Updated September 2020.

Highlights:

  • Time- and space-saving concerns in dressing rooms with COVID restrictions
  • How a car seat or booster seat works
  • Why hockey gear puts kids at risk in the car
  • Problem-solving ideas to make it all work!

In an effort to save time, change room space, congestion in hallways and lobbies, and improve the flow of kid (and parent) traffic we’ve had many parents ask us if it’s safe to dress their kids in their hockey gear at home, and arrive at the rink ready to play. As minor sports teams work out return-to-play plans while making COVID-19 precautions, we anticipate this issue coming up more and more.

Turns out none of us have hockey-playing children, so we surveyed some other CPSTs who are also hockey parents, and bring you their best advice.

UPDATE: The Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) agrees, and has some shareable resources, including:

Is it safe to wear hockey gear in the car seat or booster seat?

The short answer: nope. And here’s why.

Gear — pants and shoulder pads — interferes quite a lot with how the seat belt or harness fits on the body.

If the harness or seat belt doesn’t fit it can’t do its job: keeping your child in the car in the event of a crash.

In most places, depending on the exact wording of the relevant province or territory’s Highway Traffic Act or Motor Vehicle Act or associated regulations, that inability to fit properly or be used properly would be illegal.

If a parent called the manufacturer of their seat to ask if wearing gear in the seat was okay we are quite certain the answer would be absolutely not. Manufacturers want their products to keep kids safe, and the bulky and unyielding addition of sports padding and gear makes that impossible to do.

Hockey gear: keeps your child safe on the ice.

Car seats and booster seats: keeps your child safe in the car.

Unfortunately they don’t cooperate and can’t be mixed.

This is the slack left in the belt after buckling with pads on. To do its job the seat belt must be snug to the body, so this isn't safe.

What about helmets and other gear?

We don’t recommend anyone wear a helmet in the car. Helmets add extra weight to the head, which in a crash, puts even more strain on the neck and spine. Wearing a helmet in a 5-point harness is actually not just like a race car driver, where there is a 6th point of attachment for the helmet called a HANS device. Read more about that here, if you’re interested.

Anyway, back to the hockey gear dilemma!

Parents of goalies...we know you have even more gear to contend with!

How much of a difference can wearing gear, or not, really make in a crash?

Why is using a car seat or booster seat properly so important? Because it can reduce the risk of death or injury by up to 71%. Considering that motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death of kids due to unintentional injury in Canada, that’s too important to ignore.

The most applicable instructions we have to address harness or seat belt fit are right in the car seat and booster seat manuals themselves. A small sampling is below.

BRITAX:

Adjust the belts provided with this child seat so they fit snugly around your child. A snug strap should not allow any slack. It lies in a relatively straight line without sagging. It does not press on the child’s flesh or push the child’s body into an unnatural position.

Adjust the harness to fit the clothes the child is wearing. Remove bulky coats and/or jackets before putting the child in the child seat.

DIONO:

Secure harness snug and flat on your child.
 
Take care to secure the child properly. Snugly adjust the belts provided with this child restraint around your child.
 
Avoid bulky or heavy clothing. Doing so will prevent the harness straps from being tightened properly.
 
The addition or removal of clothing will change the fit of the harness.

GRACO:

WARNING! Do not put snowsuits or bulky garments on your child when placing them in the car seat.

Bulky clothing can prevent the harness straps from being tightened properly.

CLEK:

Child must be dressed in clothing with arms and legs that will not interfere with buckling and snugly adjusting harness.

SAFETY 1st:

WARNINGS: Failure to fasten and tighten the harness system correctly may allow the child to be ejected from the child restraint in a crash or sudden stop causing serious injury or death. Do not mistake comfort for safety. Harness system must be snugly adjusted.

EVENFLO:

Failure to adjust the harness or vehicle seat belts snugly around the child may result in the child striking the vehicle’s interior during a sudden stop or crash. Serious injury or death may occur

In cold weather, DO NOT dress the child in bulky clothing like snowsuits if the child is riding in a child restraint. Bulky coats/snowsuits make it difficult to properly tighten the harness to the child, which may allow the child to be ejected from the restraint during a crash. 

 

So what can be done to make the transition from car to ice a little easier?

So there is the whole list of what not to do, but that doesn’t help a frazzled parent trying to wrangle a child into their gear, and it doesn’t ease congestion at the rink. What are players to do? Here are some tips for how to keep kids safe in the car, and dressed as quickly and painlessly as possible at the arena.

Wear base layers in the car

Put on the thin, comfortable under-layers before leaving the house, thinking strategically about what can go on in advance without interfering with the harness or seat belt.

Put skates on at home

Some parents we asked said that it does work for them to lace up before getting in the car. This will of course depend on your child’s ability to get in and out of the car with skates on, and how easy it is to get from the car to the arena, and how much you trust them not to slice up your upholstery. One parent recommended good skate guards like these to make this doable, or for even more stability and traction try SkaBoots.

The small town arena from my childhood would have made a good backup for the set of an Ultimate Beastmaster obstacle course, but hopefully yours is less icy with fewer snow banks. Lacing up at home would definitely speed things up. It’s worth talking to arena management about anything they can do to make access easier for players walking in skates: would a change in ploughing make this doable for your players? Would rubber mats help? Be creative and think beyond your own family to make the rink more accessible for everyone.

