Just like buying a new car seat, buying a new vehicle can be very overwhelming. It’s hard to sift through all the information out there and to decide what should be a priority for your family. While shopping many people consider paint colour, fuel mileage, safety ratings, and built-in entertainment and navigation systems, but surprisingly few seem to consider functional seating capacity. If your family does or will include children it’s important to think long term about how the vehicle will accommodate car and booster seats as your children grow. There are a startling number of factors to consider from this perspective.
We have included a photo gallery to illustrate some of the more challenging vehicle design features that may impede a successful car or booster seat install, but first some details. But don’t be alarmed! Chances are you will find something that works with a particular vehicle, but your options might be limited. Consider each feature carefully and decide what matters overall to you. Would you like help narrowing down the options? The knowledgeable folks at car-seat.org (from whom we’ve learned, and continue to learn a great deal), particularly in the Car and Vehicle sub-forum, can probably save you time and aggravation if you post the particulars of your situation.
How many people do you regularly transport? Do you often have family visit and/or transport friends? How old are the people you transport most often?
How long do you expect to own this vehicle? How old will your children be at that time and what type of seats would they be in (rear-facing, forward-facing, booster)? Do you plan on having more children in the future?
Tether anchors: How many forward-facing children do you have or expect to have at one time? If the vehicle is older than 2002, has it been retrofitted with anchors if possible? If not, is the retrofit part still available or easy to find? If it’s a 3-row vehicle be aware that many have only one tether anchor in the 3rd row, and sometimes none at all. With few exceptions vehicles that come factory-equipped with tether anchors can not have additional ones added. Do not use a “universal” unregulated/untested tether anchor or get into “do it yourself” mode when it comes to this critical safety element. Contact a tech for a list of vehicles with more than three factory-equipped tether anchors if you anticipate needing the flexibility that multiple tether anchors offers.
Ford’s new inflatable belt
Seat Belts: The type of seat belt present (lap belt or lap/shoulder belt), their locations, the length of the buckle stalk, whether the buckle is fixed and forward-leaning, whether the buckle sits forward of the bight (seat crease), and how the belt itself locks can all influence how and whether a car seat or booster seat can be installed in that location. Some types of belts are straight out incompatible with car and booster seats, and other new types, such as Ford’s inflatable belts, may not yet be fully tested or approved with some models of car or booster seats.
Headrests: More accurately called ‘head restraints’ they serve an important function in protecting an adult’s head and neck against whiplash-type injuries. They are sometimes required to support a high back booster seat, always required for use with a backless booster seat, and often interfere with the installation of a forward-facing car seat. Whether head restraints are adjustable, removable, or fixed and forward-leaning can very much affect what car or booster seats can be used there.
Safety: When shopping for a new or used vehicle it’s worth the time to investigate any available information on safety ratings, such as those published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. If purchasing an older vehicle investigate whether the seat belts are in good working order, or have ever been replaced (recommended after a vehicle is around 20-25 years old), and that existing safety features are undamaged and accounted for, such as airbags and tether anchors.
Seating Capacity: Many vehicles advertise themselves — or consumers assume — that seven seat belts means the ability to simultaneously transport seven people. While that is possible given the absolute right combination of people it’s not usually as easy as it looks. The same goes for many five-seaters that can’t actually seat five at the same time. The Car Seat Lady made a handy pictorial showing three types of seating configuration to watch for in a back seat. Essentially you want to avoid having seating positions cross over one another, or the middle be too narrow to accept a car or booster seat. Take careful note of any restrictions in three-row vehicles. Sometimes it’s not permitted to install any seat in the 3rd row if it’s especially small or what’s considered ‘stadium seating.’ Get that car dealer to dig out the manual for you to read carefully!
Taking a seat along for a test drive…it’s so CLEAN!
Try before you buy: Already own seats, and you’re convinced you want to continue using them? Take them with you and try them out. Install with UAS and then re-install with seat belt as eventually you’re going to max out the weight limit of the anchors and need to install with the belt. Not fond of your seats? Research before hand what would be suitable for the vehicle you’re considering, whether you’re willing to budget that into your purchase price, and whether they will properly fit your child.
Trucks: Trucks that do not have full-size cabs pose particular challenges due to their shallow back seats, access to tether anchors, and (in)ability to switch off the air bag in the front seat. Extended cab trucks with flip down back seats are especially challenging; due to their depth and non-compressible materials very little will install there, and some manufacturers may prohibit installing a seat there. No car or booster seat may be installed on a sideways facing ‘jump’ seat, nor a rear-facing vehicle seat.
Interior Quirks and Geometry: Every vehicle interior is different but potential barriers to successful seat installation include the following. Illustrated where possible with a typical example. Thank you to all of the people who provided photos for this article.
Forward of the bight seat belts. This particular seat happens to work with this style of belt, but most will do as illustrated in the next set of photos.
Installation appears solid at first…
…but easily shifts like this. Not acceptable of course. Forward-facing installations with a forward-of-the-bight (FOTB) belt are not usually better as they tend to slide forward more than is allowable.
