Is Your Car Seat Installed Correctly?

car seat
Image adapted via Flickr/ Jassen

You did your research and found the perfect car seat. It's safe, you love the color, and it'll work well for your child and your car. But, once you get it out of the box your work isn't done, you still need to ensure that it's installed properly and that it fits. Getting this right is essential to making sure your car seat is as safe as it can be and ensuring that your child will be protected in a crash.

{ MORE: Do You Know These 3 Things About Your Car Seat? }

To make certain your car seat is both installed properly and fits your child correctly, check out these tips from Safety 1st car seat expert and Child Protection Safety Technician, Ryan Hawker.

Little boy strapped into car seat
Image via iStock

Installation is important! First, make sure you're installing a car seat that will best fit your child based on age and weight. Follow installation instructions exactly, as they may differ from seat to seat. If you are unsure about the installation, seek professional guidance to confirm whether the seat is properly installed. A car seat can not protect your child if it is not used correctly!


car seat
Image via Flickr/ Chris Wiegand

Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible! According to a study in the Journal of Injury Prevention, children under the age of two are 75% less likely to die or be severely injured in the event of a car accident if they are properly in a rear-facing car seat. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that “infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more.” Also, be sure to check your car seat's height, weight, and other criteria.

Image via Sara McTigue

If you have an older child, boosters are extremely important. Most states require a child to be in a booster until they are 8 years old, as they have been proven to reduce the risk of serious injury by 45%, according to Safe Kids.


car seats
Image via Flickr/ Ryan Dickey

When installing a car seat, use either the LATCH or the seat belt. Do not use both!

The seat belt is a very effective way to install a car seat, but LATCH was developed to provide another option for parents who find it challenging to properly install a child restraint with the seat belt.

car seat
Image via Flickr/ Raelene Gutierrez

Once you have the car seat installed, make sure it does not move more than one-inch side to side. If you are still unsure if you've done it right, check in with a local Child Passenger Safety Technician before you hit the road.

Image via Flickr/ gisele13

Typically, the center rear seat is the safest place for a car seat. Never install a car seat in the front seat! If your car does not have a LATCH connector for the middle seat, you can use the middle seat belt to properly secure the base.

{ MORE: 4 Benefits of Infant Massage }

car seat
Image via Flickr/ Ann Marie Brasco

Make sure the child's harness is fastened tightly and securely. One test to ensure the harness is tight enough is to try pinching the harness at your child's shoulder. If you can gather material between your thumb and forefinger, the harness is too loose.

car seat
Image via Flickr/ dani0010

For those in cold climates, it is recommended that you remove your child's bulky jacket before securing him or her in the seat. A new crash test that aired on the Today Show demonstrated how a secure dummy (meant to represent a small child) went hurtling out of a car seat because the winter jacket prevented it from being fastened securely.

{ MORE: My Baby is Breech, But I'm Not Going To Stress About It }

If you're worried about the child being too cold, turn up the heat and, once buckled, put a blanket over the car seat. It may seem like a hassle, but it's an extra step that can save a life.


car seat
Image via Flickr/ Glenn Fleishman

If you need some help or want some reassurance about whether your car seat is installed correctly, check out any resources your car seat manufacturer offers.

For example, if you own a Safety 1st car seat (or any seat made by Dorel Juvenile, which includes Safety 1st, Cosco and Maxi-Cosi brands), you can call customer support at 1-800-544-1108 or email them at If needed, you can set up a video chat appointment via Skype or FaceTime with one of Dorel Juvenile's certified child passenger safety technicians based at their manufacturing plant in Columbus, Indiana. Typically requests are able to be accommodated in one business day.

I plan on using this soon with a new Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat for my little one!



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Is Your Car Seat Installed Correctly?

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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  1. MamaRayRay says:

    OMG the picture of the kid sleeping in the carseat ON TOP of the table?!? The other pictures are awful too!

  2. Emily says:

    These pictures are TERRIBLE!!!! Every single picture has something wrong in it!!! You really need to do better research when finding photos to match the information being given in an article!!!!

  3. Amy says:

    The article has good tips but those pictures are awful. Almost every single one is showing major misuse and don’t go along with the text in the article.

  4. Very helpful tips on making sure your car seat is properly installed the right way and most importantly that your baby’s safety is secure.

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