It’s a common misconception that rigging your child’s car seat with a boatload of accessories will enhance your child’s safety while they’re in the car…
But the truth of the matter is that you can’t say for certain if these accessories can improve your car seat’s performance.
This is because most car seat accessories are not held to the same safety standards that car seats are. There aren’t any set-in-stone regulations to ensure that the car seat accessories you have are safe to use because, for the most part, they aren’t crash-tested.
On the contrary, most car seat manufacturers create accessories that have been crash-tested with their specific brand of car seats. By doing this, the manufacturers can prove that their accessories can improve your child’s safety.
In this article, I’ll be taking you through a list of car seat accessories that can be used to keep your child safe. As you read on, remember that it’s safest to use the accessories that have been tested and recommended by your car seat manufacturer.
Infant Car Seat Accessories: Types of Accessories and Recommendations
Seat Belt Extenders
Seat belt extenders were originally designed for obese people who had trouble using their seatbelts because they were too short to comfortably wrap around them. The way seat belt extenders work is they’re installed between the seat belt tongue and the seat belt buckle to make it the seat belt longer. As more people started using these extenders, it became wrongfully assumed that this tool could be also be used for car seats and booster.
I will clarify that seat belt extenders should NOT be used with car seats and boosters. That’s not what they were designed for. In fact, according to the Car Seat Lady, the only time it’s safe to use a seatbelt extender is if it’s being used by an obese teenager or adult and if it’s purchased directly from the manufacturer.
When are seat belt extenders unsafe?
In the event of a car crash, seat belt extenders can fail. They’re engineered to be used with seatbelts from a specific brand, meaning they’re not a generic accessory at all. So, a seat belt extender that fits in your Toyota won’t fit in your Honda.
In addition to that, just because a seat belt extender installs easily on your seatbelt, it doesn’t mean that the two are compatible. If you purchase a seat belt extender, I’d highly encourage you to only do so from your vehicle’s manufacturer. Also, remember that this accessory should NEVER be used with car seats.
If you find that your child’s car seat is too big for your vehicle’s seat belt, I recommend that you invest in a car seat that can be easily installed with no trouble. That’s way better than putting your child at risk of serious injury.
Seat Belt Adjusters
Seat belt adjusters are another car seat accessory that has gained massive popularity in the last few years. Similar to seat belt extenders, most parents have found the seat belt adjuster to be a “safe” and cheaper alternative to booster seats.
In recognition of that, I want to tell you that like seat belt extenders, seat belt adjusters have also not been crash-tested or regulated, and therefore have not been proven safe to use.
Seat belt adjusters are a mesh-covered and triangle-shaped device that’s designed to keep the webbing of the seat belt from rubbing against your child’s neck. If you look through Amazon, you’ll see that most of these adjusters claim to reduce your child’s chance of injury while also alleviating any of their discomforts.
However, without the proper testing, there’s no way to prove that this is true, especially with the many different types of seat belts there are.
When are seat belt adjusters unsafe?
There are two reasons why seat belt adjusters are not safe to use with car seats. First, they’re not regulated, which means that companies can sell this accessory without ever testing it to ensure that it’s safe to use. And second, as I previously mentioned, seat belt adjusters are designed to keep the webbing of the seat belt from irritating your child’s neck. To do this, the adjuster pulls the lap portion of the seat belt up around your child’s stomach.
This is extremely dangerous because there are a lot of soft organs in your child’s stomach, and being in a crash with the seat belt around their tummy can cause serious organ and skeletal damage.
If you notice that your child is having continuous discomfort while they’re in their car seat, that can serve as a clear indication that your child has outgrown it. Rather than jumping to risky accessories to fix the problem, I suggest that you buy a booster seat for your little one so that they can ride comfortably AND safely.
Headrests are similar to infant inserts in that they’re cushioned supports that help to maximize your child’s comfort when they’re in their car seat. As more parents purchase more car seat accessories, an ongoing debate has surfaced on if the use of an additional headrest is safe.
In an article done by Safety 1st, it’s mentioned how third-party accessories, such as headrests, are NOT safety approved by the government. But, with no government regulation, how can you determine if they won’t put your child in danger?
When are headrests safe?
It’s not unusual for car seat manufacturers to also have their own line of car seat accessories. These manufacturers can guarantee the safety of their accessories because they’ve neem extensively crash tested with each car seat they produce.
