There are many car seat accessories freely available in baby stores and online, with many locally made beautiful and handy gadgets that seem useful and harmless, but you may not be aware of the potential danger of using them. There are also no safety standards that car seat accessories need to pass, and many are not crash tested or approved for use by your car seat manufacturer.
Be careful to only buy approved and crash tested accessories. Car seats are crash-tested in the way they are designed to be used, and adding accessories that aren't approved by your manufacturer could compromise the seat's safety in a crash and/or void the warranty.
These accessories are marketed to help solve the most common problems parents encounter when traveling with their children.
- Toddlers escaping from their car seat harness
- Babies’ heads falling forward
- Short seatbelts making car seat installation difficult
- Lack of isofix in some cars
- Children getting too hot or cold in the car seat
- Discomfort to your child
- Damage to your vehicle seats
In this article we will explore the most popular car seat accessories, and discuss the crash test findings and safety concerns of each of them.
1. anti-escape devices
A very common problem we often encounter, is toddlers escaping from their car seats. This is of course extremely dangerous for your child to be unrestrained, and it is also very distracting to the driver. An anti-escape clip is usually a plastic clip that’s attached to the harness of a car seat to hold the straps together, to prevent children from being able to slip their arms out.
European car seats are not issued with chest clips like they are in America, and until very recently were illegal to be used. Under R44/04 regulations, car seats were required to release the child with one click. Under R129 regulations, anti-escape devices are allowed, provided they are crash tested and approved.
Chest clips and anti-escape clips need to be positioned in line with a child’s armpits, to prevent damage to organs in a crash. However, as most child car seat harnesses come with padded shoulder pads, it may not be possible to position the device high enough on the chest. This may cause it to be positioned too low over the abdomen and therefore could place too much force over vital organs in a crash.
If a child is able to escape from the harness, we have found that it is almost always due to improper use of the harness; either the harness height is incorrect and/or the harness is too loose. Please read our article on how to stop children escaping from their car seat.
CONCLUSION: First ensure you are using the harness correctly. If your child continues to escape, only use a crash tested and approved anti-escape device and ensure it is used correctly.
2. SUPPORT PILLOWS AND HEAD STRAPS
Head and neck pillows are designed to prevent your child’s head from flopping forward when they nap in the car. Although car seat experts have confirmed that they do not conflict with the R44/04 and R129 car seat regulations, be careful that the pillow does not push baby’s head forward and potentially close their airway.
Additionally, be careful not to use a pillow in front of a baby’s neck that their head could potentially fall into and cover their mouth and/or nose.
CONCLUSION: It is safe to use head supports if it does not interfere with the car seat harness and if it does not restrict the baby’s airway.
Body or infant support pillows are, however, not recommended to use UNLESS they were manufactured with your car seat. Any aftermarket infant support could interfere with the car seat’s harness and the way the harness is positioned over your baby’s body.
CONCLUSION: Body / infant support pillows are not recommended unless they were manufactured with your car seat.
Head straps are straps that go over a child’s head, to stop it falling forward while they sleep in the car. Parents are often concerned about their child’s head falling forward in the car seat. While this is VERY dangerous for babies under 6 months who do not yet have adequate head control to lift their heads back up, it is not a safety concern for older babies who do have head control.
If your baby’s head is falling forward, first check that you are using the harness correctly and tightening it sufficiently. A loose harness, besides for increasing risk in a crash, can also results in the body flopping forwards and consequently the head too.
There are many versions of these straps available, and concern has been raised that most of these can potentially result in internal decapitation (head and spine being separated). There is only one that has been crash tested and deemed safe to use.
The NapUp was crash tested by Which.co.uk, who found that the head support band, which uses push buttons for attachment, comes off in a crash. “This means it won’t interfere with the protection of the car seat itself.” NapUp does not conflict with the requirements of regulations R44 or R129.
CONCLUSION: Safe to use NapUp. Please note that it is only suitable for children 2-7 years of age. All other head straps could cause internal decapitation and are not recommended.
The BeltUpp is an additional safety belt for high-backed booster seats. It is attached to the lap and shoulder straps of the vehicle seatbelt and inserted in the respective guides on the booster seat. With the BeltUpp installed, your child will have an ‘X’ pattern across its chest. It’s designed to provide better support for a sleeping child and to stop them from slipping out of the seatbelt. If a sleeping child were to be slumped forward at the time of impact, they would be outside the safety zones of their booster. A safer alternative to the BeltUpp (if your booster does not recline) would be to teach your child to "look up" at the roof when they feel sleepy, to displace their weight backwards and prevent them from falling forwards.
It is also used as a last resort for parents who have bigger than average children, who have outgrown their toddler car seats before they are mature enough to sit still and upright in a booster. Ideally, these children would be safer in a 25kg harnessed car seat, but it is not always financially possible for parents to afford these.
Although BeltUpp has been crash tested, it was only tested on one booster model. It is not approved by any booster manufacturer. In addition, an extra belt means you’ll have to release a second buckle, which could delay extraction in an emergency. This is a requirement of both R44 and R129 car seat regulations.
