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Salt Lake County Health Department
General Information  
Salt Lake County, UT
(385) 468-4100  

Car Seat Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best car seat?

The best car seat for your child fits your child correctly (by weight, height, and/or development), fits your car correctly, and you feel comfortable installing it safety every time.

Many car seats may overlap in terms of weight/height requirements, but a child may not be developmentally ready for certain seats.

For example, a 35 pound 3-year-old may "fit" into a booster with a 30 pound minimum weight, but that 3-year-old may not understand the idea of the seatbelt and try to “escape,” whereas if they were still seated in a car seat with a 5-point harness, it would be much more difficult for that child to get out of the seat.

Be sure to read the owner's manual for the car seat as well as for the vehicle; sometimes a car seat just won't fit in a vehicle.

What is a 5-point harness?

A 5-point harness is found in most car seats, with two shoulder straps, two at the hips, and one crotch strap (note that some infant seats may have a 3-point harness).

A 3-point harness would also be found in a shoulder/lap seat belt, where you would have one strap at the shoulders, and two at the hips.

Where is the best location in the car for my car seat?

The middle is the safest location for a car seat due to side impact crashes, and the back is always the safest location for all children under 13. Never install a rear-facing car seat in front of an airbag.

How long should a child be in a rear-facing seat? Why? What if their feet touch the back seat of the car?

Children need to be rear-facing until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and/or weight of their car seat.

When children max out their infant carrier car seat, they should use a rear-facing convertible car seat, which typically has a rear-facing maximum weight of 30-35 lbs.

Rear-facing seats have been found to be the most effective type of car seat. Placing a child in a forward-facing position before they are physically ready can result in serious injury or death. A rear-facing car seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body

Don't be concerned if your child's legs bend at the knees or touch the back seat of the car when rear facing. This will not harm his or her feet or knees.

How tight does the car seat need to be? And the harness straps?

The car seat should be tight enough that it doesn’t move more than an inch side-to-side or front-to-back right where the belt attaches to the car seat.

The harness straps should be snug enough that you cannot pinch any slack in the belt at the child’s shoulder.

Is it safe for my child to wear a winter coat in her car seat?

The short answer is yes, it can be safe—but only with the proper precautions.

Wearing coats or heavy sweaters or fleeces can prevent a snug fit of the harness, which has to be tight at the shoulders and hips every time. You might think your child is securely snug in the car seat when in fact the harness is not tight enough because there is so much air in the coat or clothing.

One solution to this problem is to first adjust the harness while your child’s coat is off. This video will show you how to do the pinch test to make sure the harness is snug enough. Then unbuckle the harness, put the coat back on and rebuckle. The harness may be tight, but it will fit properly for safety.

Of course, there may be different options depending on your specific situation or car seat, so check with your manufacturer or schedule a car seat safety check by calling 385-468-5280. For more details, videos and information on how to properly use your car seat, you can also use the Safe Kids Ultimate Car Seat Guide.

How long can I use my car seat? Is it okay to use a secondhand car seat?

Car seats should not be used longer than 6 years. Many car seats have an expiration date stamped into the plastic.

We do not recommend the use of secondhand car seats unless you know the history of the seat (meaning it has never been in a crash), it has not expired, and it has not been recalled.

Where can I report a driver whose children are not properly restrained?

Buckle Up for Love, a program of the Utah Safety Council, accepts reports of a vehicle transporting children unsafely. You will need to note the vehicle's license plate number.

I was in a crash and my car seat was in the vehicle at the time. What are the requirements for replacing the seat?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recommendations on when to replace a car seat after a crash.