Child car seats have the potential to ruin your car's upholstery, leaving indents, scratches, creases or even tears underneath and behind where the seat is installed. You can remedy this by using car seat protectors, which are mats you place on your car seat with the baby seat positioned on top. They aim to eliminate the wear and tear that comes with regularly installing and removing your baby seat and there are various types of protector available offering varying degrees of protection. In all likelihood they won’t completely eliminate dents to the upholstery, particularly for the heavier bulkier seats, however they should significantly reduce the chances of permanent damage or defects.
Proper installation of your child safety car seat is of paramount importance if the seat is to do its job in protecting your child in the event of a crash and this point is worth emphasising for those considering a car seat protector. There is a concern that the use of car seat protectors will interfere with the installation of the car seat and users need to be aware of the potential for this. The protectors might interfere with the fixing of the belt or LATCH anchor to the seat and also because some protectors are made of non-slip material they may cause parents to think that the seat is more secure than it actually is. As we've pointed out in our previous article on safe installation of car seats, parents need to make sure the car seat is properly installed with less than 1″ of movement at the belt path and if a seat protector is used there is an argument that there should be much less movement than this due to the potential for the protector mat to either slip or compress in a crash. The important takeaway is to make sure that the car seat protector you use does not give you a false sense of how tight your child seat is installed, although it might appear to grip the seat better you must still ensure a full tightening of whatever strap restraint you are using to secure the seat into position, whether using LATCH or the seat belt. Parents also need to check their car seat instruction manual to see if using a particular type of protector mat is recommended.
Vehicle seat protectors can enhance the safety of properly installed child seat by reducing wear to the seat and providing a stable non-slip base for the seat. They will also protect vehicle seats from spilled crumbs and drips from dropped sippy cups or bottles.
When shopping for a seat protector, here are some pointers that you might want to consider:
- Brand - many car seat manufacturers produce car protectors that are specifically designed to suit the seats in their range.
- Crash testing - some car protectors are included in crash tests by their manufacturers and this provides comfort that the protector is fit for purpose and will not adversely interfere with the performance of the seat during a crash.
- Construction Materials: A good seat protector will contain dense molded foam in the pad of the seat, which absorbs bumps on the road and prevents the seat underneath from getting damaged. Not all protectors contain foam though; some are simply a very thin sheet, which although do not provide the same level of robustness are sometimes easier to install and a better fit as they wrap around buckles and undulations in the vehicle seat more readily than a thicker more solid pad. Surface finishes come in a varying range of materials such as rubber, vinyl or textured fabric in varying thicknesses and providing different characteristics for slip resistance and porosity/ water resistance. Some of the thinner material protector mats are foldable for convenient storage when not in use.
- Traction Pads: These grip the car upholstery and the baby car seat and prevent slippage.
- Water and Stain-Resistant Surface: Water and stain-resistant materials prevent the seat underneath from being soiled by spills and crumbs. Some models have raised walls on the bottom pad to collect liquids and food, facilitating a quick clean up.
- Full Seat Coverage and more: Seat protectors should at least cover the car seat from top to bottom, however you may want the protector to extend wider than the seat for catching those crumbs and spills that often happen on either side of the seat. The protector should also cover several inches below the front of the seat for protection against muddy or wet kid's shoes. Design options include:
- Single piece base only
- Single piece with high back. Some models have a built-in strap that can be tied around the headrest for greater stability.
- Two-piece options: this type provide a single piece tray for the base of the seat for use with rear facing car seats and a second piece that can be attached to the bottom tray when moving to a front-facing child seat or booster seat to protect the backrest of the car seat.
- Full Width Back Seat Protector - protectors are available that will cover the entire width of the back seat of a vehicle, which are a great option if you have more than one child safety seat to install in your car.
- Vehicle fit: some types of car seat protector will fit better than others in different types of cars. If you have a particularly small or large vehicle, the seat protector that you choose should be appropriately sized, which is an obvious thing but you also need to consider specific needs of your vehicle such as:
- LATCH compatibility: LATCH makes child safety seat installation safer without the need for seat belts; it uses the LATCH to fasten the safety seat to a lower anchor and a tether anchor. See our recent article: The LATCH System for more information. Beware that some car seat protectors have no LATCH cutouts and will not be suitable if you are using LATCH.
- Buckle compatibility: seat protectors often have cut-outs to allow the seatbelt buckle insert to sit freely to the side of the protector allowing easy connection. On some models these cutouts can be too small, which means the buckle either sits askew or pushes up against the mat.
- Storage Pockets: As an added convenience, many seat protectors feature accessory pockets that hang over the bottom of the seat. These also double as kick guards to prevent your baby's shoes from marking the upholstery.
If you really take pride in the appearance of your car and you want to go the extra mile in car seat protection you may want to consider also buying protector mats for the back of the front seats of your vehicle. These provide protection against dirt and scuffs from your child’s kicking feet and come with additional features such as storage pockets.
Car seat protectors range in price from as little as $15 for basic models to $50 for ones with all the bells and whistles. Be sure to check out our recent review of car seat protectors here and find one that is suitable for you!