#CarseatFullstop Articles

11 Common Car Seat Mistakes

11 Common Car Seat Mistakes … And how to avoid them.

It boggles the mind as to how there are still folks out there who don’t understand the risks involved when choosing not to safely secure their kids in appropriate car seats, or at all. I mean, yes, “you’re such a careful driver”… And maybe “you’ve never been in an accident before”, right? I get it. Well, here’s a chilling truth: We lose 4 to 5 children in car crashes on a daily basis. Some of those are because of simple car seat mistakes.

Fortunately, the proper use of a correctly installed car seat greatly reduces a child’s risk of injury or death. BUT, here’s another dose of sobering stats… Especially for the parents out there who thought they could breathe a sigh of relief, since we diligently bought the seats and strapped our kids in…

Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 14 and under in South Africa**. In part because 4 out 5 car seats are used incorrectly. And nearly a third of children ride in incorrect restraints for their size and age.

Dude! FOUR out FIVE car seats are not being used correctly!! That’s just mental! You do the maths on that and you’ll realise that between you and me, we may unfortunately probably be a part of those scary statistics.

In fact, there’s a slew of common mistakes that so many well-intentioned parents unknowingly and innocently make. I was one of those parents – despite me thinking that I was so clued up about it.

car seat mistakes

And chances are, you could be too. Because, yes, you can actually balls up the installation and use very easily if you’re not aware of it. This reduces your child’s survival rate should you ever – heaven forbid – end up in a crash. But, now that I know better, I do better. So let’s not beat ourselves up. Instead let’s get to grips with these common mistakes, let’s get informed and take steps to rectify them.

And, no, don’t worry, I’m not going to slip on my judgey-judgetan pants (lest I want to judge myself). This campaign, and certainly this post of mine, is here to create awareness and help you keep your precious cargo safer on the road. So let’s do this!

There are quite a few mistakes that us parent folk make in the car seat realm, in fact there are plenty that can get extremely technical. But for now, let’s start with the basics, and gain mastery over those first, shall we? I’ve broken it down into the common mistakes that so many parents make (The Mistake), along with the rationale behind why it is a risk (The Risk), and the suggested solution for it (The Fix).

So you’ve got the car seat – well done, you’re already winning! But now, let’s look at the Common Mistakes we want to avoid doing:

1. Car seat should not be able to budge more than 2cm/1 inch in any direction:

The Risk:

      • If you can move your car seat more than 2cm, it means that it is not secured tightly enough and, thus, compromises it’s ability to safely restrain your child as intended.

The Fix:
• Read the manual. Yes, reading manuals are fun – said nobody ever! But in this case, it’s best that you do. Don’t assume that would know how to install it without reading it, as each car and car seat has its own limits and restrictions.
• Ensure the seat belt path that loops through the car seat as per the manual.
• Keep the car seat manual in the car for quick reference.
• Have a technician check it for you for good measure. Currently, Wheel Well and Drive More Safely offer this service, however, watch this space for hopefully future developments of more accessible checkpoints in this area.

2. Car seat harness not tight enough:

The Risk:

• The harness is intended to fit snugly against the body to bring your child to a stop as gently and safely as possible. However, any slack creates space between your child’s body and the harness, thereby becoming an object for your child’s delicate bones to slam into at great force(force enough to cause injury)and causing a terrible jolt for baby’s delicate spine.

• Any slack also enables your child to easily slip their arms out of harness, thereby compromising the car seats ability to safely secure them during an accident.

• The harness needs to be tight enough.

The Fix:
• Not sure what’s tight enough? Well, once your child is strapped in, you should not be able to fit more than one finger in between your child and the harness.

• Or try the pinch test – the harness needs to be taught enough that you’re unable to pinch even a little bit of slack in harness.
• Tighten until you pass the pinch test.

3.Using any accessories that are not certified for use in particular car seats:

The Risk:

      • • Car seats are subjected to some extensive testing, and you may create an untested configuration by using an after-market product with the seat.


      • • Think head positioners, back supports, chest clips, car seat covers, etc. – if it does not come standard with the car seat or is not certified as being tested and safe to use with your specific car seat, it may just introduce unnecessary risk.


