We are frequently asked about the angles at which a rear-facing seat may be installed. We tend to recommend seats more often that permit a range of angles, and how a particular seat fits in any given vehicle depends very much on that range. Except it isn’t always a number….confused yet? Using as little math as possible we hope this article will better explain why install angles matter to your child’s comfort and safety, and can gain or lose you front seat leg room in the process. Read on!
We are guilty ourselves of using the numbers 30* and 45* when that isn’t always accurate or useful, particularly when seats are shaped so differently, vehicle seat geometry and upholstery cushioning can affect things, the measurement location isn’t always mentioned, and considering the installation technique of the installer. Where did those numbers come from?
45* is approximately how much a newborn needs to recline (lay back) in order to protect the airway, when measured from vertical. A giant head plus a weak and floppy little neck can easily mean a compromised airway if a newborn is too upright in his or her seat. Imagine folding a straw in half: that’s about what’s going on when a newborn’s head flops and can not be picked back up. It is very important to maintain the most reclined angle permitted in whatever seat the newborn is in. That being said please do not immediately bust out a measuring device like an angle app (although we use one in this post to explain some things later), a protractor, or anything else. Your seat came with the best measuring device of all – the built-in angle indicator right on your seat! If a newborn’s head still flops forward when the seat is at the most reclined angle consider removing any head padding/insert (if permitted), or perhaps that the seat is not a good fit for the shape of the child. In that instance we would recommend a different seat, or if that is not possible, to have an adult sit in the back with the newborn to monitor head position, and limit travel until the baby has the needed head control to tolerate the position.
Manufacturers are free to put any single or range of angles on their seat, provided the seat passes testing within that range. Some manufacturers specify a very particular range based on weight of the child, some allow an open range based on preference of the child/parent, and some specify a single recline angle. The critical limit that can not be exceeded during testing is that the seat must not recline past 70* (measured from vertical) during the crash sequence. Therefore, a manufacturer will determine for their own seat what is the maximum recline angle for installation, and if the seat must start more upright for heavier kids in order to remain within that limit (as heavier kids would rotate more in a crash than lighter kids). Exceeding that limit risks greater chance of injury to the child as the seat over-rotates and begins to perform not as intended. The flip side is installing a seat more upright than is allowed, which runs the risk of the seat rebounding more than was intended, and again risks greater chance of injury to the child.
Here are a few types of angle indicators as seen on various seats: lines on a sticker, lines embossed on the plastic, gravity dials, bubble levels, rolling balls, or none at all. Do you recognize any?
Manufacturers are not required to have angle indicators on their seats, but if one is present (and most seats do have them) then they must be followed. Engineers don’t sit around designing parts on car seats just for fun, so if there’s a very deliberate instruction for how to recline a seat…respect the design process and follow the indicator for maximum safety!
In addition to a manual reclining mechanism via a flip foot or lever, SOME seats permit the use of a single pool noodle (firm foam cylinder), a trio of noodles (3 maximum), or a tightly rolled towel at the seat bight to prop up the front edge of the car seat and make it more reclined. Whether you need this or not will depend on your car seat, your installation technique, the squish and textile of your upholstery (leather tends to require a noodle more than fabric does), the age/weight of your child, and how sloped your vehicle seats are to begin with. How do you know if you need one at all, or if one is permitted? Read your manual of course! This is just one example and does not apply to every seat. If noodles or towels are permitted your manual will say so.
But how, you ask? Do you struggle to achieve the correct recline angle? Perhaps the following will help. If the angle indicator on your seat relies on gravity to work make sure you are parked on flat ground.
Left to right, top to bottom: Front edge of car seat wedged against squishy upholstery – no prop required to achieve desired recline; single piece of small diameter red pool noodle props up front edge of car seat; single piece of large diameter blue pool noodle props up front edge of car seat; tightly rolled small towel props up front edge of car seat; tightly rolled large towel props up front edge of car seat; three small yellow noodles taped together to form a stable trio props up front edge of car seat.
In addition to using noodles or towels you can also vary the final angle by where you compress when installing.
To make a seat more upright compress at the child’s foot area. To make it more reclined compress at the bum area.
Let’s back up a minute: WHY do we tend to prefer seats that allow a range of allowable angles? Seats that permit a more upright installation with older children who can tolerate it (i.e. have the appropriate head and neck control) tend to take up less space front-to-back than those requiring a single line level to ground installation.
For example here is a Graco MyRide, one of our favourite go-to infant/child seats for smaller vehicles. Fully reclined for a newborn there isn’t much clearance between it and the front seat slid all the way back.
Install it as upright as permitted, however, and inches are gained. In a small car this can mean the difference between front passenger comfort and eating the dash.
Changing the install angle according to the indicator of course changes the angle at which a child will be positioned in the seat. Remember how we said earlier we don’t really use measuring tools? You don’t need to – it is completely irrelevant what any measured angle is on a seat if you are following your seat’s angle indicator. However, for illustration purposes here’s what we got, the caveat being again that it DOES NOT MATTER what the level app says, and it can be varied several degrees quite easily depending on how or where the level was compressed.
Infant seats often, but not always, have a built-in mechanism for adjusting the recline angle, in the form of a recline foot. Your manual will have instructions for how to extend or retract it as needed. If you need more recline than can be achieved using only the built-in recline foot you must consult your manual to determine if you may add a noodle or towel in addition to the recline foot, or if you must tuck the foot away and use only towels or noodles. Sometimes the angle indicator on an infant seat is on the carrier, and other times on the base. Remember for newborns: recline as MUCH AS POSSIBLE while remaining within the allowable range. It is often a case of trial and error to get it just right. Remember to park on flat ground if your particular indicator relies on gravity; lines level to ground could be done anywhere so long as the line remains parallel to the ground.
And now, a close up look at the props used in this post: various types of pool noodles, and tightly rolled and taped towels.
Don’t tape the towel until you’ve figured out how big you need it to be. Sometimes you need a thin towel…sometimes a thicker one. Vary how you fold it. Double them up. Make sure they’re narrow enough to not interfere with the lower anchors or buckling of the seat belt, as appropriate (about 10″ wide is usually perfect).
How to fold (old, stained, ratty rag!) towels 101: fold in half, then in half or thirds, tightly roll, and tape. Voila!
Do you prefer to see these tips in action? A short video demonstrating the various techniques discussed above.
By Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs, on January 31st, 2014
This contest is now closed. Thanks to all who entered! Winner(s) to be announced soon.
