The Good Egg Car Safety Blog

Carry handle or safety feature?

The handle on your baby’s car seat is more than just a convenience, it is also a very important safety device!


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While it makes it easy to lift your infant seat in and out of the car, it is really important to check the instructions on your child seat.  Not all carry handles are placed in the same position in the car.

carry handle edited

 

The instructions on the side of your seat will show the correct handle position.

The handle is often required to be upright, or forward towards the baby’s feet when driving.  This is because your child’s seat can rebound in a collision, and having the handle in the correct position prevents this from happening.


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What happens if the carry handle is at the back?

If you were to have a collision, with the carry handle back by the baby's head, the seat may not protect your child adequately.  The seat may flip up and make contact with the vehicle seat back, which would be avoided with the handle in the correct position.

This is exactly what happened to one Mum, when her husband was involved in a collision - thankfully he was OK and her little one wasn't in the car at the time.


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What is a top tether?

​When you buy or use an ISOFIX child car seat, it will have the two ISOFIX bars on the back of the seat, and almost all ISOFIX seats will then have a third point of anchorage. This third point of anchorage is very important, as it prevents the ISOFIX child seat from moving too much in a collision. The third point of anchorage will either be a support leg, which is a very popular option, or a top tether. This article is focusing on the top tether – how to use it, what it does and the benefits.

What is a top tether?

The top tether is the third point of anchorage on an ISOFIX child car seat. It is a length of webbing which is attached to the back of the child seat, with a hook on the end. The top tether strap must have a green indicator on it to show when it has been pulled tightly enough.

How do you use a top tether?

​The top tether will pass over the top of the vehicle seat, and hook onto the top tether point. The top tether point will either be in the boot, on the back of the vehicle seat, or it may be in the roof of the car.

Top tether points are normally indicated with the anchor logo, or your car handbook will tell you where your point is.

What does it do?

As we have already mentioned, ISOFIX seats tend to have a third point of anchorage, which reduces dangerous movement of the seat in a collision. The top tether hooks behind the child seat onto the bracket in the car holding it in place, along with the ISOFIX arms.

In a collision, a child seat will move forward, and the seat can pivot on the ISOFIX arms. To prevent this from happening, and to also absorb energy from a collision, the top tether point is able to then reduce movement in the seat along with the ISOFIX, and absorb crash forces.

It is very important to ensure the top tether is used, if it is supplied.

What are the benefits?

Many ISOFIX seats have the support leg which reaches into the floor well, and this leg does the same job as the top tether point. However, the support leg is not compatible with every vehicle, and cannot be used in conjunction with floor storage compartments.

For ISOFIX seats with a top tether, there are not so many constraints. Providing the ISOFIX seat with top tether is classed as universal, and your cars' ISOFIX and top tether point are approved as universal, you are able to fit the seat in the car.

Top tether seats also tend to take up less room in the car, as there is no support leg in the cab – this can make it much easier for other passengers to get in and out, particularly older siblings who may sit in the middle.

ISOFIX seats with tethers may also be lighter, and therefore quicker and easier to move from car to car, as there is no heavy leg attached to the base.

Finally, ISOFIX + Top tether seats have all the same features and benefits that you would expect, such as easy adjust harnessing, some seats offer longer rear facing, and some even swivel!

Anything to consider?

As with any seat you buy, it is very important to ensure the seat fits every car it will be going into. Not all cars have top tether points, so be sure to check each car. Many ISOFIX + Top tether seats are ISOFIX only, very few have an option belt the seat in the car.

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What is a car seat base?

 

A car seat base normally is used with group 0+ infant car seats.  It is sold separately from the infant seat, and normally remains permanently fitted in the vehicle - it then allows you to simply click the infant seat on and off the base.

Some group 0+1 and group 1 car seats have a separate base, however at the next stage, seats are normally sold in one unit.

What are the options?


There are two options available for fitting bases - seat belt fitment, or ISOFIX.  Some seats will have only ISOFIX or seat belt fitment, but others have both options.

This base may only be fitted with the seat belt.

 

This base may only be fitted with the seat belt.

This base may only be fitted with ISOFix.

 

This base may only be fitted with ISOFIX.

This base may be fitted with ISOfix or the seat belt.

 

This base may be fitted with ISOFIX or the seat belt.

ISOFIX is considered safer than seat belt fitment, as there are indicators to show you that the base is fitted correctly, when you have a newborn baby this gives you much needed peace of mind!

 

Is it safer to use an infant car seat with a base?


Infant seats are safe whether they are on a base or not, provided they are compatible to both the car and child; as well as fitted correctly on every journey.

Bases are considered safer as these generally remain fitted in the car, either with the seat belt or using ISOFIX.  Your infant seat will click on and off the base, with indicators to show it is fitted properly, which reduces the risk of incorrect fitment and misuse.

 

Fitting issues


Car seat bases experience fitting issues the same as any other car seat, and it is important that you check your base is compatible with your vehicle before you use it.  ISOFIX bases will be listed on a compatibility list, but it is also advantageous to visit a retail store in person that has properly trained staff members to check your base and seat fitment.

