Yikes: Most Parents Use Carseats Incorrectly!

 Did you know the majority of parents are using their carseats incorrectly?  Did you know car accidents are a top cause of death in children?  Did you know the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents keep their child’s carseat rear-facing for at least 2 years?

I didn’t know most of this info when I first had my son, but I have learned a lot since then, so I’ve compiled some general information here.  All pictures are used with permission, & please follow the purple links for further information!

My son, 3, riding happily with his 2-year-old friend.


Not all carseats are the same. Expired carseats, used carseats, & carseats that have been in a moderate-to-severe accident are not safe for use & need to be discarded properly.  As much as I love reusing things & using hand-me-downs, the only way I would accept a used carseat is if I was certain the owner had never been in an accident with it & if I knew it was not expired.  I was in an accident a couple years ago & although my son’s carseat did its job well & didn’t appear to be damaged at all, my car was totaled, therefore the carseat was rendered useless.  I recommend saving your receipts when you purchase a new seat, because your insurance company may want to see it in order to cover the cost of a new one.  My car accident had a big impact on me (punny!) because it wasn’t my fault at all; I am a good driver, but a gigantic excavating truck ran a red light & hit me out of nowhere.  It showed me that the extra thought put into carseat safety is worth it.


Another reason not all carseats are the same is their rear-facing weight/height limit.  Rear-facing carseats are 500% safer than forward-facing. Ideally every passenger in the car would be able to sit rear-facing because it really is the safest way to ride in a vehicle.  Unfortunately, some carseats have low rear-facing weight limits, which forces parents to turn their child forward before it is safe or recommended to do so.  Double unfortunate is the fact that carseats with higher rear-facing options are typically more expensive.  A good carseat is an excellent investment though. Some of the better options could be the only carseat your child will ever need, since they convert into a booster seat, which children should be in anywhere from 8-12 years old, depending on both height & weight.


I understand that some people wonder about kids not having anywhere to put their legs while rear-facing, or possibly breaking legs during a collision.  I made the mistake of turning my son’s seat forward when he was 12 months old, because I thought it was supposed to be a happy milestone.  I learned more shortly after & turned his seat back around.  He has never complained about discomfort; he sits with his legs outstretched or folded.  If we got into an accident that was bad enough to break his legs, it can be assumed it would have broken his neck if he was forward-facing. Broken legs are easier to fix than broken necks.

Comfortably & safely rear-facing!



Here are some of the best carseats with the highest rear-facing limits:

Diono Radian RXT (rear-facing to 45lbs, forward-facing to 80lbs, booster seat up to 120lbs, steel reinforced, $250-$350 depending on deals)

-A few options from Britax (rear-facing to 30-40lbs depending on the type, forward facing to 55-70lbs, booster seat on some seats, $170-$250 depending)

First Years True Fit (rear-facing to 35lbs, forward-facing to 65lbs, under $200)

Graco My Ride 65 (rear-facing to 40lbs, forward-facing to 65lbs, $150)

Eveflo Triumph Advanced Convertible (rear-facing to 35lbs, forward-facing to 50lbs, $130)


As a low-income parent, I’ve always been fairly horrified by the high prices of good carseats, with the essential implication being the more money you have, the safer your child gets to be.  But there are certain parenting choices that can significantly lower the cost of raising children, like using cloth diapers, breastfeeding instead of using formula, & cosleeping in lieu of an expensive crib, hopefully freeing some finances to afford a decent carseat.   I was blessed with the gift of a good carseat this Christmas (shout out to my parents- thanks so much!).


A few other rules about carseats:


The chest clip goes on the chest, near the nipples & armpits.

Incorrect use of the chest clip. (Thanks to the friend who donated the picture; it will help others!)

Correct chest clip usage!










The straps should be completely flat throughout the harness system & snug against your child; they should not be twisted or loose.  This is a perfect example of how the straps should be tightened:



-Carseats have slots for adjusting the straps as the child gets taller.  The strap should be in the slot at or below the shoulders for rear-facing; at or above the shoulders for forward-facing.


