5 Common Mistakes Parents Make When Using Car Seats for Their Kids — and How to Avoid Them
FORGETTING TO READ THE CAR SEAT'S MANUAL
"There are plenty of things in life that are easy to figure out on your own, but car seats aren't one of them," Cars.com editor-in-chief and child passenger safety technician Jennifer Newman tells PEOPLE. "Reading a car seat's manual will help parents become better acquainted with their new car seat. Make sure to take time to read up on how to adjust the car seat's harness straps and how to properly install the car seat into your car."
"While you're reading the car seat manual, it's recommended that you also cross-reference that manual with your car's manual," she adds. "Check out the section on child-safety seats and find out what the automaker recommends about where to install a car seat in your car."
NEGLECTING TO REGISTER THE CAR SEAT
"It's easy to overlook the registration postcard that's attached to your new car seat, but that little slip of paper is critical," Newman advises. "When filled out and returned to the car-seat maker, it will allow the company to easily contact you should your child's car seat be recalled."
"If you didn't register your car seat, find the website for your car-seat maker and register it there," she says. "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also has a tool to help you register your car seat."
Register Your Car Seat Here: https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/car-seats-and-booster-seats#registration?view=full
USING THE WRONG CAR SEAT
Newman explains, "When it comes to car seats, many parents are rushing their kids through them. A child hasn't outgrown a car seat until they've reached the seat's height or weight limit, but you also should consider the child's age and maturity level too."
"Not all 4-year-olds are ready for a booster seat," she notes. "If your little one is in a booster, but keeps unbuckling himself while the car is moving, he may need to sit in a car seat with a five-point harness such as a combination car seat, which features the harness, and can transition to a booster seat once he's ready for it."
CAR SEAT IS FACING THE WRONG DIRECTION
"The rules keep changing on how long a child needs to be in a rear-facing car seat," Newman tells PEOPLE. "It's now recommended that a child remain in the rear-facing position until they outgrow the height or weight limits of their car seat. This means a little one could be rear-facing until age 3 or older."
"A rear-facing car seat protects a child's head and spine from injury in a crash," she explains. "While many parents may worry about their kid feeling uncomfortable in a rear-facing car seat for so long, the child can rest her legs on the seat or sit cross-legged."
USING AN EXPIRED CAR SEAT
"Just like that jug of milk in your refrigerator, car seats have expiration dates," Newman says. "Car seats are exposed to extreme temperatures throughout the year and this slowly degrades the seat's plastic."
She advises, "If you're using an older car seat, you can find info about the expiration date in your car seat's manual. If you've lost the manual, go to the manufacturer's website to find a digital copy."