A child’s coat could be bulky enough to affect the fit of their safety seat’s harness. Therefore, as a general rule, kids should be strapped in without their coats.
That may come as a surprise. Now that colder weather has rolled around, you may have assumed you should bundle your kids up before they get into the car.
Even in California, our kids go through the winter months wearing coats that may be a great deal bulkier than car seat manufacturers envisioned. It’s the fashion and it keeps your kids nice and warm.
Unfortunately, it can be a hazard if the coat’s bulk leaves the seat’s harness too loose to be effective in a crash.
How to check if your child’s coat is too bulky
Basically, you’re going to strap your child in wearing the coat, then unbuckle them and try again without the coat.
The first step is to have your child, wearing the coat, sit in the car seat as usual. Tighten the seat’s harness until you can’t pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger.
The second step is to unhook the harness without loosening it at all and remove your child from the car seat. Take the coat off and put your child back into the seat. Re-buckle the straps of the harness, which should not have moved since they were first adjusted when your child was wearing the coat.
Now, try pinching the harness webbing. If you can pinch it anywhere between your forefinger and thumb at this point, you can see that the coat has affected the fit of the harness. That slack caused by the bulk of the coat could keep your child from being fully fastened in, creating a dangerous situation in the event of a crash.
Any time you can pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger, the harness is too loose. This could compromise the protection of the car seat. In a worst-case scenario, your child could be ejected from the seat during a crash.
Options for warmth without interfering with a car seat harness
There are a variety of ways to keep your child warm while keeping their car seat harness tight. A blanket will usually work for smaller children.
Many car seat manufacturers offer aftermarket covers, which are essentially fitted blankets. These are specifically approved by your car seat manufacturer after being tested with the seat. These generally won’t add slack to the seat harness.
Alternatively, remove your child’s coat and place them snugly in the car seat. Then, turn the coat around and put it on backwards. The child’s arms go through the arm holes and the back of the coat is in the front, essentially serving as a blanket.
Use your child’s car seat properly every time, even on short trips. Make sure you have the seat installed properly, too. If you aren’t certain, have the seat’s installation checked. Many police and fire stations offer this service.