Be strategic about other gear

Is your player able to ride safely with shin pads in place? Jock?

Some kids are able to drop their pants down to their shins in the car, buckle up, and then pull them back into place at the arena. You might have to do a test run to see what works and what doesn’t for your particular situation.

Is your vehicle a portable dressing room?

Is there enough room in your vehicle to dress a player in the last layers while still in the car? If you drive a 3-row vehicle, do you have enough room to fold down the 3rd row and use the hatch? How about stowing or removing a 2nd row captain’s seat for the worst of the winter?

An organized hockey bag

Knowing exactly where things are located in the gear bag will speed up the process. Avoid having to root around to find things. Involve your child in this process, especially if they will be doing more of the getting dressed independently. Pack and organize it how they find it useful, even if it’s not how you would do it.

One parent’s routine is like this:

Put on base layer, neck guard, elbow pads, bottom gear, and skates with skate guards. When you get to the car, pop the cup out of the jock and drop pants to knees before buckling. At the rink, you put the cup back in, pull up pants, put on shoulder pads, jersey, helmet, gloves.

Practice with your child

Can you teach your child to gear up more independently? They might surprise you with what they can do on their own if you practice. Figure out a routine that makes things easier for them to be be quick and focused. Is there a pneumonic that helps them remember the order? A song? When mine were little this rhyme helped them remember the steps to get ready for bed: toilet, flush, wash hands, brush. Sometimes I notice I am humming it at bedtime…to myself.

It works for this hockey player to have his hockey socks on (yellow) and just needs to pull his pants on at the rink.

Don’t mistake comfort and convenience for safety

Ultimately it all comes down to this, which is also true for child passenger safety every day of the year. 

Is it time consuming and annoying? Yes.

Are these extra steps necessary to keep kids safe in the car – the most dangerous place most of them are every day? Also yes.

Enlist the support of other families, coaches, and league leadership to make sure you are doing what you can to help kids arrive safely to the rink. Team work on this one will make all the difference to managing during this new normal, and keeping everyone safe on and off the ice.

image

Updated November 2018.

Winter is here…brrr! No matter what part of Canada you live in we want to help the whole family be safe and warm in the car. With a few tips, some explanation around why it matters, and no need for fancy or expensive gear, your whole family can be riding safely no matter what Mother Nature has in store.

Keep the harness (or seat belt) close to the body

By close we mean close…super close! When car seats are crash tested there are strict rules around exactly what the test dummies wear, and it’s not much. Remove bulky layers that interfere with the harness being close to the body. With bulky layers removed make sure the harness passes the pinch test, and for booster riders and adults ensure the lap belt is under any coat or sweater, and then snug up the shoulder belt and place it against the chest.

What defines “bulky?” That’s a bit tricky. Anything big, lumpy, thick, oversized…will it interfere with proper harness placement or positioning? That’s the ultimate question. At the end of the day it’s a judgment call and requires some common sense and critical thinking. It’s notoriously difficult to gauge simply from a photo whether something is “too bulky” or “poorly fitting.” It can help to buckle a child in regular clothing, undo the harness without loosening it, dress in whatever layer is in question, and attempt to rebuckle. If you can – carry on! If you have to loosen a hair – probably also carry on, because that layer doesn’t disappear like magic in a crash! If you have to loosen quite a bit then it’s not a good choice because the looser the harness, the further away it is from the body. Make sense?

How to keep the harness (or seat belt) close? Thin, insulating, well-fitting layers

We don’t want anyone half naked, or under-dressed, because that would be…well, cold. You can be smart with your layers and here’s how: choose items that retain heat, such as fleece, down, wool, and other performance synthetics. Cotton does not keep you warm if it gets damp (if you’re sweating for example) but wool and fleece will keep on doing their thing. They’re also quite dense so if they fit well and aren’t overly thick, they won’t get in the way of how the harness (or seat belt) sits against the body, and they won’t disappear or compress much in a crash.

Do you prefer the convenience of a full body suit?

  • Many brands now make thin, warm fleece suits (typically avoid the lined ones, and certainly avoid any with filling or padding).
  • Look for something that is trim in cut (avoid the wide boxy ones).
  • Don’t size up because you don’t want it to be lumpy and bumpy and get in the way of the harness.
  • Try your child in it to make sure you can still get an excellent harness fit! What works for one child in a particular seat may not work for another. Babies and kids come in different shapes and sizes.

Same goes for “car seat safe” coats. These are not parkas, rather they are paper-thin compressible down jackets or suits that are handy for in and out of the car while running errands but won’t likely cut it for serious winter play. More brands than ever are making it affordable to go this route – look for something labelled “packable.” If you shop at Costco (in August!) look for packable down coats  for around $35 (available is kids’ sizes 4 to adult XL). Other options include the Cozywoggle coat (sadly discontinued now but maybe you’ll luck out on a swap site), something like the “Road Coat,” or a car seat poncho that you can make yourself without any sewing skills.

After a child is buckled, put their coat on backward, or a blanket over top for added warmth.

A visual demo because we like pictures.

Thin, packable coat (in blue on the left) or a fleece jacket (in pink on the right), fleece pants, mitts and a toque – safe and warm. Layer up with a blanket or bring along the winter coat. Note: five year olds make awesome fashion choices.

 image image

NOT okay. With a bulky parka and snow pants the harness can not be properly positioned or tightened. Furthermore this child would overheat very quickly and can’t remove layers as the car warms up. Note: grumpy face was not at our direction. She really did not like this one bit.

