First, buy a new car seat at the store. Every new car seat sold in the United States must meet federal safety and crash performance standards. A used car seat may be missing parts or may have even been involved in an accident. "There's no way of telling if it would protect your child," says Lorrie Walker at Safe Kids Worldwide. Plus, car seats can also get old. They usually expire in 6 to 9 years. If you do buy a used car seat check the seat's stamp or call the manufacturer to see if it's okay to use.
Next, put rear-facing seats at a 45 degree angle. At 45 degrees the baby's head is supported and its chin won't fall to the chest, blocking the baby's airway. If your car seat won't adjust at the base, insert a tightly rolled towel beneath it to set the correct angle.
Make sure your baby is dressed warmly when it's cold by covering with blankets. Bulky outerwear like snowsuits can be compressed in collisions. If the baby's harness is loose, he could be ejected from the car. Instead of tightening or loosening the harness over a snowsuit, dress your baby warmly, buckle him in and cover him with fuzzy blankets for warmth. "If her harness is loose, she could be ejected from her seat," says Stephanie Tombrello, executive director of SafetyBeltSafe USA. Remember to snap then wrap.
The safest spot to position your baby's car seat is technically in the center seat. If you have more than one child, any position in the back seat will help protect your children from harm.
Take advantage of free installation checks. Visit a fire station, police station or any inspection site staffed by nationally certified technicians. The check takes a few minutes. To find a location near you, log on to seatcheck.org.
To take the American Baby car seat quiz click here. And for more information on car seat safety and other parenting tips, click here.
Jessica Hartshorn & Erika Wortham