Are you making any of these 7 common mistakes?

Mistake #1. Using a used car seat (without knowing its history)

Hand-me-down car seats from family or friends seem like a great money-saving idea, but beware of a car seat with an unknown history. Before you place your child in a used car seat, make sure:

  • That the seat has instructions and a label showing the model number and manufacture date
  • That the seat hasn’t been recalled
  • That the seat isn’t more than 6 years old
  • That you inspect it for visible damage or missing parts
  • That the seat has never been in a moderate or severe crash

The bottom line is: If you don’t know the car seat’s history, don’t use it.

Mistake #2. Placing the car seat in a front seat

Let’s be clear: The safest place for your child’s car seat is in the middle of the back seat. If for some reason it becomes absolutely necessary for a child to travel in a vehicle with only one row of seats, you must deactivate the front air bags or install a switch to prevent air bag deployment during a crash. While designed for adult safety, airbags can be deadly to small children and infants. Keep them away from airbags!

Mistake #3. Installing the car seat incorrectly

Before you install a car seat, read the manufacturer’s instructions and double check that against what your vehicle owners’ manual says about car seats.

Make sure the seat is properly secured — allowing no more than 1” of movement from side to side or front to back— and that the car seat is facing the correct direction. Make sure the seat is reclined at the proper angle, and position the car seat’s carrying handle according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Mistake #4. Moving to a forward-facing car seat too soon

Children should ride rear-facing until they reach the age of two, or weight at least 35 pounds, or reach a height specified by the car seat manufacturer. Double check with your car seat manufacturer for the age, weight and/or height limits of their seat.

Mistake #5. Dressing your child in bulky outerwear

The car seat safety harness is not designed to protect a child if thick, bulky layers of clothing and/or blankets are between the child and the straps. When you place the child in the car seat, secure the safety harness first, then you can drape coats and/or blankets over the child’s body -to help keep it warm.

Mistake #6. Moving to a booster seat too soon

You can switch from a child car seat to a booster seat when your child has topped the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer for that model. But keep in mind that a car seat with a harness is still the safest way for a child to travel.

Booster seats (even those without backs) are not to be used with a lap-only belt, but must be used with a lap and shoulder belt – the three-point harness. Be sure that the lap belt lies low and snug across your child’s upper thighs and that the shoulder belt crosses your child’s chest and shoulder.

Mistake #7. Using the vehicle safety belt too soon

May kids are eager to graduate to regular seat belt use. Here’s how to know if your child is ready:

  • Your child stands 4 feet 9 inches tall
  • Your child sits against the back of the seat with knees bent comfortably at the edge of the seat.
  • The lap belt rests flat and snugly across your child’s upper thighs, and the shoulder belt rests on the middle of your child’s shoulder and chest — not across the neck or face.

But don’t allow the child to tuck the shoulder belt under his or her arm or behind the back.

If you have questions about child passenger safety laws or need help installing a car seat, participate in a local car seat clinic or inspection event. You can also check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for help finding a car seat inspection station.