The Top Five Mistakes Parents Make With Car Seats

By Dana Sullivan for Your Baby Today

As many as half the car seats in use today are installed incorrectly. Here, a look at the top five mistakes people make when it comes to car seats, with advice on how to correct them from Julie Prom, a certified child passenger safety expert based in Stafford, Virginia.

    April 2011

    New Carseat Guidelines Focus on Age

    New advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will change the way (and for how long) you buckle up your kids. The new policy advices that children should:

    • Ride rear-facing to at least age 2, and
    • Use a booster until at least age 8
    Read more about the new guidelines.
  • Buying the wrong seat for a particular car. Some seats fit better in certain cars than others. But the only way you'll know which seats work best in your car(s) is through trial and error. If possible, months before your baby is born, go to a baby store and ask to install several different models in your car until you find one that fits. "I tell people to do this before they start looking at cribs," says Prom. "A safe car seat is one of the most important purchases a parent can make for her baby." You can also call your hospital or fire department, or visit, to find out when and where the next car-seat safety check will be held in your area.

  • Facing baby forward too soon and/or using a seat that doesn't fit properly. Infants should be in the rear-facing position, in either an infant carrier (a seat with a carrying handle) or a convertible seat (a seat you can turn forward when your baby is big enough) until they are two years old and meet the height and weight limits of the particular seat (which may be older than 2) years.

  • Not tightening the car seat enough. Make sure the seat doesn't move more than approximately one inch from side to side or front to back. Read the car seat manufacturer's instructions so you know where to thread the seat belt, and your vehicle's manual so you know whether you must use a locking clip to secure the seat belt. Be sure to install the locking clip next to the latch plate.

  • Positioning the harness height incorrectly. Read the car seat's instruction manual to determine the proper harness height. Some harnesses should sit level with your infant's shoulders, others should be set just below. You will need to adjust the harness height as your baby grows.
  • Not tightening the harness enough. Adjust the harness so you can't slide more than two fingers between the harness and your baby. And make sure that the chest clip is at your baby's armpit level to keep the harness in place.

  • "This is one time it's essential to read instructions," says Julie Prom, a certified child passenger safety expert based in Stafford, Virginia. "Read the car seat manufacturer's guide and your auto manual before you install a car seat."

    For more car seat safety tips, go to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.. Most car seat manufacturers also offer step-by-step installation tips on their individual Web sites.

    More tips for When Your Baby HATES the Car Seat

    Nevada-based freelance writer Dana Sullivan is a frequent contributor to Your Baby Today and also writes for Fit Pregnancy and Parenting. She's mom to Liam, 4, and Julia, 2.

    The content on these pages is provided as general information only and should not be substituted for the advice of your physician.

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