 

Should you buy one?


If your budget allows it, and there is a base available to suit your child seat and your car then it is a good choice to buy a base for the car seat.  Not only does it give you peace of mind and makes your life easier with not having to fiddle with seat belts, but it has the added bonus of keeping the seat belt away from the little one's knees as they get older.

Seat belt fitted infant seats normally route the lap belt over the baby's lap, through two blue guides and the chest belt routes around the back of the seat.  Whilst this gives a secure fit, it does mean an older baby or toddler may experience the seat belt pressing on their lap.


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This is not unsafe or dangerous, however it doesn't look very comfortable and it can be a trigger to move the baby up a seat stage too early.


0+ Car Seat

 

Both little ones are 100% safe whether they use a base or just the seat belt.

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The child car seat harness - Updated

Generally, child car seats come equipped with a 3 point or a 5 point harness in group 0+ seats, and a 5 point harness in a group 1 car seat. The job of the child car seat harness is to restrain the child in the child seat in the event of a collision.

 

Is there a safety difference between a 3 point and a 5 point harness?


Group 0+ rear facing car seats may have either a 3 point harness or a 5 point harness. In a collision the child is pushed back into the seat, which spreads the force across the whole seat back - putting much less force on the child and better protecting their neck and spine. The job of the 3 or 5 point harness is to hold the child in the seat.



Harness Use 3 overlay

Harness Use overlay



A 5 point harness has additional hip straps to help spread the force of a collision. This is very important when forward facing as the harness takes a lot of force which is then spread across the child’s torso.

 

How is the harness attached?


The child car seat harness is made up of two long straps, which attach to the buckle. The harness is secured at either end so that it sits over the strongest points of a child’s body – their hips and shoulders.

The hip straps on the harness are attached to the seat by metal hooks (picture below) which slot through a specific gap in the seat shell. These must always be attached completely and it is worth checking the harness is fully attached every journey.



Hip strap overlay



The shoulder straps on the harness attach at the back of the seat, often to a ‘Y’ shaped metal hook (picture below). The straps should always be securely attached and only removed from the hook if you must re-thread the harness to change the harness height position.



Y hook overlay



Many car seats now come with a harness that you can simply click into a different height position, removing the need to unhook it – this removes the very high risk of the harness being misused.

Each harness strap will have a plastic attachment on it, which joins together to click into the buckle.

 

Harness height


To set the correct harness height, the straps must come over the child's shoulders and down towards the buckle.  The harness must be level with the child's shoulders, although this isn't always possible. If you can't get the straps level with the child's shoulders (due to them being between height limits, for example) then the following is how you can figure out the best height:

Rear facing: Level with, or just below the shoulders.



RF harness height



Front facing: Level with, or just above the shoulders.

 

FF height overlay

 

Harness tension


You should be able to get two fingers flat between your child’s chest and the harness at collar bone level.



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Harness pads


The pads on the straps of a car seat normally need to be pulled down the straps so they sit on the child's chest.  You will often find the pads are attached to fabric, which ensures they are pulled down to the correct height.

 

The pads on this seat need to be pulled down onto the child's chest. 

 

The pads on this seat need to be pulled down onto the child's chest.



Other harness pads are attached to the top of the child seat, and will sit over the child's shoulders.


head support

 

The pads on this seat are attached to the top of the harness


 

The buckle


Every car seat in the UK which has a 3 or a 5 point harness must have a buckle to click into. Both pieces of the harness must come together first, before clicking into the buckle. This is to ensure that both parts of the harness are always attached. The button of the buckle is stress tested to ensure it can withstand the thousands of clicks and un-clicks it will go through in its lifetime. The buckle is also pressure tested to ensure most little fingers can’t un-click it, but that it is also easy to undo in an emergency.



BUCKLE overlay

 

Clothing in the car seat


What children wear when they go in the car differs with each journey, for this reason it is useful to loosen the straps before you take your child out of the car seat – the next time you buckle your child in you can pull the straps tight to ensure the correct tension every journey to suit what your child is wearing.

Puffy winter snowsuits, coats and jackets can cause big problems with the car seat harness – they should never be worn under the harness. The harness is designed to fit close to the child’s body, and it is tested in this way. Puffy snowsuits, coats and jackets create a gap between the child and the harness.  Even if the harness feels as though it is pulled tight, in a collision it may still not work properly.



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Children should be wearing light, thin layers when in the car seat – a thin fleece at the most. Remember, children heat up 3-5 times faster than adults and they do not regulate their body temperature as well as adults. It is very easy for babies and children to overheat in the car; so don’t be tempted to pad them out – your vehicle will soon heat up leaving you with a very hot and sweaty little one for the rest of your journey!



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Cleaning the harness and buckle


Car seats become grubby very quickly and wiping over them with a damp cloth isn’t always enough and a full wash is required! It is very important that the harness is not washed, as this can break down the fibres within the harness and weaken it.

