Car Seat Safety: Your Questions Answered!

Cynthia Dermody
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car seat safety

Photo by southrenmade

Hope you got some great car seat safety tips for your toddlers and kids of all ages this week in Daily Buzz -- and we'll be announcing the winners of our 4 car seat giveaways soon.

Meantime, you asked some great questions, and here are some answers from Lindsay Lebresco, a blogger at Graco's Heart to Heart and a certified child passenger seat technician.

How do you clean a car seat?

Every manufacturer has different instructions and suggestions, so there isn't one clear answer. Read what the manual says. Most of them do allow for machine washing a removable seat pad and hand-washing the straps.

Why do seats expire?

Car seats expire for a number of reasons like changes in legislation, automobiles and technology, as well as the stress of long-time, repeated use. Graco recommends replacing a car seat between 6 to 7 years (an "expiry date" is now imprinted on the bottom of most seats).

How can you tell whether a seat fits in your particular car BEFORE you buy the seat?

This is a tough one -- every car is just a little different and even car seats are a little different. That's why some retailers allow you to take the floor model out to your car and test it out (sometimes they even help you!). Certainly ask if you can do this.

Can you keep a rear facing toddler rear facing even though he's just a few pounds over the weight limit?

It is absolutely recommended to follow the weight limit of a car seat. If you want your child to remain rear-facing, you should purchase a different seat that allows for the weight limit of your child. It is not safe and certainly not recommended to go over that weight limit even if it's just a few pounds.

If you have three seats in the back of the car, is it safer to put the infant in the middle?

The best configuration of three seats in the back seat of a car is the one that fits/accommodates the car seats the best. If the configuration is too tight, it could interfere with the installation and your ability to get your child safely in the seat.

Also consider if you are putting an infant seat in the center and you are using a carrier that clicks into a base, that the seats on either side don't interfere with that carrier getting properly locked into the base. This is something you would have to be conscious of each and every time you put your child in the car.

How much "wiggle room" are  you allowed in a seat?

There really shouldn't be much wiggle room at all for the installation or the child.  A car seat that is installed tightly enough is one that doesn't move more than 1 inch side to side at the belt path. You should check this as often as possible when putting your child in and out of the seat.

As for the harness, it should be tight enough where you can't pinch any of the strap between your fingers. In other words, make sure it fits nice and snug and that the chest clip is placed at armpit level (as opposed to the stomach).

Is there any type of after market accessory that's okay to use with a car seat?

It's always recommended to use the car seat accessories that are sold with the seat. After market accessories usually aren't crash-tested so there's no guarantee how they will react in the event of a crash.

Another reason certain after-market accessories aren't recommended is because there is a potential that they could interfere with the correct use of the seat. For instance, harness covers/strap pads. You need to make sure they aren't too long, especially for infants, in which case they would cause the chest clip to be too low on the child's body (the harness pads would force the chest clip to be placed on a child's belly instead of across the chest where it should be).


Thanks for joining in our car seat safety discussion all this week. And don't worry if you missed it ... just click here.

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