 

image

How about boostered kids (or adults too)? Same principles apply. Always put the lap belt under any top layers. Dress in thin, well-fitting layers such as the blue packable jacket, open bulkier coats so the lap and shoulder belt can touch the body without interference, or remove bulky coats and cinch the belt tight over thin-to-medium weight snow pants.

image image image

NOT okay – the belt is sitting much too far off the body. Note: self-inflicted grumpy face here too. “Mom, I’m squished, let me out!”

image

 

Why does it matter? What’s the big deal?

Air is the enemy here! Avoid puffy, bulky items that are warm because they’re full of air. Great for the toboggan hill, not for the car or booster seat. You know those vacuum pack bags to store clothing or extra bedding — how you can make a previously gigantic piece of clothing quite tiny by sucking all the air out? That’s basically what is going on in a crash. Crash forces are extreme and compress the bulk and air so much so that suddenly your child’s harness is really loose, no matter how much you tighten the harness to begin with. Loose enough to cause injuries, or allow partial or complete ejection. Bad stuff you don’t want to experience.

Parents worry that if they are in a crash and their child is dressed only in a fleece they’ll die of hypothermia before help arrives. Remember that your child is not dressed only in a fleece, but rather thin, warm layers, and that the first goal is to survive the crash. Injury from ejection is immediate — hypothermia is not. Survive the crash, and then worry about the rest.

 

Keep Warm Stuff in the Car

Keep a fleece or wool blanket in the car, permanently. Thrift shops are great places for really warm stuff for cheap as chances are you’ll get snow, winter slush, and other assorted kid detritus on the blankets so they don’t need to be fancy — just warm. Kids will toss them off once they warm up.

If you are going somewhere to play outside bring the bulky layers with you! Is it a pain to try to dress a squirmy kid anxious to get sledding? Why yes, yes it is….such is life with a toddler (dang, someone should have told us that before we had kids!).

What if you break down and have to walk? Have an emergency kit that stays in your car, and includes spare layers. While half of us are based on Vancouver Island, we have all lived, or live, in places where -40C° happens. We are not supermoms, just regular parents like you. We can do it,  and so can you.

A sample outfit for any age: tights or leggings, topped by fleece pants. Wool socks (tip: Bass Pro has thick wool socks in kid sizes in their “Red Head” line, for a reasonable price). Undershirt or tank top, long sleeve thermal shirt, thin fleece sweater, topped by a trim fleece jacket. Or a super thin down jacket (compresses to basically nothing, often called “packable”). Toque, mitts, and a blanket in the car? Presto chango, warm and comfy.

Updated December 2019.

A quick and dirty run through of how to make sure your boostered kids are as safe as can be! Want to read in more detail? Start here. Do you drive other kids? Send yours with others for a carpool? This might be handy.

Don’t Rush In. Don’t rush to get your child out of a 5-point harness and into a booster seat. It is not a milestone that you want to celebrate early. Prematurely moving to a booster is a very high-risk time for injuries. Boosters do much more than just enable a child to see out the window. They reduce fatalities by ensuring proper belt fit, and also reduce injuries for the same reason. Life-altering, debilitating injuries.

Maturity Matters. How’s your child’s impulse control? Do siblings squabble in the back seat? Is your child fidgety or wiggly (who can say no to that)? Once in a booster seat the child becomes responsible for their own safety. They must sit with their bum scooted back. They must not wiggle. They must not lean. They must not mess with the belt. They must remember to do this the entire ride and not get distracted and forget. Even when asleep. And that is really really hard to do until kids are at least 5 or 6, sometimes older. “Forgetting” at a crucial moment could have disastrous consequences.

AnielainboosterThink “B” – Boosters are for Bones and not Bellies. Feel for your hip bones (for real, right now); that is where the lap belt should make contact when properly seated in a well-fitting booster seat, and preferably low and under them. If the belt is riding up on the belly when you crash, you risk something nasty called seat belt syndrome. The seat belt has nothing hard (hip bones) to contact and instead causes major damage in the abdomen and through to the spinal cord. Not good. Shoulder belt fit matters too – BONES again. Collarbone to be precise. Not on the neck or face, and not off the shoulder. Centered nicely on the strong parts of the body and touching the chest.

Lap/Shoulder Belts ONLY. Never, ever, ever just a lap belt. If you need to rearrange who sits where to ensure the boostered child gets the lap/shoulder belt please do. Lap belts are handy to install car seats with but they’re nowhere near as safe as a lap/shoulder belt for anyone else to use. Avoid them.

Weight. No Canadian booster seat can be used with a child under 40 lbs (18 kg for you metric users). Some have a higher minimum weight limit and a max as high as 120 lbs! Kids must also be consistently 40 lbs to safely use a booster. Not 40 lbs dressed in heavy boots and all their clothes before using the bathroom and after a big meal. Nope, not enough of a buffer. Ensure that a child is holding that weight before moving to a booster.

