Figuring out how to assemble and install your new bundle of joy's car seat is probably one of the most challenging parenting gauntlets to navigate. But even after everything's in its rightful place, a few important questions still remain, like whether or not you can mix and match different car seat accessories from various manufacturers. Thankfully, Sarah Tilton, Britax's child passenger safety technician and immediate past chair of the National Child Passenger Safety Board, settled the debate once and for all.
Even though many mums have been told to avoid using anything on the car seat that didn't come with it originally, times are a-changing. "Years ago, this was clearly prohibited," she said. "In most recent years, many car seat manufacturers have started making accessories that are sold separately but are specifically tested and approved for their car seats, like Britax."
While this is good news for those looking for a dangling toy to keep their tot content or an insert to make the seat more comfortable, Sarah urges parents to check on the manufacturer's website before using the products with their kids.
"Some seat brands allow the use of another brand's accessories to be used with their car seat. Check with the car seat manufacturers to see if they make anything specific for their brand or if they allow something made by another company."
It might seem like a lot of legwork, but having safe accessories is critical in case you get into an accident.
"Any accessory could affect the performance of the car seat during a crash when they are made by a brand other than the car seat manufacturer," said Sarah. "When a car seat manufacturer approves use, that is an indication they have done testing and an evaluation of the item with their car seats. [It means the brand is] confident they do not negatively affect the crash performance of the car seat when used as per the instructions."
Sarah emphasised that even the most seemingly insignificant accessories should be double-checked — and that even includes car seat covers. "In the case of car seat covers, [they may] not meet flammability requirements, may not be correct dimensionally, and could interfere with harness fit or adjustment."
As for those cute toys designed to entertain your mini me while you're behind the wheel? The water is still pretty murky on whether or not they're completely safe. "It would be considered a case-by-case situation," she said. "It's the responsibility and right of the manufacturer to determine what can and cannot be used with its car seats. When I was certified as a technician in 2002, it was a fairly hard and fast rule that if it did not come in the box with your car seat, you could not use with your car seat. The industry has changed significantly regarding accessories over the years."