Car Seats and Winter Coats Don’t Mix: How to Keep Your Kids Safe and Cozy in Cold Weather

Car Seats
Photo: Jimmy Conover on Unsplash

When temperatures drop, you don’t want your little ones to freeze.

But when it comes to bundling up your bundles of joy before strapping them into their car seat, you might unintentionally be opening your child to a whole new realm of dangers.

Car seats are designed to be snug—that’s how they protect your little ones in an accident. But by adding a bulky winter coat to the mix, you’re creating some wiggle room that would be dangerous in an accident. All those soft layers compress under the heavy forces you see in a crash, which is something you desperately want to avoid.

But don’t worry—we’ve got you covered. We’re going to run you through everything you need to know to keep your kids safe and warm during the coldest times of the year.

Related: Which 2 Row SUVs Are Best For Child Car Seats? The Ultimate Car Seat Challenge

The Car Seat Test

Some jackets may not have a detrimental effect on safety, and there’s an easy process to follow in order to tell:

  1. Put your child in her coat and fasten her into her car seat. Tighten the harness until the straps are no longer slack enough for you to pinch it between your thumb and forefinger.
  2. Remove your child from her seat without loosening the harness.
  3. Remove your child’s coat, then place her back in her seat and fasten the straps.
  4. If you can now pinch a strap between your thumb and forefinger, the jacket is too bulky for your child to safely wear in the car. On the other hand, if the straps are still so snug that you can’t pinch the strap, that item of clothing can be worn safely.

Those rules go for anything your child might be wearing, whether it’s a costume, a sweater, a blanket, or more.

Layer Up

A few strategic layers can work wonders without necessitating a big coat inside the car. The main thing to note here is that those layers should be thin and snug: If the layers fit close to your child’s body, they won’t obstruct the functionality of the seatbelts. Hats and gloves are great ways to retain warmth, too.

A good rule of thumb is that infants and young children should be wearing one more layer of clothing than the adults around them. So, if you’re wearing a hat and coat, your baby will need a hat, coat, and blanket.

Related: The Ultimate Car Seat Challenge: 3-Row SUVs

Blankets and Backwards Jackets

Despite the fact that all her children are grown, my mom is still a staunch advocate for the in-car blanket. It’s a great item to have in the event of an emergency, but it’s also a safe way to cover your kids up in their car seat. Just don’t tuck the blanket underneath them or in between your child and the seat; you don’t want the blanket to interfere with seat security in any way.

Older children can use their coats to the same effect. Take the coat off before securing them in their car seat, then give them their coat to put on backwards in order to cover their arms and chest.

And, nowadays, they sell blankets with arm holes that are perfect for this purpose.

Related: Britax Endeavours Car Seat Review: Safety First for Our Girl

Warm Up Inside

Yes, it might be a pain to put a carseat into your car every time you need to drive, but in the winter, it might be worth it—especially for infants and children who aren’t able to use their words yet. A cold car seat can sap the heat right out of your kiddo, and it can take a while to warm up on the bitterest days. Bringing the seat—and any blankets or winter wear—inside before use makes life much more comfortable.

Car Seats

In the car, blankets only go over the child, not under her. Festive hats, however, are strongly encouraged. Photo: Bermix Studio on Unsplash

A Word of Warning on Aftermarket Products

While there are tons of different aftermarket products available that are designed to keep your children warm, you want to avoid anything that’s not approved by your car seat manufacturer. These generally aren’t tested in crash tests, so they aren’t certified to keep your kids safe. If you use one of those products and your child suffers an injury, you won’t be able to demand compensation.

That being said, most car seat makers have a list of certified products that you can use with your seat if need be.

A Note About Rural Areas

I grew up in a rural area where it’s still very common for people to wrap their kids up in coats and snowpants before clipping them into their car seat. The argument they pose tends to be: If we get in a crash, no one will be close enough to rescue us, so my child will get hypothermia if we have to sit there for a while.

You can still ensure your child is warm and comfortable without their bulkiest coat—which will still be on hand in the car in the event of an emergency. The first goal in an accident is for everyone to survive the crash. Then you can worry about getting help and staying warm—which shouldn’t be a problem if you have a well-equipped winter emergency kit.

Car Seats

Photo: Brady Cook on Unsplash

I'm Elizabeth Blackstock, managing editor of AGGTC, blogger, journalist, novelist, editor, MA/MFA graduate student, wife, motorsport fanatic, and bearer... More about Elizabeth Blackstock