Go Shopping Together. With your child and with your car. Try booster seats out to check for good belt fit. Does the booster sit properly in the vehicle? Is the belt able to be buckled properly? If your child leans a bit (not ideal, but we all do it) does the shoulder belt retract back without hanging up and causing slack? Have your child try. Most kids who are ready to ride in a booster are also ready to learn to buckle themselves. How’s the lap belt fit? How’s the shoulder belt fit? If at first you don’t find the perfect combination try and try again. Here are a few we often recommend.

manualsMisc Bits and Features. Your booster seat will come with a manual. Read it. Find out what those miscellaneous bits and pieces are that came with it. Find out how to use any special features on your seat like lower anchors or a belt guide. Find out how to wash the cover. And then store that manual somewhere handy (like the glove box) so you can easily double check if you forget something.

Head Support. This can come in the form of a high-back booster (that has the added benefit of often providing superior shoulder belt fit and a place to rest a sleeping head), or a vehicle head restraint (head rest). All boostered kids require head support up to at least the tops of their ears (adults too by the way). Some high-back booster seats require a vehicle head restraint in behind them too. How will you know? Read the manual of course!

belt routing diagramBelt Routing. Every booster seat comes with this nifty little picture on the side called a belt-routing diagram. Study it. Show it to your child. Teach your child proper belt routing, and practice, so that if they ever ride with someone else they will know how and not have to rely on an adult who doesn’t. Not all booster seats have arm rests, and not all seats route the belt the same way. If your child is riding in an unfamiliar booster they should look for this diagram and follow it. Tips for carpool drivers/riders here.

Don’t Rush Out. Don’t be in a hurry to move your child out of the booster seat and into the adult seat belt alone. Again a high risk of injury if done prematurely. Teach your child the Five Step Test. Teach them to advocate for their own safety and be able to evaluate if the adult seat belt fits them. Teach them why they might still need one through age 10-11+…that nasty seat belt syndrome again. Most provinces and territories have booster laws that end well before most kids will actually fit the adult seat belt but remember that bare minimum laws are just that. Provincial and territorial laws also require the adult seat belt to fit properly and that part is often glossed over or misunderstood. We advocate for way more than the minimums!

Updated January 2020. 

A quick run through of how to make sure your rear-facers are as safe as can be! Want to read in more detail?

Start here, and then a more technical deep dive here.

IMG_25331. Do it as long as you can. Really. Not the minimums. Who wants minimums when it comes to safety? And not just any old easily avoidable dangerous situation – but the most dangerous place your kids are every day…the CAR! The longer you can rear face for (2 years, 3 years, ideally as close to 4 as you can get) the better, as that’s most protective for the head, neck, and spine.

 

2. Research what will fit your car, and try before you buy. You can use a rear-facing only infant-style seat from birth (most common for sure) or you can skip straight to theconvertible seat (or 3-in-1 seat). Pros and cons to both and what you choose will depend on your lifestyle. But go into your purchase eyes open, knowing how the seat will fit your car long term. Imagine having other back seat passengers, such as visiting parents or future babies. Are you or a partner tall? Is your vehicle very small? Do you carpool? Have to reinstall frequently? Consider all of this. Do you make big babies? Having twins? Growth patterns matter, and not all seats start at the same minimum weight, and they certainly don’t all last as long by height, weight, and fit. You want everyone in the vehicle to be safe and comfortable, not eating the dash (and too close to the air bag) for years.IMG_6078

3. Rear-facing seats are outgrown by height OR by weight OR by some fit criteria, usually how much clearance there is above the head – whichever comes first. The seat that’s labelled to 40lbs rear-facing might have a relatively low height limit on it. The seat with the high height limit might have an overall shorter usage if your child has a long torso and a big noggin, maxing out the functional usage time by fit.

 

rfangle324. Use the rear-facing belt path with a rear-facing seat. Convertible seats (the type that later also install forward-facing) typically have one path to route the seat belt or UAS (LATCH) strap through when used rear-facing, and another totally separate one for forward-facing. Not okay to mix them up. The rear-facing belt path is under the child’s knees, whereas the forward-facing one is behind the lower back. Sometimes they’re hard to see, so poke around and make sure you’re threading the seat belt or UAS strap correctly. Then, make sure you have tightened the belt or strap so that the seat moves 1″ or less at the belt path in any direction. Give it a firm handshake – if it shifts more than that something isn’t right.

DSC003705. Leg room. Some seats have more than others, for sure. That is a comfort issue though, and not a safety issue. Legs touching the back seat — or scrunched up cross-legged, dangling over the sides, or sticking up into the air (or, ahem, poking the sister in the face) — is not a safety issue. Most crashes are frontal, where everything moves forward in a crash. This is the most common type of crash, and the most frequently fatal, so that’s the kind we plan for. Legs move too, away from the back seat. At the same time, handily enough, the head, neck, and spine are well-protected because they’re also moving forward, directly into the shell of the car seat. Well done, car seat. Protect that melon.

DSC001026. Strap positioning and tightness. When rear facing you want the harness to be coming from AT or BELOW the level of the shoulders. This is so if you’re in a crash the child will be held down in the seat. That tight harness will prevent the child from sliding up the shell of the seat. You want the child to stay in the seat, so the seat and its highly engineered parts can take the brunt of the crash, not your baby. How tight is tight enough? We like to do a pinch test to check, every time, and no bulky clothes.

