How To Properly Install A Car Seat: Safety First!

How To Properly Install A Car Seat: Safety First!

First, take time to read the owner manuals for both your vehicle and your car seat. Even if you think it may not be too interesting, you may be surprised to learn something new.

Use a Rear-Facing Child Seat Until Age 2

Babies should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 2 years old. If you are in a front-end crash (the most common type of crash) a rear-facing car seat allows your child’s head, neck, and spine to move evenly into the seat, not away from it.

As your child grows, you might have to switch from using a smaller rear-facing-only car seat to using a bigger rear-facing convertible car seat that can hold a larger child. After your child reaches the weight limit for rear-facing, you will then turn the convertible seat forward-facing, or use a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point  harness and top tether.

Find The Best Place in The Car

The safest place to ride for all children age 12 and under is the back seat. If your vehicle has three places in the back seat, the middle option is the best bet. Although, as you may learn from your car owner manual, the middle seat may not work with a car seat even if it does have a seat belt. In that case, you need to decide if you want your baby positioned behind the driver or behind the front seat passenger.

Check This Video:
Installing Infant Car Seat With Separate Base

Two Ways: Use The Seat Belt or LATCH

With the vehicle seat belt, place the seat belt through the car seat at the belt path openings. Arrows on the car seat or directions on the car seat label will show you the correct belt path to use.

With the Lower Anchors And Tethers for CHildern (LATCH), locate the lower attachments that connect to the car’s lower anchors (see the vido above).

Check This Video:
Installing a Rear-Facing Child Seat

After Age 2, Switch To Front-Facing Child Seat

After your child is at least 2 years old and is too big for a rear-facing car seat, put him in a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness and top tether. Use that car seat until your child outgrows the weight or height limit allowed for that car seat.

Check This Video:
Installing a Front-Facing Child Seat

On all forward-facing car seats, use a top tether when securing the car seat. The seat belt and LATCH are both safe, but don’t use at the same time. Choose the one that gives the car seat a snug fit.

However, only use LATCH for children less than a certain weight. The car seat label lists the weight limit. If your child’s weight reaches the limit for LATCH, you will need to switch from using lower attachments with top tether to using a seat belt with top tether.

Do The Snug Fit Test

You will notice in these videos, most adults will use their knee to push down the child seat into the car’s seat while tightening the seat belt. Once the belt is as tight as you can make it, do the INCH TEST to see how much the child seat can wiggle.

A properly-installed child seat shouldn’t move more than ONE INCH front to back or from side to side. This rule applies for front-facing car seats and rear-facing car seats. It also applies when the seat is secured with either the seat belt or LATCH.

Your Growing Child: Know Their Height & Weight

Your child may need a forward-facing car seat with a harness that has a higher weight or height limit before moving to a booster seat. However, it is safer to use a forward-facing car seat with a harness and top tether. Your child is better protected than in a booster seat with a lap and shoulder belt or just using a seat belt alone.

Remember, Car Seats Expire

When your child gets too big for her car seat, you can give the seat to someone you know. Make sure the seat has all the original parts, labels, and instructions.

Also, car seats expire. You can find the expiration date on your car seat. Look for the date on a label or imprinted on the plastic.

If the car seat has expired or was in a crash or is missing parts, throw it away! When you throw away an expired or unsafe car seat, take it apart and put the pieces in separate dark trash bags to prevent someone else from using it.

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  1. Most modern cars today has ISOFIX for installing the baby seats. It is very easy to install. Facing the seat the opposite way is the safest setup. But what about cars without ISOFIX ports? How do I install them? Do you have any guide on that. I mean like very old cars. Or do i need to do some modification first?

    • ISOFIX mounts are readily available online, even car make and model specific, and simple to install with the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s basically a bracket with the ports that slip in through the back of the seat. Without the ports then there is no need for the LATCH system… you just use the adult seat belt to secure the child seat. While a universal ISOFIX bracket may solve your dilemma, making use of the adult seat belt is just as safe and secure when the car seat is installed properly – basically make sure it is tight with the snug fit test.

  2. The videos were awesome and entirely useful as I managed to learn quite a few things I didn’t know yet. Thank you! 🙂

    Nonetheless, a huge one for me was the expiration dates, this wasn’t the first time I heard of this, but I do believe that there are so many people that do not pay attention to this. So, they end up using the same child seat for all five of their kids, which is completely unsafe for a lack of a better word. 

    I remember my mom wanting me to gift me the child seat she used for my much younger brother. “It’s in a really good condition, almost as if not used. Almost good as new.” – she said. That child seat was about 13 years old at the time. 

    And it actually looked fine, almost as new as she said. Gladly, I did know better at the time, so I refused kindly.

    The most bonkers thing, however, is that these kind of child seats can be bought in second-hand shops and online-stores. And people trying to save money while being ignorant buy these, which, however, can’t protect the child effectively, if the car gets into an accident. More people need to know about this. 

    Keep spreading the word! Cheers and have a Great One!Matiss

  3. Hello and thank you for this informative post. I have two children and I have already been through this process.

    I was not aware though that child/baby seats have an expiry date. I will need to check mine to see when they are finished. 

    Really well written post. Wish I had access to one like this when I had my first born child.

    Keep up the great work!


    • Yes, technology evolves and regulations change and car seats expire. We need to be mindful. Thanks for commenting Jody.
      Love, Darla

  4. I will admit we did it wrong at first and it got complicated when our girls met the age requirements but not the weight or height requirements.  Also switching seats between different vehicle types can be a challenge too.

    I like your disposal idea too so others will not inherit a bad car-seat.

    Would you recommend to those with multiple vehicles to get seats for each car instead of trying to transfer them back and forth a lot?  You might want to mention this as each time you unfasten and refasten the car-seat you risk not doing it correctly thus endangering the safety of your child.

    Wishing you a successful journey!

    • Good tip, Frank! Each family is so diverse with their own needs. If a family has multiple vehicles or the kids go with Grandma a lot, having car seats designated for each car used to transport the babies & toddlers might be a a good idea. However, I find with most families, it is easier to designate one vehicle as the family car with the car seats and when everyone goes, they take the vehicle with the car seats. Love, Darla

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