A car seat is designed to work in a certain way and it’s very important to follow the instruction manual to the letter, and not to do anything different to how it is described. During crash testing it is installed in the way that is was designed to be used, and installing it in any other way will make it unsafe.
Which car seat fits my car?
Most car seats fit in most cars, but some don’t, so it’s very important to make sure that the seat you buy is suitable for your car. Some car seats have vehicle compatibility lists, but it’s always best to get a car seat fitted by a trained fitter.
Which car seat is best for my child?
All car seats have their weight limits printed on a sticker (usually orange) on the side or the back of the seat. These weight limits must not be exceeded. The child’s age must also be taken into consideration, because the legal minimum weight is usually not the same as the safe minimum age. Legally a 9kg baby can face forward, but some weigh 9kg when they’re as young as six months, and it is much safer not to turn a child forward facing until they are at least four years old. A high back booster’s minimum weight is 15kg which is an average three year-old, but a booster is not safe until a child is over four.
Baby car seat installation
Belt fitted car seats must have the seat belt routed exactly as the instructions describe, and the belt must be pulled as tight as possible. Some car seats have a locking clip which is blue for rear facing and red for forward. If your seat has a clip, it must be used.
Isofix seats must be pushed into the vehicle seat’s backrest as tightly as possible so that they don’t wobble, just making sure that the indicators are green is not enough. The support leg must not be over extended, making the leg too long will make a rear facing seat too upright and may make the child’s head fall forward when they’re asleep.
Infant seats up to 13kg have a carry handle, which acts as a roll-bar to stop the seat from tipping over in the rebound phase of a crash. In most car seats this handle needs to be up, and in some it goes all the way forward above the baby’s feet. The picture on the sticker on the side of the seat will show you the correct carry handle position for your particular seat.
How do I safely fit my baby in a car seat?
The harness must be at the correct height, which is the slots that are closest to the child’s shoulders. If the shoulders are between two height positions, then you must choose the ones that are below the shoulders for rear facing seats, and the slots above the shoulders for forward facing.
The straps must not be twisted and be adjusted as tight as possible. It’s very common for car seat straps to twist, this is not a fault with the seat, it’s just the nature of car seat straps.
Sometimes the buckle tongue can end up upside down on the strap causing it to twist. When this happens simply fold the strap into a triangle and slide the buckle tongue over it to turn it back the right way.
A car seat’s straps are what holds the child in the seat in a crash, and when they aren’t tight the risk of injury is much greater. Loose straps also make it easier for a child to wriggle out of the harness, which can be a dangerous distraction for the driver and will have disastrous consequences in a crash. Padded clothing like winter coats and snow suits makes it impossible for the straps to be fitted tight enough, and must be removed before placing the child in their car seat.
When tightening the straps pull the shoulder straps up through the buckle to remove the slack from the hip area, and then pull the adjuster strap to tighten the straps around the shoulders until you can fit no more than two fingers between the strap and the collar bone.
It’s very important for newborn babies to lie in their car seat at a 45º angle, being more upright than this can cause breathing difficulties in babies under five months.
Most infant seats have a newborn insert with a wedge under the baby’s bottom and a cushion with a raised edge around their head. The wedge is usually removed at around four months and the head hugger comes out at around nine months, but this will vary depending on the size of the baby and the seat.
In some car seats the lowest harness height is too high for very tiny babies. If that is the case place them high up in the car seat as close to the shoulder straps as possible, and fill the gap between the baby’s crutch and the buckle with a rolled-up muslin. If the baby’s head is too small to fill the car seat’s head support, you can roll a muslin into a long sausage shape and place it around the baby’s head inside the head hugger.