 

 

Fllo077. Child preference for forward-facing. This is a reasonable consideration with a 4 year old. Probably also a 3 year old. But small children do not get to make their own safety decisions. Furthermore, if they don’t know any better, how can they prefer to forward-face? We don’t let young children dart into traffic, play with steak knives, or take the family car for a spin just because they want to. All kids go through phases of not wanting to be contained, of not wanting to cooperate (this phase does end some time, right!), and certainly those phases can be intensely frustrating. But stick it out, as long as you can!

8. Physics yo. There’s parental choice and then there’s physics. You know, force and mass and vectors and stuff. So many things in parenting is choice, with pros and cons to each. But the laws of physics are such that a big wobbly bobble-head perched atop an underdeveloped, weak little neck (it’s like an orange on a toothpick!) is absolutely best protected rear-facing. Having an opinion to the contrary doesn’t make that little body and brain safer in the car, because it’s not substantiated by anything. You can tell yourself that your baby is just as safe forward-facing but that doesn’t make it true.

9. Read the manual. Cover to cover, even if it seems like manualsgibberish. It often does seem like it was written in a language you don’t understand, but there’s a ton of info in there. Even if it doesn’t make any sense it will give you a starting place to ask some questions. Also haul out your vehicle manual and read the child restraint section and the airbag section. Lots of good stuff there too. No matter what you read online, are told at playgroup, or by your doctor, the car seat and vehicle manuals have the final say. If you have questions, the manufacturers of those products are excellent resources. They want you to use their products correctly and safely.

10. Meet with a certified Technician. We’re quite friendly, and we like what we do. Even if you are 100% confident that your car seat is installed and used properly you might learn something useful for the next stage.

Updated January 2020.

We are frequently asked about the angles at which a rear-facing seat may be installed. Most often, we tend to recommend seats that permit a range of angles, and how a particular seat fits in any given vehicle depends very much on that range.

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!

anglerangeRFWe are guilty ourselves of using the numbers 30* and 45* when that isn’t always accurate or useful, particularly when car 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 their 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 their 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 it is possible that the seat is not a good fit for the shape of your 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.DSC00380_2

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.

A manufacturer will determine for their own seat what is the maximum and minimum recline angle for installation. Exceeding either limit risks greater chance of injury to the child if the car seat can not do what it was designed to.

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. Do you recognize any?

rfangle08 rfangle07 rfangle06   rfangle05 rfangle04 rfangle01 rfangle03 foonfRFangle1

SureFitangleindicator duallevelline

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 stack of noodles (usually 3 for stability), 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;
  • 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.

rfangle02

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.

rfangle13 rfangle14 rfangle15 rfangle22

rfangle37 rfangle36

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.

rfangle17 rfangle16

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 former favourite go-to convertible seats for smaller vehicles, but now retired. Fully reclined for a newborn there isn’t much clearance between it and the front seat slid all the way back.

rfangle11 rfangle18

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.

rfangle09 rfangle19

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.

Fully reclined (approx. 44*)/ fully upright (approx. 30*).
rfangle21 rfangle20

Rear-facing only 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 read 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.

rfangle29 rfangle26

And now, a close up look at the props used in this post: various types of pool noodles, and tightly rolled and taped towels.
rfangle38 rfangle43

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!

rfangle39 rfangle40
rfangle41 rfangle43

Do you prefer to see these tips in action?  A short video demonstrating the various techniques discussed above.

 

Last updated July 2019.
Travel5

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.

Travel6

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 Travel7the 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.

~Laura

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, or if your kids are older and in boosters, read more here.

Click here to read the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada‘s position statement on the need for all passengers to be safely seated on flights.

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.

577278_349476461779279_1742021207_n

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.

538928_349499821776943_2139998632_n

Two kids in seats? Nest them like this.

Travels3

Or nest them like this!

Travels1

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.

Travels2

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?

tether3

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.

inflatablebelt
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.

 

headrests1

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!
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 airbag 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.

 

A1 BeltFOTBForward 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…

RadianFOTB1

…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.

RadianFOTB2

 

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.

A1 overlapping UAS

 

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.

A1 raised seat bight

 

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.”

A1 overlapping belts

Off-set lower anchors. The position of the lower anchors on this van bench seat takes up two seating positions when in use.

A1 offset UAS

 

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.

A1 hard plastic at bight

 

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. If a manual doesn’t prohibit installing a car seat there then go for it – but it still makes some parents uncomfortable.

A1 console

 

Extremely narrow centre seats with closely spaced seat belt anchors. Who or what would fit there? Not much. The spacing there is about 11″.

A1 narrow centre seat

 

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.

A1 forward leaning buckle

 

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.

AvalanchetetherTundraCenter1

 

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.

A1 flip down back seat

 

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.

A1 side bolster

 

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 may be permissible to twist the female end up to three full turns (no half 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.

A1 long buckle stalks

 

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.

A1 Forward leaning head rest

 

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!

Update December 2019.

We developed this decision making tool (scroll down – the link is at the bottom!) with the help of a wonderful CPST and parent, 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.

Sometimes the answer is a school bus, which eliminates much of the worry for older kids, but for those with tiny kindergarten kids even bus-riding can pose some challenges. Please be in touch if you have bus questions.

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.

Other helpful resources you can look at here are our list of favourite booster seats, a breakdown of the 5-step test for seat belt readiness, a descriptive article to guide you when deciding on a harness or a booster, and a visual of what a good booster fit looks like versus a poor one.

properuseboosterbeltfitgoodbad

Click on the below link to open the Decision Making Tool as a pdf:

Decision Making Tool

 

Updated January 2020.