CONCLUSION: Not recommended
3. SEATBELT EXTENDERS
A seatbelt extender is a second buckle that is clicked into your vehicle's main seatbelt clip, to lengthen the seatbelt to make it fit around a car seat or to make the seatbelt more accessible when fitting 3 across. They are readily available online.
HOWEVER, seatbelt extenders are only intended for use on obese adults, to allow the seatbelt to fit over their body. They are not crash tested or approved for use with car seats or boosters.
Seatbelt extenders cause “buckle crunch” on car sear seats. This is when the buckle is positioned on the hard plastic part of the car seat, causing pressure on the buckle and could break the buckle in a crash.
Seatbelt extenders cause the buckle to be placed over an older child’s abdomen when used with a booster seat. This increases the risk of injury in a crash.
CONCLUSION: Not recommended
4. SEATBELT ADJUSTERS
Seatbelt adjusters are triangular pads which are intended to pull the shoulder belt of the adult seatbelt away from your child’s neck, and provide additional padding.
However, car seat experts noted that if the pad is poorly placed, it could pull the lap belt up and the shoulder belt down, so that they run across the sensitive abdomen area, which could be dangerous (and possibly fatal) in a crash.
CONCLUSION: Not recommended. A highback booster is much safer.
5. AFTERMARKET/ DIY ISOFIX
- Only a genuine OEM retrofit isofix kit be used (and identified as such)
- Confirmed as suitable for your specific vehicle by your vehicle manufacturer
- The genuine OEM retrofit kit should be crash tested and approved to ISO 13216
- It should be installed by your vehicle dealership, and not a third party.
CONCLUSION: While isofix is certainly easier to use to install car seats, if your car did not come with isofix, it is not recommended that you install aftermarket or retrofitted isofix brackets. It would be best to rather use a high scoring, crash tested belted car seat that can be installed correctly in your car.
6. CUP HOLDERS
Children often need snacks and drinks while they travel, and it is not always practical to only let them eat or drink when you make a stop. Some car seat manufacturers make cup-holders that clip on to the side of the seat or are built in. The concern with cup holders is not the holder itself, but that the weight of the cup/bottle inside it could become a projectile in a crash and cause injury.
CONCLUSION: Use cup holders with caution. Only use cup holders that have been crash tested, and do not fill the cup/bottle to reduce its weight.
7. AFTERMARKET SEAT COVERS, SWADDLES, sleeping bags, COVERS AND PONCHOS
If an accessory was not manufactured by your car seat manufacturer, it is not recommended or safe to use. Although there are many ponchos, swaddles and covers on the market to keep babies warm in the car seat, the majority are not crash tested or approved.
Therefore, there is no way to determine whether or not any particular product is safe. Nothing bulky should ever go underneath your child's body or between them and the harness or seatbelt.
CONCLUSION: It is only safe to use a cover, swaddle, poncho if it was manufactured and approved by your car seat manufacturer.
8. HARNESS PADS
As cute as some harness pads and covers are; they are not crash tested nor are they approved by car seat manufacturers. They seem harmless, but there was an incident where a baby was ejected from the car seat as a result of aftermarket harness pads which were too thick and caused the baby to slip through them.
CONCLUSION: Only use harness pads that were manufactured with your car seat.
9. CAR SEAT PROTECTORS
A car seat protector is appealing to protect your back seat from dents and scratches from the car seat that could damage your vehicle upholstery.
Additional padding or material between the vehicle seat and the car seat could interfere with the installation, which could have serious consequences in an accident. There are many generic seat protectors on the market; most of which won’t have been crash tested at all.
Some car seat manufacturers make their own seat protector, which should have been crash tested with their brand of car seats. But even though the seat protector has been crash tested, it won’t have been tested with any other car seat brand and won’t be approved for use with any other brand of car seat. Using an unapproved seat protector may void your warranty.
CONCLUSION: It is only recommended to use a seat protector if the seat protector has been crash-tested with your car seat.
10. Back seat rearfacing MIRRORS
Mirrors are useful to be able to see your baby or toddler when they are in a rear facing car seat. This reassures parents that they will be able to keep an eye on them, when you otherwise would not be able to see them from the front.
However, there are 2 concerns with mirrors; that parents are distracted by looking at their child while driving, and that they could become projectiles in a crash.
CONCLUSION: Only use crash tested mirrors that are less likely to come loose in a crash and injure anyone. Only look at the mirror through your rear view mirror when your car is stationary and it is safe to do so. Avoid looking back to see your child, as you would be taking your eyes off the road.
Overall verdict on car seat accessories
Any accessory such as shoulder padding, infant inserts, back seat protectors, chest clips, head straps and swaddles that are not made and crash tested by your manufacturer, are not recommended or safe to use.
Although they may seem harmless, untested aftermarket accessories can alter the performance of your car seat in a crash and reduce its effectiveness. Only use accessories that are approved by your car seat manufacturer.