How tight should car straps be?

How Tight Should Car Seat Straps Be? Guide For Parents

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Correctly using the car seat harness is one of the most important safety measures that parents should learn for their children. Unfortunately, it is also one common mistake that parents unknowingly make. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), close to half of car seats are improperly installed, which is a shame when car seats are proven to lower the risk of crash fatalities among infants by 71% and 54% among toddlers. Startling car seat statistics like this should make us take note! 

This is one good reason why every parent should know how tight car seat straps should be. Here, we’ll discuss why proper harnessing is important and how it can be done.

Why Proper Harnessing Is Important

Understanding the importance of proper harnessing is just as important as learning how to do it. Here are some reasons why you should always double-check your child’s car seat straps:

  • Securing a harness prevents a child from being accidentally ejected from his seat.
  • Improperly positioned straps can cause a child to slip under the belt, in a process called ‘submarining.’ This can be fatal in the event of a crash.
  • A tightly secured child receives less crash force than a loosely strapped child. This also keeps the kid’s head in place and spreads the impact of the crash all over the body instead of concentrating on and injuring a specific area.
  • A tight harness will also prevent a child from moving around his car seat and possibly colliding with another object in the car.

Check for Proper Tightness

The video below illustrates how easy it is to mis-judge how tight your car seat straps are if you don't pay specific attention to this. It is common for looseness in the car seat straps to be stuck in the thigh area so you need to check for this. The importance of proper harness tightness cannot be overstated.

Best Way to Strap a Child in

There are also a few things you need to consider before worrying about the tightness of the car seat straps. For starters, what type of car seat do you have, and what type of strap? This will influence how you should properly harness your child.

The type of car seat

Parents have a choice between rear-facing and forward-facing car seats (convertible car seats can be both). For a rear-facing car seat, you need to place the harness strap right at or below the shoulders of your child. For a forward-facing car seat, the opposite is true: the harness strap should be above the shoulders.

The type of harness

The best kind of harness for a child’s car seat is a 5-point harness. This is a web-like harness that uses 5 points to hold a child in place: two of these 5 points go over each shoulder, two cover the hips, and one buckles between the legs. Each car seat has its own weight and height range, so always check if your child is still within this range.

Do the Pinch Test

How tight should car seat straps be?

One easy way to find out if the car seat straps are tight enough is by doing the pinch test. This was shown in the video above and the steps are as follows:

  1. 1
    After securing the harness over your child, pinch the harness near the child’s collarbone.
  2. 2
    If your finger slides off the strap, then you know the harness is tight enough.
  3. 3
    If you can “pinch” some of the harness material, then it means the harness is loose.
  4. 4
    Tighten the harness and do the pinch test again and again until it passes the pinch test. 

A common mistake among parents is simply checking the buckles without testing the tightness of the straps. A loose harness can be life-threatening in case of a crash, so always do the pinch test after buckling your baby in. The old 2-finger rule is also not enough to ensure that a strap is tight as it does not account for the different sizes of human fingers, so please do the pinch test instead.

6 Steps to Strap a Child Correctly in a Car Seat

In addition to knowing the pinch test, complete car seat protection includes observing a few important steps every time you’re strapping your child in his car seat. Here are a few safety steps to take:

  1. 1
    Before using, find out if the harness is the right size for your child’s height and weight. The label should have information on its weight and height range.
  2. 2
    Always check if the straps that are supposed to go over the shoulders are in the right place. If you’re using a rear-facing car seat, the shoulder straps should go below the shoulders instead.
  3. 3
    Check if the chest pads are at the child’s chest. An improperly placed chest clip can get a child ejected from his seat in a crash.
  4. 4
    Do not dress your child in bulky clothes when they are in the car seat. This gets in the way of proper harnessing and gives the child extra wiggle room to possibly get out of the harness. You want the harness as close to the child’s body as possible, so strap the child in his regular clothes and maybe add a jacket or blanket on top.  Always make sure that the car seat straps are not twisted. Untwist them before buckling in.
  5. 5
    Always put the crotch buckle in. It’s surprising how some parents forget or skip this step thinking that the upper straps are enough. The 5-point harness is meant to work with all five points in place. If there’s a problem reaching the crotch buckle, press the harness release button to loosen the harness. Do not forget to tighten the harness after everything is buckled in.
  6. 6
    Finally, loosen the harness every time you remove your child from his car seat. This allows you to tighten the strap and do the pinch test when you put him back. This also prevents you from being overconfident that the car seat straps are tight enough just because you tightened them previously.


Your child’s safety is always a top priority, and equally important is his safety while travelling with the family. This is why it’s crucial to follow the car seat manufacturer’s instructions upon installation and, most especially, in use. One extra, lesser-known precaution that you should start doing today is the pinch test, recommended to give you the peace of mind that your child’s car seat straps are tight enough to protect him.

Sometimes, visual cues are not enough to make sure your child is safe and sound. This steps may ask for extra time and effort but you’ll be happy to take the extra mile in case of an accident.


Robert is a father of a young daughter and has developed an expertise in child car seat safety. He is a keen supporter of the use of child safety systems having seen his daughter come away from a side impact collision unscathed due to the use of a child car seat. When he's not spending time reviewing child safety systems he works as a Technical Manager on major construction projects.

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