Overlapping lower anchors (UAS). The set in yellow is for the centre seating position; the set in blue is for the outboard seating position. Only one set can be used at a time and you must use the set indicated for each spot, not one from each.
Raised bight.Most vehicles have a crack or a gap at the location marked ‘seat turn/crease’ in this picture. A raised bight means the crack or gap is above that spot, and this can complicate some rear-facing installs. The lower anchors aren’t necessarily always as pictured here – they may be at the lower turn/crease, set into the bight, or recessed elsewhere.
Overlapping seat belts. These two seating positions cannot be used at the same time for anyone or any car seat due to the overlapping anchor points. What appears to be a popular five-passenger vehicle (Toyota Rav-4) is what a fellow tech referred to as a “four passenger vehicle with an extra seat belt for decoration.”
Off-set lower anchors. The position of the lower anchors on this van bench seat takes up two seating positions when in use.
Hard plastic at the seat bight. Many seats won’t install well against copious hard plastic at the seat bight. Most prevalent on SUVs and wagons where there is a 60/40 split. The hinge at the split and on each outer edge usually makes for a hard time with rear-facing seats.
Flip-down centre consoles or arm rests can be problematic for a rear-facing car seat install. If the pivot point of the console is too high compared to the edge of the car seat it won’t be held tightly in place and the risk is that it will impact a child’s face in a crash. A few vehicles have a mechanism to hold the console in place in just this situation, so read your vehicle manual carefully to see if this ‘fix’ applies to you.
Extremely narrow centre seats with closely spaced seat belt anchors. Who or what would fit there? Not much. The spacing there is about 11″.
Fixed, forward-leaning buckle stalks. The angle of the webbing is all wrong for a forward-facing car seat install. Attempts to pull on it to tighten usually result in something like this – jammed, bunched, and not at all tight.
Difficult to access tether anchors, usually in trucks. Acrobatics are sometimes required to balance a seat while routing the tether to awkward and hard to access anchor points.
Shallow back seats in extended cab trucks, or flip-down seats in trucks. Seat depth is often not sufficient to properly support a car seat, and hard plastic means the surface is not compressible. Usually some compression or give in the upholstery is needed to achieve a good installation.
Pronounced side bolsters, most often found in cars, can significantly reduce usable side-to-side space by forcing the car or booster seat to shift toward the centre.
Long buckle stalks. The sneaky thing about long buckle stalks is that they don’t always seem long until you try to install a car seat or use them with a booster seat. Sigh. For a harnessed seat it is permissible to twist the female end up to three full turns, and often this is enough to shorten the whole unit and get the buckle lowered and out of the belt path. Once in a while the buckle stalk is SO long it will go right into the belt path. This is okay so long as the whole thing is in there and not teetering on the edge. It is not permissible to twist a buckle stalk when used with a booster seat.
Fixed forward-leaning head rests (head restraints). Because this head restraint is not adjustable or removable it causes problems with forward-facing car seats and booster seats. The gap it creates between the seat back and booster makes this particular booster incompatible in this seating position.
Phewf, that might be it. Or at least that’s all we have pictures of. Did we miss something that causes you grief in your own vehicle? Tell us about it! So go forth and car shop – but look at the vehicle’s features with real, functional seating capacity in mind, armed with all of these helpful hints!
We appreciate feedback on our articles. Please leave a comment!
This contest is now closed. Thank you to everyone who entered, and congratulations to our lucky winner, Lorna in Ontario!
Enter to win a fabulous Britax Pioneer child/booster seat in a colour of your choice (subject to availability at time of winning), courtesy of a mystery donor who likes to do nice stuff like give away an awesome car seat to a random lucky winner. For real…isn’t that amazing?!
Seat must show as in stock and available for free shipping within Canada from Snugglebugz.ca. Please note this seat is for children who are aged two and up, and who weigh 25lbs at a minimum.
Some of our favourite features on this seat? No-rethread harness and easy front-adjust harness height, easy switch from harness to booster mode, nice tall top harness height (~18.5″), and a cover that can be removed for cleaning without uninstalling the seat. And…it comes in Kiwi!
Laura, Lindsay and Jen have put hours and hours into our Facebook page, website, and YouTube channel, developing resources and answering questions. With eight daughters between us we are busy – but this is our passion. We love it, and we know we are making a difference. So help us reach more people by sharing our resources and earning extra entries in the process!
Please see the Terms and Conditions at the bottom of the Rafflecopter link for the rules and the fine print. a Rafflecopter giveaway
By Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs, on September 28th, 2013
Our giveaway is over – congratulations to the winner, and thank you to all who entered. Stay tuned for more coming soon!
THANK YOU! Help us celebrate our 2nd birthday as Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs with our very first seat giveaway contest! And exciting news to add — our giveaway is co-sponsored by car-seat.org! Knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly since 2001, we have learned much from the community there and are so thrilled with their support.
Thank you to all of the parents and caregivers who have been with us from the beginning, and welcome to those who have just joined us. Thank you to all the amazing techs who have inspired us!