      • • For eg, non-standard chest clips could cause internal damage to your baby’s soft and delicate innards during an accident, due to the resultant force that comes at time of impact. Not worth the risk, is it?

The Fix:
• Avoid the use of any accessories with your car seat, unless your car seat manual approves their use.

4. Incorrect height of harness and straps:

The Risk:

      • • Correct shoulder harness height is vital to reducing your child’s movement and being properly secured in the event of a car crash or sudden stop. See point number 2 with regards to the slackness of the harness.


      • • If it’s too high, it allows too much space and slackness in the harness for it to secure your child adequately during a crash.

The Fix:

      • • Ensure that rear-facing car seats have the straps that come out of the seat at or below the height of the shoulders.


      • • Forward-facing seats should have the straps coming out at or above.


      • • Seat belts for children in boosters should go across their pelvic bones or top of thighs, not across their tummies and the top strap should not touch their neck.


      • • It is important that the height of the harness be adjusted so that the straps exit the back of the seat at or below your child’s shoulder height. Read your car seat manual for specifics on how to adjust it, and what height it should be at for your child.

5. Children wearing bulky clothes (like jackets)in car their seat:

The Risk:

      • • Yes, it can get cold out there, and we want to bundle up our little babies but those thick puffy coats and the like are a big car seat no-no. At the time of impact, all that puffiness and padding of the jacket (no matter how snug you have made that harness over the jacket), it all compresses during a crash, resulting in the harness actually being loose and unsecure. (see point 2.)


      • • But you don’t have to take my word for it, just test it yourself – make that harness as tight as you can with jacket on. Leave the harness as is and unclip it, remove jacket from your child, then clip harness back in and now notice the huge amount of slackness in it. How’s that pinch test looking there, mate?


The Fix:
• There are plenty of ways to keep our babies warm, and still safe and secure whilst in car seat. Think thin layers of clothes that are not bulky at all that won’t interfere with harness tightness, and cover your child OVER the harness/straps with a cover that is light enough not to cause overheating during car ride, but also warm enough for when you have to take them back out of the car.

6. Twisted straps:

The Risk:

      • • If the straps are twisted they are not able to evenly distribute the impact of a car accident and will not be able to provide the full protection to your child and they could end up getting hurt.

The Fix:
• Take the time to check for any twists everytime you strap your child in.
• For a great guide on to sort out your twisted straps see here.

7. Moving from rear-facing to forward-facing seat too early:

The Risk:

      • • Part of what makes babies and toddlers so bloody cute is their big heads in proportion to the rest of their body. However, its that very thing and the proportion of their big heads to their neck muscles that put them at much greater risk during a car crash.(Have you see some of the crashtest vids on YouTube? Holy crap – it’s hectic.) Particularly children under four are even more vulnerable.


      • • Needless to say, should you be in a car crash, and your child’s head gets thrust in any direction, their small and still developing neck muscles simply won’t have the strength necessary to keep their head safely in line with the spine. Ever heard of “internal decapitation”? Well that’s the horror that would ensue – where the head is forcably disconnected from the spine.

The Fix:

      • • In a head-on collision, rear-facing seats reduce injury risks by 90% compared to unrestrained kids. Which is over 20% safer than children wearing just a seatbelt (68% lower risk of injury).


      • • Considering this, keeping children under the age of four in rear facing seats is highly recommended. For more on rear-facing seats,

see here

      • .

8. Moving to the seatbelt too early:

The Risk:

      • • What is very key to note is that seatbelts were originally designed for grown men – not children.


      • • Yet, so eager to move on from the booster seat and straight to the seat belt alone, many parents could make the mistake of moving their child too early.


• “Too early” is when the seal belt doesnt fit correctly. And a poorly fitted seat belt can do more harm than good – just think, splicing up your innards, as it pushes through your spleen and liver , or if the shoulder strap fit is questionable, then the resultant head injuries are a given, not to mention the spinal injuries that are a high probabilty. It’s just not a pretty picture, and certainly not worth the risk.

The Fix:
• Well, so how do you know if your child is ready for the seatbelt?
• Well, if your child is over 1.5m tall,
• Can sit with their back firmly against the back rest of the vehicle’s seat, with their feet firmly on the vehicle floor,
• And their knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat without slouching
• The seatbelt crosses the shoulder between the neck and arm, while the lap part is low across the tops of their thighs
• And more over that your child can remain seated in that way for the entire trip.
• If you ticked all the boxes, then your child is ready. However, if your child does not meet ALL of these requirements, then he/she needs to remain in a booster seat.

