ejection, and also can increase the ride-down time to reduce the chance of crash injury.

Q55: Does it matter if my harness straps are all twisted?

Yes.  The more the straps twist, the less area of strap is available to restrain the child in a crash.  This means more pressure will be applied to the child, and could result in burns or more serious injury.  It is a good idea to untwist the straps after each use.  Some models have straps that do not twist.

Q56: Where should the chest clip (harness retainer tie) be on my child?

It should be across the chest, at armpit level.  It should not be on the neck or tummy.  This clip itself does not protect during a crash.  Its job is to keep the harness straps in the correct position before a crash.

Q57: Can my child wear a winter coat in their carseat?

Generally, no.  For safety, the harness straps must remain tight on the child's shoulders regardless of any clothing.  You can put a blanket over the child, OUTSIDE the harness straps or put your child's coat on backwards after they are in the seat.  For infants in cold weather, an aftermarket "cozy" that zips over the infant carrier rather than fitting under the child is another solution.

Q58: Is my child too tall or heavy for his/her carseat?

Please consult the manual for your carseat first.  The weight limits are also listed on decals attached to the carseat.  Most current infant seats have at least 22 pound weight limits, and many models go to 30 or 35 pounds.  Most current convertible seats have rear-facing limits of 35 or 40 pounds.  Some convertibles have 40 pound limits when front-facing, though many models have increased forward-facing weight limits.  Some forward-facing models are also limited to 40 pounds using the built-in harness.  “Combination” seats are carseats with internal harnesses that can be removed then converted to belt positioning boosters.  (See instructions for the maximum weight limit for the harness.)

Height limits may be listed in the owner's manual.  Otherwise, rear-facing children in an infant seat or rear-facing convertible seat are too tall if the top of their head is within one inch of the top of the seat shell.  It may also be an inconvenience if they are tall enough to kick the seat back of your car, but this is not unsafe.  A child is too tall for a forward-facing harnessed carseat if their shoulders are taller than the highest slots, or if the top of their ears are above the top of the carseat shell.

Q59: Is it OK to leave the handle upright on my infant carrier?

Please read your owner's manual.  For some models, you must put the handle down (in the horizontal position) while it is in the car.  In a crash, infant seats can rebound into the vehicle seat.  This can break the handle, injuring the infant or another passenger.  Some manufacturers do allow the handle to remain upright on some of their models.  Please check your manual to be sure.

Q60: I think my infant or carseat is too hot.  What can I do?

If you are comfortable, it is likely your child is comfortable, too.  If you have air conditioning, put it at maximum fan speed and in "recirculate" mode, and aim some vents toward the rear.  If the sun is on your child, put a very thin white towel or receiving blanket over them or put up the canopy in an infant carrier.  Put a similar blanket or cover on the carseat if your car is in the sun all day.  You can also try purchasing window sunscreens to block the sun; the safer ones attach with static and have no hard metal rods.  As a last resort, try tinting your car's windows as your state laws permit.  Tinting may also help keep shattered glass from breaking apart in a crash.

Q61: Is it safe to install my carseat near an airbag?

First, you MUST check the carseat and vehicle owner's manuals to see if they specifically mention installing the carseat in a seating position with an airbag.  Some carseat manufacturers do state that their carseats should not be installed in a spot with an active airbag.  In addition, rear-facing carseats should NEVER be placed in a front seat with an active frontal airbag.  Forward-facing carseats and boosters may sometimes be placed in the front with an active airbag, but only if absolutely necessary and not prohibited by the owner's manuals.  In these cases, the vehicle seat should be moved all the way back. Also see:
NHTSA Tips on Children and Airbags

Currently, side airbags are generally not considered a risk to children in correctly used child restraints.  In fact, children in properly installed and used child restraints should gain a safety benefit from side impact airbags unless otherwise indicated in an owner's manual.  A possible risk is to child passengers seated out of position: leaning on the door, face on the window, head sleeping on a pillar, etc.  This would be most relevant to children in boosters who are not seated properly, and to children not using any type of seatbelt or restraint.  Side curtain airbags should be even less risk, as they are higher and inflate with somewhat less force.  In general, it should be OK to place a child in a harnessed carseat (front or rear facing) in a rear seat position with an active side airbag, as long as the owner's manuals for the carseat and vehicle do not prohibit such placement.  Automakers have agreed to a rigorous set of testing procedures based on voluntary compliance to standards established in a working group chaired by the IIHS  These standards include tests of all types of side airbags with 3yr, 6yr, and 5th percentile female dummies in a variety of normal and extreme seating positions.  While these voluntary standards will apply to some model year 2002 and many model year 2003 and later vehicles, they may not apply to earlier models.  Also see:
USA Today Article on Side Airbags
IIHS Air Bag FAQ

Q62: What about Child Passenger Safety on an Airplane or School Bus?

These topics are currently beyond the scope of this FAQ.  The following websites are recommended for further reading:
FAA: Tips for Parents Using Child Restraints on Aircraft
NHTSA: School Bus Safety

Q63: Who can I ask if my question isn't answered here?

Please post your question to our online forum at: Car-Seat.Org.  No question is a bad one, and no registration is required.  Or, you can contact any certified technician.  Many hospitals and police departments have at least one on staff, or you may try our resources for free carseat inspections.  A local technician who can see your installation will be prepared to answer your specific questions.

Q64: Can you recommend some articles for further reading?

Yes.  These articles are highly recommended. Some are technical, some are in Adobe Acrobat format (pdf), but all have great information.

Car Seat Safety
Crash Protection for Child Passengers OR:
Crash Protection for Child Passengers (Alternate Link)

Q65: Are there other recommended resources on Child Passenger Safety?

Yes.  Here are some additional FAQ lists:

SafetyBeltSafe FAQ
CarSeatSite.Com's Quick FAQ

The following links are also highly recommended.  They are very good resources for technical information, recommendations, practical tips and to other links on child passenger safety:

Car-Safety.Org: Carseat Basics on Selection and Use
SafetyBeltSafe Technical Information
CarSeatSite.Com
CPSafety.Com

Have More Questions?

The list above will answer many questions.  We also have a more complete links page and a Buying Guide with references to more sources of information.  Finally, we would be very happy to try to answer any questions or problems you may have regarding specific seats or vehicles.  Please post them at our FORUMS.



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