When cleaning the buckle, again wipe over it with a damp cloth and remove any food that is in or around the buckle and red button – hoovering the buckle helps ensure most of the crumbs and muck is removed.



Caution

When cleaning the harness, fully extend it and wipe over it with a damp cloth – nothing more. Do not use fabric cleaners, anti-bacterial sprays or soap on it as the chemicals in these products can damage the harness.

 

Removing the covers


Some car seats have easy to remove covers and you don’t have to remove the harness at all to get the cover off – however there are still lots of car seats where you do need to remove the harness to get the cover off!

When removing the covers, it is very easy for the harness to become twisted or incorrectly routed or fitted. When you are taking the cover off, as often as possible, re-thread and attach the harness back where it is supposed to go to help avoid it becoming incorrectly routed or twisted.

 

FAQ

 

My child has the habit of un-clicking his harness, what can I do?


This is extremely frustrating to any parent or carer; and very scary the first time the little one finds out they can do it! Some children will learn to undo the harness buckle, even with the regulated amount of force it must take to pop the buckle open.

1) Check the harness height – if the harness is too low, children can ‘wedge’ their shoulders under the straps and use the force to push down on the buckle.

2) Check the harness tension.

If your child continues to undo their buckle and they don’t seem to be growing out of the habit, you may want to try them in another weight suitable child restraint to see if they are less able to unclick the buckle on that seat.

A child un-clicking the buckle is not a good reason to move them up to a high back booster and adult seat belt, especially if they are below the weight or height limits.



Caution

The buckle must NEVER be obstructed – it must always be accessible to allow the child to be released from the seat quickly in an emergency.

 

My child wriggles out of the straps – what can I do?


As with the above issue, this happens very often! First things to check:

1) Harness height – is the harness at the correct level?

2) Harness tension – is the harness too tight or loose on the child?

3) Clothing – is the clothing allowing a gap for the child to wriggle their arms through? Thick and puffy jackets often cause this!

4) There are some after market products you can try with your seat, that are designed to stop children wriggling out of the straps.  If you choose to try an aftermarket product, ensure you read and fully understand the instructions of use before using it with your child's car seat.  Also make sure that it is not interfering with the way the harness sits on the child.

Maxi Cosi recommends the '5 point plus' for use with their car seats.

If the child continues slipping the harness, try them in a different weight appropriate restraint to see if they will wriggle the straps off in that seat.

A child wriggling the straps off is not a good reason to move them up to a high back booster with adult belt – especially if they do not meet the weight or height limits.

 

Alternative seat:


If your child does not seem to be growing out of the habit of removing their straps or un-doing the buckle, an impact shield style seat may solve the issue. These seats do not use a 5 point harness, but a “shield” is placed across the child.



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What is a car seat newborn insert?

 

Almost all group 0+ infant car seats come with a newborn insert. These are either a 'head hugger' and cushion (which is under the baby to lift them up) or just the head hugger on its own.

 

Newborn Insert 1


The purpose of the car seat newborn insert is to provide additional support and padding to a newborn baby when they are using the seat. The inserts also help ensure that babies fit in the harness, so they can be properly strapped in. The head hugger helps support the baby’s head, and if your seat comes with a cushion, it will lift the baby up to allow them to lie in a more natural position and will help prevent them becoming ‘scrunched over’.

As time goes on and your baby grows, the newborn cushion and head hugger can be removed; this is generally between 5-6 months of age.


Caution

If you take the car seat newborn inserts out too soon, it can cause baby to sit too low in the seat and not fit in the harness (as seen below)


Newborn Insert 2


When you remove the cushion from under the baby, it will ‘drop’ them down in the seat, giving them more room to grow. When you remove the insert, make sure that the harness straps are still level with or just below your baby’s shoulders; you may need to re-adjust the straps to fit your baby properly.

Blog-Quick-tip

Some car seat newborn inserts state a weight limit on them, and your child seat instruction booklet may also give guidance on removing the newborn inserts from the seat.


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5 point harness

Child car seats normally come with a 5 point harness to secure the child into their seat.  Some rear facing infant seats come with a 3 point harness. The job of the harness is restrain the child in an impact.



5 point harness



When forward facing, the harness spreads the force of an impact in 5 directions - across the shoulders, past the hips and through the crotch strap.  It is very important that a child rear faces for as long as possible, as when they are forward facing they are restrained by the harness, but their head continues with the forward momentum.  This puts stress and pressure on the neck that can result in serious injury or death.



5 point harness - close



By being rear facing, the 5 point harness still restrains the child, and in an impact they are pushed back into the child restraint, which spreads the force of an impact through the back of the child car seat and supports the child's head, neck and spine.  This is the reason it is so important to keep your child in their rear facing child seat until they have reached the weight limit, or the height limit.  Rear facing offers maximum protection and safety for your little one.  If you are unsure what the rear facing limit is on your seat, check the child seat manual or ask the child seat manufacturer.  The below chart also provides some guidelines:



Fitting chart

An alternative to the 5 point harness is an impact shield style child restraint, which we will explore in a future post.

 

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