Winter is a tricky time for car seat safety. With temps well below freezing, it’s important to bundle up your little ones but all those layers can be dangerous. As a general rule, any bulky clothing, including coats, sleepers, or snowsuits, should not be worn underneath the harness of a car seat. The extra padding of a coat often requires extra slack in car seat straps but, in an accident, the coat will compress—and that extra slack will cause the child to slip out of the harness.
We know the coat-versus-car-seat shuffle is a huge challenge for many parents but there are ways to safely transport children in car seats while keeping them warm. With that in mind, we wanted to share a few tips to help you keep your little ones safe and warm on the road:
Remember to warm-up the car.
You should always warm up your car in cold temperatures but it’s especially important when you have little ones without coats. Ideally, you should start your car 10 to 15 minutes before heading out of the driveway, with the heating system on full blast, so that your car is warm enough for your passengers in the back seat.
Plus, making time to start your car will give you a few extra minutes when wintry conditions require you to brush off the car or scrape the windows. (If you have a garage be sure to pull your car out of the garage and into your driveway before starting the engine.)
Dress your child in layers.
As a general rule of thumb, infants and children should wear one more layer than adults. If you have a hat and a sweater on, your child will probably need a hat, sweater, and a base layer underneath. Children don't retain their body heat as well as adults so an extra layer helps them to keep warm.
Opt for a car seat safe coat
If it's time to size up and get a new coat, you can opt for a car-seat-safe coat, like a Buckle Me Baby
Add a hat and gloves or mittens.
When driving in very cold weather, it’s important to utilize hats, mittens, and socks or booties. These help keep kids warm without interfering with car seat straps.
Put their coat on backward.
If you're packing the coat to wear later anyway, you might as well put it to good use! Unzip the coat, turn it around, and put it on backward over the buckled harness after the child is buckled up. You can also r
emove the hood, if possible, to help make it more comfortable. Some parents also prefer products such as poncho-style coats or jackets that zip down the sides so the back can flip or fold forward over the harness, and back down when the child gets out of the car.
Stash some extra blankets in the backseat.
If you still need extra layers, keep some blankets in the back seat to top off the ensemble. There are dozens of options to choose from, from custom car seat covers to fitted blankets, but almost any blanket can be tucked over a car seat or booster seat. If you do add a coat or blanket over the top of the harness straps, keep in mind that it cannot be tucked under the straps or fastened to the base; 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.
Learn more about car seat safety in cold weather on Consumer Reports:
At V&F, we strive to provide our customers with a well-rounded knowledge of all things automotive. Since 1988, our family-owned and operated service center has been providing top-quality auto repair services to Agawam, Feeding Hills, Southwick, West Springfield and the surrounding Massachusetts communities. If your car needs maintenance or repair before this winter season, call us at (413)314-2280 or schedule an appointment online.
This article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated annually to reflect changes in car seat safety and best practices.