Common Mistakes When Purchasing & Installing a Car Seat

Common Mistakes When Purchasing & Installing a Car Seat

The following post is a guest post written for by Jennifer Meunier. Jennifer is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). 

It’s time to purchase a new car seat.  You’ve consulted your friends, asked internet strangers, read reviews and are ready to buy. Before you invest in an important piece of gear, let’s talk about common mistakes when purchasing and installing a car seat. The best car seat is the one that fits your child, your vehicle, your budget, and is used correctly every time! Here are four common mistakes that are made when purchasing and installing a car seat. I’m going to explain what these errors are and what you can do to avoid them. 

1. Not trying the seat before buying

Not all car seats fit all children, nor do they fit in all vehicles. Online reviews can be a great starting point; however, it’s crucial to try your child in the seat and the seat in your vehicle before you purchase. The majority of retailers do not accept returns on car seats so if you end up with a seat that doesn’t meet your needs you’re likely stuck with it.

Common Mistakes When Purchasing & Installing a Car Seat
Lack of legroom in front of a Diono Pacifica with the angle adjuster. This is not safe (or comfortable!) for the passenger.

The current recommendation is to rear face children as long as their car seat allows or for a minimum of 2 years. If your goal is to follow this recommendation, it’s important to consider your child’s growth curve when shopping for a seat. Seats are outgrown at different rates depending on their design and it’s important to not only look at a seat’s limits, but also its shape and size.

In order for a seat to be used rear facing, it must be reclined to keep the child’s head up and airway open. To accomplish this, some seats have multiple ranges of acceptable recline depending on the child’s age and development, and others have one acceptable recline angle for rear facing. The angle of recline necessary greatly affects how a seat fits rear facing in your vehicle – consult the manual for the seat to find out the recline requirements.

The angle of recline required when rear facing and the height of the seat affects the installation of the seat and the effect it will have on the driver and front seat passenger, depending on the seating position it is installed in. Seats that require a lot of front to back room are not ideal in small vehicles, or in situations with a tall driver and/or passenger. There are seats that will allow rear facing well past the recommendations in even the smallest vehicles, but fit to vehicle needs to be tested prior to purchase.

Common Mistakes When Purchasing & Installing a Car Seat
The car seat blocks the sightlines to safely shoulder check.

Many boutique baby stores and some chains allows you to take the floor model out to your vehicle to test for fit. The shape of the vehicle seats will affect how the car seat fits, so if you plan to use it in more than one vehicle, make sure to try it in both. While it’s recommended to keep children rear facing as long as possible, it’s also important to check how the car seat fits in a forward facing position, since eventually it will be installed that way.

2. Not reading the manual

Common Mistakes When Purchasing & Installing a Car Seat
Reading the manual is not child’s play! Every adult who will be installing & using the car seat needs to read the manual.

Car seat installation seems pretty straightforward.  Buckle it in, secure your child, and you’re good to go, right? Not quite! The manual that comes with your seat is full of important information for proper installation and for properly securing your child. Every car seat is different, so it’s important to consult the manual for each seat you use. Some seats require some assembly – following the steps outlined in the manual will ensure you’ve done it properly. The manual will also include any particulars for both rear facing and forward facing installation, including how to install the top tether which is required for all forward facing seats in Canada. Before you take the seat out of the box, read the manual from cover to cover to ensure you don’t miss any important points.

The vehicle manual is also “required reading” before installing a car seat. Information on acceptable seating positions and other important details will be found inside.

3. Installing with UAS & the seat belt at the same time

Car seats can be installed with either the universal anchorage system (UAS)/lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH) OR the seat belt. Why not double up on safety and use both at the same time? That’s not how it works. You wouldn’t wear contact lenses and glasses at the same time, would you? Unless it is explicitly stated in the car seat manual, the car seat must be installed with either UAS/LATCH or the seat belt, not both. When installed properly, the UAS or seat belt are equally safe. For vehicles that do not have UAS/LATCH or in situations where the installation is not secure using the UAS/LATCH, the seat belt can be used to obtain a safe and secure install.  When not in use, the UAS/LATCH strap and connectors need to be stored safely. Their storage location is indicated in the seat’s manual. The UAS/LATCH in your vehicle has a weight limit of combined child and seat weight which can be found by consulting your car seat and vehicle manuals. Once the limit has been reached, you must switch from a UAS/LATCH install to a seat belt install.