Enter to win a car or booster seat of your choice from Amazon.ca up to a value of $200. Seat must show as in stock and available for free shipping within Canada from Amazon, be from one of our favourites lists (of infant seats, infant/child seats, child/booster seats, or dedicated boosters), and ideally used according to best practice. If you are the lucky winner but your seat of choice exceeds $200 don’t despair – we’ll work something out!
Laura, Lindsay and Jen have put hours and hours into our Facebook page, website, and YouTube channel, developing resources and answering questions. With eight daughters between us we are busy – but this is our passion. We love it, and we know we are making a difference. So help us reach more people by sharing our resources and earning extra entries in the process!
Please see the Terms and Conditions at the bottom of the Rafflecopter link for the rules and the fine print.
Laura, Lindsay & Jen – cold and bedraggled after a long, wet car seat clinic!
We developed this decision making tool (scroll down – the link is at the bottom!) with the help of a wonderful a tech in the BC Interior, after she experienced frustration and anxiety while wondering if her child would be safely seated in someone else’s vehicle for a school field trip. We did some research and discovered there’s a wide range of policies regarding school transportation in BC and beyond, leaving kids potentially unsafe and parent drivers and school boards in a risky position from a liability perspective.
This tool is a yes/no decision-making tree and can be used for field trips where there are parent drivers, carpool situations, or any transportation scenario. It’s quick and to the point, and easy to follow. It focuses primarily on school-aged kids but doesn’t break down how to determine if a child ought to be rear- or forward-facing in a harness — that’s just too much to cover with this one simple tool. Page 2 of the Tree shows examples of good and poor belt fit — thank you to M. Robertson for the artwork.
Please share and reproduce it. Please ask questions if you have a particular transportation scenario that is challenging — maybe we can find a seating solution you haven’t considered. It’s very difficult to cover every possibility in a chart like this but DOES address booster or belt very well, from a best practice perspective.
Hopefully no one was seriously hurt. Document everything, and take photos if possible. Call the police if necessary. If a child needs medical assistance sometimes the first responders will keep them in their car seats for transport – they’ll cut the seat right out of the vehicle as the seat itself acts like a backboard of sorts. And then…
Styrofoam dented from impact with child’s head. Photo Credit: CPST Megan Robertson
Can I keep using my seat after a crash?
The short answer is, probably not. The forces in even a minor crash can compromise the plastic and/or webbing on a seat, even if you can’t see any damage. There is no way to re-certify a seat after a crash, and no one in Canada is trained or certified by any organization to check and approve crashed seats for re-use, despite claims to the contrary that we sometimes see online. Transport Canada’s policy is for seats to be replaced after any crash.
If you are unsure whether your seat is safe for re-use, check the car seat manual or call the manufacturer. The majority of manufacturers say you must replace your seat after any crash, even a minor one, and even if the seat is not occupied. Even unoccupied, the seat has still been subjected to forces along the belt path and (in the event of a forward-facing seat) top tether.
There are a very few seats that may be safe to reuse after a minor crash, as defined by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), which is a US organization. Check your car seat manual to find out if yours is one of them. Your manual, if applicable, will state a list similar to this if the seat does not require replacement after a minor crash.
These seats were not cut or moved after this crash; this is how much the belts stretched.
The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site;
The vehicle door nearest the safety seat was undamaged;
There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants (this includes neck or back pain);
The air bags (if present) did not deploy; AND
There is no visible damage to the safety seat
Since you’re not advised to use the seat again even once how do you get home from a crash scene? If possible have someone bring a seat to you — a new one purchased en route, or maybe a parent friend has a similarly sized child and can deliver you home in their seat. Send one parent via taxi to a store to pick one up, or home to get a spare from your other vehicle or basement. Do what you can as ideally no child will ever ride in that crashed seat again.
One of the most common questions we get when it comes to crashes, is whether a particular crash “counts”. Questions like “I backed into a post in the parking lot” or “I bounced off the snow bank and there’s a tiny dent in the bumper.” Unfortunately, this isn’t a judgment call we as techs can or should make. If there is any doubt as to whether the crash warrants replacing the seats, you should call the car seat manufacturer themselves and talk to them. Note that Transport Canada itself states that child restraints should be replaced after any crash, no matter how minor, and does not follow the US NHTSA guidelines.
If the vehicle damage is being covered by insurance, the car seats may be too. If you’re in BC then ICBC should replace them, but policies on private insurance companies or in other provinces may differ. Some insurance companies are notoriously difficult to deal with when trying to have car seats replaced, even if the policy does cover them. Often being firm, pointing out both the Transport Canada recommendations as well as the recommendations in the car seat manuals, and remaining insistent is all it takes. Remember that even an unoccupied seat needs to be replaced. If you continue to have difficulty with your insurance company please be in touch with us and we’ll see if we have any ideas specific to your situation.
Seats were moved by first responders to access injured passengers in the 3rd row.
