You’ve bought the best car seat you could, so job done? Actually, no! The most crucial part of a car seat is how well it has been fitted. Even the most expensive car seat won’t protect if it is badly fitted.
So how do you make sure you’re fitting the car seat properly? The key message here is to read the instructions and, if it is available, to look at the fitting video on the supplier’s website.
The safest place to put the seat is the middle of the back seat, but often it is not possible to fit it there. The nearside is better than the offside as you are more likely to stand on the pavement when putting baby in the car. However, if you are driving alone, it may be better to put baby on the front seat where you can see him. If they make a funny sound or appear to be choking, your instincts will be to look to find out what is wrong. Taking your eyes off the road is never a good idea. Suddenly thinking about and looking at your baby could mean you cause an accident. However, never put the seat where there is an airbag – it can seriously injure a baby if it goes off.
The easiest infant car seats to fit are the latest i-Size seats. How do you know if your car is suitable for i-Size or suitable for Isofix? The information will lurk somewhere in the car’s manual. If you have both, then fitting is easy – there is a pair of anchor points hidden between the back and seat. The latches on the car seat should slide straight in. Look out for the indicator lights which show everything is correctly in place. To stop the seat rotating in an accident, there are sometimes top tether straps but more often there is a foot which braces the seat on the floor. The green button on the base usually is green if it is fitted correctly and red if not.
Things become a little more difficult if you have an older car or a seat without the ISO fix latches. Then you will need to use the seat belts. This can be fraught with difficulties and complications so fitting can be a right pain and mistakes are quite likely.
If you are fitting the seat rear facing, you will need to follow the BLUE guides. Forward facing, you need to follow the RED guides. Pull the seat belt out and pass it through the guides carefully following the instructions and click it in. Some belts aren’t long enough. If this is the case, you will need to return the seat to the retailer as it doesn’t fit your car.
· Make sure the seat belt isn’t twisted at all.
· Kneel in the seat pushing it firmly into the car seat and pull on the seat belt so that it is TIGHT!
· Lock-off clips or tensioners help keep the seat belt firm.
Check frequently that the seat is still firmly in place. There should be little, if any, sideways or forward movement. If the seat is a Group 0+ rear-facing seat, carefully check where the handle should be. This can vary from seat to seat, though often it is upright or fully back and it can offer extra protection if you roll the car over in an accident.
When you use the seat belt to fit the seat it is important that it is the fabric part of the seat belt that holds the seat in place. Sometimes, the plastic of the buckle is bent against the plastic of the seat. In an accident, the buckle could shatter, releasing the seat belt. Some seats have alternative routings to avoid this problem.
It’s not just the seat that needs to be fitted correctly. Your child also needs to be strapped in correctly. When the child is in the seat, pull the harness tight. You should be able to get two fingers between the collarbone and the harness, but no more. Most children prefer it to hold them firmly and if you always do it, they come to expect it anyway. Watch out in cold weather. A thick jacket or snowsuit can make the harness less effective, so remove thick clothing before strapping the child in.
Hopefully, you will never need to put the car seat to the test, but if you do have an accident, it’s good to know that everything possible has been done to protect your most precious possession. If you are still confused by car seats, you could read this free handy guide from the Baby Products Association “Car Seats – Ending the Confusion”