It’s Story Time at Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs…and we’re feeling generous
Thanks to many of you doing your online shopping via Amazon.ca, shop.ca, and via ebates.ca we have amassed a small nest egg with which to buy you…something. What better way to brighten up this long and frosty winter than with a story!
Submit via a paragraph, a photo, or a video. Tell us a car seat related story about something you need, something you want, some problem we’ve helped you solve, something that’s just fun and car-seat related, something inspiring you learned from us or another tech, nominate a friend who could use a little help to keep his or her kids safe in the car and what you’d pick for them. Tell us anything you’d like to share! Please keep in mind your photo, video, or paragraph could be shared with our readers (whether they win or not), so keep personal privacy in mind, and ensure you have the right to share a photo or video of any children pictured. Please include a line with any video or picture of children shared that you are the legal guardian/parent of the child and/or have permission from the legal guardian/parent, and that you give Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs permission to share the picture or video. (If you are not the legal guardian/parent and ultimately win, we will need permission directly from the parent as well.)
We’ll whittle the entries down to our top favourites and then let our readers narrow it down further. The final winner is up to us though! But bonus – a random winner will also get to choose one of several smaller prizes, to be determined based on need and location.
The ultimate first prize winner will get to choose a seat or seats as needed, from a retailer of our choice and eligible for free shipping, to a maximum value of our choosing. The seat must be a good fit for the child and vehicle at the time of the contest close following best practice guidelines. (ie. We won’t be buying a forward-facing seat for a one year old or a booster for a three year old!) We may, at our discretion, choose one or more honorary mentions to win further prizes or our choosing.
To enter your story:
Post a photo or video to a file sharing site like flickr, photobucket, youtube, etc. Provide the URL of the photo or video in the Rafflecopter box below where it asks for it.
Or,email it to us. Please don’t email videos, but please do email photos, your story, or email a link to where the photo/video is hosted. Include your email in the Rafflecopter box below so we know where to look for it.
One entry per household please.
The random winner will be chosen via the Rafflecopter below. One entry for submitting an entry for the first place prize, plus additional entries for liking our page, sharing content, tweeting about us, etc. Please note, you will receive 10 bonus entries if you refer a currently-certified CPSAC tech to our find-a-tech map on the Canadian Car Seat Network page. It must be a tech that is not currently listed. The tech must fill out the form located above the map, and then you can enter their name in the appropriate place below.
Open to residents of Canada 19 and over except where prohibited by law, and excludes the three admins of VI Car Seat Techs and their immediate household family members, and anyone who has won a prize from us in the past six months. Only one entry per household please.
Traveling with little ones can be stressful but with a little planning can go without major interruptions. Living so far from my family is tough. The deal with my husband when we moved to Vancouver Island just over three years ago was that I could go home to see them in Ontario at least once a year. When Thea was born in August I knew I would want to take her home to see my parents, siblings and extended family. Being a child passenger safety advocate means I want my children protected on the airplane as well as in the car. I waited patiently for a seat sale and bought us both seats. Eight years ago I had traveled with my oldest daughter as a lap baby and not only was it frustrating but it didn’t seem right that I sat in my seat with a lap belt holding me in while baby was just free in my arms. I’ve flown enough to know that turbulence and rough landings can sometimes happen, and have since learned about the risks of flying with a lap baby.
My decision to bring Thea’s infant seat on board was an easy one. I have a large stroller I can pop my seat into but decided, per Air Canada’s preference for umbrella strollers, to just attach my infant seat to my lightweight travel stroller. I used a long bungee cord and it fit snugly and perfectly. I mostly baby-wear so I toted my carry-on in the stroller set up and put baby into the carrier. I also printed out a copy of Air Canada’s car seat policy and made sure I chose a window seat for the car seat (see WestJet’s policy here). You must not block the exit of passengers in an emergency so a window seat is required in this case.
We had two flights to make to get from Victoria to Toronto and the first was a small Dash 8 aircraft. On all flights I was able to pre-board. The infant seat buckled in securely and I had to move it quite close to the window as the belt was very short. It only took a minute to get the seat ready to go. Thea doesn’t particularly like being in her infant seat but she did really well and seemed to like the noisy engine of the Dash 8. The flight attendant was helpful and offered to buckle the seat but I didn’t require her assistance. The next flight from Vancouver to Toronto was uneventful too. It was a 3-and-3 seat configuration. The infant seat was next to the window and I was in the middle seat. The seat belt stitching was a little thick and I had to tilt the seat to get it in the infant seat’s belt guides. I kept her in for take off and landing with a few walks about for nap time and diaper changes. I was super happy to have her seat as the flight was pretty turbulent and holding her would have been a challenge. It also afforded me some down time to watch a movie and eat when she slept. But really, safety was my first concern. I am not willing to check her seat and risk it being damaged or lost.
We used the seat baseless in my parents vehicle and it installed easily. After a quick six day visit we were on our way back to Vancouver Island. The flights back were also uneventful, and the flight staff easygoing and helpful. I do not think I would have managed quite so easily if I had not purchased Thea her own seat.
We advocate for bringing restraints on board the air craft to best protect traveling children, other people on the plane (an unrestrained child could become a projectile), and the integrity and history of the restraint itself, as does Transport Canada, the US’s NTSB, and other child passenger safety advocates. There are various options for how to fly with kids – read more here.
Do you travel with more than one child? Are your kids in infant/child seats, or child/booster seats, or just boosters? Some photos below to give you ideas of how to make it work even if you’re traveling as the only adult.
Some high back boosters will disassemble so the high back portion can be packed, well-padded, in a suitcase and checked; inspect it carefully for damage upon arrival. A child old enough to be in a booster can very probably manage to carry their backless booster in a tote bag and stow it in the overhead bin on the plane. A booster can not be used on the aircraft as it requires a lap/shoulder belt, which of course a plane does not have.
Traveling solo? It can be done. Car seat attached to rolling cart for smaller child, larger child (if large enough!) can sit directly on the plane seat with the belt. Rolling suit case, comfortable baby carrier…voila! Car seat for older child was waiting at the destination.
Two kids in seats? Nest them like this.
Or nest them like this!
So long as your luggage cart can handle the weight you can turn your car seat+cart combo into a stroller. Kids usually think this is a pretty spectacular way to ride.
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.
Do you live somewhere cold or rainy? If you’re in Canada, the answer to that is yes, at least for part of the year! You’ve maybe heard that winter coats and infant bunting bags shouldn’t be worn in car seats — maybe you’ve even read it in your car seat manual (you read your manual right?). Maybe you wonder how dangerous it really is, and how much of a difference it could possibly make to your child’s safety. Hopefully this article will explain it – with pictures! – and give you some good ideas for how to keep your kids warm AND safe in the car.
