What to Expect at a Car Seat Check Event

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We’ve talked about what you can expect when you visit a Child Passenger Safety Technician. We’d like to extend the conversation into what you can expect from a Car Seat Check Event.  While the set-up of every check event varies a bit, the general idea is the same.  Caregivers drive into a location and meet with a Child Passenger Safety Technician (or team of CPSTs) to improve their child’s safety in the vehicle.

Team Sport

Car Seat Check Event

Car Seat Check Event

Car Seat Checks are interactive events — don’t sign up for one expecting to roll in, park your car, have some Technicians install your child’s car seat, then send you on your way.  That’s definitely not how it works.

You’ll be asked to participate in every part of the process.  Your Technician’s time is as valuable as yours — take care of phone calls or using your smart phone after the event so you can focus on your child’s car seat during the seat check.

Car seat check in progress

Car seat check in progress

In most cases, the Technicians will take an installed seat out of the vehicle, note the date of manufacture and model name, then re-install the seat.  Once that’s complete, they’ll take the car seat or booster seat back out and have the caregivers repeat the process.  This technique follows the Learn, Practice, Explain model that’s the core of the CPST curriculum.

Appointment or Not?

Car seat check sign

Car seat check sign

Some Car Seat Check Events require appointments before attending while other events are on a drop-in basis.  Find out which type of event you’re attending before you arrive and make an appointment if necessary.

Finding the Location

Car seat safety check sign

Car seat safety check sign

Car Seat Check Events can be located at fire stations, police stations, hospital parking lots, car dealerships, or even store parking lots.

When you arrive at the check event, it is likely that there will be cones and signs and people directing you where to go and where to park.  Since children are often present at these events, please be mindful of these directions – they keep everyone safe!

Who to Bring

Proper booster seat fit

Proper booster seat fit in a Graco Affix

If possible, bring every child who rides in the vehicle — ESPECIALLY your older children — to a Car Seat Check Event.  Many families move 8-10 year old children out of booster seats way too soon. CPSTs welcome the chance to discuss how the Five Step Test determines if a child can fit properly in an adult seat belt.

Welcome

Paperwork helps keep track of how many children have been helped

Paperwork helps keep track of how many children have been helped

The first stop at most events is with a greeter.  Caregivers are handed paperwork to fill out while they’re waiting for a spot to open up.

Station at a car seat check event

Station at a car seat check event

In most cases, the paperwork asks for your name, address, email, car make model and year, plus information about the child’s age, size, and weight.

Scales are often available at car seat check events

Scales are often available at car seat check events

If you don’t know your child’s height or weight, most events will have a scale and a tape measure along with some type of sometimes scary-looking dolls on hand.

Homework

We recommend bringing your vehicle’s manual and all car seat or booster seat manuals to the event. Reading the manuals before the event can help with the process and help you understand your child’s car seat and your vehicle better.

When to Go

We suggest that expectant parents attend a seat check event about a month before their child is due to arrive.  It’s also great to attend an event when you’re about to move your child to the next type of car seat or consider moving your older child out of a booster seat.  Spending a little time with a CPST before making those moves can help your child ride safer at every step of the way.

Who’s Included

Most Safe Kids coalitions will require that any child under the age of 13 be checked to make sure that the adult seat belt fits them properly.  One of our biggest victories as CPSTs comes when we’re able to put an 8-10 year old child who does not pass the Five Step Test back into a booster seat at a Car Seat Check Event.

Your Actual Wait Time

Portions of the parking area are often blocked off to help control traffic

Portions of the parking area are often blocked off to help control traffic

How long you’ll have to wait to start your child’s car seat or booster seat check depends on a number of things.

  • How many Technicians are available
  • How many stations are set up
  • The amount of time the family ahead of you in line needs

Many CPSTs are volunteers who work these events because we share a passion for keeping children safe in the vehicle.

Car Seats

While some events offer free or reduced price car seats, not all events will have free or reduced price car seats on hand to distribute.

Some events may not have any seats to offer at all, some may have a handful of free seats to distribute, while other events may have reduced cost seats that are allocated based on the family’s income or participation in state assistance programs.  This last type of car seat distribution is usually determined in advance by working with the relevant agency.

Your Turn

When it is your turn to meet with the Technician, you’ll be guided to a particular location and asked to park.

The Technician will greet you, then check your car seat’s current installation, and write the model number and date of manufacture on the paperwork.  They will also ask you a series of questions about the car seat, like if it was purchased new or if it has been involved in an accident or gate checked on an airplane.  They will address any issues with the current installation and ask you about the challenges you’ve faced with that particular car seat.  You’ll learn how to install your child’s car seat correctly.  This process will be repeated for every car seat that’s in the vehicle.

About that Child

Huggable Images newborn doll

Huggable Images newborn doll

If the child is with you, you’ll be asked to harness the child into the car seat or set them up in their booster seat.  The Technician will discuss proper harness or vehicle seat belt placement for your child’s car seat, then stress the importance of a custom fit on every ride — adjust the harness every time to ensure that the child fits properly and comfortably on every ride!

If the child isn’t born, most events include a doll or infant-sized stuffed animal that the Technician will use to display proper harnessing techniques, then ask you and your family to replicate.

What Technicians Do

Technicians are instructors, not car seat installers.  They will show you the install, walk you through it and by the end, the goal is for you to be comfortable and educated enough to install your child’s car seat correctly by yourself.

Before you Go

The CPST will install the car seat, then take it out and have the caregiver do the final installation.

The CPST will install the car seat, then take it out and have the caregiver do the final installation.

The last part of the Car Seat Check Event includes additional education around vehicular heatstroke, projectiles, safety in and around cars, air bags, and/or various other topics.

The technician will also usually call over a Senior Checker or Instructor to double-check the installation. Senior Checkers and Instructors are experienced Technicians who oversee the events. This final step is designed to ensure that the caregiver’s questions were answered and that the caregiver is confident in their ability to install their child’s car seat and properly harness the child into the car seat. The technician will also have you sign or initial stating that you assisted with installing the car seat and harnessing the child in the car seat.

Each event is different, and each Technician is different but the basics remain the same.  The end goal of every seat check is that the child leaves safer than they arrived!