The Inch Test
Once you’ve installed your car seat, give it a good tug at the point where the seat belt or lower anchor strap goes through the car seat. A properly installed car seat should not move more than an inch side-to-side or front-to-back. Try to remember to check for looseness every few months. Make sure to check your car seat manual for additional information.
The Pinch Test
Once you have safely secured your child in their car seat, making sure the harness is tightly buckled and coming through the correct slots of the seat. With the chest clip placed at armpit level of your child, pinch the strap at your child’s shoulder. You should not be able to pinch any excess webbing, if you can you will need to tighten the strap! Check out our Pinch Test video.
Infant car seats that double as carriers often have a handle that locks down in a special position when the car seat is in the car. Make sure you read the car seat manual to understand what that position is and keep the handle in its safe position every time you travel.
See where the shoulder straps are threaded through the car seat? As your child grows, you can adjust the straps lower or higher according to their height. But where should the straps hit your child’s shoulders? If your child is rear-facing, you want the straps to come out of the seat at or below their shoulders. For a forward-facing position, the straps should emerge from the seat at or above the shoulders.
If your child is riding in a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness, you should see a strap attached to the back of the seat with a hook on the end. This strap is called the tether, and it should be used anytime the car seat is being used in the forward-facing position. The tether holds the top of the car seat tightly to the back of the vehicle seat, so the child’s head won’t move too far forward during a crash. The tether should always be used, whether the car seat is installed using the lower anchors, or the vehicle seat belt. All cars and restraints manufactured after September 1, 2000 have tether capability, and many cars prior to 2000 can have tether anchors added free of charge. Your tether anchor could be a bar, bracket or webbing, and the location of the anchor varies among different vehicle makes and models. Check your vehicle owner’s manual to be sure you are attaching the tether to the appropriate anchor point.
Did you know car seats expire? Car seat manufacturers conduct extensive testing on their products before releasing them for purchase and have found that after a period of time, car seats need to be replaced. To find your car seat’s expiration date, check the sticker on the back or bottom side of the car seat. If an expiration date is not listed, a good rule of thumb is to add six years to the date of manufacturing listed on the sticker to reach the expiration date.
We recommend that you do not use any accessories (mirrors, toys, window shades, or harness cushions) that did not come with your car seat, as most of these unregulated items have not been crash tested. They can interfere with the way your car seat is designed to protect your child in a crash. Contact your manufacturer to see if they make accessories that have been crash tested and approved to use with your car seat. If your child is a newborn and needs extra support, we recommend rolling up a receiving blanket or two for lining the sides of the seat beside your baby, as long as approved by your car seat manufacturer.