My semi-cooperative children are my models for these pictures. I had to bribe them, but it’s all in the name of education, and they decided afterwards they wanted to play North Pole in their snow suits anyway, so it all worked out. On Vancouver Island it’s quite mild most of the winter and these winter coats only come out if we’re going up the mountain. The rest of the year they rarely wear more than a fleece or a raincoat. We have lived elsewhere in Canada where it is quite frosty with a significant wind chill and they wear the same thing there.
1. Dress kids in regular clothing plus a winter coat (purple – MEC Toaster Parka), and a winter snowsuit (green – MEC Toaster Suit). Agree that fancy pink mask is a great accessory for such an outfit.
2. Buckle kids in their seats as normal: harness coming from at or above the shoulders for forward-facing kid (in the purple coat, age 5, 43lbs), and at or below the shoulders for rear facing kids (in the green snow suit, age 2.5, 33lbs). Pull all slack from harness around hips, and tighten so that I could not pinch any excess harness at the collarbone area (the pinch test).
3. Unbuckle, but don’t loosen harness. Take snow suit and parka off (but only for a minute because now they want to play North Pole!). Put fuchsia fleece jackets on instead (MEC Yeti jackets – great weight and fit for in the car seat; Old Navy fleece is also great, as are any others that are warm but thin), which is what they usually wear. Re-buckle, but don’t tighten harness. See how loose the harness is (green snow suited child on the left; purple parka-ed child on the right):
Maybe that doesn’t look too bad to you – maybe not much looser than normal? Well it’s loose enough to do this, with little effort:
In a crash the chest clip will break or slide down, at the same time that the crash forces cause the harness to compress the bulky snow suit much more than you ever could while tightening. The combination of these two things means that suddenly a large gap exists for the shoulders and arms to come free of the harness…and depending on the crash dynamics very possibly the rest of the body too. Partial ejection or ejection causes severe injuries and is something we want to avoid at all times.
So how to keep warm and safe in colder areas? Don’t wear more than normal clothes plus a thin fleece layer. Warm up your vehicle if you want to. Have the kids wear the coat to the car, jump in, take it off, buckle up, cover back up with the coat on backwards or on like a blanket. Or just use a blanket. That plus hat and mitts works well, and they can peel off layers as they warm up. Parents sometimes worry about breaking down or being in a crash and their child suffering hypothermia if they’re not wearing a coat. Definitely have layers with you, just not between the child and the harness. If your child is wearing a coat and is ejected because of it you have far more things to worry about injury-wise than hypothermia. Other ideas include making or buying a car seat poncho (I have no affiliation with any of these companies), or there’s a new car seat safe coat called the Cozywoggle that is now available.
There are some thin but warm coats out there that might be okay under the harness. To know for sure do this same test. Buckle up and tighten properly in regular clothes plus a thin fleece. Unbuckle but don’t adjust the harness. Put the test coat on, and if you can re-buckle without loosening then it’s just fine to use.
Booster riders and those in adult seat belts (including you!) can also improve their safety in the car by unzipping a coat to ensure the shoulder belt makes contact with the chest, and pulling a coat up off the lap to make sure the lap belt is sitting snugly against the upper thighs. This simple step which takes only a few seconds means less slack in the belt during a crash, and therefore fewer injuries.
What about infants and bunting bags? I don’t have an infant and couldn’t borrow one today, so I used my teaching doll instead. Her name is Clementine. She’s squishier than a real baby so I can never do a proper ‘pinch test’ on her, so I’ve shown this using finger widths instead. Also in your car seat manual (if you didn’t read it before, how about now?) it will also say no aftermarket products. A bunting bag like these did not come with your car seat, so it’s aftermarket. Aftermarket products are unregulated, and are not crash tested with your seat, so using them means your child is the crash test dummy.
I tried two different bunting bags for this part of the experiment. Both are commercially available but shall remain nameless. The cream/brown one is a ‘lite’ version and is quite thin, not much more than a t-shirt layer and a wind-proof layer. I wasn’t expecting bulk issues or compression issues with it (surprise!). I was expecting – and got – harness placement problems. Because bunting bags aren’t made to specifically fit a certain seat the holes or slots may or may not line up properly. This one did cause the harness to roll on itself at the shoulder.
The crotch buckle slot REALLY didn’t line up – it was about 2″ too far forward, so to fit the crotch buckle through I had to bunch up some of the fabric.
Next I put the elastic stay-in-place loop around the back. It pulled the head area so far forward I could fit my hand down the back in between the head and the back of the car seat. That could cause air way issues in a young baby if it forced the chin to the chest. So I undid the loop, leaving nowhere really to put the excess fabric. It’s going to either end up on top of the baby’s head, or bunched up behind the head again possibly causing air way issues.
I could comfortably fit one finger under the harness with the bunting bag in place (remember she’s a doll so I can’t do a proper pinch test like on a real kid). Then I took the bunting bag out, didn’t adjust the harness at all, and tried again. 2.5 fingers easily fit in the same place. I admit this surprised me because this particular bunting bag is not thick or squishy at all. The amount of slack it caused must be due to the extra bulk bunching up at the crotch, and poorly positioning the harness.
Next I tried the same thing with the much bulkier, squishier version. Poor crotch buckle slit placement meant bunching again. On this one the harness slot at the shoulder lined up well and didn’t cause any bunching or folding there. I tightened so I could comfortably fit one finger under the harness, then took the bunting bag out and tried again – 4 fingers.
Even a little bit of slack in the harness can be enough for a baby to be partially or fully ejected once that chest clip slides down or breaks in a crash. Remember the narrow space that baby recently emerged from at birth? Babies are soft and squishy with flexible shoulders and softer bone structure, and can fit through narrow spaces. A tight harness that is properly positioned is essential for safety in the car.
Wait a second – what about those bunting bags that claim to be crash tested?! There are no crash test standards for aftermarket products. None. Maybe they did crash test their product – but what test dummies did they use? What seats did they use? What were the results? They could have thrown it against the wall and called it crash tested. Don’t trust that to mean anything.
Babies in infant seats are EASY to keep warm in winter. Dress them in regular clothing, and buckle them up. If you want a bit of extra warmth try a fleece sleeper maybe one size bigger than they usually wear. Fleece suits are great but usually not until at least 6 months, otherwise they’re too bulky and don’t fit well. Once the baby is harnessed cover with blankets, use a shower cap style cover like this, or just a blanket over the handle to keep the wind or rain out. Don’t put anything extra between the baby and the harness.
