We’ve written before here and here about flying with harnessed seats, but what to do if your kids are in booster seats?

Jen recently flew with her 6.5yo and 9yo, the first time without any harnessed seats, and here are some words of wisdom from a seasoned traveler.

Decide if a booster seat is a good choice for your child(ren) at your destination. Some factors to consider:

  • Is your child a practiced booster rider? A vacation is probably not the best time to start teaching your mature (usually 5.5-6+) 40+lb child how to sit properly at all times. Not when your not-so-wee one is tired, perhaps in a different time zone, or excited about the trip and unable to sit still. If a booster is on your radar for future travels start teaching your child well in advance so you have plenty of time to assess.
  • Will your destination involve long drives? Is your child likely to fall asleep in the car? If so then a booster might not be a good choice, especially if your child is still new to boosters.
  • How confident and practiced are you at assessing seat belt fit, and/or installing car seats? Is your vehicle at your destination a known entity, or is it a rental car? How flexible will you (and any traveling companions) be if the first rental car you are offered isn’t a good fit with your seats, and you need to unload everyone and start over?

I flew in December and chose to take a harnessed seat on the plane for my 6yo, and a booster for my 9yo. Although the 6yo is in a booster most of the time at home I knew that we’d have some long days of driving at our destination, and combined with the lack of sleep that goes with holiday traveling, she would not do well in a booster. My prediction was proven correct after a wicked meltdown and then a car nap on the first day, both very unlike her. Had she been in a booster seat we wouldn’t have been able to keep driving safely. Everything is hard when you’re tired.

This more recent trip didn’t involve nearly as much driving at our destination, and the flight was shorter and only through one time zone. I decided a high back booster would be suitable, and my partner is very used to me being rather picky with rental cars, so I knew my decision would be supported if I needed to switch to a different car at the airport.

For this trip I chose to bring a Harmony Youth Booster for the 9yo, and a Harmony Dreamtime Elite for the 6yo. These seats are both excellent choices for travel and everyday use because they provide consistently excellent seat belt fit, are lightweight, fit well in most cars, and are easy for my kids to use. Extra bonus, they are inexpensive. The regular price of the backless is about $20, and the high back is $55.

Unlike harnessed seats that can be installed on an aircraft seat, booster seats aren’t used on the aircraft. So bringing them takes a bit of planning.

There are two stages to my planning here:

  1. How will I get the seats to my destination undamaged?
  2. How will I make sure that my seats will wind up at the same place I’m going to?

The back of the Dreamtime Elite detaches from the base and fits easily into a large suitcase. I packed my clothes under, around, and on top of it. I’ll spare you the sight of my knickers and delicates, but you get the idea. It adds very little weight to the suitcase, and I was confident that any damage at our destination would be visible. It is always possible that my suitcase could go missing though, which is why part 2 is important.

Booster seats can’t be used in flight, but that doesn’t mean they can’t come into the cabin with us. I popped the boosters into cloth bags with handles that my kids could carry themselves…or let’s be honest, that I could carry after they got tired. Even laden down with other things I could still slide the bag’s handle onto my arm.

Once through security and on board the aircraft they fit easily into the overhead bins. Single seats also fit easily under the seat in front of me. I didn’t put them in the sizer but they aren’t big. Here are two stacked together with room to spare. My kids are big enough to fit comfortably into the airplane seats, and the seat belt can be properly tightened on them, which is also a factor when deciding on harness vs booster.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t want my 6yo in a backless booster. Since it’s impractical to carry the booster back onto the airplane (if it would even be permitted, which I doubt), I was comfortable packing it well into my suitcase and hoping it showed up. I had the booster bottom with me, so if needed, could have used that until the suitcase showed up.

And that’s it! We had a successful trip, and hope your future travels are smooth…bon voyage!

Some folks like to buy seats that are well-suited for travel. If you are considering a travel-specific/back-up seat purchase there are a few great options in all categories. This is not an exhaustive list and chances are good that the seat you own will work with some planning. The ones here are listed because they are narrow, lightweight, and inexpensive.

Rear-facing only (infant) seats – most install fairly easily without the base, and fit well on many airplane seats. Check your manual for instructions about aircraft installation.

Convertible seats – go to options include the Evenflo Titan 65/SureRide or Evenflo Sonus (for use rear facing and forward facing), and the Cosco Scenera NEXT rear facing. Both are lightweight, and compatible with the vast majority of vehicles. The Sonus sits low enough that the tray table can come down and be used by a forward-facing child.

