Tips for Installing a Car Seat

Baby getting strapped in to car seatCar seat installation is one of those things that gives parents problems right from the beginning. It is hard enough to find the ‘perfect’ seat that fits into your car – but an entirely different subject to install it properly. Statistics show that 2 out of every 3 car seats are installed improperly, which can put your child in extreme danger in the event of an accident.

Before you purchase a seat, make sure that you know your child’s height and weight as well as the laws in your state. While it seems economically smart to try and find a convertible seat that will grow with your child, you may do better buying seats in stages so they are an exact match to your child’s needs and comfort. In addition to that, car seat parts wear out quickly from washing, and newer car seats are held to much more stringent safety standards than seats that are even just a few years old. Keep in mind that most states require car seat use until the age of 8, however regulations vary considerably. Check with your state patrol office online for details.

The first step in installing a car seat properly is to find one that fits in your car. Before you buy, ask the store if you can take the seat out to your vehicle to see how well it fits when it is actually placed in the car. Aside from a rolled towel, you shouldn’t have to use anything underneath the seat to level or steady it. Also, NEVER buy a used car seat that may have missing parts, been involved in an accident, or recalled for a malfunction.

Remember that according to the AAP, “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.”

Step By Step Guide to Installing a Car Seat

  1. Place the car seat in the back seat of the vehicle (preferably in the middle).
  2. If you are using the installed seat belts of the car rather than the LATCH system, pull the buckle all the way out until you hear it clicking.
  3. Lace the belt through the appropriate route on the car seat, making sure to keep the belt all the way extended.
  4. Latch the seat belt into the locking device.
  5. Next, place your body weight – by using your knee in the center of the seat to push the car seat into place and pull back all the slack from the belt. You should use the full force of your strength when the belt is all the way retracted, while pushing down with your knee to make sure the seat is as tight as possible.
  6. Once the seat is installed, it should not wiggle more than an inch in any direction. If it does, unbuckle it.
  7. If your car seat belts are older and they do not lock (click when extended), you should use a belt clip right above where the buckle inserts into the latch. They are usually provided on the back of the car seat.
  8. When you put your child in the car seat, make sure to buckle the five-point harness so that you can get no more than one finger between your child and the belt. The top portion of the buckles should cross your child at the chest or sternum.

Installation Using the LATCH System

  1. Newer cars are equipped with a LATCH system, which is a series of anchors to the frame of the vehicle. They are usually located above or behind the seat as well as on the floor underneath. Your car seat will have a LATCH system installed, which is two belts that you use to anchor to your car, rather than using the car seat belts.
  2. Place the seat into the car, using the same procedure as above. Make sure to use your body weight to hold the seat down as far as it will go.
  3. Use the LATCH belt equipped on the car seat itself to anchor to the top latch, and the lower LATCH belt on the car seat to anchor to the lower anchor. Make sure that all of the slack is pulled out, while you are leaning into the car seat.
  4. Test by making sure it doesn’t move more than an inch in any direction.
  5. When you put your child in the car seat, make sure to buckle the five-point harness so that you can get no more than one finger between your child and the belt. The top portion of the buckles should cross your child at the chest or sternum.

* For location of the LATCH belt system in your vehicle, check the owner’s manual.

Installing Booster Seats

  1. When your child is more than 40 pounds and 48 inches tall, you can usually move them to a booster seat. Choose a booster that has a backrest on it and routing system so the belts fit your child properly. Booster seats use the regular car seat belts and are not ‘installed’ into the vehicle itself.
  2. Route the seat belt through the car seat, so that the belt lies underneath your child’s neck near the chest. If the seatbelt does not cross at the chest, you should wait before using a booster.
  3. The lower part of the seat belt should cross your child at the hips and latch into the seat belt buckles.


Last, but certainly not least – if you are unsure if your car seat is installed properly, take advantage of your state's inspection services. Many police stations, fire stations, hospitals, and some AAA locations offer free car seat checks, which not only help you see firsthand how to install your car seat – but also can make you feel at ease that the seat you are using is safely installed and appropriate for your child. If your state doesn’t offer these inspections, many baby superstores and specialty outlets have several days a year when they offer car seat inspection services.

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Tips for Installing a Car Seat

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4 comments

  1. LIZ says:

    my husband intalled the car seat, he is very good following instruction and this is so helpful tnx

  2. We will be needing a new car seat soon! My baby is getting so big!

  3. Julie says:

    Very good info, I have never installed a car seat, but will be soon.

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