We appreciate feedback and comments on our articles – if you have a moment, tell us what you think!
All rear-facing! 4 years old, 11 months old, and 2.5 years old
The message to rear face a child well past the legal bare minimum of 1 year old and 20lbs and instead to age two seems to be getting out there into mainstream media, which is great. But did you know that current recommendations are to rear face for as long as possible to the limits of your seat? With many seats on the market now easily able to accommodate children to age three, four, or longer, many people wonder why. Isn’t it hard to do? Don’t kids get uncomfortable? This article will attempt to explain the significant safety benefits of rear facing your children, and how to accomplish it as smoothly as possible.
Legal bare minimums to forward face vary from province to province but generally are somewhere in the neighbourhood of age 1 and 20lbs. Transport Canada has set new (as of Jan 1 2012) standards to which manufacturers must test and produce their seats, and they set a minimum of 22lbs and walking unassisted. Manufacturers may set additional limits as well regarding age, weight, or developmental milestone. A parent or caregiver must adhere to the strictest of the combined conditions for the province in which they are in.
That, however, is the bare minimum. And when it comes to child safety, what parent wants the bare minimum? Regarding the most dangerous place kids are every day — the car — it IS possible to well-protect your children if you understand why current recommendations are what they are.
Two major studies influenced the “until age two” recommendation. One from Sweden, where most children rear face to at least age four (and have the seats to accomplish that) and then transition directly to a booster seat, and another from US traffic safety data from 1988-2003.
Traffic safety data from the Swedish study show an amazingly low frequency of child fatalities in car crashes between 1976-2000; of nearly 4,500 children involved in collisions there was only one fatality of a child in a rear-facing seat. It’s not easy to directly compare Swedish statistics to Canadian ones as the cars, roads, driving habits, drivers, types of restraints, and longevity of rear facing vary greatly, but that statistic is compelling.
The study referencing US traffic safety data from 1988-2003 examined crash data from cars, light trucks, and SUVs. The study looked at the effectiveness of rear- and forward-facing child restraints for children aged 0-23 months. It found that children in forward-facing restraints were significantly more likely to be injured in all types of crashes; the difference was particularly evident in side-impact collisions (less frequent but more deadly than frontal or frontal-offset crashes) where rear-facing children were 532% safer than those in forward-facing seats. It also found that some forward-facing children would have lived had they been restrained rear-facing.
The large US study is where the “rear face to age two” message originated — the study didn’t go beyond that age bracket. In 2003 there was very little on the market that would have permitted the average child to rear face much beyond that, with many kids turned before that benchmark once they’d outgrown the available options. Given the availability of restraints today that can accommodate the average child rear facing to the age of four it would be very interesting to see what the crash statistics would look like for the period of 2003-2013.
The physics of rear versus forward facing are undeniably convincing. In a frontal impact (for which cars and car seats are designed as most crashes are frontal or frontal-offset), a rear-facing restraint spreads the crash forces across a child’s head, neck, shoulders, and back, cradled and protected by the shell of the car seat. The concept was developed in Sweden in the 1960s, with inspiration from the Gemini mission astronauts for their take-off and re-entry. In contrast, a forward-facing restraint holds back the body but not the head, and the weak neck and heavy head focus a great deal of force on the spinal cord.
This video illustrates the differences in how a child moves in frontal collision seated in a forward-facing restraint and a rear-facing restraint. Please note it is foreign (and therefore details like harness height relative to shoulders is different from how we do it, and there’s no chest clip) and an animation, but the physics remain the same! Watch here: Rear vs foward facing animation
Babies have markedly different body proportions than adults, with a large and heavy head making up approximately 25% of their body weight. An adult male’s head comprises only about 6% of body weight. The Swedish study found that children are better protected if they ride rear facing up to an age and size when the size/weight of the head is proportionally less and the neck is much stronger, to at least age 3-4. If a child is faced forward too soon, a hideous injury referred to as internal decapitation can occur, where the bones and muscles stretch in a crash, but the spinal cord in the neck does not. It is as horrific as it sounds.
Transport Canada, the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada, and child passenger safety advocates everywhere encourage parents to keep children rear facing until they outgrow their restraint, and promote shopping for an infant/child seat that will accommodate your child for as long as possible. For many children this is realistically beyond age four. Parents often worry about their child’s legs at this age – what on earth do they do with them?! Won’t they break in a crash? Research indicates that injuries to the legs are uncommon in rear-facing children, with a greater frequency of injuries in forward-facing children. Remember that in a crash everything moves towards the point of impact, so in a frontal crash everything goes forwards, including legs. Rear-facing car seats are designed to best protect the head, neck, and spine; even if legs were injured in a crash, they’re much easier to fix than a head or spinal injury. Leg room varies greatly from car seat to car seat, so that is one factor to consider when shopping. Kids are much more flexible than adults, and can sit in ways where we would be very uncomfortable.
When transitioning from the infant seat (or shopping for an infant/child seat right from the start – some DO fit newborns quite well!) look carefully at your child’s build: height, torso height, and weight. Average to small kids have plenty of options; tall and long-torsoed kids have far fewer options for seats that will take them well past age two rear facing. Look at your child’s growth pattern on a growth chart to get a sense of how old s/he will be at a certain height, and then shop for a seat that has both a high standing height limit for rear facing AND a tall shell. Before you buy it absolutely try it in your vehicle, and install it. Try it in various seating positions, install with both UAS and then the seat belt (not both at the same time), and then try it forward-facing too. The BEST car seat is the one that fits your child, your budget, your car, and that you will use correctly every single time. It does not need to be the most expensive one or the one with the prettiest cover. What does a bit of extra money get you? Read here. All seats for sale in Canada pass the same crash tests, and it’s a pass/fail system. Most manufacturers don’t release their crash test data, so we don’t know how a particular seat performs beyond that it passes. It’s also important to remember that you don’t drive a test sled, your child is not a fibreglass dummy, and you don’t get to pick your crash!
The logistics of how to rear face a child beyond the minimums will be simple for some, and a barrier for others. Living in a cold or wet climate means dealing with boots. It’s easy and generally more comfortable for the child to remove them altogether while in the vehicle. Carrying a child out to the car and bringing boots with you minimizes mess (but don’t forget to bring them…oops, learned from experience!). Getting a seat protector for where your child’s feet rest (NOT for under the seat) helps keep upholstery clean, but a simple fix for captain’s chairs is to fit an old t-shirt over the seat, popping the head rest right through the neck hole. Easy to throw in the wash when it gets dirty.
