Installing a car seat properly is tough. It helps if you do yoga and strength training, and having a degree in mechanical engineering wouldn’t hurt. I don’t have any of those advantages, but in the eight years my son was in a car seat, I still got really good at making sure that seat was secure. I read the instructions multiple times. I tested it periodically to make sure the straps were tight enough. I kept an eye on the weight and height limits for his seat.
We were rear-ended when he was two. The paramedic who checked him over said he was even safer than we were, because of his car seat. I felt so proud! I was the awesome mama taking care of her baby the right way! I was endorsed by professionals!
But one day, after someone had borrowed a car my son rode in daily, I got in next to him and realized the top belt wasn’t secured — at all. Only the lap belt was attached. He’d been riding around in that seat all afternoon!
A couple of years later, he was getting into that car on the driver’s side and everything looked normal from that side. An adult went around to the passenger side to put in a bag of toys — and found a huge mess. The car-borrower apparently took the seat out and couldn’t figure out how to reinstall it, so they faked it. If no one had gone around to the passenger side, we might not have known for days.
Should I have learned my lesson from the first incident? Absolutely. I consider that second incident one of my lowest parenting moments. We are beyond lucky nothing happened to my son as a result of my carelessness.
In both cases, we weren’t told that the car seat had been removed while the car was out of our control. I don’t think the folks who did it were malicious, but they were irresponsible. So I’m telling you what I wish I had known: even if you don’t know the car seat was moved, recheck it! Every time. No matter who borrowed your car or how much you trust them.