Should You Buy a Different Car Seat Cover?

After-market Car Seat Covers Could Be Dangerous

Car Seat Cover - Flame Retardant
A fire right behind the car seat in this vehicle burned or melted many things around the car seat, but the flame-retardant cover that came with the car seat did not catch fire. Sarah H. Used with permission.

Many parents are unimpressed with the plain, solid-color covers that come on most car seats. Buying one of the countless after-market car seat coversĀ  seems like a great solution. But are those covers safe to use? Most child passenger safety organizations say no.

There are a lot of companies, big and small, that make custom car seat covers. As a child passenger safety technician, I cannot recommend the use of any car seat covers that did not come with the car seat or that are not provided by the car seat manufacturer.
Here are some of the reasons I do not recommend the use of after-market car seat covers.
  • Custom covers are not usually made with flame-retardant materials, whereas manufacturer-provided covers are flame-retardant. This could be important for your baby's safety in some types of crashes.
  • After-market covers may not fit your car seat very well and could affect your ability to properly adjust the car seat harness. The harness slots in the cover may not match up exactly with those on the car seat. The non-approved cover might be significantly thicker than the one that came with the car seat. Any of these changes could mean the car seat performs differently in a crash.
  • Car seat manufacturers usually state in the owner's manual that after-market accessories are not to be used, and most manufacturers will void your car seat warranty if a custom cover is used.
  • Some states have clauses in their car seat laws that require proper use of car seats, which means you must use the car seat according to manufacturer instructions. If your car seat owner's manual forbids the use of after-market accessories, you could actually be violating state law.
  • While many companies say that their car seat covers meet federal standards, the truth is that there are no federal standards governing after-market accessories, so their crash testing methods don't hold any real weight.

If you are still considering buying a custom car seat cover, I suggest that you contact your car seat manufacturer and ask if there are any companies that they would recommend.

You also may find that the car seat manufacturer has other covers for your specific seat that you could purchase. There are some manufacturers that have a small list of extra covers that they've crash-tested and approved for use with their car seats.

If the look of the car seat cover is very important to you, make sure you look at several brands of car seats to see what's available. Manufacturers have responded to parent requests for less boring covers in recent years. You may be able to find a pattern or color you like in a cover that is provided by the manufacturer.

A good general rule is that you shouldn't put anything on the car seat that did not come with the car seat. Usually, the only exceptions are products sold by the manufacturer specifically for use with their car seats. Any after-market products, from those pretty, frilly covers to toy bars and strap covers, were not on the car seat when it was crash tested. Adding things to the seat could change the way it works during a crash.

You don't want your baby to be the one testing whether or not an extra product makes the car seat less safe.