Car Seat Accessories: Balancing Safety and Sanity
You’re about to run errands in your car, but it’s unseasonably cold outside and your baby is crying. Do you use the foot muff and body warming accessories you’ve purchased for your child’s car seat to keep them warm? Or, should you follow the manufacturer’s safety advice and not add any accessories to the car seat? Like most parents, you know your child’s safety comes first, but striking a balance that also helps you manage your family’s many needs is also important. So, what’s safe – and what’s realistic?
Car Seat Accessory Safety
According to child car safety experts Dr. Alisa Baer and CarSeatsForTheLittles.org (CSFTL), car seat accessories — otherwise known as “after-market products” — don’t have any form of government agency safety approval (such as the National Highway Safety Transportation Authority). Additionally, your car seat manufacturer’s warranty may expressly prohibit the use of after-market products in conjunction with the car seat. That means if you choose to modify your car seat with any accessories not part of the original car seat, itself, you risk voiding your warranty protection.
Regarding the actual child safety seat, those seats reviewed by the NHTSA boast a sticker with a 5-star Ease-of-Use rating system to help consumers evaluate the four basic categories it considers: Evaluation of Instructions, Vehicle Installation Features, Evaluation of Labels, and Securing the Child. Each category receives 1-5 stars (5=excellent; 1=poor), and the seat is given an overall rating of 1-5 as well.
Alternatives to After-Market Products
CSFTL reminds us that there are a few gray areas, however, where parents can exercise their best judgment or come up with safe, creative alternatives to some of the most popular car seat accessories:
- Head rests, pillows, and infant support items: Only those sold with your car seat harness or that have the express consent of your manufacturer should be used, otherwise you not only run the risk of voiding your warranty, but also of diminishing the harness’ safety. CSFTL instead recommends using tightly rolled blankets only alongside your child for added support. Do not use rolled blankets behind or underneath the child while in the harness.
- Toys and mirrors: These can become serious risks in the event of a crash and potentially injure your child or other passengers, says CSFTL. If you must use a mirror, minimize the risk by using a flexible, soft plastic version. Ditto for toys – keep them soft and pliable.
- Body warming accessories & foot/hand muffs: Parents.com emphasizes that anything that alters your child’s position in the harness should not be used. This includes bulky coats worn while in the harness, or foot/hand muffs that change position. Instead, the CSFTL suggests placing a coat or blanket over your child’s body once they’re strapped in.
- Shoulder pads/harness covers: Non-manufacturer approved versions of these products may change the speed your child’s neck or head travels during a crash, reducing the car seat’s safety profile, according to the CSFTL. The organization instead recommends pulling the child’s shirt up between the harness and their neck to reduce discomfort. If it persists, they recommend shopping around for a new car seat model better designed to your child’s needs.
A number of after-market car seat accessories may seem to make parent’s life easier. While it’s up to every parent’s best judgment to decide which products are right for their child, checking your car seat manufacturer’s manual and warranty typically provides the best guidance when choosing.