Stepping Out With Your Baby

How Safe is Your Car Seat?

Don't hit the gas until you're sure--more than 80 percent are installed wrong. Is yours okay? Find out here.

1. I got my cherub's car seat from ...
A. The store: It's brand-spankin' new.
B. A yard sale: It was only five bucks!
C. My sis: Her kids are older now.

If you answered A, you go, Mama! Every new car seat sold in the United States must meet federal safety and crash-performance standards. A used one, however, may be missing parts or may have been involved in an accident. "There's no way of telling if it would protect your child," says Lorrie Walker, technical advisor at Safe Kids Worldwide. Plus, car seats expire, usually in six to nine years. Have a garage-sale seat or a friend's hand-me-down? Upgrade to new.

2. When I put my squirt's car seat in, I position it ...
A. In the rear middle seat.
B. Behind the passenger seat.
C. Behind the driver seat.

Answered A? Yay! The rear center spot is technically the safest one in the car because it's farthest away from any impact. If you have more than one child, take heart: Any position in the back will help protect your precious cargo.

3. My bambino's car seat is rear-facing and carefully tilted back at a ...
A. 90 degree angle.
B. 45 degree angle.
C. 15 degree angle.

If you chose B, you have the angle right. Rear-facing car seats should recline at about a 45 degree angle so Baby's noggin is supported and her chin won't fall to her chest and block her airway. To get the right position, adjust the base or insert a tightly rolled towel beneath it. Many seats now have a built-in level indicator to check your work, but be sure the car isn't parked on an incline.

4. How does your babe roll on frosty days?
A. First I loosen the harness and then I buckle her in with the straps over her snowsuit.
B. I pull the harness tight over her snowsuit. She looks just like a mini sausage!
C. I dress her warmly, buckle her in, and then cover her up with some fuzzy blankets.

If you picked C, you're hot stuff! "Collisions compress everything, even bulky outerwear," explains Stephanie Tombrello, executive director of SafetyBeltSafe USA. "If your baby's harness is loose, she could be ejected from her seat." Remember: Snap, then wrap.

5. I know I installed my car seat correctly because...
A. I read the manual three times.
B. It barely budges when I shake it. And I've really tried to jiggle it.
C. I had it checked by a registered safety professional. It passed!

You can drive with confidence if you chose C. "The best way to ensure proper installation of a car seat is to visit an inspection site staffed by nationally certified technicians," Walker says. The check is free. To find a site near you, visit SeatCheck.org. For a video on installing your seat, go to americanbaby.com/safe-mama.

Originally published in American Baby magazine in October 2011. Updated in May 2014.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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