Car Seat Installation and Safety Tips

A click here, a snap there, a little pull and tug … installing a car seat is easy! Well, hold your harness straps for just a minute! Installing a child’s car seat may appear as easy as pie, but unless you follow the installation directions you could be making a deadly mistake. It’s true that installing a car seat has become a lot easier in the last 10 years. Many manufacturers consider “ease of use” as a vital part of the design stage when developing a new car seat. After all, a car seat that is easy to use will be used correctly.

Many parents believe they have installed their child’s car seat correctly because it is tight, or they believe just using any car seat is good enough. Typical installation issues are a loose car seat, the seat belt routing in the wrong belt path, and using both the lower LATCH anchor strap and the seat belt together to install the car seat. You should always install your child’s car seat as indicated in the instruction manual, just like the manufacturer does when crash testing the seat. Sometimes caregivers will get very creative with the installation, surprising even the most experienced car seat expert. While you might think you are adding more protection, you might be doing more harm than good.

What’s The Difference?

Rear-facing Installations

  • Most rear-facing car seats have an angle indicator to show the proper recline for children within a certain age range. Newborns typically need a recline angle of approximately 30 to 45 degrees to keep their chin from falling down on their chest which could block their airway.
  • Always follow the indicator on the seat. Look for the recline adjustments on these types of car seats to achieve the proper angle. For infant carriers, the recline adjustment is usually on the base. For convertible seats, it can be tucked away on the bottom or it might be a separate piece. You do not need any kind of separate device or app to check for a correct angle.
  • The seat belt or lower LATCH anchor strap is usually routed under the car seat where the child’s legs rest. Check labels on the car seat that indicate the correct belt path to use.
  • Generally, rear-facing seats do not come with a top tether strap. Forward-facing Installations • Some forward-facing seats require a proper recline angle even though they typically sit at a more upright position. Check your manual for information on forward-facing recline.
  • All forward-facing seats come with a top tether to enhance the safety of a forward-facing child. They meet Federal Safety Standards without one, but if your vehicle is equipped with an appropriate anchor, attach it and snug up the top tether strap to add to the safety performance of the seat.
  • The seat belt or lower LATCH anchor strap is routed through the forward-facing belt path which is usually located behind the child’s back. Again, make sure you check the labels for correct belt paths.
  • Some of the harness positions are not reinforced for forward-facing positions on convertible car seats. It is crucial that you make sure you are using a reinforced harness slot on a convertible seat. If the car seat is a forward-facing seat only then all harness slots will be reinforced.

Carefully read the instruction manual and check off these tasks:

1. A one-hand tug at the belt path being used for installation should not move the car seat or base of the infant seat more than one inch side-to-side or front-to-back.

2. The harness straps should fall right at or just below the child’s shoulders when they are rear-facing and just above the shoulders when forward-facing.

3. If you are installing using the lower LATCH anchor strap, be sure you have attached the connectors to the correct anchors in the seat bight (where the seat back and seat cushion come together).

4. If you are installing using the seat belt, be sure the seat belt is in locking mode.

5. All forward-facing seats should have the top tether attached if an appropriate anchor is available.

Allana Pinkerton is a Certified Child Passenger Safety Instructor and Global Safety Advocate for Diono.