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Who doesn’t love boiled prime rib or microwaved lobster? Sounds absolutely terrible, right? You can go to your local butcher and buy the best USDA Prime rib, or you buy that giant 2-pound lobster tail. You can spend hours grinding your own fresh spices for that perfect rub, and following Gordon Ramsey’s online secret recipe. But, if you’re going to boil that prime rib or microwave the lobster, it’s going to be ruined.  

Ok, maybe it’s a long analogy, but the same thing applies to harnessing when we’re talking about child passenger safety. You can spend $400 on the newest top of the line seat on the market; you know the one with all the bells and whistles, the one that’s going to make all the other parents at the park jealous. You can buy the most extended rear facing-est seat on the market and have a wicked tight center position install. Literally, you could do everything else right when it comes to car seat safety. But, if you’re harnessing game isn’t on point, you might as well boil that prime rib or nuke that lobster because all your hard work might be for naught.  

Let’s Get Your Harness Game On Point

When we harness a child in a car seat, how we do it depends on the direction of the seat. Below, we’ve broken down harnessing for both rear and forward-facing car seats. Study up, and in no time, you’ll be a harnessing ninja, able to harness your child in their seat safely in just a matter of seconds.  

Rear Facing

Any time we’re rear-facing a child, we want to make sure the harness straps are positioned AT OR BELOW the top of the child’s shoulders. To be clear, if your choice for harness strap height is just a tiny bit above or significantly below, we want you to stay significantly below. It’s time to move up to the next harness strap height when your child’s shoulders are even with the next set of harness slots and not until then.


Forward Facing

When we are harnessing a forward-facing child, our harnessing convention is exactly the opposite of a rear-facing child. We want the harness straps to come out AT OR ABOVE the child’s shoulders, never below. And, when we say never, we really do mean never.
A great way to remember this convention is to think about you when your driving. Your shoulder belt comes from above your shoulder, so your child harness straps when they’re forward-facing should be above their shoulders too.

Anybody Wondering Why?

If you’re the curious type and wondering why we set harness straps like this, we like the way you think. It’s also the perfect segway to one of our favorite subjects in the child passenger safety realm, crash dynamics and energy management. We think it’s super interesting to explore. You’ll learn the “Why” behind the car seat recommendations, what we want to happen in the event of a crash and why car seats nowadays have all of these fancy features. If you want to go a little deeper, or you think crash dynamics is awesome, like we do, click below to go to our crash dynamics page. It’s super interesting, we promise!

Time To Get Familiar With Your Harness System

Depending on your particular car seat, there are generally two different ways to set your harness strap height, a conventional system or an automatic adjusting harness system. They might adjust differently, but we still want straps to be at or below shoulders for rear-facers and at or above for forward-facers, regardless of the harness adjustment system.

Conventional Harness System

Car Seats that have “conventional” harness systems will have several sets of harness slots running up the back of the car seat. These harness systems are essentially a big loop. The harness exits the seat on both sides of your child, goes over your child’s shoulders, through a set of harness slots in the car seat back and down to a piece of metal called the splitter plate. A single piece of webbing leaves the splitter plate and run through a tensioner with a rocker type switch release and out the front of the seat. The strap that exits the front of the seat is used to tighten the harness system once your child is buckled in. Take a look at the graphic below, and if you have any questions, it should answer them.

Adjusting A Conventional Harness System

Anytime we need to adjust the harness strap height in a seat with a conventional harness system, we need to start from the backside of the seat. We need to disconnect the two harness straps from the splitter plate and feed them through the front of the seat. We then need to rethread them through the new harness slot. Make sure you go through the same hole on both sides of the seat and hook up both harness straps to the splitter plate the way they were before you removed them.
Whenever we’re doing anything with the harness system of a car seat, we want to make sure we maintain a nice flat, straight harness route. We don’t want any twists, turns, bunches, scrunches, bends, creases, pinches, rips, deformation, tears, etc. on any part of the harness system. Once your new harness strap height is set, it’s time to double-check your work. Have your child sit in the seat for a quick check and verify the straps are correct. Congratulations, you just adjusted a conventional harness!

Automatic Adjusting Harness System

The other type of harness system has different names depending on the manufacturer, here we’ll call them auto-adjusting harness systems.
Simply adjusting the headrest on the car seat repositions the harness straps, no rethreading required. That’s all there is to it, it’s really a pretty straightforward, useful feature to have.
These auto-adjusting harness systems can be significantly easier to use and save quite a bit of time adjusting the harness strap height. The graphic below shows a fairly typical representation of an auto-adjusting harness system. Notice the lack of harness rethread slots on the front and rear of the seat and the headrest assembly that allows you to adjust the harness and the headrest at the same time.

Adjusting A Auto-Adjusting Harness System

There’s really not a whole lot to say about adjusting an auto-adjusting harness system.  The seat should have a very evident button, adjustment handle or some other mechanism to adjust the head restraint height.  Adjust to the height needed for your child and just make sure that the harness system is locked into position and not between positions. 

That’s all there is to it!  


Just Pinch Me

The last step to getting your harness game on point is called the “Pinch Test.” The pinch test is how we check for harness tightness after the child’s buckled into the seat. The pinch test involves trying to pinch the harness fabric at your child’s shoulders, if you can pinch fabric, your harness is too loose, if you can’t, your harness is good.
When we perform our pinch test, we use our pointer finger in a horizontal orientation and our thumb in a vertical position. We pinch at the shoulders, the pointer finger oriented over the shoulder and the thumb facing down in front of the shoulder. Wow, that was a lot harder to describe than we thought it was going to be. If that wasn’t clear to you, and we don’t blame you if it wasn’t, watch the video below where we demonstrate a proper pinch test.


Get An Expert Opinion

All right, you did a great job! However, did you know that up to 90% of the car seats that we see here in the Inland Northwest are installed incorrectly?!?! We’re almost sure yours isn’t, but hey, it never hurts to get a second opinion. We’re talking about from an expert, not your Uncle Frank, Set up a car seat check with one of our nationally certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians just to be sure. And hey it’s free! But unlike Uncle Frank, we actually know what we’re talking about!