Aftermarket products are not safe.  This is any product that does not come with your carseat, with the exception of angle adjusters & cup-holders that are specifically made for your carseat by the same manufacturer.  Head support things, mirrors, fluffy strap cushions, etc. are all considered unsafe by car safety professionals.   Here are the manufacturers’ statements about adding bulk to the seat.

The carseat should be in the middle seat if possible. This can drastically reduce injury in a side collision.

Carseats are for cars. The infant carrier style of carseat gives the wrong impression, in my opinion, that carrying an infant around in a carseat is safe.  This is not true.   Infant carrier carseats lower oxygen levels, which can be problematic for newborns.  Infant carrier seats are NOT supposed to be used in shopping carts. Even if your infant carrier “clicks” onto the shopping cart, that is NOT its proper use, & it is not safe.  A baby recently died this way.  Slings & proper infant carriers like the Ergo or Becco are much safer options.

Thick winter coats should not be used underneath the carseat belts, because it can create slack during a collision, basically as though the straps are very loose.  As a native Minnesotan, I found this bonkers when I first heard it, but the manufacturer statements against adding bulky products to the carseat applies to coats as well.  To test this, get your child bundled up in their winter gear, then buckle them into the carseat & tighten the straps properly.  Then take them out of the carseat, out of their coat, & buckle them back in.  If there is any slack, their coat is not safe to be worn under the belt.  I have a few thin but warm fleece jackets for my son that work well.  I warm my car up during the winter anyway, so I put his coat on to go from the house to the car, then take it off before buckling him in & he wears it backwards on his arms.  It can feel like a hassle in -20 weather, but it’s worth it.


Reading your carseat manual is one of the best steps to keeping your child safe.  There are varying ways for installing carseats in different cars, & rear-facing latching is different than forward-facing, so attention must be paid to the details of proper installation.  Even after reading my manual I prefer to take my carseat to professional carseat technicians who can show me exactly how to correctly install my carseat.  You can find carseat technicians in your area here.


What are your most valuable carseat safety tips, Dear Reader?  What, if any, mistakes did you make with your child’s carseat?  What kind of carseat do you have?  How long did your children rear-face?  Feel free to leave your tips & advice here!

A 12-month-old forward-facing before the recommended age/weight/height. Her mama learned more & turned her daughter back rear-facing.

This child was turned forward at 10 months. Her mama learned more & kept her next child rear-facing.

He fell asleep with his finger in his nose! My son at 16 months, forward-facing too soon.

My son at 3 years, 8 months, in his new Diono carseat. This will keep him rear-facing until 45lbs!

Kristen Tea

About Kristen Tea

I am a 27-year-old single, attached, informed, lactivist, intactivist, peaceful Minnesotan mother of almost 4-year-old Sun Ronin a.k.a Sunny Boy. I am an artist & lover of expression. I’m also a student with many things to learn, including nutritional therapy, lactation consulting, doulahood, yoga instructing, & more. I believe that unplanned pregnancies do not have to equal uninformed motherhood, & women have the power to restore humanity to everything we touch.

34 thoughts on “Yikes: Most Parents Use Carseats Incorrectly!”

  1. Great post! My son (featured in this article 😉 is 2 years and around 32 lbs. He’s rear-facing in a Britax Marathon 70. Rear-facing saves lives!

    “Broken leg- cast it. Broken neck- casket.”

  2. The most expensive car seat won’t do much good if it’s installed incorrectly or the child is strapped in incorrectly. It’s important to read the manual when you’re installing the seat, and strap your child in correctly every time. And make sure others who may drive your child know how to properly use the seat.

  3. Unless something has changed in the last few months, for people who are restricted income-wise there is a seat out there that can be bought locally at most wal-marts & targets called the Cosco Scenera. There are two versions, one RFs to 35lbs and one to 40lbs and the total cost is under $100. The drawback is the FF limit is exactly the same as the RF limit so it will only ride to 35lb or 40lbs. Hope that helps!

  4. Great article. One question though. You state that carseats should always be in the middle. I was under the impression that that was true as long as they were rear facing and that when they turn they should be behind a seat. This, I thought, was because in the center, there is nothing to protect from flying windshield glass.