Don’t let the company pay you a prorated amount based on the age of the car seat (you still have to pay the full replacement value). Generally they will want a receipt for the old seat and a receipt for the new one, and will give you an amount for the lesser of the two values. Depending on your adjuster, they may insist you purchase the exact same seat. If you don’t have your old receipt, usually sending them a listing of the car seat online will be enough.
If the vehicle is not covered under insurance, it should fall to the person who is at fault to cover the cost of replacing the car seats. In the event of a severe crash, the car seat manufacturer themselves may replace the seat for you in exchange for the crashed one. They often find it useful to examine seats involved in “real world” crashes to aid in the research, development and design of future restraints.
Dismantled seats after a crash. Credit: CPST Megan Robertson
First responder photo
As for what to do with the old seat, you can keep the cover off the seat if you want, for use or for sale for another identical seat, but everything else including the harness should be destroyed or recycled. Sometimes a local car seat technician might like the seat to use for training purposes, and we have exemptions to use seats for this purpose from Health Canada. Some areas have recycling depots that will take old car seats. Otherwise, it will need to be thrown out. Cut the straps and padding, write “Crashed, do not use” on the shell, even take a hammer or a saw to it, and bag it up so it isn’t obvious what it is. Do not under any circumstances sell or pass on a seat that has been in a crash, however minor. This is also one reason it is not recommended to buy a used seat unless you trust the seller with your child’s life, as damage from a crash is not always obvious and you don’t know if the seller has been in a crash and chose not to count it as such.
Very minor injuries occurred in this crash thanks to properly installed seats. Credit: Rachel
If insurance is covering the cost, they will normally want proof that the seat has been destroyed and will not be reused. Often the body shops or mechanic shops fixing the cars are able to do this and will destroy and dispose of the seat for you. Some insurance companies may collect the seats themselves.
Remember also to contact your vehicle manufacturer about whether your seat belts should be replaced (if seats were installed with seat belt), and/or whether the lower anchors or top tether are still safe to use (if seats were installed with UAS).
Harper, aged 2.5, rides rear facing and scowls as her mom fusses with her seat.
VANCOUVER ISLAND – More than 98.8% of car seats are installed or used incorrectly.
At least that’s the statistic observed by Jen Shapka, a technician/instructor with the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada. Shapka co-founded Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs almost two years ago after moving to Vancouver Island with a military spouse.
“I’d recently been certified as a car seat technician in Ontario and saw the immediate difference it could make to a child’s safety,” said Shapka. “When I arrived in the Comox Valley, I hunted around and couldn’t find any organizations making a real difference for kids in vehicles so I found some like-minded women on the Island and Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs was born.”
As the great demand for car seat help grew, traffic picked up quickly on the Facebook page the women started, and the resulting website they developed. Momentum picked up. Jen became an Instructor with the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada (CPSAC) and the Island now boasts 52 trained and certified car seat technicians. Some, like the busy techs who volunteer at free clinics organized up and down Vancouver Island, do it because it’s a passion. Others help parents and families through their work places. Every single one has made a difference reducing the primary accidental cause of death of children in Canada.
Shapka herself has personally checked 437 car seats on Vancouver Island in her two years posted here, and only five of them didn’t require correction of misuse.
“Studies indicate that children traveling in an appropriate, properly used restraint can reduce the likelihood of death by 70% and injury by 67%,” said Shapka. “There’s really no reason not to ensure your kids are riding safely.”
Indeed, Stats Canada says that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 14. In 2010 61 children under the age of 14 were killed in motor vehicle crashes, 501 were seriously injured, and 9342 others suffered minor to moderate injuries.
Shapka is once again preparing to pack up and move her family across the country this summer – her seventh move in 11 years. She’s extremely proud of the fantastic network of technicians she’s helped to train and mentor, including another instructor who will continue to teach and certify new technicians. There is also a loyal following of hundreds, if not thousands of parents who reach out and ask for the help they were previously unable to find before Vancouver Island Car Seat Technicians came to be.
“There is a troubling trend of bad advice out there,” Shapka said. “I’ve personally corrected errors made by technicians with out-dated or incomplete information. We formed Vancouver Island Car Seat Technicians to buck that trend and be a reliable source of information.”
Technicians certified by CPSAC receive a national certification and ongoing re-certification. They remain current on new laws, recalls, and other safety concerns. The Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs also maintain an active communication amongst each other and reach out for assistance from other techs when needed.
What is this top tether we speak of? Why is it so very important for forward-facing kids? And yes, you MUST use it for every forward-facing harnessed seat in Canada, no exceptions.
The top tether is a strap at the top/head area of harnessed seats in the forward-facing orientation. A small handful of seats can be tethered rear-facing, and we discuss that in detail here.
If you have a forward-facing harnessed child please read this article – correctly attaching your top tether strap is one of the very best things you can do to protect your child from head and neck injuries.
All harnessed seats that can be installed forward facing come with a top tether strap, and have for quite some time. If your seat does not have a tether strap it’s either way expired, or has been modified and had the tether removed. If the latter is the case please follow up with the seat manufacturer for advice.
