Perhaps you’ve seen members in our Facebook group receive the comment to “make sure it’s not rear adjust!” when they ask about a rear facing only (“infant”) car seat Or perhaps you yourself purchased a rear facing only car seat, and you can’t find the adjuster strap to tighten the harness. What’s going on?
Rear Adjust vs. Front Adjust
First, let’s define what we mean by rear adjust and front adjust car seats. Car seats with a front adjust mechanism have a strap of webbing near the child’s feet. Once the child is buckled into the seat, this strap is pulled to tighten both harness straps until they are snug enough to pass the pinch test. Car seats with a rear adjust mechanism have harness straps that are tightened individually from the back of the seat. The rear adjust mechanism is included with lower priced car seats and travel systems. We’ll refer to these two types of seats as “rear adjust” and “front adjust” as that how they are commonly described.
Each strap on a rear car adjust car seat’s harness adjusts at the back of the seat. A front adjust car seat’s harness adjusts at the front of the seat via one strap.
Challenges with Rear Adjust Harnesses
There are several significant drawbacks to car seats with a rear adjust harness.
1. The straps must be adjusted separately.
On any harnessed car seat, both harness straps should be the same tightness, or tension, on each side. It can be very difficult to achieve that consistency on a rear adjust car seat, requiring multiple attempts to get the straps to the same tightness. This is true in any case, let alone when dealing with a squirming baby and reaching around the back of the seat. Which brings us to our second point…
2. It can be unwieldy to reach around the back of the seat to adjust the straps.
This is less challenging when the car seat is sitting on your living room floor when you’re adjusting the straps. However, as many parents or caregivers reading this might realize, this is very often not the case. The straps may need to be adjusted when the seat is on a stroller or, worse, when the car seat is in the car. Rear adjust car seats are often sold as part of travel systems, so this is a common scenario. Unless you have the space to stand behind the vehicle seat, the straps must be tightened or loosened by reaching around the car seat at an odd angle. Loosening the straps is similarly awkward, as the adjuster on the back must be manipulated to create slack in the strap.
3. Moving the harness straps to a new slot is more difficult on a rear adjust car seat than on a front adjust car seat.
Moving the straps to the next slot means that the rear adjust mechanism must be rethreaded on most rear adjust seats. This can be complicated, and if it’s done incorrectly, the straps can come loose. Loose harness straps could be fatal in a crash.
Adjustment through the Hip Slots
On other rear adjust car seats, the rear adjust mechanism at the back of the car seat stays in place and the straps are rethreaded through the hip slots.
4. Rules around extra webbing
Some rear adjust car seats require any extra length of harness strap to be secured after the straps are adjusted to the proper length. For example, Graco’s rear adjust car seats require the straps to be secured in an X through guides in the back after they’re adjusted. This task is easier to do before the seat is placed in the car, but it’s not simple.
All car seats are safe when installed and used correctly every time. That includes rear adjust car seats. However, we’ve found that using this type of car seat correctly every time can be pretty difficult.
If budget is an impediment to buying a front adjust seat, consider a lower cost convertible seat such as the Cosco Scenera Next, which also has the advantage that it lasts longer than a rear adjust seat. If you are considering a travel system which features a rear adjust seat, consider purchasing a front adjust seat and stroller separately, or consider a travel system which features a recommended front adjust seat, such as the Urbini Petal. Thankfully, there are many options to keep your littles safe which are budget friendly and user friendly as well.