Car Safety: Tips for Installing a Car Seat Successfully

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Regardless of which car seat you select, it'll be ineffective and fail to protect your child unless it is properly installed. Two guides should be followed when installing a car seat: the laws of the state in which you live, and good common sense. Once the car seat has been installed in accordance with these guides, ensure that the installed seat cannot move up, down, or sideways from its installed position by more than one inch.

If you've done your homework and installed the car seat properly, you have gone a long way to ensuring that your child will be safe when you're on the road. When I bought the Britax Convertible Car Seat, I did much homework to guarantee it was safely installed.

Tips for Successfully Installing a Car Seat

If you expect your child to be secure and protected in a child car seat, it is crucial that the seat be properly installed. The process is not intuitive. To be sure that your car seat is properly installed, practice the following procedures.

  • Read the manufacturer's installation instructions. Who should know better how to install a car seat? You or the car seat's manufacturer? Take the time to study the seat and to understand what each feature is designed for. Oftentimes, tutorials are available on the Internet. If you are not sure you are installing the seat properly, call the manufacturer's help line or customer service telephone.
  • Never use an older car seat manufactured before 2003. Seats made from 2003 and on up are designed to be compatible with what is called the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system. Car seats that are compatible with the LATCH system are much simpler to install than the older seats. They do not require the use of the car's seat belts, but attach instead to anchors that are permanently fastened to the automobile. If your car is designed for LATCH mounting of car seats, and you car seat is not compatible, it may be possible to buy an adapter kit for your particular model from the manufacturer.
  • When installing a forward facing car seat (not advised for infants), ensure that the car seat is flat against the bottom and rear of the automobile's seat cushions. It's best to force the air out of the seat cushions by pressing your weight down on the car seat to force out the air before securing the seat.
  • If your seat requires the use of the seat belt to secure it, be extra careful to attach the seat belt properly using the appropriate slots in the car seat. Tighten the belt securely and make sure it is locked. There should be no slack in the belt.
  • Some older cars have seat belt designs that do not lock unless the car stops suddenly. If, after attaching the car seat properly, you can still move it slightly in any direction, you probably need to secure the belt with what is called a "locking clip". Most car seats come with such a clip just in case. If you do not have one, and need it, contact the car seat manufacturer for a clip or for a recommendation where you can get one.
  • Don't settle for a "looks close enough" installation. Make sure that the car seat fits tightly into position and does not move when pushed and pulled upon. If it moves, reinstall it.

The health and safety of your child is too important to do a sloppy job of car seat installation. It is highly recommended, if you have more than one car in which you transport your child, that you install a separate car seat in each vehicle. Moving and installing a car seat from one vehicle to another when needed will ultimately result in a sloppy and insecure installation. If you cannot install the seat properly on your own, seek the help of a professional installer.

What problem did you run into when installing a car seat for the first time? What tips and tricks can you offer to those who might be installing one for the first time?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

A stay-at-home mom, Amy gave up her career to take care of her husband and their two children. She's an editor of, a site offering baby gear reviews and tips on problems parents encounter in daily life. Please visit Livesnet and read recent articles on Britax Frontier 85 reviews and The First Years Wave Stroller.

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