What’s the point of the tether? Simply put it prevents your child’s head from slamming into whatever is in front of it. Officially it’s to meet head excursion requirements. The Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards — the ‘Standards’ from Transport Canada — state that the forward head movement cannot exceed 28.4″ (720mm), measured from a point on the test bench that is behind the child’s head (the truly curious can scroll down to figure 6 for a schematic of the test bench).
This video demonstrates the difference in head movement between a tethered seat (in the foreground) and an untethered seat (in the background). The seats were otherwise correctly installed and the dummies correctly harnessed. Without that top tether holding the top of the car seat back the whole restraint pivots at the belt path and flings the dummy forward. Massive head injuries can result.
So hopefully now you’re sold on the extreme importance of properly tethering a seat. Remember that in a real vehicle it isn’t vast empty space in front of the child — there’s a vehicle seat, maybe even including an after-market DVD player — and that is what your child’s head and face will contact in a crash. And now on to the ‘how to’ part of this article.
First off – this is a tether anchor hook. It is the exact same type of hook on every single non-expired forward-facing car seat in Canada. The thin bit of metal is flexible and the thicker bit is sturdy metal that is rigorously tested to withstand the crash forces put on it in a collision. It’s connected to webbing that is also tested, just like seat belt webbing and the webbing on the harness, to hold up and perform as designed.
There will be an adjuster mechanism of some sort on the tether strap, that fixes and locks the length of the tether strap. It might look like one of these two common styles, or resemble something else, but its function is to keep the tether at a certain length while the car seat is installed.
Where the tether strap attaches to the car seat shell may vary as well. Some seats have a single strap with a single attachment point; others have various V-shaped designs. It’s important to make sure the tether strap is not twisted along its length.
So now that we’ve got that covered…where do we hook the tether to?
Do you drive a car model year 2000 or newer, or a van, light truck, or SUV model year 2001 or newer? Good news – you already have at least three tether anchor points factory installed in your vehicle. You might have more. The odd vehicle allows you to add more than you got off of the assembly line but they’re the exception. Generally speaking, after those dates, what it came with is what you get. That also means you can only install a forward facing car seat in a seating position with a tether anchor, so if you want the flexibility to put a forward-facing child anywhere you want to, it’s a feature to pay special attention to when shopping for a vehicle with three rows. Tether anchors are often scarce in the 3rd row.
Unless the vehicle manufacturer specifically says so, you can’t use the tether anchor from the adjacent seating position, you can’t use one tether anchor for two tether hooks, and you can’t use cargo hooks instead of tether anchors.
You definitely can’t attach your tether anchors to random places in the back of your vehicle and call it good. For real. Take home message here? You absolutely must read your vehicle manual to know where the tether anchors are and what they look like, and use the designated anchor for the seating position you’re installing in.
Where ARE these mysterious tether anchors?
On newer vehicles they may be marked with this symbol – those ones are easy!
They take a variety of other forms as well, and some are pictured here:
Routing loops and tether anchors on the back wall of a truck.
The location varies widely as well, and may not be the same for every seating position in one vehicle. Consult your vehicle manual, and look under captain’s chairs, on the floor, on the seat back, on the rear sill of a sedan, on the back sill of the 3rd row of a van/SUV, and on the ceiling. Often hatchbacks will have the centre anchor on the ceiling with the two outer anchors on the seat back or floor. Don’t guess – if in doubt ask the vehicle manufacturer!
Sometimes the location and look of tether anchors can be confusing. This photo gallery has a number of oddities, and tips for connecting the hook. If you’re having trouble see if your vehicle is on the list.
Remember that part about reading your vehicle manual? A handful of vehicles (mostly some Fords and some Mazdas) specifically instruct you to give your tether strap a half-twist and connect the hook in what is considered ‘upside down.’ Ordinarily we connect the hook with the strong thick part on the top and the thin flexible part facing the floor, with a flat strap with no twists. If your vehicle manual directs you to do otherwise, do what they say. They’re the ones who have tested that anchor point and know how it will hold in a crash.
Retrofitting an older vehicle:
Now how about those of you with older vehicles? Good news for you too, but a bit more work and research required. As of model year 1989 it became mandatory for vehicle manufacturers to provide pre-drilled holes which could accommodate a tether bolt, and with a few exceptions most vehicles can be retrofitted. You will need to inquire with the parts department of your vehicle manufacturer to find out where those points are, how many you can get, how much the part costs, and how much to install it. Some dealers will still do one for free but most won’t anymore. Sometimes you can order the parts and install it yourself with a torque wrench (the bolt needs to be tightened a specific amount). Unfortunately we are hearing more and more stories about the parts no longer being available, or an exorbitant amount to install it, putting parents in a very tough position about how to safely transport their children. Please don’t buy the $7 aftermarket part available at some auto stores. It’s not crash tested to withstand the extreme forces on it in a collision, and even if it appears to fit the threading and bolt size may not be compatible. Be in touch with us via our Facebook page and we’ll see what we can do to problem solve for you. We do have some reference material that could point you in the right direction.