Combination seats – Harmony Defender, Evenflo Maestro, and Graco Tranzitions are great options to start with.

Dedicated booster seats – remember that these can’t be used on the plane! But great options that are easy to swap between vehicles, and are lightweight and easy to transport include the Graco Turbobooster, Graco TakeAlong, Graco RightGuide, Graco Affix, Harmony Dreamtime, Harmony Youth Booster, Evenflo Amp, and Diono backless boosters.

Jen is a mom of two, about to move across the country (again), and a Child Passenger Safety Technician – Instructor Trainer who recently attended a course in Charlotte, NC all about Safe Travel for All Children: Transporting Children with Special Healthcare Needs.



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.



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!”



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.

Just like buying a new car seat, buying a new vehicle can be very overwhelming. It’s hard to sift through all the information out there and to decide what should be a priority for your family. While shopping many people consider paint colour, fuel mileage, safety ratings, and built-in entertainment and navigation systems, but surprisingly few seem to consider functional seating capacity. If your family does or will include children it’s important to think long term about how the vehicle will accommodate car and booster seats as your children grow. There are a startling number of factors to consider from this perspective.

We have included a photo gallery to illustrate some of the more challenging vehicle design features that may impede a successful car or booster seat install, but first some details. But don’t be alarmed! Chances are you will find something that works with a particular vehicle, but your options might be limited. Consider each feature carefully and decide what matters overall to you. Would you like help narrowing down the options? The knowledgeable folks at car-seat.org (from whom we’ve learned, and continue to learn a great deal), particularly in the Car and Vehicle sub-forum, can probably save you time and aggravation if you post the particulars of your situation.

How many people do you regularly transport? Do you often have family visit and/or transport friends? How old are the people you transport most often?

How long do you expect to own this vehicle? How old will your children be at that time and what type of seats would they be in (rear-facing, forward-facing, booster)? Do you plan on having more children in the future?


Tether anchors: How many forward-facing children do you have or expect to have at one time? If the vehicle is older than 2002, has it been retrofitted with anchors if possible? If not, is the retrofit part still available or easy to find? If it’s a 3-row vehicle be aware that many have only one tether anchor in the 3rd row, and sometimes none at all. With few exceptions vehicles that come factory-equipped with tether anchors can not have additional ones added. Do not use a universal unregulated/untested tether anchor or get into “do it yourself” mode when it comes to this critical safety element. Contact a tech for a list of vehicles with more than three factory-equipped tether anchors if you anticipate needing the flexibility that multiple tether anchors offers.

Ford’s new inflatable belt

Seat Belts: The type of seat belt present (lap belt or lap/shoulder belt), their locations, the length of the buckle stalk, whether the buckle is fixed and forward-leaning, whether the buckle sits forward of the bight (seat crease), and how the belt itself locks can all influence how and whether a car seat or booster seat can be installed in that location. Some types of belts are straight out incompatible with car and booster seats, and other new types, such as Ford’s inflatable belts, may not yet be fully tested or approved with some models of car or booster seats.



Headrests: More accurately called head restraints they serve an important function in protecting an adult’s head and neck against whiplash-type injuries. They are sometimes required to support a high back booster seat, always required for use with a backless booster seat, and often interfere with the installation of a forward-facing car seat. Whether head restraints are adjustable, removable, or fixed and forward-leaning can very much affect what car or booster seats can be used there.

Safety: When shopping for a new or used vehicle it’s worth the time to investigate any available information on safety ratings, such as those published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. If purchasing an older vehicle investigate whether the seat belts are in good working order, or have ever been replaced (recommended after a vehicle is around 20-25 years old), and that existing safety features are undamaged and accounted for, such as airbags and tether anchors.

Seating Capacity: Many vehicles advertise themselves — or consumers assume — that seven seat belts means the ability to simultaneously transport seven people. While that is possible given the absolute right combination of people it’s not usually as easy as it looks. The same goes for many five-seaters that can’t actually seat five at the same time. The Car Seat Lady made a handy pictorial showing three types of seating configuration to watch for in a back seat. Essentially you want to avoid having seating positions cross over one another, or the middle be too narrow to accept a car or booster seat. Take careful note of any restrictions in three-row vehicles. Sometimes it’s not permitted to install any seat in the 3rd row if it’s especially small or what’s considered ‘stadium seating.’ Get that car dealer to dig out the manual for you to read carefully!