Once kids are agile enough to do it they usually like to climb in themselves…writing this I am hearing “I do it MY SELF!” as my youngest will shriek if I try to lift her in. Hoisting a heavy child up and into a seat can be challenging, but let them learn to scamper up and you’ll save your back (but yes, quite possibly try your patience). Once a child has excellent head control their seat, if it allows it, can be installed at a more upright angle. This means more room for driver and front passenger, and most older kids prefer a more upright angle. This is another factor to consider when shopping, and generally if you can fit an infant seat in your vehicle (that does require a very reclined angle to protect that newborn airway) you can fit a larger infant/child seat installed more upright.
Most children do go through a phase of complaining in the car seat, and don’t be tricked into thinking that forward facing them will solve the problem entirely. The novelty of it may distract them for a while, but often it’s a phase of independence, and not liking being restrained at all in any orientation. It is a critical safety decision to keep them rear facing despite their protests and it’s not their decision to make — don’t mistake comfort for safety. Parents make other safety choices for their kids all the time, despite their protests: No, you may not play with the sharp knife. No, you may not eat the whole bottle of vitamins. No, you may not run out into the street just because it looks fun. Sorry kid, not your decision. Try some new music, a car-seat-only soft toy, or even a soft, lightweight mirror so you can see each other. Do be aware that a mirror is a potential projectile in a crash, and your child’s face may impact it upon rebound in a crash, but it’s less of a safety risk than forward facing at a young age.
Have you already turned your child forward? It’s okay to turn them back. Make it fun and a novelty. Many kids aren’t bothered at all by the switch. Is your child outgrowing their infant/child seat rear facing but you’re not ready to go forward facing yet? It’s okay to consider a higher capacity seat to rear face for longer, but if that’s not possible for you don’t feel guilty – you rear faced your child to the limit of their seat, which IS the recommendation.
Take home message: Rear face for as long as you can. Shop carefully for an infant/child seat that will take you to your rear facing goals, and plan ahead so you can watch for a sale (we announce them every Friday on our Facebook page). Read your car seat and vehicle manuals carefully. Need some install help? Check out our YouTube videos for some guidance, and after all of that it doesn’t hurt to meet with a tech for a check even if you think everything is perfect. (Not on Vancouver Island? Chances are we know of a tech near you, so ask on our Facebook page and we’ll connect you with someone).
As my oldest is now past the ‘milestone’ of age four, and reached the ‘magical’ weight of 40lbs a few months ago, I’ve been getting surprised looks and inquiring remarks about when she’ll be out of her ‘baby seat’ and into a booster. Not for a while for our family (a year to a year and a half I think) but now that boostering is on the horizon, I’ve started to pay more attention to what boosters are out there and what the fit is like — and why it matters so much.
The transition from a forward-facing harnessed seat to use of the adult seat belt only is a period of surprisingly high misuse. Many 40lb kids are in poorly fitting backless boosters without adequate head support — putting them at tremendous risk for spinal injuries, head injuries, and internal injuries. I consider age five a minimum for boostering, with many kids not ready until age six or seven. Four year olds — and certainly not three or two year olds — are simply not mature enough for a booster,and their little bodies aren’t ready for the added strain of only three contact points of a seatbelt versus the five in a five-point harness. I prefer to see kids start in a high-back booster and then move to a backless after a few years once the novelty of boostering has worn off. Read more about harnessed seats that convert to good boosters, and the different types of dedicated boosters.
In British Columbia (as in many other provinces and territories) a child may not ride in a booster until they are 40lbs, the belt fits them properly while doing so, AND they wear it properly at all times. A boostered child must use a lap/shoulder belt and never a lap belt only. BC is a ‘proper use’ province, meaning that not only does a child need to meet the minimum height and weight limits, they must USE the restraint properly at all times. That means no leaning over, no belt behind the back or under the arm, no unbuckling, no slumping. Ever. We like to call it developmentally ready – some kids have it at five, many by six, most by seven. If they’re not mature enough to remain in position at all times, even when sleeping, they should remain harnessed in a seat suitable for their height and weight.
It’s fairly easy to get a child’s proportions and know that s/he will fit in a harnessed seat, and for how long, both rear- and forward-facing. How well it might fit in the car is another matter entirely though, and it surprises many to learn that booster fit is even less predictable, and varies greatly from child to child, vehicle to vehicle, and even in different seating positions in the same vehicle.
Boosters work by positioning the child so the adult seat belt fits properly over the strongest parts of the body. The lap belt must be low across the pelvis/hips and the shoulder belt must lie across the collarbone. The seat depth of a booster is shorter than a vehicle seat so the child’s knees will bend comfortably rather than slouching, which contributes to proper belt fit. Slouching causes the shoulder belt to rub against the neck or lie over the face, and causes the lap belt to ride up onto the soft abdomen. Some boosters do a poor job of positioning one or both of the lap and shoulder belts, and knowing what to look for when booster shopping is a very important part of injury prevention. If you don’t want to have to re-buckle the booster seat back in when it’s not occupied (so it’s not a projectile for you), pick a booster that can be UAS-ed (latched) into the vehicle.
Are you a visual learner? This short movie shows the difference between a child in a booster versus just the seat belt (it’s informative, but not gory).
Booster fit is further complicated by quirks of vehicles – awkward buckle stalks, belt geometry that doesn’t work with a particular booster, head rests that don’t adjust or angle forward, or no head rest at all. Booster riders MUST have head support up to at least the tops of their ears. This is complicated by the fact that some BOOSTERS require in-vehicle head support up that far too, so if you have an older vehicle with a bench seat and no head rests, or head rests that interfere with the top of the booster, you’ll need to shop carefully for a booster that doesn’t need a head rest behind it, AND fits your child well. That list is short – more on that later.
The reverse of having an underage 40lb child in a booster is having an underweight seven year old in a booster. Legally that seven year old must still be harnessed, and despite the potential issues with peers, that child is not safe at 38 or 39lbs in a booster. There is an increased risk of submarining (sliding under the lap belt) and ejection; both result in poor outcomes.
Parents with three kids in the back seat are often anxious to move one child to a booster to make the three-across situation more pleasant. The reverse is usually true, as it’s extremely hard to buckle a booster seat in a tight situation. In that scenario, keeping a child harnessed as long as possible usually results in far fewer scraped knuckles and frustrated kids.
When booster shopping, think carefully. Is your child ready for the responsibility of a booster? Then take them shopping with you and try them in your vehicle, in each position. Make sure there’s a lap/shoulder belt where the child will be, and that there is a vehicle head-rest if the booster requires it. If your child is on the younger side of booster readiness (five-six) aim for a highback. If your vehicle doesn’t have a head rest, get a highback that doesn’t need support. If your child is older, and there’s a head rest in the vehicle, a backless is probably fine but make sure the belt fits well either way.