If you want to know if the headrest you’re using is safe, go to your manufacturer's website to check out what accessories they have and which ones they recommend for your car seat. You can trust that your manufacturer will tell you what is and isn’t okay to use.
What are headrests unsafe?
To put it simply, do NOT use third-party accessories without the expressed permission of your car seat manufacturer.
The reason you want to avoid that is that adding things to your child’s car seat, such as headrests, can negatively and drastically affect your child’s head and neck movement in a crash, which can lead to serious injury or death. If the accessory you’re using hasn’t been tested with your car seat, then there is absolutely NO way to determine if it’s safe to use. And, honestly, it’s better not to risk it.
If you notice that your child is having a hard time keeping their head up while they’re in the car, it may simply be because you made the transition to a booster seat too soon.
No worries! You can easily go back to using your harnessed car seat until your child exceeds its maximum height and weight requirements. However, if you don’t think that’s the problem, and your car seat manufacturer doesn’t have a recommendation for a headrest, a safe alternative you could try is using a tightly rolled-up towel or small blanket to give your child a little extra comfort and support.
Infant Support Inserts
Infant support inserts are cushioned supports that are designed to enhance your child’s comfort and safety. You can easily compare headrests and infant inserts because using either of them will dangerously alter your child’s head and spinal alignment in similar ways.
Therefore, using infant inserts raises the same safety concerns and questions that using a headrest would. Additionally, both accessory types are safe to use if you have your car seat manufacturer’s permission.
As I mentioned when we were talking about headrests, if there are no manufacturer-approved infant inserts that you can use, I recommend using a tightly rolled-up towel or small blanket to give your little one additional support. It’s a safe alternative that won’t compromise your child’s alignment or airways.
Shoulder Pads/Strap Covers/Harness Covers
Shoulder pads also referred to as harness or strap covers, were designed to eliminate any irritation or discomfort that the harness straps may be causing your child. Most people question the safety of using shoulder pads on a car seat because they’ve been known to displace the chest clip, which can result in serious injury or death.
When are shoulder pads safe?
Like most of the accessories we’re discussing, shoulder pads are safe to use IF they’ve been purchased from or approved by your car seat manufacturer. When used properly, shoulder pads will safely and more comfortably turn your child’s car ride into a more comfortable and enjoyable one.
When are shoulder pads unsafe?
Third-party harness covers that haven’t been tested with your child’s car seat can, more than likely, do more harm than good.
An article that was done by Consumer Reports regarding the dangerous mistakes that every parent makes mentions how using aftermarket products can potentially affect your car seat’s performance in the event of a crash. Earlier, I said that the use of shoulder pads had been known to move your child’s chest clip.
In their article, Consumer Reports goes on to talk about how having the chest clip in the wrong place can allow for your child to be easily ejected from their seat, and it can also interfere with their breathing.
If your child is experiencing discomfort with their harness and your car seat manufacturer doesn’t produce harness covers, a safe alternative would be to pull your child’s shirt up between their harness and neck. While this may not be the most effective alternative, it’s definitely the safest.
Swaddlers are all about maximizing your child’s comfort and keeping your child warm during the colder seasons. They’re typically comprised of cloth-like material, and they sort of take on the role of blanket that wraps around your child and their car seat.
With accessories such as theses, there’s always the concern that using them can greatly impact your child’s car seat performance. In fact, most parents and experts believe that Swaddlers shouldn’t be used at all.
When are swaddlers unsafe?
Whenever an accessory interferes with the installation process and restraint system, it’s safe to assume that said accessory is NOT safe to use. Now, if your car seat manufacturer has a swaddle that’s been crash tested with your car seat and safety-approved, then it’s okay to use it.
If you don’t have permission from your car seat manufacturer to use a swaddle, then you shouldn’t use one. You can refer to your car seat manual regarding adding layers to your car seat.
Instead of using Swaddlers, you can use a car seat canopy to make your child feel more at ease. They effectively do the same thing as Swaddlers but with less coverage, and most won’t interfere with the installation process or restraint system. I advise that you only use Swaddlers that are approved by your car seat manufacturer. If you do, make sure that it’s one that won’t alter your car seat’s performance.
Now, if you can’t get a manufacturer-approved Swaddler or canopy, the nest best thing to do would be to dress your child a little more warmly so that they feel snug, cozy, and comfortable without compromising their safety.