When do you connect the tether? You can route the tether strap any time, but you generally don’t tighten it until the very end of your installation. Alternately you can flip the tether strap over into the seating area of the car seat so you don’t lose it behind the seat while installing (because we’ve never done that…). Pay attention in your vehicle manual to how you route relative to the head rest. Some go under, some go over. Some allow you or require you to remove the head rest altogether, and some insist it stays on. Good old vehicle manual…good thing you’ve read it!
Sometimes tether anchors are located in such a spot that it requires acrobatics and creativity to install the seat. This is a 2000 Chevy Avalanche. To access the anchor you have to flip the seat bottom forward, and tilt the vehicle seat back…and then dangle the car seat in the air while routing the strap down and behind, put the seat back and seat bottom into place, and then install. If you’re putting two forward-facing seats side by side on that part of the bench then two have to dangle in the air at once. I very much wish that vehicle manufacturers were on the same page as car seat manufacturers to make it easier for parents to install properly.
This video walks you through a forward-facing installation with the seat belt, ending with the top tether connection. If you’re a visual learner take a peek! Installing with UAS? Watch this one instead.
What if your seat is installed rear-facing – then what do you do with the tether? In a crash it could become a wicked projectile so you don’t want it flopping around freely. There is usually a spot to clip or stow the tether – once again, that trusty manual will come in handy.
Non-use and misuse of the top tether anchor is one of the most frequent things we correct at seat checks. Please take the time to double check your tethering set up, and if in doubt, ask us for help. You can meet with a tech privately, or post a question on our Facebook page.
And that concludes your crash course in top tethering. We always appreciate comments and feedback.
Rear-facing: why do it and how to make it work is one of our most-read articles, and full of lots of fabulous information and resources. It is rather long, however, so we’ve decided to save some of the extra stuff for this piece! All the extra stuff you didn’t know you wanted to know about rear-facing, questions that often come up, and more detailed technical information for those of you keen on the why of it all! Hmmm, if you ARE keen on knowing why and how and everything else maybe you should become a car seat technician…
In the meantime, read on! Many thanks to those who provided pictures for this article.
What’s the point of a rear-facing seat if you’re rear-ended?
Strictly from a physics perspective a passenger IS safer forward-facing while being rear-ended — everything moves toward the point of impact (the back) and then rebounds forward (the opposite of what happens in a frontal crash). A rear-facing child has nothing supporting the head as it moves toward the back of the vehicle.
In reality if someone rear-ends you, then THEY are having a frontal crash. Frequently they then plow you into whatever’s in front of you causing a frontal crash for YOU. Fatal rear end collisions are statistically far less frequent and at much lower speeds than frontal collisions.
Since we can’t predict what type of crash we will have in advance, we need to play the odds both for frequency and severity. Frontal, frontal-offset, and side impacts are combined the most frequent and most deadly, and rear-facing provides vastly superior protection in all of those types of crashes.
What if the only way to rear face your child(ren) is if they’re in the third row? Many three-row vehicles have one tether anchor there (required for forward facing), and sometimes none at all. It’s up to the manufacturer of the vehicle where those anchors are installed so long as there are three total. Often the placement is inconvenient and parents are faced with putting rear-facing children in the 3rd row to leave the 2nd row available for forward facers. But…how do you get them IN there? And how do you buckle? If kids are old enough they can scamper in themselves by climbing on adjacent seats. If they’re smaller they can also be loaded and buckled through the back hatch.
These three kids (ages 4, 11 months, and 2.5) are rear-facing in a Chevy Avalanche. The middle child is loaded first over the low sides of the car seats, and the older two can climb in themselves. Easy peasy!
What’s the point of rear-facing tethering? Does my seat allow it? How do I do it?
Aussie style rear-facing tethering in a Britax infant/child seat.
Rear-facing tether is never required, and may or may not benefit the child depending on the specifics of the collision.
There are two types of rear-facing tethering: Australian (over the top to the designated forward-facing tether anchor) and Swedish (to the front vehicle seat track, using a D-ring strap provided by the child seat manufacturer). Australian tethering is to reduce downward rotation during the collision event, while Swedish tethering is designed to minimize rebound after the initial collision and to minimize side movement in a side impact crash. However, neither of these are exactly the same as on Aussie and Swedish child restraints. Aussie seats also have an anti-rebound bar, while the attachment points and installation on Swedish models are quite different.
Swedish style rear facing tethering to the seat track of the driver’s seat.
In Canada, rear-facing tethering is only allowed on Sunshine Kids/Diono and Britax infant/child seats. Britax allows both Aussie and Swedish style, and Sunshine Kids/Diono allows only Swedish style. Risks of rear-facing tethering in the Swedish style include increased neck loads for young infants, and the potential issue of creating your own anchor point in the vehicle without the vehicle manufacturer’s permission/approval. Before doing so you MUST determine if your vehicle manufacturer permits the creation of an anchor point with the child restraint-supplied D-ring. Diono and Britax have many rules about what types of anchors points are and are not permitted to wrap a D-ring around. Do your research carefully.
