‘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’.) Parents who live in colder climates question what they should do with winter coats and car seats with young children.
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. We want to avoid having a lot of bulky clothing inside the harnessing system in the child restraint. Because in a crash all the bulk will squish down and the harness straps will be loose. Car seat technicians say to put nothing thicker than a sweatshirt on your child under the harness straps of a car seat.
Unfortunately, even though car seat experts and media have shared this a lot over the years, a 2019 study by Volvo showed 65% of parents still do not remove the child’s coat before putting them in a car seat.
Every year parents make the argument that it is below freezing much of the winter where they live and if they crash the child could die of cold. I can understand that argument in those climates especially if they drive on remote roads where help can be some distance away. However, as Amber Rollins of Kids and Cars says, “there shouldn’t be any exception because it’s just not safe. First you have to survive the accident. If you don’t survive the accident, then this is not an issue.”
How to check the winter coat in the 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’s body, they don’t do their job of helping the child come to a gentle stop during a crash.
Many puffy coats and snowsuits can leave 4 inches of slack in the straps. Four inches of slack significantly increases the risk of injury, says Miriam Manary of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. The risk of head injury is particularly high, she added, as the child could move so far forward the child could hit the back of the front seat at a low enough point where the seat may not be padded.
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.
Want to see this in action? Watch this crash test video of a child (dummy) in a car seat with a winter coat. Granted the harness straps are too loose to start with, in addition to having on a bulky coat. We do wish they had done a better job on the video. However, in reality many parents already have the straps too loose on their child so this video may be more realistic for those instances.
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. Remember just because you aren’t feeling too hot doesn’t mean they aren’t.
Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them
So what should parents do as they are running out the door on those cold winter mornings?
- 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 to get out of the car. This also helps ensure baby doesn’t get overheated during the car ride.
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.
- The child can remove the layer(s) as the car warms up.
Two things to note
- Most car seat manufacturers will void their warranty if you use aftermarket products with their child restraints.
- 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.
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 2021 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.
We originally published this post in November 2013. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.