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Why you should never leave your child's winter coat on in car seat

This common car seat mistake could prove fatal for children and adults, particularly during the winter months.
Why you should never leave your child's winter coat on in car seat
Posted at 4:00 PM, Feb 07, 2024

Most parents and caretakers don't think twice about bundling up their kids in warm, bulky coats on a cold day. But when it comes time to buckle that kiddo into a car seat, the safest thing they can do is remove the coat before strapping them in.

While it may seem like a child is snug in their big, puffy coat while in their car seat, in reality, the coat causes the harness straps to be quite loose.

This is because puffy winter coats are filled with air in addition to some filler material, and in the event of a crash, that air is quickly compressed, causing the child to be thrown much further forward than they would be if they were strapped in without wearing a coat. They could even be pulled entirely out of the car seat.

It may not seem like a few inches of fabric and filler would make a difference, but the consequences could be fatal.

The video below, produced by The Car Seat Lady, explains what happens as a result of kids wearing bulky winter coats in car seats.

An easy rule to remember would be to never buckle a child into their car seat wearing something they wouldn't wear indoors, so you can add a warm layer, like a sweatshirt or sweater, but remove the coat before buckling your child into their car seat.

The coat can then cover them like a blanket to keep them warm, or it can be worn backwards over the car seat harness. Another option is to keep actual blankets in the car for snuggling under on car trips.

Surprisingly, this advice also applies to adults. If you're in a car wearing a seat belt, you should remove your winter coat before strapping yourself in as well.

But if you're unsure whether you or your child's coat is too bulky to be effectively protected, try the following process from Consumer Reports, which some call the "pinch test."

1. With your child wearing the coat, place them in the car seat and buckle them in. Keep tightening the harness until none of the webbing can be pinched with your thumb and forefinger.

2. Unfasten the harness (but don’t loosen it) and remove the child's coat. Then buckle the child into the car seat again and check the harness straps. If you're able to pinch the webbing now, the coat is too thick or puffy for the child to wear while strapped into the car seat.

There are also a number of jackets that have been made specifically to be safe in a car seat, including the Buckle Me Baby line of coats. These coats were designed with a side zipper so the car seat harness can be tightened snugly and then the coat folds over the harness and zips up on the side. These coats come in a variety of colors and sizes.

A hooded car seat poncho is another coat alternative that will safely keep kids warm on car rides. Made of plush fabric and fashioned with a hood, the Birdy Boutique Car Seat Poncho is like a wearable blanket that drapes over the top of the car seat harness to keep out the chill once the child is all strapped in.

For smaller babies, check out car seat covers, which stretch over the entire car seat or baby carrier and feature a soft lining that keeps baby snuggly warm.

No matter what option you choose for keeping your little one warm, keep this important safety tip in mind this winter: A little discomfort from the cold is worth it when it can mean the difference between life and death.

This story was originally published by Carina Wolff on

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