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Car Safety Seats

Baby car seat

Let’s face it – car seats for infants, toddlers, and young children are confusing. Every year there are law changes and design changes, making it not so easy to just throw a seat in the car and go. We all want our little ones to be as safe as humanly possible, and sometimes it seems finding the necessary information is difficult. How long does my baby have to be rear-facing? When can we promote our little one to a high-back booster? How do I know if the straps are tight enough?

Don’t let it overwhelm you. We’re putting it here, in one place, for easy reference. Take a deep breath and read on. Pin it to read later.

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1. Check Your State’s Laws

Each state has its own laws and each car and seat have their own features, making it far from simple. My oldest child is almost 26, so to say things have changed since she was born is quite an understatement. Back then, you put the seat in the car in whichever spot was most convenient, you pulled the seat belt through, and you were pretty much done. Infants only had to be rear-facing until 12 months old and they only had to be in any type of safety seat until age 4. My youngest child is 16. Not much had changed in the almost-10 years between the first and last.

As of January 1, 2017, California (my home state) law says:

  • Children under 2 years of age shall ride in a rear-facing car seat unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds OR is 40 or more inches tall. The child shall be secured in a manner that complies with the height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer of the car seat. (California Vehicle Code Section 27360.)
  • ​Children under the age of 8 must be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat.
  • Children who are 8 years of age OR have reached 4’9” in height may be secured by a booster seat, but at a minimum must be secured by a safety belt. (California Vehicle Code Section 27363.)
  • Passengers who are 16 years of age and over are subject to California’s Mandatory Seat Belt law.

To find your own state’s laws, I suggest Googling the phrase “car seat law *insert state name*” and finding your state’s Highway Patrol or State Troopers website, as that’s where you’re most likely to find accurate and up-to-date laws.

In December 2015, our first (and so far, only) grandchild was born. When he was in his little infant carrier seat, it was still pretty simple and straight-forward.  However, once he got bigger, which happened very quickly, we bought him a bigger, convertible car seat that will suit him for as long as he needs one. A few days later, I decided to install it in my car. I didn’t ask anyone for help. I barely glanced at the instructions. I thought, “I’m a pretty smart woman; I can figure this out.” After all, I’d already raised three children through car seat age, so how hard could it be?

2. Read the Car Seat’s Manual and Your Vehicle’s Manual

Before you even begin, break out your vehicle’s manual. Look in the index for child safety seats and read everything there. My car is a 2015, the first new car I’ve ever owned. I’d never had one with the LATCH system before, so I needed to learn how to use it. I didn’t even know there were anchors at the base of the back of the seat.

After studying about your vehicle, you’ll want to read the car seat manual from front to back. This not only tells you how to properly install the seat, but how to correctly adjust and tighten the straps for your child, how to clean the straps, how to remove the pad for washing, etc. Once you’re done, don’t put it away. You may think you’re done with it, but trust me, you’re not done yet.

3. Go to YouTube

After about 30 minutes (I’m pretty stubborn) of struggling with this thing and trying to decipher the diagrams and instructions in the manual, I thought I should head to YouTube. That saved my life, or at least, it saved a bigger headache and more frustration. Watch videos specific to the brand and model of car seat you have. It’s not as intuitive and easy as I’d assumed it would be and I’m a visual learner, so watching someone else actually installing the car seat made it one thousand times easier for me to understand. After seeing it done, I was able to do it myself in about five minutes.

4. Go to Cars.com

Cars.com Logo

Cars.com has 55 PAGES of car seat safety check information for different vehicle makes and models, going all the way back to 1969 models. You don’t have to scroll through all those pages to find yours, either. At the top of the page are drop-downs where you select your year, make, and model, so you can get information specific to your vehicle quickly and easily. If they don’t happen to have your exact car, truck, SUV, or van, they’ll show you the closest match to yours. Between cars.com and YouTube, your car seat should be safely installed in no time at all.

5. Learn the Basics about the Harness/Straps, and Chest Clip

Once your seat is correctly installed, it’s time to get your child properly strapped in.

  • When rear-facing, the shoulder straps should be at or just below the child’s shoulders.
  • When forward-facing, the shoulder straps should be at or just above the child’s shoulders.
  • Whether rear- or forward-facing, the shoulder straps should fit snugly on the child’s shoulders. They should be tight enough to hold the child in the seat in case of an accident, but not so tight as to be uncomfortable. You should be able to slip one finger in between the child and the strap.
  • The chest clip should be on the child’s sternum, right about where the nipples/underarm area are.

6. Visit a Child Passenger Safety Technician

Find your local authority on child seat safety. Often this is a fire station or Highway Patrol headquarters. There are licensed people all over the country who are happy to check to ensure that your little one is as safe as possible when riding in a motor vehicle. Their services are offered free of charge, so if you find someone who is trying to charge you, keep looking. In California, go here to find your local office.

Hopefully, you feel at least a little less anxious about car seats now and a little more confident in your abilities to keep your little one safe. If you know of any fantastic resources, feel free to link them in the comments. ♥

Ultimate Guide to Car Seat Safety from caffeineandsaltwater