It’s OK to admit. Really it is. Carseat manuals are boring to read. Whenever I get a new carseat, I feel a rush of adrenaline, a high, if you will—a new carseat, yay! I race to pull it out of the box to put it together. The best carseats are those that go together without needing instructions. Like backless boosters, lol! The worst are the ones where you have to crack open the manual for assembly instructions. Bummer! I’ll never forget the panic I felt when I decided to raise the harness slot position on my son’s Airway 15 minutes before I was to leave to pick him up from preschool. Those of you familiar with that seat know it takes much longer than 15 minutes to change the slot height (BTW, for a typical seat, changing slot height takes about a minute). The manual was less than helpful in showing me how to remove the “blue harness anchor” from under the seat (wha???). He was very patient that 108° afternoon as I finished it up in the parking lot of the preschool.
For the past several years, I’ve been fortunate to work on the Child Restraint Manufacturers’ Instructions with Summary Sheets project for SafetyBeltSafe USA. Every other year, a group of us reads all carseat manuals and summarizes them for CPS techs. Obviously we don’t reinvent the wheel each time and create new summaries for each instruction manual; we update those that have already been printed and create a new one for new carseat models. So, I’d like to take this time to plug the CD for SBS USA—it’s only $10—and it’s a terrific resource for technicians to have on hand. I think it’s second only to the magical LATCH book.
Since I’ve read so many manuals, I’d like to highlight a few things that parents should put on their radar when they read an instruction manual. Each manufacturer has their own way of organizing their manuals, so it’s impossible to say that everyone has this topic under that category, but they do tend to have a way of doing things.
Yep, this is where all the dire warnings about how your beautiful child can be seriously injured are located. Really, read through these. Some manufacturers only have a few warnings; others think the sky is falling and just about everything will harm your child. It’s only their attorneys looking out for their best interests. Look out for your best interests and read ‘em anyway.
Your carseat will be broken out into a labeled picture or two. Look this one over and make sure you have all the parts. This diagram tells you what that thingamabob is called and where to store your lower LATCH connectors and top tether, if you have one on your carseat (infant seats don’t have them).
Seat Belt Systems
The manual has to have this part in there. That’s because some people don’t have their vehicle manuals any more. If you have your vehicle manual, read the section there about installing child restraints. Flip back to the index and look under “child restraint,” “carseat,” “child,” “top tether,” “seat belt,” or something similar. In this section, you’ll find out how your seat belts lock to hold in a carseat and if your vehicle has LATCH anchors or top tethers (your vehicle can have top tethers without lower anchors if it’s an older vehicle). If you don’t have your vehicle manual, buy one off eBay. Seriously. How can you not have a vehicle manual?
There will be 2 parts to the installation section: installing the carseat with LATCH (that’s Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) and installing the carseat with the vehicle’s seat belt. If it’s not made clear in the carseat manual, choose ONE method only that applies to the seating position you’ve chosen in your back seat and follow that method. If you have a carseat with different ways of installing it, like a convertible that can be installed rear-facing or forward-facing, follow the method of installation (LATCH or seat belt) for the correct direction of the carseat.
For the most part, all you need to know is the daily use of the carseat. How do you tighten/loosen the harness and open/close the buckles? You could probably figure this out all on your own or by looking at the diagrams page. Some carseats have puzzle buckles where you must line the buckle tongs up together before inserting them into the buckle, but those are few and far between. Less frequent is knowing how to change harness slot height or buckle position, if that’s an option. For most instruction manuals, those directions are near the end of the manual, but they will be listed in the table of contents.
How to wash the cover is usually on one of the last pages, as is caring for the harness. If in doubt or you can’t find instructions on how to care for the cover or the harness, look for tags. Covers can always be hand-washed in gentle detergent and air dried (rolling in a towel helps remove excess water). Harnesses should never be machine washed or submerged. Take a damp washcloth and wipe clean. Some manufacturers allow a mild diluted soap to be used, but remember that you can’t submerge the harness to rinse it off, so it’s best to do what you can with a washcloth. Contact the manufacturer directly for harness washing instructions. The number is on a sticker on the side of the carseat.
So, didn’t you just basically read the whole darn manual? Well, yeah. But there are some things that you need to pay more attention to *right now* than others, right? Like, are you changing the harness height every day? No. So tuck that section back in your memory and remember things like the harness is always below the shoulders when rear-facing and always above the shoulders when forward-facing and you’re golden.