Car seats are an integral part of your child’s safety while traveling, and are used on a daily basis for most families. However, if the car seat straps are not secured correctly it can end up with your child being launched from the seat in the event of a crash. Unfortunately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), routinely highlights the misuse of child restraints, so it’s clearly a common safety issue that parents need to be made aware of.
Thankfully, there’s an effective solution to improve your child’s safety. A quick, simple test, taking a minute or two to perform, is a task you can easily add to your routine and do each time you put your child in the car seat. The car seat pinch test is used to check the tightness and ensure proper security of the car seat harness straps that extend over your child’s shoulders.
How To Perform The Car Seat Pinch Test
Fast and painless, the car seat pinch test is performed after you have properly secured your child in their car seat. Using a pinching technique, this is performed using your fingers to test for any excess slack of the harness. Taking only about five steps and a minute of your time, you should perform the car seat pinch test every time you fasten your child in and before you start driving.
Before you begin, you need to make sure that the car seat has been correctly installed in the car. The straps should be extending from the right openings and the harness tightly buckled. If you’re struggling to work it out, refer to the manufacturers manual for help.
After this, place the chest clip at the armpit height, then pinch the strap at the point that it extends over the shoulder. To do this, use your thumb, middle and forefinger. Position your middle finger beneath the strap and use your others fingers to test if you can pinch the strap.
If you are unable to fold the fabric, your fingers won’t be able to maintain a grip and will slide away. However, if you can pinch the strap, it indicates that it is too slack and needs to be made tighter.
- It’s equally important not to make the harness too tight. You can easily know this as it will impact your child’s breathing and your child should react in any case.
- The harness pinch-test ought to be carried out only when your child is wearing normal clothing, that means no coats or anything that may gradually decompress over time.
Check out this helpful video to see a harness pinch-test being carried out by a real mom.
Car Seat Pinch Test Tips
1. Correctly Install the Car Seat
The first step is to ensure the car seat is secure. Make sure to check that your child’s car seat is properly installed and fastened in the correct slots, according to the car seat and vehicle manufacturer guidelines. It’s also a wise idea to register the product with the seat manufacturer so you can be informed of any problems and future recalls.
2. Check-Strap Alignment
Twisted harness straps are rarely effective, therefore take the time to make sure the straps are straight and correctly aligned and secured over your child’s shoulders. Straps that are twisted can’t take as much pressure or stress as straps that are aligned straight.
3. Position Straps at the Correct Height
Depending on their age and size, the straps, when placed in a rear-facing car seat should be positioned at or below the child’s shoulder level, compared to a front facing car seat where the straps should be aligned at or above the shoulder. This will ensure optimum safety for your child.
4. Fit Harness Straps for a Comfortable Fit
Now that you have made sure all the positionings are correct it is time to perform the harness pinch test. You should always do this before you start your journey. Straps that are too loose will be able to be pinched with your fingers. You know you have a good fit when you can just fit a single finger beneath the strap. If it’s too tight your child will be uncomfortable and will usually respond accordingly.
5. Ensure the Shoulder Straps are Secure
It’s equally important to ensure the shoulder straps are aligned and placed securely on your child. If they are loose, slipping down, then this means your child is not adequately secure and will be potentially ejected from the seat in the event of a collision.
6. Align the Chest Clip
This is another important component of the cart seat that serves to distribute pressure equally on your child’s chest if a collision occurred. Position the chest clip so it is aligned with their body’s armpit or nipple, this is a very important factor in making sure the car seat functions properly during use. A chest clip being placed too low or too high can lead to a neck injury during a collision.
7. Bucke Up
Make sure to abide by the manufacturer’s instructions and correctly align the buckle. The majority of buckles are found in the middle of your child’s feet. Always fit the buckle as near to your child as possible.
Other Things to Remember
As They Grow Make Necessary Adjustments
As your child grows, you will need to increase the height of your harness straps. To do this, you will have to loosen the harness all the way and unclip it from the connector located in the back of the car seat. Afterward, pull the strap through the harness slot and replace in the harness slot for your child’s new height. Once you have both harness straps back through the new slot, reattach to the connector making sure to use the same side for each strap as before. Lastly, tighten and loosen the harness several times to ensure the newly changed height is functioning correctly.
Always make sure you fully read your car seat manual and size guidelines. This ensures that you upgrade the size at the right time, or do not place an infant in a car seat that is too big that will not properly support them.
Ensure your Child is Comfortable
Once you have ensured that the harness is snug and aligned so that you are not able to pinch any extra webbing take the time to double check that the harness is not too tight on your child. Sometimes this can be fairly simple to check as infants tend to be very vocal when uncomfortable. However, this is not always the case so watch for signs of squirming and trouble breathing.
Choose Appropriate Car Seat Clothing
Children should be fastened into their car seat in plain clothing, that means no coats. This is because during coats gradually compress, meaning the harness you thought was secure against your child won’t be after the coat compresses. In a potential accident, this can leave your child’s harness too loose and meaning they won’t be able to secure your child in, leading to them more easily being ejected from their car seat.
Dealing With Reluctant Toddlers
Some children are reluctant to willingly use the car seat, especially as they begin to enter their toddler years. To help cope with impending tantrums make sure to clearly and in simple terms explain your expectations of car seat behavior. Sometimes simply offering them the choice of sitting themselves in the car seat changes the situation from being them being unwilling to straightforward and simple. Remember, crying is their way of communicating and it’s completely normal that they do not enjoy being in a car seat for the entire journey.
When Do I Change My Child’s Car Seat?
It is recommended that your child remains in a rear-facing car seat until they exceed the guidelines of it, usually, 36 inches and around 35 pounds or are at least the age of two. Rear-facing car seats are designed to support the baby’s head and neck, with the hard shell of the car seat withstanding the major impact. If their heads and necks are not properly supported, the imbalanced weight of their head moving can cause neck and severe spinal cord damage even from just hitting small road bumps.