  5. Good question! Most (all?) cars these days are made with glass that will shatter outward rather than onto the child. That is what happened when my car got totaled. My son was rear-facing & the entire back window shattered– out onto the street :) Of course if you have more than one child it can get complicated, but the best spot whether forward or rear-facing is in the middle.

  6. Great article! Thank you so much! I just wanted to point out one thing. In the article, it says that slings are safer. Slings can be extremely dangerous. I have read about several deaths caused by infant slings.

  7. So when used correctly why isn’t a $50 car seat just as good as these 1,2,3 hundred dollar ones? I’m a mom of 5 who all need carseats/boosters and even with using cloth diapers ect. I cannot afford those top of the line car seats.

  8. You do leave out a very important detail: rear-facing has a weight AND HEIGHT component. Some children, who are tall and skinny (like his father) outgrow the height component before the weight. My son is just 2 and outgrew the height although he is no where near the weight limit and probably won’t be until he is 4 or 5…

  9. The “3 in 1″ type car seats are generally not recommended as a be all end all to your car seat needs. They are often outgrown before they should be and often do not give a good booster fit.

    The Alpha Omegas come to mind. These seats are touted as “The only seat your child will need!” In reality, the child will outgrow it rear facing before he or she is able to forward face safely, will outgrow it forward facing before he or she is able to booster safely, and it makes an awful booster in which the child could die from internal injuries due to the seat belt being too high up on the abdomen.

    It’s best to get a good convertible car seat like those mentioned, and then a low cost booster when the child is ready (minimum of 4 years old AND 40lbs, and is mature enough to not lean out of the correct position of having the lap belt low over the hips and the shoulder belt flat across the collar bone) such as the Graco Turbo Booster or the Evenflo Amp Highback.

  10. Thanks for sharing! One thing that still gets me is that chest clip. The one on my son’s Sunshine Kids Radian 80 (now Diono) broke and when I contacted the company for a new one they said that they aren’t necessary for the safety of the seat, but if I wanted a new one I could purchase it from their website (which I did). They further said that in Europe carseats are not made with chest clips and are thought to be more unsafe than safe. Anyone else ever heard anything like this? It sounded SO strange to me.

  11. I have also been informed by a certified car seat technician that leaving baby bucket type car seat handles upright is a safety hazard as they were likely (very few are) tested in this position. They could potentially snap and really gravely injure a child.

  12. You do NOT have to spend a lot of money to have a safe car seat. As long as it can be used rear facing as long as possible, and is used correctly, it’s safe. All car seats are subject to the same safety standards. We didn’t have a lot of money to spend on car seats, so we have a $99 Evenflo Titan Elite. It’s not fancy but it is as safe as any pricey model.

  13. Again, you have to read the manual. Certain carseats use the handle as part of the safety features. They are tested with the handle in the upright position. Others are not and the handle could pose an impaling hazard in an accident. It depends on your specific carseat. READ THE MANUAL, and follow what it says, no matter what anyone else tells you.

  14. Read the manual, read the manual, read the manual. Read it again after you have been using the seat for a while. Read it again when your kid has his birthday. Our Britax Regent has two different ways to strap it in, depending on the child’s weight. When my oldest turned about 6, I realized that she had passed that weight limit without me noticing, and her carseat was now installed improperly.

    Don’t believe everything you hear. I am amazed at some of the things I hear parents, nurses, firemen and even carseat manufacturers saying about carseats. Just a few days ago I heard a mom say that you can’t tighten the straps too much or you will decapitate your baby. ?!?!?! Do not take your carseat to the fire station or police station unless they are being checked by a certified carseat safety technician. Public servants may have good hearts, but they don’t always know what they are talking about. Know your manual, and use it as the highest standard. If the person checking your carseat tells you something that contradicts the manual, pull it out and question the discrepency (then go with the manual, I think).

