An article in Parent's magazine highlights the top 8 car seat mistakes and how to quickly fix them:
Mistake #1: Seat too loose in the car
Check your seat: with both hands, grasp the car seat at the base, near where the vehicle's safety belt passes through the seat. You shouldn't be able to move the safety seat more than one inch to the left or right, or forward. If you can, it's not tight enough.
The danger: In a collision, a child in a loose seat could crash into the back of the front seat and seriously injure her face or head.
Fast fix: Place your knee in the seat, and put all your weight into it (use your arm for an infant seat), tightening the seat belt as much as possible. Then lock the seat belt--a step that many parents miss.
Don't forget to engage your car's seat belt lock. Shoulder-belt locks work differently than lap-belt locks do, so check your car manual for instructions.
Mistake #2: Harness too loose on the child
"If, after you've tightened your child into his car seat, you can still pinch the fabric of the harness straps between your fingers, the harness is too loose," says Stephanie Tombrello, executive director of SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A., in Torrance, California.
The danger: "A child who's loose in his harness can easily come out of his seat in a crash," Tombrello says.
Fast fix: Tighten the harness. Keep in mind that the straps should be snug with no slack.
Mistake #3: Infant turned face-forward too soon
All children should remain rear-facing at least until they turn 2-years-old or have reached the maximum height or weight capacity of the car seat, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But 30 percent of
are turned around too soon. Babies need to fulfill both requirements--weight and age--in order to be forward-facing.
The danger: The bones that protect an infant's spinal cord are still forming. When a child is rear-facing, his back--the strongest part of his body--can better absorb the immense forces of a crash. Facing forward, an infant's relatively heavy head can catapult forward, causing his underdeveloped spine to expose his spinal cord and putting him at risk of paralysis or death.
Keep your baby rear-facing until he's at least 2-years-old or has reached the maximum height or weight limit of the seat.
Mistake #4: Rear-facing infant seat not at a 45 degree angle
Many infant car seats have a built-in level that tells you when your seat is at the wrong angle. More often than not, seats are installed in a position that's too upright.
The danger: An infant's airway is very narrow--about the diameter of a soda straw. If your rear-facing seat leans too far forward, your baby's disproportionately heavy head could fall forward, cutting off her airway so she can't breathe.
Fast fix: While most rear vehicle seats are sloped toward the back of the car for the comfort of adult passengers, safety seats are designed to be installed on a flat surface. However, many safety seats are equipped with an adjustable pedestal to overcome this.
Mistake #5: Using the retainer clip incorrectly
The retainer clip should be at armpit level, resting across your child's breastbone. The clip assures that the harness straps are in the right place.
The danger: When the retainer clip is in the wrong place, the straps can easily slip off a child's shoulders, and the child is at risk of being ejected from her seat in a crash.
Fast fix: Parents often move the clip as they maneuver their child out of the seat, so check the clip's position every time you buckle up.
Mistake #6: Harness straps through the wrong slots
Most convertible safety seats are designed with three sets of harness slots: The lower two sets are for the rear-facing position, and the top set is for the forward-facing position. On most seats, once the seat faces forward, only the uppermost slots have the extra reinforcement necessary to keep the harness secure in a collision. Yet parents often turn the seat around without adjusting the straps.
The danger: When the child faces forward, a harness in the lower slots can break through the seat during a collision.
Always check the instructions that came with your seat to find out which slots are for what.
Mistake #7: Not using a booster seat
Any child between 40 and 80 pounds and up to 4'9" tall (generally, kids from 4 to 8 years old) needs to ride in a booster seat, which lifts him up higher so that the car's seat belt fits him properly. (And no child under 13 years old should ever sit in the front seat.)
The danger: An adult seat belt used by itself doesn't properly restrain a child because it crosses her body at the wrong spots: high up on her belly, high up across her shoulder--and sometimes even across the neck. In a crash, a child who's too small for a seat belt can sustain massive internal-organ damage or head and spinal injuries, and can even be ejected.
Fast fix: Ensure your child is in a booster seat until the recommended age/weight limit.
Mistake #8: Using a seat that's been recalled
Millions of safety seats have been recalled, but many of them are not repaired or replaced. Check yours against the list of recalled seats maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). You'll need to know your safety seat's model name, model number, and manufacture date, all of which are on the seat.
The danger: Car-seat recalls occur for a variety of reasons, including faulty latches and flammable seat fabric. While some recalled seats don't pose a fatal danger, many do. A faulty buckle could easily lead to disaster.
Fast fix: If you discover that your seat has been recalled, contact the manufacturer for further instructions. And never buy a car seat at a garage sale or a secondhand store, since it may have been recalled or involved in a collision.