Too Tight or Too Loose? How To Do A Harness Pinch-Test


Moderator - CPSTI Emeritus
Is your child's harness tight enough? Is it too tight?

Your child's car seat harness must be properly adjusted in order to provide protection in a crash. A loose harness can cause injuries, or even fail to protect your child at all. The "harness pinch-test" is the standard recommendation for checking your child's car seat harness to make sure it is adjusted properly, but it can sometimes be confusing if you've never seen it done.

This is how I do the harness pinch-test. I put one finger under the harness, so I can pull it up to fold; then I remove the finger under the harness once I've "pinched." I always check near the child's collarbone.

I use three fingers - you can't see that in these first two pics because the harness was loose enough that I was able to pinch. I put my middle finger under the harness, then attempt the pinch with my thumb and forefinger.

I've seen people just slide their thumb and forefinger along the shoulder, but if you do that with a too-loose harness, you pull up clothing or even skin. I believe it also leads to people getting the harness too tight - they slide their fingers along the top of the harness, and if anything bunches up at all, even if it doesn't pinch together, they tighten.

This harness is too loose; I could easily fold it in half:

So, I grab the harness near the child's stomach and pull it up, which pulls out the slack around the child's hips/thighs (note that some carseats, like the Evenflo Triumph Advance, tighten at the bottom of the harness instead of the top, so this step should be skipped on those seats):

Next, I pull the harness adjuster strap, and test again. It's still too loose - I can still pinch the harness together:

I pull the harness adjuster strap again, and pinch again. Now it's tight enough. My fingers slip off the harness when I try to fold it:

This next harness is too tight. The Nautilus has a very smooth adjuster, so it will easily let you over-tighten the harness, but it's possible to over-tighten the harness on any carseat. Note that even though I can still fit a finger under the harness, it's still too tight. The child was unable to take a deep breath with the harness this tight:

There's nothing unsafe about having a harness too tight, except that it's uncomfortable and unnecessary. However, if the child is not complaining about the harness being too tight, that's okay, too. Some kids like it more snug - it's a sensory thing.

Also note that the harness pinch-test should be performed while the child is wearing regular clothes. You want as little bulk as possible between your child and the harness to ensure proper protection. Bulky winter coats, blankets, sweaters, etc. will compress in a crash and could create too much slack in the harness to adequately protect the child. Cold-weather protection should be added over the harness, not under it.

Kids can be both safe and comfortable in their carseats. :thumbsup:
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New member
Thanks for showing this. I havent ever heard of the pinch test :eek: I will make sure I try this when we go out today. I have a feeling DD is too tight! But she only complains when she wants to go to sleep, she wants to roll over...LOL


New member

Thanks so much for the explanation and the pix! One question:

If you can pinch some slack, but not hold it (i.e., it slips out of your pinch), is that ok? Or should you not even be able to bring up any slack at all?


Moderator - CPSTI Emeritus
If you can pinch some slack, but not hold it (i.e., it slips out of your pinch), is that ok? Or should you not even be able to bring up any slack at all?

Yes, that's okay - that's what I was trying to describe in my fourth "tight enough" pic. If I really worked at it and used both hands, I could probably squish my daughter enough to pinch a tiny fold together, but that's definitely not the point. :D

I check by slipping a finger under the harness to start the "fold," so even a "tight-enough" harness will have a small amount of slack.

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