Should you use car seat accessories?

Products attached to car seats raise questions about safety

If you have a small child, you know it can be a challenge to keep them occupied in the car. Many products are available that attach to child safety seats to entertain, support and keep baby warm. But are they safe to use?

A recent video out of Texas showed a mirror reflecting sun onto a car seat, causing it to smoke. Mirrors need to be installed correctly and up on the headrest to minimize exposure to the sun. In this case, the car seat’s material did its job of not catching fire.

“We do not recommend using products that are not sold with the car seat,” said Sharon Rengers, R.N., child passenger safety expert and manager with Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness. “These products are not safety tested with the car seat and can come off in a crash, causing injury.”

If you decide to purchase an accessory to go with your car seat, be sure you read the instructions and install it correctly.

Some other items to watch out for:

  • Sun shields with suction cups can detach from the window and hit passengers. Instead, use static cling shades.
  • Head supports that do not come with the seat could push a small infant’s head forward. Most seats come with head supports that will do the job.
  • Harness pads that you buy separately can be so large that you cannot get the straps tight enough — a problem that many parents already have, especially with smaller children. Straps should be tightened so that you cannot pinch any of the webbing away from the child.
Free car seat checks

The Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness team offers free car seat checks by appointment.

  • Winter seat covers that go under the baby also can prevent you from getting the straps tight enough. These also can make the baby too hot. Instead, use a warm blanket over the baby’s body and be sure to use a hat (never use a heavy coat). There is no need to cover the entire seat.
  • Dangling toys not recommended by the manufacturer can become projectiles if they come loose during a car crash. If baby needs something in the car, be sure it’s completely made of soft material and has no hard plastic pieces.

“When we do car seat checks, we find that 90 percent of children are not buckled in properly,” Rengers said. “One of the problems we find is with these after-market products. It may not seem like a big deal, but it can cause big injury in the event of a crash.”