9. Assuming three car seats across will/will not work:

The Risk:

      • • To assume your car is too small to accommodate three car seats at the back, thereby moving one or more children to booster seats before they are ready, or worse to seat belts before they are ready, is just as presumptuous as thinking that your car is big enough to fit three car seats across, where the configuration simply won’t work.


      • • Aside from the implied risk of moving to boosters or seats too early to suit the space, there is great risk in the car seats not all being able to safely fit across the back seat due to due lack of space and the broad base of many car seats.


      • • Similarly, not all car seats will fit into a spacious back seat, purely due to the configuration of the middle back seat and its seatbelt spacing.


      • • In both situations, the ability to safely secure a child would be greatly compromised due to the incorrect installation of car seats that are not suited for your particular car.

The Fix:
• Firstly, three seats across is very doable. In fact, totally doable. However, you will need to do thorough research on the various bases of car seats and how they would work with your car’s back seat space, as well as your car’s seat belt configuration. And remember, if in doubt, Wheel Well is a call away.

10. Incorrect spacing between car seat and vehicle front seat:(Applies more to rear- facing seats)

The Risk:

      • • The front seat position should be set so that it will not interfere with the child restraint system. By not allowing a clear and free space between the carrier and the front seat, it becomes difficult to ascertain whether the car seat is truly firmly clicked and locked into the base as intended, thereby enable unsure as to whether the car seat system could properly operate in the event of an accident.

The Fix:
• Ensure that there is a clear and free space between the carrier and the front seat, so ensure that the car seat is firmly clicked and locked into the base as intended.
• Check your manual for specifics.

11. Buying second hand car seats blindly:

The Risk:

      • • Unless you’re getting your second car seats through NPO’s such as Wheel Well or Drive More Safely, where you know experts have done their best to check the seats thoroughly to ensure the seats are safe, there are key facets you need to check to ensure the integrity of that second hand seat, before you even think of buying. Otherwise you risk the car seat either having been recalled or having been in an accident without your knowledge, thereby compromising it’s integrity and safety.

The Fix:
• Wheel Well receives donated car seats to create a “seat exchange” where seats are thoroughly cleaned and thoroughly checked for defects before it’s put into stock, where lower income families can receive a car seat in return for an affordable donation.

Gumtree has teamed up with #CarseatFullstop to help educate their potential buyers of second hand car seats, as to what to look for, and to ensure the car seat is defect free and certifiably safe. Keep an eye out for that campaign article coming soon. In the mean time, Wheel Well would gladly assist you in this regard.

We, as parents, are all just trying to do our best – at least that’s what I’d like to think. But we’re also human; we’re rushing around most of the time, we’re susceptible to our emotions, and are just down right tired.(Am I right?) So we’re all prone to human error and making honest mistakes along the way. But there are certain things where we need to be sure we’re pouring our energies into no matter what, and making the responsible choice to always make our children’s safety our number one priority, is certainly one of them. Car seat safety is the one aspect of parenting that you really want to nail, as it could literally save your child’s life.

I get that this can be quite a bit to consume all at once, so I’ve put it into a printable format that you can then print out and keep in your car for quick reference. Or better yet, to share with granny and grandpa or uncle and aunty who may be shuttling your precious cargo around on your behalf. You know, just gentle reminders. Just right click the image here and save, then print it out whenever you’re ready.

Quick guide: Open in new window to fullsize, right click and save.

As a parent, where I believe that all little lives matter, I would sincerely encourage you to address this matter as the serious concern that it is, commit to doing the right thing, and to take the time to get the use and installation right. Because, let’s be frank here, installation can be a pain in the butt, and often complicated, but our precious cargo make it more than worth it.

Here’s to knowing and doing better, and saving little lives! X


Click here to find out more about this article’s author, Tracey

Be sure to SHARE!

You have the power to save a little life. One share, seen by one person, who straps in one child, saves a life. #CarseatFullstop


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Meet the #CarseatFullStop Team
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