Seat protectors are used to reduce the amount of mess that’s caused by food, beverages, and dirty shoes by keeping it from getting into the nooks and crannies of your child’s car seat. They’re also used to protect your vehicle seat from any damages that could be done to the upholstery by the car seat.
The most recent discussion I could find regarding the safety of using car seat protectors was from an article that was published in 2009, so what I had to go on was a bit outdated. Nevertheless, here’s what I was able to gather from doing a bit more digging.
When are seat protectors safe?
When produced by your car seat manufacturer, the car seat protector has been designed in such a way that it can perfectly fit around your child’s car seat without blocking the restraint system. If it has your manufacturer’s seal of approval and it doesn’t obstruct your ability to safely install your car seat, then there’s no problem with using a seat protector. However, refer to your car seat manual regarding the use of this accessory.
When are seat protectors unsafe?
Aftermarket seat protectors can be bulky and fit poorly around your child’s car seat. They can also make it hard to tell if you’ve properly installed your child’s car seat. Additionally, car seat protectors can make it difficult to access your child’s restraints.
Most car seat manufacturers make car seat protectors that work to protect your vehicle seat without upsetting the installation process. So, if that’s where your concern lies, check our your car seat manufacturer’s line of accessories.
If you’re more worried about your child making a mess, and you want a safe, non-obstructive alternative to seat protectors, then you can try using a thin blanket or nursing cover that won’t come between your vehicle seat and the child restraint.
Mirrors and Toys
Car seat mirrors are used so that parents can get a better view of their baby in the back seat. I’ve included toys with this section because similar to mirrors, toys are projectiles, and both can have the same type of impact on a child’s safety. Now, with any projectile, there will always be a debate on whether or not it’ll put your child in danger while they’re in the car. Let’s explore this a bit.
When are mirrors and toys safe?
I don’t want to necessarily call toys and mirrors safe to use because technically, they’re not, and there’s no science to back up if they are. However, I will say that if it’s been crash-tested by your car seat manufacturer, and you install it properly, then I see no harm in using either accessory.
When are mirrors and toys unsafe?
The Car Seat Blog published a detailed article on whether or not a car seat mirror was safe to use. In it, they calculated the force that your average 1-pound mirror would have in the even of a 40 mph car crash. They concluded that the crash force of a 1-pound mirror could cause serious and potentially fatal injuries if it hit a child. The same could be said for toys as well.
Another concern that using a car seat mirror raises is that they can be a bit of a distraction. Some parents may find that they spend too much time looking in the mirror and not on the road.
There’s no real safe alternative to using car seat mirrors or toys. An alternative could be to not use either of them, but most parents feel better when they’re able to keep a close eye on their little one. As for toys, they provide an easy way to keep your child entertained, but you could invest in some that don’t hang from your baby’s seat.
If you’re going to use these accessories, make sure that they’re installed properly and placed out of harm's way. Also, try to purchase mirrors and toys that are made out of softer and more flexible materials so that they don’t hurt as much in the event of a crash.
Waterproof pads are typically used when your child is going through potty training. They eliminate spills, damage to the car seat, and odors. These pads are a very common car seat accessory to use, but a lot of parents wonder if they can impair your child’s car seat safety.
When are waterproof pads unsafe?
Some car seat manufacturers produce their own brand of waterproof pads. These pads are safe to use because they’ve been tested to ensure that they don’t impact your car seat's performance. However, for third-party waterproof pads, there’s no government regulation on them, so using them can interfere with how well the car seat harness fits around your child. Letting your child ride in the car seat with a harness that doesn’t fit correctly can put them at serious risk of injury or death.
As a safe alternative, you could look into placing diaper covers or giving your child some protective pants to wear until they’re able to ride in the car seat without having an accident.
Car Seat Safety By Age: Infants in Rear-facing Seats (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia)
Adding accessories to your child's car seat can enhance your car seat's performance in addition to making your child's car riding experience a more enjoyable one. There are so many types of accessories that you can add to your car seat with even more companies out there that claim that their accessories are safe to use.
It's important to remember that when you're looking for car seat accessories, it's best to stick to the ones that were made by your car seat manufacturer.
Third-party accessories have no government regulation, which means that they're not held to the same safety standards as your car seat. If you can't find manufacturer-approved accessories, keep in mind that there are safe, at-home alternatives that you can try before you resort to a third-party company.
With two kids of my own, I’m passionate about child safety! I’m a research nerd who’s on a mission to make the world a safer place for kids – starting with car seats!
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