New parents and parents-to-be have so much to worry about while preparing their lives for the arrival of the new baby. Vehicle safety in particular is a top concern for parents. To help reduce the level of stress during this busy time, check out this brief checklist to help you make sure your vehicle is safe and ready for your bundle of joy.
Choose the Right Car Seat for Your Vehicle
All infant and child car seats are manufactured to the same safety standards; the main difference you’ll find between car seat options is the “extras” like cup holders, cushions and convenience features. More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better.
The most important thing to consider when car seat shopping is to make sure your child’s car seat fits your vehicle. If, for example, you have a small vehicle, a bulky seat may not sit well or install properly. Rear-facing infant seats can take up a lot of the “leg room” space behind the front vehicle seats, and some wider car seats can encroach onto the adjacent seating space—keep that in mind if your vehicle is tight on space or if you’ll need to seat multiple children in the back row.
Test the seat in your vehicle before purchase, if possible. Some stores will allow you to use a floor model to set up in your vehicle so you can see how it fits; check with the Manager to see what the store’s policies are regarding this.
On that note, you should always purchase a new car seat. Car seats are stamped with the date of manufacture and, generally, shouldn’t be used for more than six to ten years past this date. In addition, they need to be replaced in the event of a vehicle accident to ensure they’re still safe to use.
Regarding potential purchase of used seats, the short answer is: don’t. Unless you’re handing down a seat through your own children, you have no idea of the history of a used seat, or whether it’s been involved in an accident before.
Read and Follow the Car Seat Manual
Your car seat manual will show you how to set up the seat correctly, how to secure the seat properly using your vehicle’s seatbelts or LATCH system, as well as how to position the seat at the correct angle to best protect your baby. Make note of minimum and maximum height and weight requirements to make sure you’re installing the seat properly based on your child’s age and size. Every car seat is different, so read your manual carefully and completely.
Get a Professional Inspection
It’s a good idea to have your car seat installation inspected by a professional, which can sometimes be done at your local fire department or state police station. You can find stations local to you here at the NHTSA’s (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) website. An expert can ensure you’re following all safety recommendations and have a tight, secure car seat installation.
Keep Baby in a Rear-Facing Seat Until Age Two
Current guidelines call for keeping your child in a rear-facing car seat for the first two years (or longer, if they haven’t exceeded the rear-facing weight and height limits of their car seat), after which you can switch to forward-facing. Rear-facing has been shown to be the safest position for babies in the event of an accident. Some car seats are reversible and “convertible,” allowing them to adjust with your child’s growth through toddlerhood, until they’re ready for a booster seat.
Keep Up with Your Regular Maintenance
It is, of course, always important to make sure you get regular oil changes and tune-ups, and to keep your tires properly inflated, balanced and rotated. But this routine maintenance takes on added significance when you are driving with children in the vehicle. Simply put, it isn’t any fun to get stuck in the rain with a dead battery or flat tire. It’s a lot worse when you have a baby crying in the back seat.
Stay prepared for potential emergencies or break downs and keep a “survival kit” in your vehicle for unforeseen situations that may leave you waiting for help on the side of the road. In addition to supplies for yourself, you’ll want to have baby essentials on hand just in case—include items like diapers, blankets, extra formula or snacks to keep your little one happy and warm. Check out these tips regarding vehicle care for fall driving and for winter driving maintenance tips and recommendations.
Keep Up with Recalls
When it comes to protecting your child, do not ignore any recall regarding your vehicle or car seat. The manufacturer will normally contact you via mail about any recalls; however, you can always check with the NHTSA to find out if there are any current recalls on your vehicle or your baby’s car seat.