Car Seat FAQ
What are the risks of incorrect chest clip placement?
The chest clip should be properly placed so it can do its job - which is to keep the shoulder harness properly placed pre-crash. If it's too low, especially in conjunction with a loose harness, the child can be ejected. It's a myth that a low chest clip causes internal injuries in and of itself.
Line up the clip so that the top of it lines up with the top of the armpits.
A five point harness distributes force evenly across the body, there aren't pressure points that will cause injury if it is used properly.
What steps need to be taken to correctly harness?
When is my child ready to move to a booster?
NHTSA's minimum recommendation for booster use is 4 - and it's a minimum, not an approximate age. The CDC updated their guidelines to recommend age 5 as a bare minimum for booster use, as in practice we don't see many 4 year olds who are mature enough for a booster; really the 'age 4' minimum is outdated and based on the age at which most kids outgrew the 40 lb maximum seats that were all we had available 15 years ago. Many children are not ready to safely use a booster until closer to 6.
The best way to decide if your child is ready to move to a belt positioning booster (once he meets the legal minimums and the minimums of the specific seat) is to decide if your child is ready to take on the responsibility for their own safety in the car.
When a child is in the harness, you make sure the child is in the proper position at the time of a crash. You make sure the harness is on correctly, is tightened properly, and the seat is installed properly. If everything is correct, the child will always be in a safe position while in the seat.
In a booster seat, you hand that responsibility over to your child. Even if you buckle him in before the start of the trip, the child has to be mature enough to not lean out of position, slouch down, move the seatbelt under the arm or behind the back etc. If he moves during the trip or slumps while sleeping, the seatbelt may not be in position to protect the child at the moment of impact.
Is a harness safer than a booster?
There is no evidence to substantiate that a harness has any safety advantage over a properly used booster. Boosters have a lot less head excursion than harnessed forward facing seats. Racecar drivers do use a harness, which is an oft-cited comment on their safety, but they also use a HANS device to mitigate the excess force on their neck that is caused by the harness for an adult in an extreme crash. Forward facing harnesses have potential extra forces on the neck for bigger children whose bodies are secured in a harness but whose neck moves freely. In a high back booster, the head/neck/spine are able to move together and remain more in alignment with less excursion. In my own family, we rear-face to the limits of the seat, and then forward face with a harness until mature enough to use a booster (for most kids, this is near 6. My son is not neurotypical so he is still not ready at 9). Again, there is no research to suggest that a rider is safer in a harness once they are able to properly sit in a booster.
How long should my child rear face?
The AAP, NHTSA, and the CDC all advise maxing out the limits of your seat/rear facing until as close to 4 years old as possible - and it is based on skeletal development, not height/weight. That is because the posterior C3 spine ossifies at an average of age 3; by 4 years old, 90% of children's spine will have finished that development. We would all be safer rear facing really, but as adults our skeletal system offers protection that is not the case for small children.
When can my child move out of a booster?
For transitioning to seatbelt alone, you want to be sure that he passes the 5 Step Test. Usually that requires a minimum of 4'9" but it is really more dependent on the specific child/seating position than adhering to that minimal guideline.
Legally, in NY state, children must ride in boosters until 8 years old, but best practices and up to date research shows that most kids need one until 10-12, and they may need one in one vehicle, but be able to go without in another.
The tushie should be all the way to the back of the seat
The knees should bend comfortably at the edge, with the feet flat on the floor.
The lap belt should fit flat low on hips/high on thighs.
The shoulder belt should fit centered on the shoulder.
The child should be able to maintain correct posture 100% of the time.
How do I clean my seat?
Each manufacturer has specific cleaning guidelines to be followed. Lysol wipes, baking soda, and vinegar specifically can degrade the quality of the materials and compromise the seat's integrity in a crash. Febreze, oxy clean, and hosing down the seats can also be hazardous. Heat can melt the fibers of the seat cover and the harness. Steam is water vapor. That gets into the seat crevices/parts/buckles and can cause rust.
If you have cleaned your seat outside of the guidelines, I would strenuously recommend calling the manufacturer and asking their advice. Be sure to ask for a TECH when you call - the customer service reps that answer the phone are frequently misinformed and may not give accurate information.
Should I purchase a convertible seat or an all-in-one?
My personal preference is a good long-lasting convertible over an all-in-one for a few reasons:
1) Car seats get gross. Even if you don't allow food in the car, getting in and out with muddy shoes, potty training, occasional illness all contribute to me not wanting to put my child in the same seat for 10 years.
2) Car seats expire - which means, especially for a petite child, you will likely end up needing to buy a booster later on anyway. The booster functionality is shorter lasting in many all-in-ones as well, which means in most cases it is cheaper to buy a long-lasting convertible and a good booster later on.
3) Car seats are improving all the time - we don't know what technology will be available in boosters in the 4+ years your son will be ready for one - they may be significantly improved. Or you may have a different vehicle with different compatability concerns.
4) I won't presume to know your family planning, but if you were to have another child, you could pass down a convertible seat when your child moves to a new booster - if you have the all-in-one, you end up spending more money in the long run.
A multi mode seat is generally a marketing gimmick. The booster modes are very big and bulky so older kids dislike them. They’re also harder to buckle because they’re wider. That’s not to say they’re not good seats, they’re just not used in reality as they’re marketed and they don’t generally save money.
Do I need to replace my seat after a crash?
Some manufacturers follow NHTSA guidelines, and some require replacement after any collision. There is no inspection that can be done to determine the safety of the seat beyond following manufacturer's guidelines - a seat could have no visible damaged and still be compromised.
* The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site;
* The vehicle door nearest the safety seat was undamaged;
* There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants;
* The air bags (if present) did not deploy; AND
* There is no visible damage to the safety seat
Where can I get my seat checked by a CPST?
Ahem. I would be happy to assist you with any of your car seat needs! Book a consultation at your home here.
You can also search for certified techs at
the Safe Kids site. You will get the best results if you only put in county. (You can check my credentials if you search Rockland, but I also travel to Bergen and Westchester quite frequently.) Be aware that, contrary to popular belief, not all police/fire stations have certified techs.
What seating position should my car seat be installed in?
The center seat is statistically safest in a crash, provided you can get a secure installation. The outboard seats are not statistically different from a crash safety standpoint, but there may be other factors that influence your decision:
Ideally, the least protected child would go in the most protected space. That said, achieving proper installations and using the seats properly will trump location. With two seats in the back, you may find that you need to install both in the outboard seats if they do not fit properly side by side.
Do you parallel park frequently? You may want to keep your seat on the passenger side so he can get in and out away from the side of traffic.
Do you have a tall driver or passenger? Consider the front-to-back space the seat will take up.
Do you have any parking structures that would create challenges getting in or out one side?
Which seat is the safest?
There aren't any comparative safety ratings that are reliable because a significant piece of it depends on what type of collision you might experience, the speeds, the force, and exactly where your vehicle would get hit.
Seat X may perform better in a sled-style frontal crash test, but seat Y might perform better on side impact. Further, seat X might perform better for a 30 pound child than it does for a 45 pound child.
Or, maybe in vehicle A, seat X would have performed really well because it has 36" of pitch space, but not as well in vehicle B, which only has 32" of pitch space.
In short (in long?), there's no way to determine reliably what "the safest seat" is, other than the one that fits your vehicle, your child, and can be used correctly every time.
Every manufacturer has walls of stories and pictures of life-saving crashes. ALL properly used car seats are incredibly effective at reducing risk of injury or fatality.