When is a booster seat outgrown? When a child reaches the stated height limit or weight limit, when the belt guide is no longer at or slightly above the shoulder in a high back booster, or when the tips of the ears reach the top of the shell in a child/booster seat converted to booster mode. Read your manual carefully to know what steps need to be taken to convert a harnessed seat to booster mode, as all seats are different.
Don’t rush a child out of a booster either – in BC (other provinces vary) a child must remain in a booster until they are at least age nine or 4’9″ tall, but more importantly, make sure the adult seat belt fits them once they reach that stage. Continuing to booster past that is preferred if the belt fits them better with the booster than without, so long as the child remains within the weight and height restrictions of their particular booster. If the belt doesn’t fit properly, the child is not protected.
And now, the shopping part. To make that a bit easier, we’ve narrowed down the options, but it’s only a starting point. Conversely, a booster not on this list might work just fine for your child in your car, and if the belt fits well then go for it!
As of this writing (January 2013)
High-back boosters that don’t require in-vehicle head support (anything not on this list does — and backless boosters ALWAYS require in-vehicle head support): Clek Oobr, Graco Turbobooster, Britax Parkway SG, Britax Parkway SGL, First Years/Tomy Compass B570 Pathway, Evenflo BigKid AMP, most harnessed seats in booster mode (check manual for specifics).
Boosters that DO require in-vehicle head support up to at least the top of the child’s ears: All Dorel (Safety 1st, Eddie Bauer, Cosco, Quinny, Schwinn) dedicated boosters, Diono/Sunshine Kids Monterey, all backless boosters
Boosters that can be installed with UAS (latch): Clek Oobr, Clek Olli, Clek Ozzi, Britax Parkway SGL, Diono Monterey, First Years/Tomy Compass B570 Pathway, some child/booster seats that convert from a harness to a booster allow continue use of the UAS – check your manual for specific instructions
Narrow boosters that may work in a 3-across scenario: Britax Parkway SG & SGL, Graco TurboBooster, Clek Oobr, Evenflo Big Kid, and many backless boosters – check the fit in your particular scenario/vehicle however, as sometimes the elevation and shape of the seat will make more of a difference than the narrowness
Best bets for good belt fit:
We can’t guarantee that these boosters will fit your child and your car well, but they’re a great place to start. Read about our favourite dedicated booster seats here.
Do you have a minute to leave us some feedback on this article? Comments appreciated.
We strongly discourage buying or borrowing a used seat. There are too many potential issues with a seat of unknown history, and ultimately you’re trusting the seller or lender with your child’s life. Great brand new seats can be had in all categories (infant, infant/child, child/booster, and booster) for around $100, and if you’re not in a hurry, often for less on sale. Buying used is just not worth the risk. There are circumstances, however, when someone might feel they have no choice but to use a used seat, and going over this checklist will go a long way to ensuring it’s a SAFE used seat.
So, that being said, maybe you’ve decided to borrow a friend’s infant seat for your baby, or are flying to visit relatives and your cousin has a spare you can use instead of bringing it on the plane (read more here for our thoughts about traveling with car seats). We’ve modified a checklist from CPSafety (an American organization) for use here in Canada. Like everything we do and promote this is not an attempt to get you to spend more money on a new seat; it’s to keep more kids safe in the car, and keeping kids out of unsafe used seats is part of that. If you do find you need to buy a new seat, you don’t have to break the bank – every new seat currently available for sale in Canada passes the same crash tests as every other, and used properly, is as equally safe as another. What do you get for more money? Read here.
Before the check list, two notes:
1. It’s important to note as the person doing the selling or lending that if the seat is not compliant with 2012 Transport Canada crash test standards, it’s not legal to pass it on to anyone (selling/lending/giving/trading). For more information about this law, read Health Canada’s Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. Type ‘restraint’ into the search field and it brings up the section on car seats. Additionally, Transport Canada mentions this restriction in their Frequently Asked Questions regarding their new crash test standards. Expand the “Do I need to replace my seat?” question to see the information. Our understanding of this law is that it is fine to use in your own vehicle with other people’s kids (in a carpool, for example), or in someone else’s car with your kids (your three year old is going to stay over night with Grandma and you install her seat in Grandma’s car). That is our interpretation, but common sense would indicate that it’s perfectly fine. Plenty of people will disregard this law, and so again, going over this checklist will help ensure the used seat is as safe as possible.
2. If you find you need to destroy a seat, for any reason (expired, crashed, or otherwise unsafe to use), here’s what we suggest. A tech may be able to use it for training. A tech won’t put kids into it, but will use it to teach other parents about car seat safety, and Health Canada has approved this practice. If you’re willing to donate, please contact a tech near you to see if can be used. If not, then please destroy it. Make it so no one else could ever consider using it in the car. Cut the straps and pull them off. Remove the cover (fine to keep as a spare for an identical seat, or to give or sell for use on an identical seat). Remove UAS (latch) straps (those have found second lives to attach things to other things…some techs will restrain pets to tether anchors, for example). Write CRASHED DO NOT USE in permanent marker on the shell. If you have some anger to work out, feel free to go to town on the seat with various tools or implements. Please do not hurt yourself in the process! If you’re fortunate to live near a recycling facility that takes car seats, strip it of all cloth and metal and take it there. If not, put the mangled shell in a black garbage bag and put it out with your garbage. Dispose of other bits separately.
And now onto the checklist. For a printable version of this list click here to download the pdf.
1. Do you know the complete history of this seat? If yes, continue. If no, DESTROY.
2. Does the seat have a label or sticker with the date of manufacture, model name, and model number? If yes, continue. If no, DESTROY.
5b. Has the defect been corrected? If yes, continue to 6. If no, do not use until defect is corrected, or DESTROY.
6. Has the seat been involved in ANY crash, even a fender bender, whether it was occupied or not? If yes, confirm with manufacturer whether it must be destroyed, and then DESTROY if needed. If no, continue.
7. Has the seat been dropped from a height of more than three feet? If yes, DESTROY. If no, continue.
8. Has the harness or adjuster strap been washed in the washing machine, submerged in water, or sprayed with any cleaner? If yes, obtain new parts. If no, continue.
9. Has the seat been checked as luggage, or gate checked on an airplane? If yes, DESTROY. If no, continue.
10. Are there any cracks, bends, breaks, or signs of stress or wear on the plastic shell? If yes, DESTROY. If no, continue.