Taking a seat along for a test drive...it's so CLEAN!
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…


…but easily shifts like this. Not acceptable of course. Forward-facing installations with a forward-of-the-bight (FOTB) belt are not usually better as they tend to slide forward more than is allowable.



Overlapping lower anchors (UAS). The set in yellow is for the centre seating position; the set in blue is for the outboard seating position. Only one set can be used at a time and you must use the set indicated for each spot, not one from each.

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.



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!

Updated December 2019.

This information is modified to be Canada-specific from a guideline developed by the Manufacturers Alliance for Child Passenger Safety.

What is a CPST?

Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs) are people across Canada who have successfully completed the national training program offered by the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada (CPSAC). This course is approximately 20 hours long and involves classroom learning combined with in-vehicle practice to learn the basics of child passenger safety.

The role of a CPST is to provide education and support, acting as a skilled coach to empower caregivers to keep their kids safe in the car. CPSTs may not have the answers to all of your questions, but they do have a large cross-Canada network of other CPSTs to reach out to, as well as manufacturer contacts for brand-specific inquiries. The car seat check experience is an interactive one. This means you will be participating to the best of your abilities! As the caregiver, you should leave feeling confident that your child’s seat is installed correctly and that you are comfortable reinstalling and using it correctly. To ensure that you have the best experience you should prepare for a hands-on education session.

CPSTs are involved in child passenger safety in many different ways. Some do this work as part of their jobs, such as public health, law enforcement, or family resource centres; some are community volunteers who dedicate their time and knowledge providing a community service; and some provide one-on-one seat check sessions for a fee as part of their own small business.

Don’t be afraid to card your tech, and ask to see proof of their current certification.  If the technician is not a  CPSAC tech ask what their qualifications, certification, and experience are, and ensure they are both knowledgeable and up to date.

Who should meet with a CPST?

Victoria clinic photo

Anyone who transports kids. Are you a parent, grandparent, daycare provider, volunteer driver, carpooler, or caregiver of any other kind? Chances are (laws vary by province) that the driver is the one responsible for ensuring that child passengers are properly buckled up, regardless of whose kids they are, who installed the seat, or who put the child into the seat.

What does a seat check cost?

That depends on how the CPST is doing their work. If you have access to a CPST in your community through a public service or other resource, there may be no charge to you because their employer is funding the program.

Some technicians set a flat rate for a seat check, or charge on a sliding scale depending on need. There is no employer funding their work, and so they charge a fee for their time, expenses, and knowledge.

Sometimes CPSTs will organize a community car seat clinic event, and often those in attendance are volunteering their time. They may ask for a donation from caregivers to fund the service. Sometimes they have received sponsorship from a supporting organization or business. We love community partners!

Some technicians work strictly as volunteers, providing supplies out of their own pocket.  Some will accept tips or donations to purchase things such as pool noodles and photocopies, and would certainly appreciate small tokens of appreciation from you such as a coffee card or cash tip.

Ask about cost when making arrangements to meet with a technician. Many have websites and will list their fees, or state up front there is no charge.


Before Your Seat Check

Plan Ahead

Seek the help of a CPST before you even purchase a seat. There are many online groups and sources to help with shopping advice. Do your research and connect with CPSTs who provide helpful, thoughtful advice that is based on your needs and wants. They may ask questions to guide your purchase that you never thought to consider. There are great seats available at all price points and CPSTs want you to be happy with what you choose.

If you have any tricky seating situations — tiny car and tall parents, many children to fit, something else — taking the time to buy the right seat is especially important. If you are car shopping, read this first.

If you are pregnant, schedule an appointment 1 to 2 months prior to your due date. Many CPSAC technicians work as volunteers and have their own families and jobs to work around, and some moms deliver early. Several CPSTs we know have completed seat checks while mom is in labour, or get a panicked call from a partner that the baby came early and they need help right now because baby is being discharged in two hours. Please don’t leave things to the very end!

Read Your Manuals – Both of Them!

We can not overstate the importance of this step. One of the most helpful parts of meeting with a CPST is interpreting and understanding your car seat manual and your vehicle manual. They can be confusing – but have a read through in advance so you are somewhat familiar with what is involved.


Try Installing

Using the car seat manual, install the seat into your vehicle prior to your appointment.  If you do not have a manual, contact the manufacturer of your seat prior to your appointment to obtain one. Many have them available online, or can send you a PDF for quick reference on your phone.

Look up “Child Safety Seats” or “Child Restraints” in your vehicle owner’s manual. You will learn how a child’s car seat should be installed in your car. The car seat manual may not reference the requirements specific to your vehicle.  If you do not have a vehicle owner’s manual, contact the manufacturer of your vehicle prior to your appointment to obtain one, or check online as many have them easily downloadable.

