Buying a car is usually costly, no matter if it is used or not. And most of us would like to see our cars last a long time, in every way possible. However, many of us tote around little mess makers, I mean, children, with us, who do not know how expensive the car’s interior is, nor that the bottom of their muddy shoes will leave a mark on the carpet and seats, nor do they really care. It’s why kidproofing a car is pretty important. But, kidproofing a vehicle also means keeping your kids safe in the car.
You know, it is interesting to me the term baby proofing, because I feel like it’s relatively easy to keep babies safe, whether in your house or in your car. They aren’t very quick or mobile and don’t climb out of cribs or gates. No, it’s the toddlers and preschoolers (and older!) you really need to worry about. Toddlers and preschoolers climb, move chairs around, explore, put everything in their mouths, climb out of cribs, open doors, and don’t let barriers hinder their exploration. It’s why we should really be doing more toddler proofing, or kid proofing, both to keep them safe, and to keep them out of our stuff.
When it comes to our cars, there are certainly some things that need to be done to kidproof our vehicles, both to keep our children from destroying it, and to make sure they are safe.
Vehicle Safety for Kids:
Of course the first thing that every child riding in a car needs is a non-expired car seat that is installed and used correctly. For tips on that, check out my Car Seat Safety 101 post, and if your child is approaching booster seat age, be sure to check out my post The Truth of If and When to Move Your Child to a Booster Seat.
In our family we do take out car seat safety pretty seriously, and do not let our children ride with their shoulders out from underneath the car seat straps, nor do we let them put the seat belt behind their shoulders, or otherwise use their seats and belts inappropriately, and therefore, unsafely. We will pull over the car on the side of the road (and even on the interstate) until they or us remedy the situation. And unbuckling is certainly never allowed.
Car Door Child Safety Locks
Next, I totally recommend using those child safety locks on your car doors. This means your child cannot, willy nilly, open the car door, whether accidentally or intentionally. This means no one escapes from the car after it is parked sooner than is safe.
I also suggest employing the window lock feature too. You don’t want to accidentally have a child pinch fingers in the windows. Okay, really this one may be a bit more for the sanity of the parent who doesn’t want a child making the window go up and down repeatedly.
Don’t Leave Your Child Alone in the Car
Don’t leave your child unattended in the car, especially in a car with the engine running. I know this can be a bit of a hot topic, and perhaps that is because cars can both heat up really fast when it’s warm, and cool off really fast when it is cold, which poses real threats to your child’s health. Of course there are lots of days that offer perfectly fine weather, especially with the windows rolled down a little bit, that pose no threat to your child’s internal or external temperatures. But, it’s not so much the weather issue that leaves me suggesting you don’t leave your child unattended in the car.
What is worrisome to me about leaving kids in car, is what can happen if they unbuckle themselves. This is especially scary if you leave the car keys in the ignition. If your child accidentally moves the car into neutral, reverse, or drive, your car and your child could be in some real danger. Then there is threat of your child getting out of the car, especially if they climb into the front seat where the child door safety locks aren’t available. And having a child escape into a parking lot, unsupervised, is definitely not safe!
I am not one who’s afraid of stranger danger really (I’m kind of a free-range parent), but if your car is running, you do risk a higher chance of someone stealing your car, though that person is most likely unaware that there are children in there! But, you certainly won’t be, and will be freaking out. And, yes, there is the slim chance some stranger would come along and snatch your child (which is why you should always lock your car too).
So, weather and strangers aside (although certainly a factor), don’t leave your kids in the car, just to be safe.
Check Before You Open (or Close)
Sometimes, it’s fun to let your child roam a bit in the car, to take a seat in the driver seat, to pretend to drive, and just to climb around and explore. This can be a delight to your kids, especially if you are stuck in the car for a while, or stuck somewhere else, or are just chatting with friends for a bit before you leave. But, you need to make sure you check to see where your child is before you open the car doors.
We were once car shopping and talking to the salesman and had let our twins roam around inside the car for a bit as we chatted in the parking lot (so as to keep them contained, but entertained). However, when we went to open the door, we didn’t check to see where in the car our kids were, which wasn’t helped by our tinted rear windows on our suburban. Our daughter was leaning right against the door when my husband opened it, and out she fell, landing right on her head on the hard cement.
And when you are rolling up windows, especially windows that are rolled down just a little bit, make sure you check that fingers are out of the window. Our girls have accidentally had some pinched fingers because they didn’t know we were rolling it up, and we didn’t know their fingers were in the window! Now we try to say something like “Fingers out!” before rolling up windows.