    Do a visual and yank test every now and then to make sure your carseat is still in good working order and installed tightly. Pull out your carseat and check it every now and then. I read about a mom who unknowningly had a mouse in her van. Her daughter had a potty accident in her carseat, and when the mom pulled it out to wash the upholstery she discovered that the LATCH strap installing the carseat was chewed nearly all the way through by the mouse.

  15. Here is a wonderful forum staffed by certified car seat techs: http://www.car-seat.org/

    You can find so much information – everything from general safety information to comparisons of specific models, from pictures of car seats installed three across in different kinds of cars to harness heights of different seats. The people on there are very friendly and very knowledgeable.

  16. My understanding is that the chest clip’s function is to make sure the straps are in the right position when an accident happens. I have read that they are actually designed to break away once the impact of the accident hits them, because they have already done their job at that point. And yes, there are European carseats that do not use chest clips. I don’t know if the Euros are better at tightening their straps properly, or if it is the fact that most Euro countries rear face for significantly longer than most US parents.

  17. I had the same experience. The chest clip broke on our Radian 65, and when I contacted the manufacturer, they told me the exact same thing, but offered to send me a replacement clip. It was reassuring to know that the seat was still considered safe while waiting for the replacement clip, but I had not heard this anywhere else.

  18. My first son is exactly the same. Too tall to rear face inhiscarseat, but still 26lbs at age 3. My husband, 5’11” & JUST hitting 140lbs, was always taller and skinny.

  19. That is one reason Radian is a highly recommended seat. It has the tallest height limits for rear facing (last I checked). So a child can be rear facing for much longer height AND weight.

  20. The deaths caused by slings were not safe slings- they were padded like old crib bumpers! Baby was laying all the way down inside them in a position which limits oxygenation and sadly, moms weren’t checking frequently for breathing. All in all, a deadly combo. Infants in slings can be chest to chest upright with mom and very safe or sitting more upright like one would cradle a baby in the crook of an arm and safe. Baby should always be up high on mom’s chest, not slung down near her waist or hips.

  21. Check out this great mobile car seat safety app for iPhone, iPad and Android devices from Phoenix Children’s Hospital. It walks parents and caregivers through picking the best car seat for a specific child’s age, height and weight — based on American Academy of Pediatricians recommendations. http://bit.ly/roTH0O

  22. So what should I do with this big carseat that even in the large sedan I drive, in the middle of the roomy backseat, doesn’t have enough space to be RF and still at the proper angle? (Occasionally my son falls asleep and then his head lolls over and/or down, as even “reclined” it is way too vertical.) The manual said to roll a towel under it, but that doesn’t seem to work very well – I haven’t tried it with this one, but with the infant one I had before he got too long for it I tried it but it would always squish the towel/blanket down and make it ineffective.

  23. Good info. Remember also one inch of hard shell above the head is what you need plus under the weight requirement to still rear face. I have a Sunshine Kids Radian 80XTSL for my 6.5 month old who is very long torsoed. Love this seat. We should hopefully make it til 18months. I’d rather longer, just depends on his growth!

  24. Remember that LATCH usually has a child weight limit of 40 lbs (i think up to 48lbs in some vehicles), and many LATCHes are not spaced correctly for the center seat–you’d need to attach it with the seatbelt. Check your vehicle manual, too. Oh, and i just mean the lowers LATCHes, you should always use the top LATCH tether when it’s available/recommended.

    On the infant bucket seats, I love our ring sling, mei tai, and wrap for carrying, but my kids didn’t stay asleep if i transferred them, so i loved being able to bring them inside in the seat to finish their naps. i was told putting something under the front of the seat to make a more laid-back angle, would keep the baby’s oxygen normal (it’s the sit-up angle of the car seat that reduces oxygen level). does that sound correct?

    and, as far as the “only carseat you’ll ever need” seats, also check the expiration date. if the seat expires in six years, you’re not going to be able to use the booster.

    many states do have programs for free/reduced car seats for people who have trouble affording them. worth looking in to if it makes a difference in the safety of your child.

    thanks for this post.

  25. Phoenix Children’s Hospital has a great app called Car Seat Helper for iPhone, iPad and Android. It helps recommend the best car seat type for a specific child

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