Winter Car Seat Safety

There is a cold breeze in the air reminding us that another Nebraska winter is just around the corner. Winter time means extra bulk for warmth, but you might be wondering how you keep your little one safe and warm in their car seat without compromising their safety.

Winter Coats & Car Seat Dangers

In order for car seats to function correctly in the event of an accident, straps need to remain snug and the chest clip needs to be at armpit level. Buckling children in their car seats with bulking clothing or thick coats creates on average a four-inch slack in the harness. What happens during a crash is these bulky clothing pieces compress. When compression occurs, a gap between your child and harness happens. This gap does not allow for baby to be properly restrained and can even result in the child completely slipping out of their car seat. This is even true for kids in boosters and adults. That’s right, even adults are at a risk when we buckle in with winter coats. Check out this winter coat crash test for children.

I know this is an extremely scary thought, but something I learned as a car seat tech is that this reality happens often. In fact, 9 out of 10 car seats are installed incorrectly or children are improperly harnessed. I am passionate about sharing this information because it truly saves lives. recommends these simple steps to check if your child’s coat is too bulky to wear under their harness:

  • Put the coat on your child, sit them in the child seat and fasten the harness. Tighten the harness until you can no longer pinch any of the harness webbing with your thumb and forefinger
  • Without loosening the harness, remove your child from the child seat,
  • Take the coat off and put your child back in the car seat and buckle the harness straps, which are still adjusted as they were when he was wearing the coat.
  • If you can now pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger then the coat is too bulky to be worn under the harness.

These recommendations from the AAP will help keep your child safe and warm.

  • Store the carrier portion of infant seats inside the house when not in use. Keep the seat at room temperature will reduce the loss of the child’s body heat in the car.
  • Get an early start/warm up your car.If you’re planning to head out the door with your baby in tow on winter mornings, you need an early start. You have a lot to assemble, and your baby may not be the most cooperative. 
  • Dress your child in thin layers.Start with close-fitting layers on the bottom, like tights, leggings, or long-sleeved bodysuits. Then add pants and a warmer top, like a sweater or thermal-knit shirt. Your child can wear a thin fleece jacket over the top. In very cold weather, long underwear is also a warm and safe layering option. As a general rule of thumb, infants should wear one more layer than adults. If you have a coat on, your infant will probably need a coat, and blanket. Remove the coat and blanket inside the car before putting your child in the car seat.
  • Don’t forget hats, mittens, and socks or booties.These help keep kids warm without interfering with car seat straps. 
  • Tighten the straps of the car seat harness.Even if your child looks snuggly bundled up in the car seat, multiple layers may make it difficult to tighten the harness enough. If you can pinch the straps of the car seat harness, then it needs to be tightened to fit snugly against your child’s chest. 
  • Use a coat or blanket over the straps.You can add a blanket over the top of the harness straps or put your child’s winter coat on backwards (over the buckled harness straps) after he or she is buckled up. Some parents prefer products such as poncho-style coats or jackets that zip down the sides so the back can flip forward over the harness. Keep in mind that the top layer should be removable so your baby doesn’t get too hot after the car warms up.
  • Use a car seat cover ONLY if it does not have a layer under the baby.Nothing bulky should ever go underneath your child’s body or between her body and the harness straps. Be sure to leave your baby’s face uncovered to avoid trapped air and suffocation. Many retailers carry car seat bundling products that are not safe to use in a car seat. Just because it’s on the shelf at the store or sold online does not mean it is safe!
  • Remember, if the item did not come with the car seat, it has NOT been crash tested and may interfere with the protection provided in a crash.Additionally, manufactures will void their warranty in the event additional items are used with their seats. This includes winter car seat covers, strap covers, headrests and even car seat protector matts can not be approved by the car seat manufacturer. 

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