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 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 one (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.
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 in the works coming soon.
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 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, there’s a saying among car seat techs: “Broken leg – cast it; broken neck – casket.” 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 equally as 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.
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.
3. Is the seat expired? Check stickers for expiry dates, or raised lettering in the plastic for an expiry date. Also check this Transport Canada guideline for expiry dates. Note that this list is not comprehensive. If yes, DESTROY. If no, continue.
4. Does the seat have a sticker with the National Safety Mark (circular sticker with maple leaf in the centre)? If yes, continue. If no, DESTROY.
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
If you are making a purchase through Amazon.ca, buying through our affiliate link helps us pay for the costs of running our website, printing, and potentially buying donor seats in the future, 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.