10 Car Seat Safety Questions Answered By CPS Techs

Car seats can be confusing. Not only do you need multiple throughout your little one’s childhood, but they come with several bells and whistles that make installing them tricky. 

If you have a child, we don’t have to tell you you’re carrying precious cargo. The CDC reports motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the United States. While grim, many of these deaths are preventable. Always properly buckling children in age and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats and seat belts can reduce serious and fatal injuries by up to 80%. 

That’s why we interviewed four Child Passenger Safety Technicians among our GoodBuy Gurus, to discuss some of the most pressing car seat safety questions.

Table of Contents 

What Are the Main Types of Car Seats?

There are three types of car seats: Infant car seats, which are rear-facing only; the convertible seat that changes from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat and includes a harness and tether; and the all-in-one seat, which is like the convertible seat but also has a booster seat option.

What Are the Four Stages of Car Seat Safety?

the four stages of car seat safety: rear-facing, forward-facing, booster seat, seat belt

The four stages of car seat safety are: 

  1. Rear-Facing: Rear-facing is the first car seat stage that starts at birth. Your little one will sit in an infant car seat or convertible car seat that is positioned away from the driver's seat. Jessica Choi, CPSTI and STAC Instructor, says that “most kids can easily rear face until they are about four years old in many convertible seats.” 
  2. Forward-Facing: Once your little one has outgrown the height and weight limits of a rear-facing convertible seat, you can turn your car seat around to forward-facing (facing the driver’s seat). Jessica recommends checking the law in your state as state laws will vary. “If your child outgrows their harnessed seat before they are old enough and big enough for a booster, you'll need to get another forward-facing car seat with a higher harness limit,” says Jessica. 
  3. Booster Seat: Once kids have outgrown the forward-facing stage, it's time for a booster seat. Some convertible car seats come with a booster mode. If not, you will need to purchase a booster seat. 
  4. Seat Belt: The last stage is moving your kiddo to a seat belt. This can happen once your little one passes the five-step seat belt test (below) and they meet the minimum requirements for your state to stop using a car seat or booster seat. 


Five-Step Seat Belt Test

  1. Can your child sit all the way back in the vehicle seat, with their butt and back against the seat?
  2. Do their knees bend over the edge of the seat and their feet touch the floor?
  3. Can they remain seated in this position, without slouching, for the entire trip?
  4. Does the lap belt fit safely on their upper thighs, not across their belly?
  5. Does the shoulder belt fit safely across their collarbone, not across their face or neck?

How Long Should a Child Use a Car Seat?

You’ve heard the saying, “They grow up so fast.” It’s true, and as they grow, their car seat will need to grow with them. From a rear-facing car seat to a seat belt, there are a few things to know along the way. “Car seats fall into a few categories. Infant-only, convertible and booster seats,” CPST Allana Pinkerton says. 

“The parent should review height and weight guidelines for each seat. Once a child reaches one of the criteria, it is time to transition to the next car seat. Age comes into consideration when it comes to turning the child forward-facing, and maturity needs to be considered when transitioning to a booster seat,” says Allana. 

For more information on the stages of car seat safety and when to transition to each stage, read our guide to when to change car seats

What Is a Five-Point Safety Harness?

A five-point safety harness is a harness attached to a car seat that has five points designed to protect your child in the event of a crash. The five points on the harness refer to two points at the top by your child’s shoulder, two of the points are at your child’s hips and the last point is in the middle where the harness buckles.

How Can Parents Properly Fit the 5-Point Harness?

Which harness slots you use depends on if your child is rear-facing or forward-facing. In a rear-facing car seat, the harness straps should come out at or below your child’s shoulders. In a forward-facing car seat, the harness straps should come out at or above the child’s shoulders. 

The harness straps should fit snug on your kiddo. By snug we mean it is tight enough you cannot pinch the webbing material between your fingers. 

Amie Durocher, a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, says that “the chest clip should be at about armpit level on the child. We suggest moving this into position after you tighten the harness straps so you don’t inadvertently pull the clip into the child’s throat as you pull the straps tight.”