Common Mistakes When Purchasing & Installing a Car Seat
Unless permitted by the manufacturer, use the seat belt OR the UAS/LATCH, not both.

4. Installing the seat using the incorrect belt path

Convertible car seats can be used in both rear facing and forward facing positions. When switching from rear facing to forward facing it’s not as easy as simply turning the seat around and buckling it back in. Car seats have two belt paths – the location where you thread the seat belt or UAS/LATCH strap. Which belt path you use depends on if the seat is rear facing or forward facing. The location of the belt paths is indicated in the car seat manual and is also indicated on the seat itself. In order for the seat to perform in the manner it was crash tested, it is important to make sure the seat belt or UAS/LATCH strap is threaded through the correct belt path before securing the seat to the vehicle.

Common Mistakes When Purchasing & Installing a Car Seat
Belt paths are identified with labels directly on the seat as well as in the manual. The UAS/LATCH strap or seat belt needs to threaded through the appropriate path.

If you have questions or concerns about car seat safety, please contact a Child Passenger Safety Technician in your area. In Canada they can be located by visiting the Canadian Car Seat Network and in the USA at Safe Kids.

About the author: Jennifer Meunier is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) through the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada (CPSAC).  She can be reached at calgarycarseats AT gmail DOT com or you can find her on Facebook at Calgary Car Seats.

14 Comments on “Common Mistakes When Purchasing & Installing a Car Seat

  1. Great post. This always scared me when my son was little. They had a free service for parents through our local police department, where they would check the installation of car seats. I took advantage of that to be sure I hadit in just right!

  2. Great info! I’m glad you mentioned that you should try it in your car before buying!

  3. Some good tips! I scoured the net for the best reviews and thought we had an amazing rear facing and forwards facing one. I misunderstood and it wasn’t rear facing 🙁 wasn’t comfortable with my LO not being rear faced as long as possible so had to go out and buy a second! Luckily we will eventually use the other seat when she’s older and we have our next, but convertible does not always mean what you think, there are so many options and I just plain for confused 🙁

    • Yes, there’s a convertible seat which is rear facing and forward facing, and a combination seat which is forward facing and a booster. It’s very confusing!

  4. Love all the information on this! It’s so important to keep our babies safe! 🙂

  5. This was really informative, and thorough. Personally, I always take my seats for installation to the fire hall, where they have properly trained personnel…even though many seats seem pretty straight forward, I worry I could be wrong.

  6. Wow, I never thought that there was that much to look into when purchasing a car seat… My favorite is reading the manual. Love that pic of your little one. We are thankfully past this stage, but there is so much incomplete information out there, you covered this very well!

  7. I’m super careful with car seat safety. I’m the one who double checks every time, myself and when someone else straps the kids in. No coats, nothing heavy being worn, rear facing as long as we can…all of it!

  8. These are great tips! Ugh, I was SO mad at my son’s first birthday. He got a carseat (an extra one because his grandparents tote him around when I’m working) and we went up to the police station to make sure it was fit correctly. They flat out told us no! Eventually we got it inspected at a different station. But ugh! My son is in that in-between stage where he isn’t quite tall enough or heavy enough for a booster, so he still has to use the front-facing car seat.

  9. We were so glad for the assistance of our locals SEATS group when installing all of our carseats for the first time!

  10. I love the advice to try the seat before you buy it. If you can’t find a place that will let you try a seat before you buy it, simply don’t buy it there. Your child’s safety trumps corporate rules. Thanks for sharing.

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