The weather is getting cool, so it is time to ditch the coat. Wait, is that right? Ok, you have to wear a coat sometimes in the winter, but in your vehicle is not usually one of those times. If you or your children have to wear a coat though, here are some safer ways to stay warm on the road.
Why is it Unsafe to Wear Some Coats in the Vehicle?
We need to start at the beginning. For maximum protection in a crash, you want the harness or seat belt as close to the child as possible. The more layers between a child and the harness, the harder it is to actually fit the restraint to the child. You end up fitting the restraint to the coat, and in the event of a crash, all that extra air is forced out between the layers and leaves the harness too loose to protect a child. A loose harness, at best, means extra crash time on the child, at worst, could mean ejection from the seat. Keep in mind this also applies to children in boosters and adults in seatbelts as well.
Here’s a great visual of how loose the harness could be in a crash with this coat on and then how to wear it safely in the vehicle. I used the easiest test out there to decide if this coat was too bulky to go under the harness. I buckled Olivia in wearing her coat and tightened it so there was no slack at the collar-bone. I then removed her from the harness without loosening it, removed her from the coat, and reharnessed her. You can see the slack that could happen in a crash. You can do the reverse as well. Harness the child in their seat and tighten as normal so no webbing can be pinched at the collar-bone. Remove child from harness, add coat and try to buckle them back in. You may need to make slight adjustments for extra thin layers, but this is a little more than a “slight” adjustment, see all that slack I can pinch?
Here’s the JJ Cole Bundle Me in a Graco rear facing only seat. You can see when the Bundle Me was removed how much slack it left in the harness. While these products are marketed as “crash tested”, there is no way to truly crash test them as there are no standards for them to be tested against. They not only add bulk, but often interfere with correct harness routing. You can read more about that here.
Another important consideration is that children do not need to wear all those layers while in the vehicle. Even if it takes a while for the vehicle to warm up, when it does, the child will be hot, sweaty, and generally cranky if they are in too many layers. We were told when we brought our babies home that they need one more layer of clothing than we are wearing to be comfortable. Parents though envelop their babies in a onesie, socks, fleece pajamas, a hat, a blanket, and then inside a Bundle Me in a warm car while they only have sweatshirts on. The poor kid equates riding in the car with visiting a sauna!
Shower Cap Cover
The shower cap cover is one of the most common products used to keep babies warm when they are still using an infant seat. It simply goes over the top of the seat so doesn’t interfere with the harness at all. It is also easily removed if the child starts to get too warm, or most unzip so it can be kept on but just left open.
Fleece often works very well under harnesses. These are Carter’s and Columbia fleece one-piece outfits. The Carter’s is a thin fleece and works well under the harness. We used this in a smaller size last winter over her clothes when she needed something more than just blankets. This isn’t a snow suit by any means, but worked well at keeping her warm on those windy days when blankets were a bit awkward or when we were getting in and out of the van often. These are easy to find and relatively inexpensive. For those who spend more time outdoors or live in a more frigid environment, Columbia makes a heavier fleece one-piece bunting. It still works well under the harness, but will be heavier than the Carter’s for those who need a little bit more warmth.The important thing is to be sure the outfit is the correct size for the child. A size too big can add too much bulk and make it unsafe under the harness.
This easy, backwards coat trick works well for older kids. Take off coat, harness child appropriately, and simply put their coat on them backwards to keep them warm. This also allows the coat to be easily slipped off if the child becomes too warm.
Open Coat Trick
Here is a picture of a backless booster with a child in a coat as well. You can see how the seatbelt is flat on the child’s chest, in contact with the shoulder, and under the coa, touching the hips, in the lap area (not over to create bulk).
Car Seat Poncho
A friend of mine let me borrow her The Car Seat Poncho to try. It’s a Med/Lrg, so it’s a bit big for the baby since she is walking (it drags when she walks), but in the car it’s not a big deal and it fit the older girls well. It even still worked well on my 7 year old. Here is a comparison of my 47.5″ 7 year old wearing it and my 42.5″ 4 year old wearing it.
I was really impressed by how warm it seemed when I first got it. It’s made from two layers of very nice fleece and has a large hood. The zipper could unzip from the top or bottom, making it easy to buckle the child in any way that worked best for you. It’s perfect for just running in and out of stores. We tried it in a rear facing convertible and a backless booster.
Another option is the Wrapeaze. It’s more like a wearable blanket than a poncho. It’s good for those who don’t want to mess with zippers or kids who want to access their hands easier than with the poncho above.
Check out our review on the Cozywoggle! It’s definitely a car seat coat! It unzips in all the right spots and was made specifically to be safe to wear in car seats. It’s a great winter option.
Want something that does double duty and keeps kids warm in the winter and cool in the summer? This amazing product connects to the vehicle’s air vents and helps keep even the smallest occupants comfortable. Check out our review on the Noggle!
Blanket and Hat
Last, but not least, you can’t go wrong with blankets, a hat, gloves, and warming up the car ahead of time if possible. These are all easy things to do. Remember to not use blankets that attach to the crotch buckle of the car seat though.
You can see there are many ways to safely, and warmly transport children in car seats in the winter. No one way is preferred by all. Hopefully this helped give you a few ideas on some safe ways to keep your children warm in your vehicle this winter.
None of the products in this blog post sponsored this post! All opinions, as always, are my own! Originally written by Jennifer Penick. Edits maintained by CSFTL.