11. Has the metal frame (if present) rusted, bent, or broken? If yes, DESTROY. If no, continue.
12. Is a copy of the manufacturer’s instruction manual present? If yes, continue. If no, do not use until a copy has been obtained.
13. Does the seat have all its parts (cover, harness, chest clip, crotch buckle, screws, arm rests, etc.)? If yes, continue. If no, obtain replacement parts or DESTROY.
14. Are the harness straps or adjuster strap worn or frayed? If yes, obtain replacement parts or DESTROY. If no, continue.
15. Do any metal parts show signs of rust or corrosion? If yes, obtain replacement parts or DESTROY. If no, continue.
16. When buckled, does the mechanism lock securely, and remain locked? Does the harness tighten and loosen properly? If yes, continue. If no, DESTROY.
17. Do you trust the person answering these questions with your child’s life – are they truthful? If yes, USE THE SEAT!
We are asked this question often, from parents feeling stressed about the pressure to spend $350 (or more!) on a car seat to keep their children safe. Will a seat that costs that much do a better job of protecting your child in a crash? Short answer: no, as long as it’s appropriate for the child, installed properly, and used properly!
Every single seat currently available for sale in Canada will bear the National Safety Mark. That is your assurance as a consumer that the seat has passed the exact same crash test standard as every other seat out there. Most manufacturers do not release their crash test data, so we don’t know how much beyond the standard a particular seat made it. Seats either get a pass, or a fail. If they pass, they go on the shelves. If they fail, they don’t.
So what are you getting in a $350+ seat versus a $99 seat? Mostly just ease of use features and premium options. Those features may be worth it to you, but don’t make the seat inherently safer. Unless…unless that feature makes you able to install and use the seat correctly every single time. There are features that are handy; there are features that make an installation possible in a vehicle that’s tough to put a car seat into; there are features that make only a single seat possible in a given situation; there are some really nice fabrics out there.
We’ll attempt to point out some features that might make a particular seat attractive in your situation, and then it’s a matter of deciding what is worth your money, and what is just marketing. After all of that though, do make sure it fits into your vehicle properly!
Premium UAS Connectors
Universal Anchorage System, aka latch, is an alternate means of installing a car seat into a vehicle that is equipped with lower anchors in the seat bight (corner between the seat bottom and seat back). Cars 2003 and newer have them. It’s not safer than a seat belt, just another way of installing it. There are many different versions of UAS connectors (hooks) out there, ranging from a simple metal hook, to those with push button releases. How often do you move your seat around? It it’s daily, you might want to pay a little more for a seat with premium connectors. If it’s hardly ever, then it’s likely not a priority. Even the most basic connectors are simple to do with a little practice.
Side Impact Protection
The best possible side impact protection you can give your child is to rear face her for as long as possible, in any seat appropriate for her height and weight. Many seats are now marketed with various forms of ‘side impact protection’, ranging from large head wings, air pockets around the head, special foam and other materials, or a deep shell. As there is no federal crash test standard for side impact protection, consumers really must take a manufacturer at their word that is has any effect whatsoever. It probably doesn’t hurt anything, but whether it helps or not is anybody’s guess. At the very least, seats with deeper shells or head wings provide a nice spot to rest a tired head.
To adjust the harness height (at or BELOW the shoulders while rear-facing, at or ABOVE for forward-facing, right?), many seats require you to undo the harness straps at the back of the seat, pull the strap out, and re-thread it through the correct slot, and then put it all back together. Some seats come with a no-rethread harness, meaning you don’t have to undo anything to adjust the height. Rear-facing seats typically don’t have to be uninstalled to change the height, but forward-facing seats do. Whether this feature is attractive depends entirely on how you use the seat. People who have multiple children using the same seat (not at the same time, of course!) really like this feature. They can raise or lower the harness height in seconds. Those who have a dedicated seat for a single child also like this feature, but really don’t need it. Re-doing a harness height manually five times over the course of a seat’s life is really not a deal breaker for most of us.
Seats with built-in lock-offs have a locking mechanism as part of the seat that locks the seat belt, rather than relying on the locking mechanism of the seat belt itself, if one exists, and replacing the need for a locking clip if the lap/shoulder belt doesn’t lock. This can be handy if you install often with a seat belt and that installation is difficult, or have an older car with seat belts that don’t lock in some way. They can be useful, and in certain situations extremely helpful, but are not necessarily going to be the difference between a successful installation and an unsuccessful one. Lap/shoulder seat belts can be locked with a locking clip if they don’t lock in some other way, but most techs would agree that using a lock-off is easier in most circumstances. If you frequently travel internationally, a seat with lock-offs can be very handy if you’re in vehicles without UAS/latch/ISOFIX, or non-locking seat belts.
Latch-able (UAS-able) Boosters
Once a child is at the booster stage, many parents are alarmed to discover that the booster seat just sits there (!) on the vehicle seat. Yes, that is what booster seats do, as it’s the seat belt that is now restraining the child. There are some boosters, or harnessed seats that convert to boosters, that come with the ability to be semi-installed with UAS. All this does is prevent the booster from become a projectile in a crash, and eliminates the need to re-buckle the booster when it’s empty (because you do that, right?). This feature is not required to be used in vehicles that do not have lower anchors.
Premium Fabrics/Plush Padding
Higher end seats do typically have really nice fabrics (oh how we love that Britax Cowmooflage!), with more comfort padding in various places. That’s purely fashion however – unless you do long drives or your child has a special need for a particular fabric.
There are some situations that call for a particular seat. Often the need is for either a very narrow seat, or a very tall seat. There are unfortunately not a lot of seats out there that meet those criteria, and in certain circumstances parents may be faced with having to spend a fair bit of money to get a seat that fits the bill. Very tall or long-torsoed kids have only one option to remain harnessed beyond the ~18” torso height of most other seats (Britax Frontier has a 20” harness height). The Diono Radian is very 3-across friendly at only about 17” wide, but comes with a price tag of $250-340 depending on model. On the other end of the spectrum is the Cosco Scenera, frequently on sale for $60. It’s a great every day seat, although short so it won’t last forever, but makes a super travel seat as it’s lightweight and installs easily (see note above re lock-offs if you’re traveling internationally where locking seat belts are not common).
When wandering the car seat aisle, or looking online, how do you decide which car seat to buy? The choices seem overwhelming, the reviews conflicting, and the prices all over the map! What about safety ratings? Ease-of-use ratings? What does it all mean?!
