Several years ago, I did the original vehicle seat protector article exploring whether there were safe vehicle seat protector mats to use under carseats. I concluded that some are definitely better than others; probably the same thing can be said for just about every other product on the market. This time, I used some of the same mats because they haven’t changed and some new mats that have arrived on the market. I bought the seat protectors at Target and Babies R Us; my Wal-Mart didn’t have any space on the shelves for seat protectors.
The carseat I used is a Cosco Scenera, a carseat known for its sharp edges along the bottom. I started this whole process by first installing my Scenera rear-facing using a lap/shoulder belt and locking clip. I installed the seat “rock the car” tight. Carseats are crash tested with 1” of movement so I certainly didn’t need to have it that tight, but I wanted to make sure that as I installed the Scenera on top of the mats, I had a solid installation.
I didn’t intend for this to be a mostly video blog, but when I tested the very first mat, I decided pretty quickly it needed to be recorded. One made the carseat slip very easily and another actually made the carseat so hard to install that I nearly damaged the mat (and myself!) while trying to maintain that initial tightness of the seatbelt. I must apologize in advance for the shakiness of the videos. Evidently my stabilization wasn’t turned on. OK, not really. It was me trying to hold my iPhone steady and not doing a good job of it ;). You should see our home movies–we have to take Dramamine before watching those!
Babies R Us 2-in-1 Car Seat Protector
Brica Seat Guardian Plus
Eddie Bauer High Back Seat Protector
Eddie Bauer Padded Seat Protector
Prince Lionheart 2 Stage Seatsaver
I still find myself on the side of argument that thinks vehicle seat protector mats aren’t the evil death traps that some folks make them out to be. Certainly there are some that have a better design than others (like the Britax Vehicle Seat Protector) and some that should be avoided at all costs (like the Brica Seat Guardian Plus). If your child throws up a lot, you’ll do what you can to prevent that noxious stuff from getting down into your vehicle seat and I don’t blame you! While I practice a rule of non-greasy, easy cleanup foods and water-only drinks in my car with my own kids, I know many parents don’t have that luxury when they’re going from one activity to another and the only time to slam back a meal is in the car. Seat protectors can help keep those fries from grinding into the seat cushions and ruining the upholstery and they can form a barrier between a sharp-edged carseat and your vehicle’s upholstery. However, a correct installation will still yield dents in your vehicle seat. It’s part of the territory of having kids. Let me say that again in a different way: kids ruin your stuff and it starts when they’re infants. If you are in the position to be able to choose from a variety of carseats, look for one that has a smooth base. The indentations on your vehicle seat will be less severe. Fortunately, manufacturers are starting to listen and the bottoms of carseats are getting smoother, but there are still old designs out there that are still bought so they are still being made.
If you decide to use a vehicle seat protector mat, use one that’s flexible and that allows you to get a tight installation of your carseat. Verify that you can install your carseat with less than 1” of movement before using the mat because as is seen in the videos, with the vast majority of mats, the installation will only degrade. Your carseat manufacturer may not allow the use of a mat either. Also, make sure your child’s harness is secure so that you can’t pinch any harness above the chest clip and the chest clip is at armpit level. Most parents don’t have only one error when using their carseats; it’s a multitude of seemingly small errors stacking one upon the other that can cause major problems for your child in a crash. As always, a visit to your local certified Child Passenger Safety Technician can help you learn to install and use your carseat correctly every ride.