What is a top tether?

tether1Why 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 forward-facing child from head and neck injuries.

 

What seats have tethers?

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 as it may not be safe to use.

What does a tether do?

What’s the point of the tether?  Simply put it prevents your child’s head from striking whatever is in front of it.  In formal, technical terms, 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 and an untethered seat. 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.

 

Tether hook, strap, and adjuster

tether10

This is a tether hook.  It is the exact same type of hook on every 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.

tether11 tether9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

tether8

What does the tether hook connect 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 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 tether anchors located?

On newer vehicles they may be marked with this symbol – those ones are easy to find and identify.

tas

 

They take a variety of other forms as well, and some are pictured here:

truckTT
Routing loops and tether anchors on the back wall of a truck.

tether5 tether4 tether3

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 – ask the vehicle manufacturer!

tetheranchorlocations

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.

Adding more tether anchors to an older vehicle

Now how about those of you with older vehicles?

The good news: 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 of that era can be retrofitted.

The bad news: As user-ready tether anchors were required in vehicles as of 2001/2002, we are now nearly two decades past the point where manufacturers produced the parts to retrofit older vehicles with, and for many vehicle models the parts no longer exist. 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. We strongly discourage any DIY solutions because they may not hold up in a crash.

 

How is the tether routed?

You can route the tether strap any time when you install a seat, 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…).

Check the part of your vehicle manual that tells you how to route the tether strap relative to the vehicle head restraint (head rest). Some go under, some go over. Some allow you or require you to remove the head restraint 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.  Thankfully now in 2020 most vehicles are a lot easier to work with than this one was.

tether6

 

Video of tether strap and tether anchor

These videos walk you through forward-facing installations, ending with the top tether connection.  If you’re a visual learner take a peek!

Video: Forward-facing seat with UAS.

Video: Forward-facing seat with seat belt

 

Storing a tether hook

tether12What 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.

Last updated July 2019.

Why do car seats expire?

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.

expiry3 expiry1 expiry4

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);
  • safety regulations and standards may have changed, so safer products may now be on the market;
  • 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.

Has your seat expired and you’re in the market for a new one?  We have favourite lists of seats in all categories – infant seats, convertibles, combination seats, and dedicated boosters.  What do you get for more money? Read here.

Not sure how long your seat is good for? Start here, and then CONFIRM WITH THE MANUFACTURER! This list linked here 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.

If you’ve checked this page before you might be looking for a table of info. We have long updated it, and provided the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada with the same data for use for their members. Instead of duplicating our work, and potentially missing something, we’ve decided to just link to their summary document from now on. Find it here.

All rear-facing! 4 years old, 11 months old, and 2.5 years old

Updated December 2019.

The message to rear face a child well past the bare minimums seems to be getting out there into the world, the baby and parenting groups, and 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 convertible 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 minimums

Legal bare minimums to forward face vary from province to territory but generally are somewhere in the neighbourhood of age 1 and 20 lbs. That minimum is ages behind what Transport Canada requires, which is itself ages behind the capacity now available on most convertible car seats.

Manufacturers may set additional limits as regarding age, weight, or developmental milestone before a child may ride forward-facing. A parent or caregiver must adhere to the strictest limits, which in almost every case, is the labelling on the seat itself.

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.

 

What we know: physics and research

Traffic safety data from the Sweden shows an amazingly low frequency of child fatalities in car crashes.  However, it’s not easy to directly compare Swedish statistics to Canadian ones as the cars, roads, driving habits, drivers, types of car seats, and longevity of rear facing vary greatly, but the record is compelling.

US and Canadian data lacks real world data with real crashes with real kids to pinpoint an exact age at which a child is safe to ride forward facing. Roads are getting safer, and more caregivers are using seats correctly more often.

Some older studies suggested age two was the turning point, and for a long time that’s the number we saw thrown around. Those studies have been shown to have some methodological problems though…so we don’t really know what the magic age is. Given the availability of restraints today that can accommodate the average child rear facing to the age of four, and the increased awareness among caregivers to rear face for longer, we expect to see better crash outcomes.

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. Watch here: Rear vs foward facing comparison.

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. Swedish studies 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 larger convertible car seat, and promote shopping for a convertible seat that will accommodate your child for as long as possible. For many children this is realistically to age four.

 

Legroom

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 a convertible seat right from the start 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 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 they 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.

Try before you buy

Before you buy it absolutely try it in your vehicle, and install it. Try it in various seating positions, install with UAS and then try 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!

Logistics

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 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 would shriek if I tried 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 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 convertible seat installed more upright.

Dealing with complaints

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 something else that your child will respond positively to.

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 convertible 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 a convertible 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.

We’ve since written a follow-up article going into some technical details of rear facing, including elements not covered here. It was getting kind of long as it was!

Thank you to those who provided photos of rear facing kids of a range of ages and in a variety of seats!

 

Updated December 2019.

Want a quicker ‘Top Ten’ read? Click here.

When my oldest was meeting the so-called milestone of age four, and reaching the magical weight of 40 lbs, I started getting surprised looks and inquiring remarks about when she would be out of her ‘baby seat’ and into a booster. Yikes – I only just turned her forward facing a few months earlier! She wouldn’t be boostered for a while for our family — a year to a year and a half I thought — but with boostering on the horizon, I started to pay more attention to what boosters are out there and what the fit is like…and why fit matters so much.