Bring both manuals with you to your appointment.

Measure Your Child(ren)

Know your child’s weight and height. Bring your child with you to the seat check. If possible, also bring another adult to help watch the child while you are learning. It’s hard to absorb the information and fully participate in a seat check if you’re also chasing kids. Be prepared to learn, not just watch the CPSAC technician install the car seat. They’re trained to teach you, not install it for you. If another adult isn’t possible, plan ahead with snacks, games or toys, or containment devices such as a stroller or baby carrier.

Tidy Your Car

We don’t mean you have to get it detailed. But it’s much easier for everyone to work if you move excess stuff out of your car. The technician — and then you — will be in your vehicle. Move things off the floor and the back seat so there’s space to work. Depending on the type of car seat and vehicle it’s possible the technician will need to access the rear of your SUV or van, so having the trunk/back hatch space clear is also helpful.


At the Seat Check

How long does it take?


This one-on-one education session typically takes about 45 minutes for one car seat in one car, depending on the car seat(s) and the vehicle. The CPST should take all the time necessary to ensure that you feel competent and confident in re-installing the car seat into the vehicle and re-buckling your child into the car seat on your own.

Seat checks that involve multiple car seats or cars will of course take longer.

The very rare seat check is shorter, usually because the caregiver has read and understood the manual, there are no complications to troubleshoot, and has few questions.

If you have arranged a private check with a CPST, the location, time, and cost (if any) will be prearranged.  If you are attending a car seat clinic you may have an appointment time, or are trying your luck by dropping in. If you are attending a seat check event that is part of a technician training course, be aware that the technicians-in-training are new and still learning. Be understanding, and know that they are being supervised by their instructor.

What exactly goes on during a seat check?

During the seat check, a CPST will:

  • Have you sign a liability waiver.
  • Fill out a check form with details about your vehicle, seat, and child. You will usually be offered a copy of this form, either in paper or digital form.
  • The technician will uninstall the seat, even if it appears to be perfectly installed when you arrive.
  • Review the car seat manual and the vehicle owner’s manual with the caregiver and ensure that both are being followed correctly. If no manual is available the CPST will reference labels on the seat, or may be able to access a matching manual online. They will advise you to acquire a manual from the manufacturer. If a specific question comes up that the manual can not address, and it’s business hours, you may call the manufacturer’s customer service department together.
  • Ensure that an appropriate seating position in the vehicle is being used.
  • Check the car seat for recalls, visible damage, and an expiration date.
  • crst2If you are not the original owner of the seat, the technician will discuss the risks of a used seat.
  • Troubleshoot and try the installation.
  • Have you install the car seat(s) correctly using either the seat belt or UAS. You are encouraged to ask to learn how to install the seat with either system or in different seating positions, where time allows.
  • Discuss the next steps for each child, such as when to move to the next type of car seat.
  • Discuss the benefits of everyone riding properly restrained, including all adults and pets.
  • Discuss safety in and around the vehicle.
  • Discuss and demonstrate proper fit of your child in the seat.
  • Discuss your provincial laws and best practice recommendations for occupant safety.
  • Document any observations, changes, or advice given during the seat check. You may have homework or follow-up items to address.
  • After the seat check, ensure you can say yes to ALL of these questions:
    • Did you perform the final installation or assist in performing the final installation?
    • Do you feel confident about installing and using the car seat correctly?
    • Were your questions answered? If not, were you given direction as to whom you should contact or will the CPSAC technician follow up with you?


I’m convinced. How do I find a CPST near me?

CPSAC technicians who are able to meet with caregivers are listed on CPSAC’s Find A Tech map. Reach out to someone near you. If there isn’t anyone near you, CPSAC may be able to help. Contact them at info@cpsac.org.

I would like to become a CPST. How do I do that?

CPST training courses are offered across Canada by the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada. Currently scheduled courses can be seen here. The busiest times for courses are April-June and September-October. Just like CPSTs, instructors may be employed by an organization that hosts and funds much of the training, such as public health or law enforcement, or they may work independently. As such, cost for training varies widely.

CPSAC instructors plan courses when and where there is demand. If you are motivated to attend a course it may make sense for you to host one! Working with community partners to build CPST capacity in your area takes some work and planning, but is well worth the effort. If this might apply to you, reach out to CPSAC at registration@cpsac.org for more information.