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5 Key Mistakes Parents Make with Car Seats

You wouldn't think of not having a car safety seat for your infant or toddler, but are you using it the right way?

Safe Kids Worldwide estimates that three out of four children are too small for seatbelts are incorrectly restrained in car seats or booster seats. Don't join the crowd; avoid these mistakes:

  • Using a defective car seat. Don't buy a used seat; you don't know its history. Avoid old ones (more than 10 years old), especially with missing parts or cracks. And never use seats that are missing a label or instructions, have been recalled, or were in a crash.

  • Using a forward-facing car seat too soon. Until children are 2 years old, they should face the rear. When they're older than 2 and have outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their car safety seat (depending on the seat's limitations), the car seat can face forward. Older children should be in booster seats until they're at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall (usually ages 8 to 12). Until age 13, all children should sit in the backseat.

  • Installing the car seat incorrectly. "Not securing it tightly enough is the number one error parents make," says Dennis Durbin, M.D., of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Injury Prevention. "It shouldn't move more than 1 inch." You don't need a seatbelt to secure the car seat if both it and your car come with LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). "But still make sure it's tight, and never put the car seat in the path of an airbag."

  • Securing the harness straps incorrectly. They should always be snug and straight. For rear-facing car seats, use the two lower slots and strap the harness slightly at or below the shoulders. For forward-facing, use the top slot and strap slightly at or above the shoulders.

  • Positioning the chest clip incorrectly. Snap the chest clip at armpit level for rear-facing car seats, and at mid-chest or armpit level for forward-facing ones.