Winter Coats and Car Seats

winter coats and car seats

‘Tis the season for dealing with winter coats and car seats for our young ones.

It’s getting cold! And it will officially be winter in a matter of days. Really, the time is a flyin’.

As parents we want to keep our children warm. The walk to the car is cold. The car itself is cold. And you never know when you’ll have to shovel out your truck! (see picture)

But bulky winter coats and car seats are a dangerous combination. Car seat technicians say to put nothing thicker than a sweatshirt on your child under the harness straps of a car seat.

Here is a simple way to check if your child’s coat is too big to wear under their harness:

  • Put the coat on your child, sit them in the child seat and fasten the harness. Tighten the harness until you can no longer pinch any of the harness webbing with your thumb and forefinger
  • Without loosening the harness, remove your child from the child seat,
  • Take the coat off and put your child back in the car seat and buckle the harness straps, which are still adjusted as they were when he was wearing the coat.
  • If you can now pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger then the coat is too bulky to be worn under the harness.

Here’s great video showing the winter coat fit test described above.

Why can’t I use a winter coat in a car seat?

During a crash all the material of a bulky winter coat or those comfy thick sleeping bag like aftermarket products or other bundling products will compress making the harness straps too loose on the child. When the harness straps are not snug on the child, they don’t do their job of helping the child come to a gentle stop during a crash.

It’s possible the straps could even be so loose the child slip through the straps and come out of the child restraint. Definitely not a good situation. Also as the car warms up the kids can start to overheat if they have all these warm materials between them and the harness straps which they can’t remove.

So what should parents do as they are running out the door on those cold winter mornings?

For infants:

pinch test

The harness straps are too loose if you can pinch them like this.

  • Dress the infant as if they were going to be indoors.
  • Put them in their infant carrier.
  • Secure on the harness straps nice and snug (remember if you can pinch the material together between your thumb and finger it’s too loose, as seen in the picture).
  • Top them of with a hat and some blankets over the top of the harness straps and carry baby out to the car.
  • As the car warms up you can remove blankets and replace them over baby when you arrive at your destination. This also helps ensure baby doesn’t get overheated.

For toddlers and preschoolers:

  • Dress the child comfortably and put on their coat and hat for their walk out to the car.
  • Take off the coat and buckle the child snugly in the harness straps.
  • Put the coat on over the child. They can put their arms in the sleeves backwards. Or use blankets.
    • Some new car seat friendly coats and infant covers are now available (you can see some in our Car Seat Gift Guide).
  • The child can remove the layer(s) as the car warms up.

Two things to note:

  1. Most car seat manufacturers will void their warranty if you use aftermarket products with their child restraints.
  2. The RideSafer® has been crash tested with the bulkiest winter coat the manufacturer could find and still performs very well. Just remember there is still potential for the child to overheat when the car warms up.For short trips or if you keep the car cool, children using the RideSafer® can do so with their winter coat on.

Go here to watch our CEO and Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructor, Greg Durocher, talk about winter coats and car seats.

Prior to this post, had you heard about winter coats and car seats? Share your comments below.

By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004

Copyright 2017 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

This post was originally published November 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

© amie durocher
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  • Jason
    Posted at 08:42h, 14 February Reply

    Is there statistical data that supports this? I see this everywhere, but nobody can provide real proof, or crash test results. The one crash test video I saw was so rigged, I literally laughed at it. If my child is properly tightened in the car seat, is this really an issue? It almost seems like it is a made up issue based on a possible scenario somebody thought up, not facts and data.

    • Amie
      Posted at 21:39h, 14 February Reply

      Hi Jason, We think we can guess the video, if it was recent. We wish they had also tested it with the harness straps properly tightened over the winter coat. There are definitely cases where the child is ejected from the car seat while wearing a winter coat. However, it is hard to tell after the fact how tight the harness straps were prior to the crash. And the coat will compress significantly with the crash force. And the fact remains many parents don’t tighten the harness straps as much as recommended.

      If you watch the video linked to in this blog post you will see a demonstration of how loose the straps are when the harness straps were properly tightened over the coat, the coat is taken off and the child put back in the car seat.

      Stay tuned to our blog via our newsletter or Facebook, we’ll be posting videos about crash dynamics that will help address this question as well.

    • Dahlia Rizk
      Posted at 12:23h, 06 April Reply

      Jason is correct the Rossen Report crash test video dummy is not restrained properly. Their intent is good in spreading the word but the improper harnessing, I think, makes it hard for parents to understand the true risks in a crash.

      Here are the facts: 72% to 84% of child restraints show critical misuses. The most common forms of misuse are using the wrong seat for the child’s age and weight, loose safety belt attachment to the car seat and loose harness straps on the child. This is scary because another statistic says 96% of parents believe their child safety seats are installed correctly. Meanwhile these misuses increase a child’s risk of injury during a crash.

      In the winter, puffy coats are the biggest contributor to loose harness straps. The convenience is just not worth the risk.

      There are a lot of great alternatives to dangerous puffy winter coats for parents:

      Take the coat off and warm the car first
      Use fleece or a blanket
      Use a car seat safety coat like the Buckle Me Baby Coat

      Love parents who spread the word to keep kiddos safer!


  • Lolly Eurich
    Posted at 09:45h, 03 November Reply

    I want to know if this is just advise or if it’s is a law to wear no coats in car seats?

    • Amie
      Posted at 14:48h, 03 November Reply

      Hi Lolly, While it is “advice”, I’d say it’s stronger than advice. It’s recommended by every car seat safety expert I’ve talked to, trained under, read articles from. Many would probably describe it more as an “unwritten law”. So no you would not get a traffic ticket if your toddler wears a coat under the harness straps of a car seat. But if a parent makes that choice and is in a crash which has a negative outcome because the harness straps that seemed tight over the coat were really not tight enough on the child, how will that parent feel? If it is you deciding or you looking for information to offer other parents, watch/share this video: While the harness straps should have been tighter in the video, in reality, they are probably as tight as many parents have them on their child. Be safe out there. :-)

  • nana loves her babies
    Posted at 14:06h, 07 January Reply

    If the straps are adjustable with the center pull strap between the legs of the child it can be tightened more after the child is put in the vehicle with a coat on. Unless it’s like a really bulky coat for minus – degree weather.. a parka so to speak I don’t see how it can affect that much. I think it’s lazy parents that just don’t want to hassle with loosening and tightening the straps to get them in and out they likely left their childs straps extra loose so they don’t struggle with it or if the child can’t do it themselves. I’m not buying it.. my babies will have a coat on.

    • Amie
      Posted at 21:24h, 08 January Reply

      Did you watch the video? It shows even when the harness strap seems tight over the coat, if you take the coat off, the straps are not tight to the child. The straps need to be tight on the child as the bulk of the coat will compress during a crash. That is why we, and all other car seat experts, recommend taking the coat off prior to harnessing.

  • Dahlia Rizk
    Posted at 08:11h, 06 April Reply

    In a crash every millimeter counts. Even if the probability of being thrown from the car is not high think of how small the area is between your child and the seat in front of them when they are forward facing. Facts are facts. The bulk of a coat compresses during a crash creating too much space for the harness to work properly.

    There are a lot of great alternatives:

    Parents can take the coat off
    Parents can use fleece or a blanket
    Parents can use car seat safe coats like the Buckle Me Baby Coat

    The convenience of keeping traditional puffy coats on are just not worth the risk.

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