Temperatures have taken a nose dive in recent weeks, prompting parents to dig through attics and storage bins to break out the hats, gloves, scarves and heavy winter coats. Kids will be getting bundled up like the little brother in "A Christmas Story" for every outing from now until the snow melts in the spring. But all that bulk could be putting your kids at risk in their car seats.

A heavy winter coat worn under a child seat harness can make the harness too loose to be effective in a crash. It may seem like you have tightened it completely, but all of that bulk is misleading. If a crash should occur, all of that fluff will compress, leaving your child unprotected in loose harness straps. As a general rule, experts recommend that winter coats should not be worn by a kid using a child safety seat. That goes for snowsuits, buntings and fluffy blankets, too.

Does that mean your kids need to freeze in the car all winter long? Not at all. You just have to rethink your strategy for keeping kids warm and safe in the car.  Here are some options:

  • Dress kids in several layers of warm, tight-fitting clothes (T-shirt and long-sleeved shirt topped with a thin fleece or outer layer) instead of one bulky coat.
  • Remove the coat and buckle kids into car seat, then use the coat as a blanket by placing it over the child and car seat.
  • Place child in the car seat and unzip the coat, pulling it away from arms and chest. Buckle car seat so that straps are snug and then zip coat over the top of the straps.
  • Swaddle babies after the car seat buckles have been fastened and tightened.
  • Use a "shower cap" style of car seat cover that fits over the top of the child and car seat.
It's important that the straps of your child's safety harness stay tight enough to protect her in the event of a crash. You shouldn't be able to pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger. If you have to loosen the straps to get her and her coat into the seat, the coat is too bulky to be worn safely in the car seat. Use one of these options instead to make sure that she is safe and snug in the car.

Related on MNN:

Why winter coats and car seats don't mix
Experts warn against dressing kids in bulky winter coats if they'll be sitting in a car seat. So how can you keep your kids safe and warm in the car?