Let's be honest, child restraints are tricky. As a new parent, or one moving up and onto the next stage, this can be a very tough decision that often brings about some uncertainty. To make this go as smoothly as possible, we recommend first taking a look at: https://vicarseattechs.com/our-favourites-summarized/. These lists have been developed by CPSAC techs with years of experience in the world of child passenger safety. Once you have narrowed down your options, you are best to "try before you buy" or meet up with a tech (whenever possible). Trying out the seat from a store, or asking on a local buy & sell page to see if a parent has one that you could borrow briefly will allow you to judge the fit in your vehicle. Make sure to try the seat both rear-facing and forward facing and look for things like:
Child restraints have a useful life on them before they expire and it is something that we need to make sure we are following. This is a device that is designed with the purpose of keeping children safe in the event of a collision. Drinking some expired milk might make you sick, using an expired child restraint could be the difference between life and death. Transport Canada has a great piece on why child restraints expire that you can read about here. When it comes to used child restraints, there are a lot of 'unknowns' that we are going out and trusting hasn't happened to the seat. Has it been in a collision? We don't know for sure. Have the straps been washed or come in contact with harsh chemicals? We don't know for sure. Has it been mistreated in ways that could compromise the working parts of the seat? We don't know this either. Many times they aren't issues that are able to be pointed out just by looking at the seat either. We don't often recommend purchasing used seats, but we do understand that it may not be possible for every parent to purchase new all of the time. In this case, we recommend you take a look at the Used Seat Checklist developed by the CPSAC. It is a handy tool in determining whether or not the seat you are looking at is one you should be purchasing.
We see this a lot on forums and Facebook groups. A parent or caregiver will explain their situation, what they are looking for, and tell us that they want it to be the "safest" seat within their budget. I am sure we will ease some nerves when we say that in Canada, all child restraints pass the same federal crash testing and meet the same safety standards. It is a pass/fail system and one seat isn't deemed to be safer than another. It either passes the requirements or it doesn't, and then cannot be legally sold. The primary reason that seats range in price is because the lower-cost seats do not have the features that the higher priced seats do.
The safest seat is one that fits your child, your vehicle, your budget, and will be used correctly 100% of the time.
The short answer is that in most cases, no, you cannot use both the seat belt and UAS (latch clips) to secure a child restraint in the vehicle. The common "idea" that many parents seem to share is that by using both, they are increasing the safety of that seat because you are adding a second point of contact between the vehicle and car seat to keep it in place. But in order for it to be truly defined as safe, it needs to be installed as per the manufacturers directions regardless of whether using both is safe(r) or not. Because most manufacturers explicitly tell us that we cannot use both, we must follow these instructions and chose one or the other. If there are exceptions, it will be stated in your child restraint manual. For clarification, we recommend you contact them directly - we are not the professionals on this topic and can only instruct you as to what your child restraint manual says.
So which method is the safest? Well when used properly and within their limits, both a UAS installation and a seat belt installation provide the same amount of safety. You want to be able to achieve less than 1" of movement in any direction when checking at the belt path used for that installation and always installing the seat in the manner specified in the manual. When using UAS, you also have to keep in mind that there is a maximum weight limit (child weight) that once reached will mean switching to a seat belt installation. This will be indicated in your vehicle owner's manual (usually), and in the child restraint manual. This limit will vary between car seat and car and isn't going to be the same across the board. When performing a seat belt installation, it is important that the seat belt locks somewhere. We see this a lot. Parent clicks the belt in, gives it a good tug, annnndddd... it is loose 5 minutes into the drive. Seat belts typically lock at the retractor, or at the latch plate (piece that clicks in), some don't lock properly at all. Refer to your vehicle owner's manual to find out more about how the seat belts in your vehicle work, and the method for keeping them tight (locked).
The safest place for a child is in the centre of the back seat as noted by a study in pediatrics. This study determined that the centre seating position was safer for children aged 0-3 years old by up to 43%. This is due to the location of this seating position and its absence of impact points on all sides. With this being said, YOU ARE NOT DOING WRONG BY INSTALLING YOUR CHILD'S SEAT IN THE OUTBOARD SEATING POSITIONS. There are many occasions where a centre installation is not realistic, or flat out incompatible, and we have to accept that. If you are unable to install in the centre, consider installing on the passenger outboard seat. It means you are typically loading and unloading your child curb-side and not juggling your belongings while they dash into traffic.