Britax Boulevard rear facing tethered to the designated forward facing anchor point in the row ahead.
If your vehicle is new enough to have advanced airbags, the tether strap pulling up on the seat track may affect the air bag sensors, decreasing protection for the front passenger if the air bag doesn’t deploy properly.
Benefits of rear-facing tethering Swedish style include increased lateral stability in a side impact collision, and a reduction of rebound after the initial collision, both of which may have a protective effect on the seat’s occupant. For an older, heavier child, this would be more important.
Rear-facing tethering Aussie style has less risk because you use a designated anchor point, however it is really hard to get the child in and out of the restraint with the tether strap, and it is unclear how reducing downward rotation can help when there is no rebound management in the form of an anti-rebound bar (such as that found on the First Years/Lamaze True Fit, Peg Perego Convertible, or the Clek Foonf — see below for details about anti-rebound bars).
Whether rear-facing tethering is appropriate for your child, your vehicle, and your comfort level should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
New crash test standards that came into effect in Canada on January 1st, 2012 included a new component commonly called the ‘Anti-Rebound Standard.’ In essence it limits how far a child’s head can travel back toward the rear of the vehicle after the initial frontal impact.
All seats currently for sale pass this standard in some way, mostly due to either the shape of the seat itself, or the handle in the up position (a sort of ‘roll bar’ if you will) on infant seats. A few seats have more obvious structural components to limit rebound, and they are called anti-rebound bars. They are used only in the rear-facing orientation, and are available at the time of writing on the Clek Foonf, First Years True Fit, Peg Perego Convertible, and Britax Chaperone.
Side Impact Protection and Rear Facing – What’s the Connection?
Transport Canada does not have standards for side impact protection. Many manufacturers claim side impact protection of one type or another — EPS foam, EPP foam, head wings, air bags — and our feeling is that it likely is beneficial to some degree. A deeper shell or head wings also likely provide some protection from intrusion injuries as a physical barrier between foreign objects and the child’s head. Manufacturers generally do not release their side-impact crash tests though, so who knows if the way they did their testing would be typical of a real crash. Because there is no standard we’re comparing apples to oranges when looking at the different options between manufacturers.
Rear facing itself offers tremendous side impact protection. It is a very rare (almost never) crash where you are not moving at all and someone hits you directly side-on. Most side-impact crashes have some forward movement, causing the head of a forward-facing child to move out past the shell of the seat. The statistic that rear-facing is 532% safer comes largely from side impact crashes. They are the most deadly type of crash as there is less protection in the vehicle from the side versus the front. A rear-facing child in a side-impact crash (with some degree of forward motion) is pressed into and contained by the shell of the seat at the same time that the head, neck, and spine are cushioned and supported by the shell of the seat. Rear-facing in ANY seat is safer than forward facing in the most embellished of seats with potential side-impact protection.
That’s all folks. Unless we missed something. Is there an element of rear facing that you’d like us to expand upon?
So what’s the take home message? Rear face as long as you can. Really – the longer the better, to the limits of the seat. Aim for age two at a minimum and then go from there. Plenty of seats are available that will do that for even the tallest of kids. More money doesn’t mean safer, but it might mean some convenience features that make it easier for you to rear face as long as possible, so shop carefully for a seat that fits your child, your budget, your car, and that you can use properly every single time. THAT’S the best one for you!
We appreciate feedback – please leave a comment below.
What should you — a parent, caregiver, grandparent, daycare provider, or anyone at all who transports children — expect from a Children’s Restraint Systems Technician (CRST) certified with the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada (CPSAC)?
The car seat installation experience is an interactive one. As the caregiver, you should leave confident that your child’s seat is installed correctly AND that you are comfortable reinstalling and using it correctly. To ensure that you have the best experience you should prepare for an education.
Some technicians work strictly as volunteers, often at a cost to themselves. Some will accept tips or donations to an ongoing ‘seat check fund’ to purchase things such as pool noodles and photocopies. Others will set a flat rate for a check, or charge on a sliding scale depending on need. Some do private checks for a fee but volunteer at public check events like a clinic. Please make arrangements with a technician about any potential cost prior to meeting.
If you are pregnant, schedule an appointment 1 to 2 months prior to your due date. Many CPSAC Technicians work as volunteers and have their own families and jobs to work around, and some moms deliver early.
Using the car seat manual, install the seat into your vehicle prior to your appointment. If you do not have a manual, contact the manufacturer of your seat prior to your appointment to obtain one.
Look up “Child Safety Seats” or “Child Restraints” in your vehicle owner’s manual. You will learn how a child’s car seat should be installed in YOUR car. The car seat manual may not reference the requirements specific to your vehicle. If you do not have a vehicle owner’s manual, contact the manufacturer of your vehicle prior to your appointment to obtain one.
Bring the car seat manual AND the vehicle owner’s manual with you to your appointment.