There is no one car seat that is the BEST seat for everyone. The BEST seat for you is the one that fits your child, fits your car, fits your budget, and that you will use properly every single time. But…which seat is that? Here are some things to consider when shopping.
Where does your child fall on the growth chart for weight and height? Seats have different proportions that will better suit different types of kids. If you’re shopping for an infant seat, it’s hard to know ahead of time what your baby will be like. Not all infant seats actually fit small babies, including preemies; if possible, choose a seat with a low harness height. Seats that are rated from 4lbs (rather then 5lbs) do fit small babies well and are a good bet if you’re expecting a small baby, or multiples.
Weight limits vary on infant seats, and as of this writing max out at 22lbs, 30lbs, 32lbs, or 35lbs. Overall height of the shell of the seat varies as well, with a higher-weight seat generally having a taller shell. Very few kids will last to the full weight limit in the higher-weight seats; most will outgrow by height long before. The lower-weight limit seats are often outgrown by height and weight around the same time, but this of course varies by the build of the child.
Some parents choose to skip the infant seat altogether and go straight to an infant/child seat (one that installs rear facing and then can be turned forward later on). While most of those are rated from 5lbs, very few actually fit newborns by height. When rear facing, the harness must be at or below the child’s shoulders. If you plan to go this route, choose a seat with a low bottom harness position, which may or may not require or include manufacturer-approved infant padding to make the seat fit a newborn.
Another consideration is the weight limits for rear facing and forward facing. Currently infant/child seats have rear-facing weight limits of 30-45lbs, with the trend towards higher rear facing weight limits. Shell height varies in this category of seat as well, and is not always directly related to the rear-facing weight limit.
In addition to looking at low bottom harness position, consider the tallest harness position as well. This will matter when using the seat forward facing, as the harness must be at or above the shoulders at that point.
Forward-facing weight limits vary, maxing out somewhere between 40lbs and 65lbs. As we highly recommend keeping a child in a harnessed seat until at least age five before transitioning to a booster, it’s advisable to shop for a tall, high-weight harnessed seat to ensure the seat fits the child until he or she is booster ready. There are seats that are called 3-in-1s and are marketed as the only seat you’ll ever need; problem is, they don’t typically fit newborns well, and don’t tend to make great boosters either as they poorly position the seat belt. Don’t shop for a booster when your child is still an infant – cross that bridge years down the road when you can get something that fits well (and is usually relatively inexpensive).
Booster fit varies greatly from child to child, and even vehicle to vehicle. Some require in-vehicle head support, and some do not. All require a lap/shoulder belt. Shop for a dedicated booster when your child is ready for one (read here to know if your child is ready for a booster – don’t rush this step!).
Ideally you would try your child in the seat, and try installing it in your vehicle before buying. Be cautious of online reviews as they are frequently written by people who aren’t using the seat correctly, and then not surprisingly aren’t happy with it. Reviews, including ease-of-use ratings, and safety ratings, by places such as Consumer Reports and are excellent for many products, are not well regarded when it comes to car seats. Every car seat legally for sale in Canada, and bearing the National Safety Mark, passes the same crash test standards. Some seats do, however, have features that make them easier to use properly every single time, so try buckling the seat, adjusting the harness, and feeling the fabrics when shopping. Take a read through the manual as well to see how the seat adjusts, and anything you find confusing or hard to understand.
We keep a list of our favourite seats in all categories (infant, infant/child, child/booster, and boosters), and reading through those lists are a great place to start. We’ve chosen them for their longevity, their features, and their value for price. There is nothing wrong with seats that aren’t on this list so long as they fit your child and install well in your vehicle.
Still confused and looking for advice? Post a question on our Facebook page and we’ll point you in the right direction!
Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs ~ Laura, Lindsay, Emery & Jen
By Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs, on April 30th, 2012
What is a Children’s Restraint Systems Technician?
CRSTs are nationally certified through the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada. They can be anyone interested in child passenger safety – parents, professionals, daycare providers, grandparents, volunteers…anyone!
How long is the course?
Certification requires participation in both full classroom days, passing a written exam, and a hands-on practical exam to take place at a seat check clinic on the third day. Days 1 and 2 are typically from about 9:00-5:00, and Day 3 (clinic day) is from about 9:15-2:00, with actual seat checks from 9:30-1:30. We break when necessary, including a short lunch break. This schedule is flexible depending on the needs of the group, but the total number of hours is not.
How long is my certification good for?
Certification is valid for three years, and requires a yearly refresher session (can be done online or in person as needed), proof of at least ten documented seat checks per year, and a willingness to remain current and informed about changes in child passenger safety.
What can I do with my certification?
You can help keep kids safe in the car! This could be your own children, family members, and friends, or you may use your certification in your work place. Many techs also like to volunteer at community seat check events. Working with a team is a great way to build experience and learn from others, and if you find yourself in a tricky situation, having others to help is a bonus. Participation in seat check events/clinics is not a requirement, but most techs find them fun.
What do I need to bring with me?
Your instructor will provide all materials. You may wish to bring a highlighter if you like to mark up your course manual for studying. Wear comfortable clothing and appropriate footwear, as you will be climbing in and out of vehicles. Tie back long hair, and trim long nails. Uniformed professionals may wish to be in uniform for the clinic portion of the training, but will probably be more comfortable in street clothes for the classroom portion.
Can I bring my nursing infant?
Non-mobile infants are welcome during the classroom portion of the course, but please be considerate of others; be aware of your child’s temperament and your own limitations in a classroom environment. Alternate child care arrangements are required for the clinic portion of the course.
How much does it cost?
Total cost varies by location, and whether the instructor needs to travel from home in order to teach. Fees in the neighbourhood of $125-175 can be expected, with a non-refundable $40 deposit required to reserve a place in the course, and full payment due within two weeks of the course start date.
How do I register?
Email Laura Hagen at email@example.com. Laura is the only CPSAC instructor on Vancouver Island at this time. If you are not local to Vancouver Island, and would like more information about upcoming courses in your area email firstname.lastname@example.org to be connected with an Instructor near you.
If you would like to be notified of any upcoming courses in BC email Laura at email@example.com, and she’ll keep you on her list for advance notice of anything in the works.
By Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs, on April 2nd, 2012
We now have a new space on the web! This is still a work in progress and we will be updating and adding new resources and links over the next little while. Your feedback is welcome. Please let us know if you have suggestions for blog posts or any information you would like to see here.
If you are making a purchase through Amazon.ca or ebates.ca, buying through our affiliate links helps us pay for the costs of running our website, printing, and buying give away and donor seats, and doesn't cost you any extra!
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.