Installing a Car Seat

Some people may think that installing a baby car seat is easy as long as you can read the instruction manual and follow directions. In reality, it is not so easy. In fact, research shows that about 70-80% of children are actually improperly restrained. Even the LATCH system (lower anchors and tethers for children) isn’t foolproof. Found in most cars manufactured after September 2002, the LATCH system was designed to make installation easier without the use of seat belts, but it still isn’t compatible with certain vehicles.

Installing your baby car seat correctly is imperative because, if installed incorrectly, the car seat’s effectiveness to prevent injuries is reduced.

How do I know if my car seat is installed correctly?

Installing a baby car seat can be a challenge. One of the most common mistakes is when the car seat does not fit snugly in the vehicle. The seat shouldn’t be able to move back and forth or side to side more than one inch in any direction. Chest clips should not ride too low and should be at the level of your child’s armpit. Also, check to make sure that the harnesses are not too loose or are twisted.

Read your car seat and vehicle manuals thoroughly to make sure you understand how to install the seat. If any of the information isn’t clear, call the automaker, the car seat manufacturer, or both. Sometimes, you can find videos online on how to install your car seat.

Below are some additional car seat safety guidelines:

  • Use the proper child safety seat for a child’s current size and age.
  • Install the child car seat in the correct direction (rear facing, forward facing).
  • Secure and tighten the car seat’s harness and crotch straps. To know if a car seat’s harness is tight enough, it must pass the pinch test. If you can grasp any of the harness material and pinch it between your fingers, it’s too loose.
  • Check the safety seat’s instructions for the recommended angle of recline. If the car seat has a level indicator, use it to adjust the seat’s recline (usually between 30 to 45 degrees).
  • Install the child car seat away from the vehicle’s air bags (child is safest when seated in the back seat of vehicle). Do not install the car seat in the front passenger seat with an active air bag.
  • Use the LATCH system if possible. The LATCH system is designed to make the installation of a car seat safer by attaching the seat directly to the vehicle’s anchors instead of using the seat belt to secure the seat.
  • If you’re not using LATCH, make sure the car’s seat belt is threaded through the correct slots. Pull the belt as tight as you can so there’s no slack. Once you’ve buckled the belt, double check to make sure it’s locked.
  • Make sure the vehicle’s seat belt fits properly across the child when using a booster seat.
  • Do not use a defective or broken child seat. Look at the car seat label for the date it was made and its expiration date.
  • After you buckle your child in the car seat, tug on the straps to make sure they’re secure.

Placement of Car Seat

Car seats for infants should be installed in the rear-facing position. The safest position is in the center of the backseat. Keep your child in the rear-facing position for as long as possible – until age 2, or when your child reaches the rear-facing height and weight limits indicated on your car seat. Once your baby outgrows the rear-facing position, he can sit facing forward. Read more on the different types of car seats.

Car Seat Technician Near Me

If you have questions or need help installing your car seat, ask a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST). The National highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website has a listing of child safety seat inspection stations for each state. Certified technicians will inspect your child car seat, in most cases, free of charge. They will show you how to correctly install the car seat and use it.

Safe Kids also offers free child passenger safety events where technicians will teach you everything you need to know to make sure your car seat is fitted and installed correctly. Safe Kids hosts thousands of events across the country, including car seat check-ups, educational workshops and other community events. If you are unable to attend any of those events, you might still find a certified car seat technician who can help. You can call Safe Kids toll-free customer service line at 877-366-8154 if you have any additional questions.

If you are going to schedule an appointment, try to make one at least one to two months prior to your baby’s due date just in case you deliver early. Many CPS technicians require appointments several weeks in advance.

Important Safety Reminders:

  • Be a good role model. Make sure you always wear your own seat belt. This will help your child develop a habit of buckling up.
  • Make sure that anyone who will be driving your child uses the correct car seat and knows how to buckle in the child correctly.
  • Always read and follow your car seat manufacturer’s instructions. Not all car seats are created equal, even if it is the same brand or type of car seat. Each car seat has its own age, weight, and height limitations and it is important to make sure your child is within these limitations.If you do not have the manufacturer’s instructions, write or call the company. The manufacturer’s address and phone number should be on a label on the seat. Have the model number, name of the seat, and the date of manufacture readily available. Some manufacturers may also list instructions on their websites.
  • If you are using a used car seat, make sure it is not too old, does not have any visible cracks on it and is not missing any parts. Do not use car seats that have been in moderate or severe vehicle crash. Some car seat manufacturers recommend replacing the seat after any crash, even a minor one.
  • Do not use car seats that have been recalled. You can find out by calling the manufacturer or contacting the NHTSA Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236. Make sure your car seat has a label with the model number and date of manufacture so that you can check to see if the seat has been recalled.