Know your child’s weight and height. Bring your child with you. If possible, also bring another adult to help watch the child while you are learning. It’s hard to absorb the information and fully participate in a seat check if you’re also chasing kids.
Be prepared to learn, not just watch the CPSAC Technician install the car seat. They’re trained to teach you, not install it for you.
Clean excess ‘stuff’ out of your car. The Technician (and then you) will probably need to be in your vehicle.
This one-on-one education typically takes 30-45 minutes, depending on the car seat(s) and the vehicle. The CPSAC Technician should take all the time necessary to ensure that you feel competent and confident in re-installing the car seat into the vehicle and re-buckling your child into the car seat on your own.
If you have arranged a private check with a CPSAC Technician the location, time, and cost (if any) will be prearranged. If you are attending a seat check event (car seat clinic) that is the culminating event for a car seat training course be aware that the technicians will be new and still learning. Be understanding of their learning process, and know that they are being supervised by both experienced technicians and their Instructor.
Card your tech! Ask to see proof of his or her current certification. If the technician is not a certified CPSAC tech ask what their qualifications, certification, and experience are, and ensure they are both knowledgeable and up to date.
During the seat check, a competent CPSAC Technician will:
Fill out a checklist form (including car seat type, location in vehicle, misuse observations, if any, etc.). The Technician will uninstall the seat, even if it appears to be perfectly installed when you arrive.
Review the car seat manual and the vehicle owner’s manual with the caregiver and ensure that both are being followed correctly.
Ensure that an appropriate seating position in the vehicle is being used, especially when using UAS.
Check the car seat for recalls, visible damage and an expiration date.
If you are not the original owner of the seat, the Technician will discuss the risks of a used seat.
Have you install the car seat(s) correctly using either the seat belt or UAS. You are encouraged to ask to learn how to install the seat with either system or in different seating positions.
Discuss the next steps for each child, such as when to move to the next type of car seat.
Discuss the benefits of everyone riding properly restrained, including all adults and pets.
Discuss safety in and around the vehicle.
Discuss and demonstrate proper fit of your child in the seat.
Discuss your provincial laws and best practice recommendations for occupant safety.
After the seat check, ensure you can say yes to ALL of these questions:
Did you perform the final installation?
Do you feel confident about installing and using the car seat correctly?
Were your questions answered? If not, were you given direction as to whom you should contact or will the CPSAC Technician follow up with you?
Would you like to meet with a technician near you? If you’re on Vancouver Island look here for someone to help you. If you’re elsewhere chances are we know of a technician near you. Please visit us on our Facebook page to ask for a referral, or comment below.
A question we are asked frequently, and a good one! All manufacturers of car and booster seats in Canada set an expiry date on their seats. The length of useful life varies and is most often a set amount of time from the date of manufacture. The date of manufacture is found on a sticker somewhere on the seat, but sometimes not visible unless the seat is uninstalled. Every manufacturer sets their own expiration dates, but may not list it with the date of manufacture. It may be on a separate sticker on the seat, in raised lettering in the plastic somewhere on the underside, or written in the manual.
Seats expire for a number of reasons. A specific reason (such as an unknown history) may not apply to you, but cumulatively the reasons are compelling to replace a seat after it expires. Per a March 2011 statement from Transport Canada:
Manufacturers give an expiry or useful life date because over time:
frequent use and exposure to sunlight can damage and weaken plastic (think of plastic sand toys or patio furniture after a few years of use);
safe-use labels on the products fade, fall off, or become hard to read;
instruction manuals may have been lost;
food, cleaners, drinks and other materials that have been spilled or used on webbing, buckles, adjusters and other parts may prevent them from working safely;
the history or condition of the car seat or booster seat becomes hard to check (was it in a crash, was it stored in a place or in a way that caused damage to parts, etc.? We discourage the use of used seats – here’s why);
second or subsequent owners may not get product safety recall notices if problems arise; and
beyond the expiry date the manufacturer is no longer monitoring the integrity of the seat.
Once a seat has expired please destroy it. Do not give it to a friend or relative to use, don’t donate it to charity, and don’t keep it “as a back-up.” Remove the cover (which CAN be saved for use on another identical seat), cut the harness, and write “expired – do not use” in marker. If possible take it to a recycling facility near you (they’re few and far between unfortunately), or bag it up and put it out with your garbage, or take it to the dump. Make it unusable for anyone else so they don’t unknowingly compromise the safety of their child by using an expired seat.
Not sure how long your seat is good for? Start here, and then CONFIRM WITH THE MANUFACTURER! This list may not be comprehensive, nor apply to every single seat on the market at the time of writing. We’ve done our best to ensure its accuracy but the manufacturer always has the final say.
Note: I = infant, C = child, B = booster
Click below on the Manufacturer name bolded in green for a link to the customer service page for that brand. Please comment below if there are any dead links.
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This website is not intended to replace a car seat or vehicle manual.
The information presented here is up-to-date to the best of our knowledge as of the time it was published, but is subject to change at any time.