I wrote last week about us needing a new car seat for our 3.5 year old daughter. It was finally delivered two days ago, and today I had a Sheriff's Deputy come over and install it for me. I am really grateful for that because I would not have been able to install the latch by myself, as you really need two people (or one really strong one) to get a good, tight fit. Now it is installed, and we won't have to take it out for a very, very long time (or at least until she needs the belts adjusted, which will be quite awhile).
I landed up giving our older seat to my next door neighbor. For reasons I don't care to get into, I'll just say they are not safety conscious. Not one bit. I just felt like maybe they needed this seat for their 1.5 year old, since we couldn't do anything with it. The seat I gave them expires in two years, and has never been in an accident, so I figured, why not just give it to them.
I was horrified to see the seat they had for their son. First off, it expired a YEAR ago! The straps were all twisted and worn, the pad was torn and threadbare, and the chest straps were in the smallest slot when her son needs the middle one at least! I also noticed she only has the lap belt, so the car seat isn't even installed in her car very well either, but unfortunately, we can't do much about that. Oh, and she also told me she'll probably put the "baby" in a regular booster seat within a year or so because "he'll be big like his daddy".
Anyway, I did what I could, explained how to use the seat I gave them, and went on my way. I can't do much of anything about that anymore, but just hope they use it safely.
I also wanted so share some basic "rules" and tips.
1. A toddler/preschooler should be rear facing as long as possible. It is now recommended to rear face until at LEAST two years old
2. If a child outgrows their 40lbs/40" seat, once they outgrow one aspect, the seat is too small and they must be moved to another.
3. Check your state laws, most have height restrictions for only using a seat belt. Right now the consensus is to keep a child in a belt positioning booster till they are 4'9". WA state is 8 years or 4'9" (57"), but my 8.5 year old daughter is still in a booster seat because she is so petite. My almost 7 year old will probably be able to get out next year because she is only 54" tall, and will probably at or close to that height.
4. It's not "un-cool" to keep your preschooler/toddler in 5pt harness once they outgrow their smaller seat. Just because they reach 40lbs does not mean they are mature enough to be in a seat belt. In fact, most children aren't big enough for a seat belt booster until at least 4 years old. You can find many affordable 5 pt harnesses that fit a higher height/weight past the 40lbs/40". We bought our current seat, the Safety 1st Apex 65 and it fits up to 65lbs as a 5pt harness. The top strap/torso height is 17.25", which means it will fit for a very long time. My daughter has a 13.5" measurement from her bottom to the top of her shoulders, so she has a long ways before she outgrows the seat.
I wish I had known all this when the older kids were younger. I would have kept them in a 5pt harness a lot longer. Thankfully nothing happened.
Some good sites to check out
Car-Seat.org (the people on this board are EXTREMELY helpful and willing to answer any questions)
Kyle David Miller.org This website gives a lot of tips and education on using a 5pt harness.