The transition from a forward-facing harnessed seat to use of the adult seat belt is a period of surprisingly high misuse.  Many 40 lb 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 seat belt 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.

What is the legal minimum?

In British Columbia (as in many other provinces and territories) a child may not ride in a booster until they are 40 lbs, 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, just like every other region in Canada, 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 they will fit in a harnessed seat, and for how long, both rear- and forward-facing.  How well a car seat might fit in the car is another matter entirely though, and it surprises many to learn that booster fit is even less predictable. It varies greatly from child to child, vehicle to vehicle, and even in different seating positions in the same vehicle.

How do booster seats work with the adult seat belt?

First – note the emphasis on adult here. Seat belts are designed to fit adult bodies, and children are not just mini adults. 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, making contact with the chest.

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).

 

What matters for booster fit?

Booster fit is further complicated by quirks of vehicles – awkward buckle stalks, belt geometry that doesn’t work with a particular booster, head restraints that don’t adjust or angle forward, or no head restraint 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 restraints, or head restraints that interfere with the top of the booster, you’ll need to shop carefully for a booster that doesn’t need a head restraint behind it, AND fits your child well.

The reverse of having an underage 40 lb 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 or legal at 38 or 39 lbs in a booster. There is an increased risk of submarining (sliding under the lap belt) and ejection; both result in poor outcomes.

Won’t a booster fit more easily in my car?

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.

How do I choose a booster seat?

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 restraint if the booster requires it.  If your child is on the younger side of booster readiness (five-six) aim for a high back.  If your vehicle doesn’t have a head restraint, get a high back that doesn’t need support.  If your child is older, and there’s a head restraint 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 combination seat or 3-in-1 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.

Too many choices. Where do I start?

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! 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.

Updated December 2019.

No time to read? Download a PDF checklist for used seats here.

What’s the risk, really?

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. Do you trust that person to be honest about the history? We, too, are thrifty and like a good bargain, but car seats and booster seats are one of the few things we strongly encourage you to buy new whenever possible.

Great brand new seats can be had in all categories (infant, convertible, combination, and booster) for around $100, and if you’re not in a hurry, sometimes for less on sale. There are circumstances 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 safer used seat.

When is a used seat safe?

A seat isn’t unsafe just because someone else has used it. The potential for risk comes from the history not being known. 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).  Much less risk there, because you can ask those people specific questions about the seat, and trust you’re getting an honest answer.

Is it ever illegal to use a used seat?

No – provided the seat is otherwise appropriate for your situation.

In some cases it may be illegal for the person to have provided (sold, loaned, or gave) it to you. That includes if the seat is:

  • expired
  • not compliant to current Transport Canada CMVSS standards (as of this writing, anything produced 2012 or later will be)
  • recalled and not fixed
  • damaged and not fixed
  • missing parts
  • missing a manual (a digital manual is fine)
  • crashed to the point of requiring replacement (some brands allow re-use after a minor crash)

In all of those scenarios above it would be against Health Canada’s Consumer Product Safety Act to pass on the seat.

If I can’t give it away or sell it, what are my options other than the landfill?

If you find you need to destroy a seat, for any reason (expired, crashed, or otherwise unsafe to use), here’s what we suggest.  Alternately, a CPST may be able to use it for teaching.  A CPST 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 you’re out of options 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, but keep it to use as a spare for an identical seat, or to give or sell for use on an identical seat.  Remove UAS (LATCH) straps.  Write CRASHED DO NOT USE in permanent marker on the shell. 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.

Checklist

If you’re considering a previously owned seat for any reason – travel, vacation, saving a few dollars – have a read through this list to see if the seat is a good choice for you. If not, please let us know what you need and we’d be happy to suggest some options. Our goal is to give you the information you need to make informed choices for your family.

Last updated December 2019.

We are asked this question often, from parents feeling stressed about the pressure to spend huge amounts of money on a car seat to keep their child safe. Will a seat that costs $500 do a better job of protecting your child than a $99 seat? 

You don’t get to pick your crash. Focus on choosing and using a seat that fits your child and your vehicle, and that you use properly every single time, and have confidence you are keeping your kids safe in the car.

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 same strict crash tests 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. Canada does not have safety ratings of any kind, so be critical of anything stating ‘highest rated’ or ‘safest on the market.’

So what are you getting in a $500 seat versus a $99 seat?  Mostly 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 marketing.

UAS connectors

UAS (Universal Anchorage System, aka LATCH), is a system to install car seats and is an alternative to using the seat belt. Vehicles 2003 and newer have this system built in. There are many different versions of UAS connectors (hooks) out there, ranging from a simple metal hook, to those with push-button releases, self-ratcheting mechanisms, and more. 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 paying extra for premium connectors may not be 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 them for as long as possible, in any seat appropriate for their 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 (yet) 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.

Harness: no-rethread

To adjust the harness height 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, such as daycare provides or grandparents, 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.

Built-in lock-offs

Seats with built-in lock-offs have a locking mechanism as part of the seat that locks the seat belt by clamping the the webbing in some way. A lock-off would be used instead of a belt’s own locking mechanism, if present. 

Lock-offs 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. 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.  