The chest clip, also called a harness retainer clip, is not a "solo-safety device" in that it will not stop your child from being ejected from their seat if it is the only thing being buckled up. The 5 points to a child restraint harness (see this picture here) are the points of contact your child's harness makes with the seat and their body. The chest clip isn't one of these "points". One point is at each shoulder, one point at each hip, and the final converges at their crotch buckle. The whole purpose of a 5-point harness is that it is positioned over the strongest parts of their body so that when properly tightened, it can contain them in their seat during a crash. The chest clip was designed as a pre-crash positioner that keeps this harness properly situated over your child's shoulders before a collision takes place. Those shoulder straps aren't going to do much good if they are falling off their shoulders and thus not positioned properly up their chest. We want it to be placed at the child's armpits, not over top of their tummy, not snugged up against their neck so it is obstructing proper breathing, at armpit level.
You are permitted to do a baseless installation as long as your car seat allows it and you can achieve a proper installation doing so. You want it to be at the proper recline with less than 1" of movement just like with the base installed. Please consult your child restraint manual for instructions on achieving a safe baseless installation. Joshua did a write-up about RFO Baseless Installs that can be found by clicking here.
In Canada, it is a requirement that the top tether be attached to an approved anchor point for all forward-facing harnessed child restraints. Not all seating positions in your vehicle with have an approved tether anchor located behind them. In these cases (like in the third row of Grand Caravans that only have the 1 offset anchor), you would not be able to install a forward-facing car seat in that position.
When rear facing, there are two methods of tethering the child restraint and only one applies in Canada. The first is Swedish style which tethers the top of the child restraint to the floor directly below it. We don't do this in Canada (yes some manuals will tell you to do this - ignore it). Both the vehicle and the child restraint have to agree on this and no vehicle manufacturer in Canada presently permits tethering this way. The second method is known as Australian style tethering where we go back along the sides of the child restraint and attach it to the tether we would normally use if it was forward-facing. See this picture here for an example. Please check your child restraint manual, contact the manufacturer, or get in touch with our team for clarification on this often tricky subject if you need some help.
Like their clothes, shoes, and even cribs, car seats do get outgrown and we want to know when it is time to make the switch. Our child restraint manual will provide us with this information but it might also be located on the side of the seat. For a rear-facing child restraint, we generally want to make sure that we have not met the height, weight requirements, and other fit requirements (like the straps no longer coming out at or below their shoulders). If any of those conditions are not being met, then the child cannot safely use that seat anymore. For a forward-facing harnessed seat, we also want to be checking the height and weight requirements but this time making sure that, in most cases, the tops of their ears are contained within the shell of the seat - specifics will be outlined in the manual. The shoulder straps need to be coming out at or above their shoulders as well. If they are coming out below the shoulders and they cannot be moved up any further, then the seat has been outgrown and it is time for a new one. Finally, booster seats can also be outgrown. Most of the time by weight, but sometimes by height as well (think high-back boosters and the belt guide being too low and not allowing a proper fit anymore). Check the manual that came with your child's seat to determine what each of the given limits are for its proper use.
The process for cleaning your child restraint, including what is approved and what is not, will be outlined in your manual and vary between each particular company. If you are unsure, SaskSeats recommends contacting the manufacturer for clarification. As an example, they generally don't permit the use of harsh chemicals or soaking/submerging the straps in water.
Every retailer sold harnessed seat in Canada must be certified for use on an airplane. SaskSeats recommends purchasing that extra seat for your child whenever possible and using their car seat on the airplane to keep them safe. If severe in-flight turbulence were to happen, they are going to be thrown around that cabin pretty violently if they aren't secured in a properly fitting car seat. We may think we can just hold them on our laps and keep them there, even through in-flight turbulence, but this article demonstrates why that just isn't the case.
You can read more from our "Airplanes" page in the Learning Lounge.