Find more information on harnessing here

What Is the Most Common Problem Involving Car Seats?

Jennifer Saxton, CPST and CEO of TotSquad, says, "one of the biggest mistakes is not reading the instruction manuals that come with the child’s car seat. There are many warnings to be aware of and specific instructions about when to use and not to use the infant cushions (Inserts) that come with the car seat. There are certain instructions when installing with a seat belt or with the lower attachment strap (LATCH).” Many people assume you can use both, but it depends on the car seat and the manufacturer. Always check the manual to see whether or not the car seat can be installed that way. 

Jen says that there are a few other common problems to keep an eye out for: 

  • Car seats are installed too loose: Always make sure the car seat fits. They should be tight enough that they move less than one-inch side to side, back to front where you are routing the seat belt or LATCH strap (aka belt path). 
  • Proper harness height and a snug fit: The harness should be at or just below a child’s shoulders when they are rear-facing. The harness should be snug and comfortable, laying flat against the child’s body and you should not be able to pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger at the collarbone. 

What Should Be Done if the Car Seat Is Recalled?

If your car seat has been recalled, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Contact the car seat manufacturer right away if they have not contacted you already. Most of the time, the manufacturer will send you any instructions needed to repair the car seat along with a repair kit. 

Tip: When you purchase a car seat, make sure to register it so the manufacturer is able to alert you immediately in case of a recall. You can also visit the NHTSA website to check for any recalls. 

Note: At GoodBuy Gear, we monitor recalled items very closely and have rigorous safety standards and proprietary technology that flags recalled items. 

What Information Should Be on a Car Seat?

In the case of an accident, EMTs recommend adding the below information to your car seat: 

  • Your child’s name and date of birth 
  • You and your partner’s name and date of birth 
  • Emergency contacts 
  • Any medical conditions of your little one 
  • Any medications your child is on 

You can write this information on a piece of paper and tape it to the back of your kiddo’s car seat. This is a cautionary step in case you're ever in an accident and are unable to provide this information to firefighters. 

How to Select a Car Seat

Nuna RAVA Convertible Car Seat, 2021, Caviar

Here’s what you need to know before buying a car seat

  • The stage of car seat your child is in
  • Your child’s age, weight and height
  • What direction will the child need to face (rear facing or forward facing) 

Allana also shared that parents should “check for any damage to the car seat’s parts and pieces and be sure the box includes everything that is listed in the user manual.” No matter where you buy your car seat, Allana says, “ultimately, a parent should choose a car seat that fits their child, installs properly in their car and one they will use correctly every time.” 

At GoodBuy Gear, we sell open box and gently used car seats. All gently used car seats go through an extensive proprietary safety and inspection process. Learn all about our GoodBuy ™ Car Seat Safety Check here.

Shop all car seats

How to Properly Install a Car Seat 

Once you have the car seat, the next big hurdle is installing it correctly in your vehicle. Proper installation is key to a car seat performing correctly. The car seat should fit snugly in place. “A tight fit and a locked seat belt are key,” Allana told us. 

“If the car seat is installed using the LATCH system, be sure everything is connected properly and the car seat moves less than one-inch side to side, front to back at the belt path. If the vehicle seat belt is used, be sure it is in the locking mode so the car seat is held tight.” Check your vehicle owner’s manual for assistance too. If you don’t have the vehicle manufacturer's manual, look online to see if one is available.

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone. Allana reminds us, “One of the best things is to seek out a CPS Technician to help guide you through it all and give you peace of mind.” If you’re unable to connect with a CPST, Allana says, “Read the car seat manual, follow the instructions and never deviate from them.” 

Other car seat safety and installation resources: 

  • You can find a list of CPS Technicians near you at Safe Ride 4 Kids
  • There are a lot of general videos and resources online
  • Oftentimes manufacturers will have installation videos for their models of car seats 

Have more car seat safety questions? Read our guide on Car Seat Compatibility



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