If you frequently travel internationally, a seat with lock-offs can be very handy as seat belts outside of North America often do not lock for car seat use.

Load legs

Load legs are common on European seats but are only recently appearing on Canadian ones, currently only on rear-facing only infant seats. The load leg extends from the back of the base to the vehicle floor. The load leg minimizes how much a rear-facing seat moves in a crash, and reduces crash forces on the child. Some vehicle features may prevent the use of a load leg, such as a hollow under-floor storage compartment or stow and go seating. Check vehicle fit before committing, but if a load leg is present, make every effort to use it.

Anti-rebound bars

Rear-facing infant and convertible seats may come with an anti-rebound bar (ARB), the purpose of which is to minimize how much a seat rebounds toward the back of the vehicle after a crash. Seats that do not have this physical bar do also have anti-rebound structure built into them but it may not be as obvious. Other ways of managing rebound include a pronounced bolster on the front edge of the car seat, or use of a rear-facing tether. 

Evenflo EveryStage anti-rebound bar

Latchable 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.

Harmony Youth Booster UAS

Plush fabrics and 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 sensory need for a particular fabric.

Premium covers also tend to include optional harness covers for at the child’s neck, and miscellaneous other padding that can be customized for child fit.

Recent years have seen new breathable fabrics, heat-regulating fabrics, an influx of merino wool covers, and other specialty fabric types that may appeal. Full disclaimer: we would never personally buy a leather cover for messy, spilly babies, but you do you!

Niche Needs

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, or a seat that is known to be the only one that works in a very specific situation.

In certain circumstances parents may be faced with having to spend a fair bit of money to get a seat that fits the bill. But not always – sometimes the perfect seat is that $99 one!

Want, need, or nice to have?

 

When shopping for a seat decide if you actually need the feature on the seat, or if it’s just a nice bonus. Ultimately your child will be safe as long as you take the time to properly install and use your seat every time. And one more thing? Work with a CPST for guidance on what seat to buy, and how to install and use it properly.

Updated December 2019.

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?!

 

I want the best seat. Which one is that?

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.

Your vehicle

If you are vehicle shopping in anticipation of a new baby or growing family please read this first.

If your vehicle has any quirks or limitations to car seat or booster seat use it may narrow down your seat options quite quickly. We could list vehicle barriers, or you could read our vehicle shopping guide even if you aren’t shopping. A vehicle with features that make car seats difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible though! It may mean you ask for help early on to save yourself the frustration of trying to figure out what will work for you. There are very few vehicles that don’t work at all.

Your child’s size: rear-facing considerations

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 and a weight rating beginning at 4 lbs.

Weight limits vary on infant seats, and as of this writing max out at 22lbs, 30lbs, or 35lbs.  Overall height of the shell of the seat varies as well, with a higher-weight seat generally having a taller shell. Many infant seats now available fit until a standing height of 30″ or 32″.

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 a convertible seat (one that installs rear facing and then can be turned forward later on).  More and more seats are being designed to fit well from birth, with some starting as low as 4 lbs. 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 limit for rear facing and forward facing. Currently convertible seats have rear-facing weight limits of 35-50 lbs, with the trend towards higher rear facing weight limits.

Your child’s size: forward-facing considerations

Look at the tallest or highest 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 40 lbs and 65 lbs. 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 they are booster ready.

There are seats that are called 3-in-1s, all-in-ones, or multi-mode, and are marketed as the only seat you’ll ever need. Look at those with a critical eye; it is very difficult to produce a seat that fits a 4 lbs newborn and also fits a child who is 6-9+. Often seats that have rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster capabilities don’t do all of the stages well, so you may not be saving money in the long run.

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).

Your child’s size: booster seat considerations

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!). Some children are ready for a booster seat at age five, many at age six, and most at age seven.

Boostering doesn’t have to be an all or nothing switch. You could use a booster seat for shorter trips around town, but use a harnessed seat for longer road trips where they may get bored and fidget, or fall asleep and slump over.

How do I know if a seat is a good fit?

Ideally you would try your child in the seat, and try installing it in your vehicle before buying. We know this isn’t always practical or possible, so online research can narrow the list.

Canada does not have safety ratings or ease of use ratings. If you are reading anything that claims this it is either American and not directly applicable to our seats, or it is marketing. Be critical.

Every car seat legally for sale in Canada bears the National Safety Mark (circle sticker with a maple leaf), and passes the same strict crash test standards.

Some seats do 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 for anything you find confusing or hard to understand.

Be cautious of online store reviews and ratings as they are frequently written by people who aren’t using the seat correctly, and then not surprisingly, aren’t happy with it.

We keep a list of our favourite seats in all categories (infant, convertible, combination, 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 unsafe about seats that aren’t on this list so long as they fit your child and install well in your vehicle. Seats that are brand new to the market may not appear right away, as it takes some time to acquire hands-on experience with the product.

I still have questions

Post a question on our Facebook page and we’ll point you in the right direction! We’ll need to know the following information so please have it ready:

  • Make, model, and year of your vehicle(s)
  • Age, weight, and height of your child(ren)
  • Details about all children who ride in the vehicle and what seat they’re in, even if you are only seat shopping for one. Sometimes rearranging makes the most sense.
  • Your budget
  • How long you intend to keep a child rear facing, if applicable
  • Any other relevant information around how you use your vehicle or transport your kids