Kids vs Vehicle: How to Kidproof Your Car
So, you can likely keep your kids safe (assuming you all also drive safe), but can you keep your car safe from the destruction that is young children?
My children are especially good at destroying things. Even in our big roomy suburban they find something to mess with. They’ve done a number on our retractable sun proofing blinds. They’ve muddied up floor mats and seats. They’ve smeared greasy post-eating hands all over the window. They’ve wrote with pens on the seats, and have stuck stickers to windows and their car seats. They also took off the Velcro strips from their booster seat’s arm rests, so now they can’t stay on. And those are just car-related things.
How grateful I am that I drive a Chevy Suburban. GM designers and engineers were inspired by the actions of their own children to make features within their vehicle “kidproof.” They are doing things like making plastic backing to vehicle seats. It is one of seven aspects of a vehicle that consumers might not know was designed with kids kicking, fighting and spilling in mind. Our 2005 suburban may not have the plastic backing to our seats, but I know that GM works with suppliers to make sure that vehicle fabrics are durable and that they can resist all sorts of stains. I have been amazed at how many dirt, spit up, throw up, food, beverage, and other stains have been fairly easy to remove with a little soap and water. The location and quantity of cupholders were even influenced by the needs of kids to make sure they can easily reach them from (likely) kid seats but also that drinks are held securely (a big plus!).
When my husband and I bought our Chevy suburban, we really wanted to have this vehicle last a long time. We already have three kids, with another on the way, so the space it offered would allow us to have a large family easily and comfortably fit inside. But, we want this inside to look nice as long as possible. So, we’ve tried to do certain things to prevent stains or accidents, or otherwise kidproof our vehicle. So, we’ve tried to follow the following rules for our kids:
No toys out the window
We like to have the windows down sometimes. It’s just fun! It’s especially fun because the back windows go all the way down. The kids love sticking their hands out the windows, just like I do. But, they are not allowed to stick an object out the window, like their doll, or their blanket, or even a cup. We have taught our kids not to litter, and we also don’t want to have to turn around looking for some lost prized possession.
No crayons in the car
My daughters love to color, draw, and create. But, we have a nice, ugly, melted orange crayon on one of their seats because a crayon was left in the vehicle to heat up and melt a bit into the fibers of the vehicle’s seat. I’m sure if I spent a little more time with it I could get it off, but for now, it’s totally there under my son’s car seat. If you need crayons, perhaps because you will be taking a long road trip, only buy washable crayons. Pretty much only ever buy washable crayons (but here’s how to great crayon marks off your walls, in case you didn’t listen to me).
Oh, and don’t let them have pens either. You’ll get marks on everything in the car, and all over your kid.
We have this policy in and out of the car. The problem is that kids love getting stickers at the checkout at grocery stores, and some baggers, who must not have children, clearly, give each child about six stickers. So now they have more stickers than they know what to do with, which means stickers will go where they shouldn’t be. So, they can have stickers, but my kids know they only go on paper, or on their shirt.
No Eating in the Car
This is definitely a “try” to implement. Yes, sometimes we all eat in the car. Such is life. However, we greatly try to limit it as much as possible, and when we do eat in the car, carefully plan what will be allowed to be eaten in the car. Basically, no crackers of any kind. Kids love crackers but they are like the biggest mess makers ever: crumbs everywhere!
But, in order to avoid eating in the car we try to eat before we leave the house (especially when we are doing our no eating out challenges). If we hit up a drive-thru, we wait until we get home to pass out food (or only give them a small handful of fries). But, if we are eating out, then we tend to just go inside and eat instead of getting it to go, especially if we still have errands or things we want to do. We also may pack a lunch to eat at whatever destination instead of eating en route.
We are a family that mostly drinks water. But we do get soda, milk, and juice when we go out to fast food places occasionally. And some of these beverages make their way into our car. But, an accidentally dropped juice cup means a sticky mess everywhere! Soda is sticky too, but juice still trumps it. So, generally speaking, no juice boxes or juice in cups.
Our children have had gum about a handful of times in their life, and have promptly swallowed it each time. We just aren’t a family of gum chewers, mostly because my husband can’t stand the chomping and smacking. I’m fine either way. But, when it comes to kids… well, they aren’t exactly great at keeping things in their mouths already, let alone something sticky.
I wish I had a way to prevent all those dirt stains from those rainy and muddy days, but we haven’t come up with a good kidproof solution for that one yet! Nor can you really prepare for that inevitable car throw up, or diaper blow out.
But, kids will be kids and accidents will happen. How grateful I am that we’ve put some basic rules and practices into place, which if followed, greatly help us kidproof our suburban from disaster. But, I am also grateful for important safety features on cars today and on the car seats that go in them.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
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