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How to Properly Install Car Seats

by Andrea Sparks

Smiling baby being buckled into a car seat

Car seats can mean the difference between life and death when it comes to your child. Properly installing car seats is absolutely essential when you and your little one are on the go. Proper installation, however, isn't as easy as it seems. When you consider that 80 percent of car seats are installed incorrectly and that auto accidents are the leading cause of death in children 14 and under, it becomes clear why correct installation of your car seat is so important. Follow these tips to get the peace of mind that comes from knowing your child is buckled in safely.

Installing Car Seats:

  1. The right car seat: Before you even start thinking about installing a car seat in your car, make sure that you have purchased the right car seat for your child. Is your child a newborn, infant, toddler or older? How old your child is will determine what kind of car seat you will need. Newborns and young infants need rear-facing infant car seats. Young toddlers need front-facing car seats, while older toddlers and children need a booster seat. Choosing the right car seat for your child's age and size is the number one thing you can do to keep him safe while on the go.

  2. Read the manual: Nearly every single car seat is different. This means that they all install differently, too. When you're installing a car seat, make sure to read the manual thoroughly and to follow the manufacturer's advice. Even if you've had similar car seats in the past, updates and changes are always being made, so you'll want to make sure you are up-to-date on the manufacturer's specifications.

  3. The right angle: If you are using a rear-facing infant car seat, you want to make sure you have it at a 45-degree angle. This ensures that your infant's airways are kept open while riding in the car. Most infant car seats have an angle adjuster. If your car seat does not, you can use a block of foam or a rolled towel to achieve the proper angle. These items can compress after time, however, so it is important to continually check your car seat's angle.

  4. Get it snug: You want to make sure the car seat you choose doesn't jostle around when you're driving around, and you certainly don't want it to move in an accident. For this purpose, you'll want to make sure to install car seats as snugly as possible. Place your car seat in position, then push down on it to fit it close to the seats. You may want to even put a knee in it and push with all your weight. This will compress the seat for a tighter fit. The snugger you get it, the better.

  5. LATCH: All cars made since September 1999 have an upper anchor location, and all cars manufactured after September 2002 have lower LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) anchors. A LATCH-compatible car seat is the safest, as it allows you to anchor car seats at two lower LATCH points as well as the top anchor. The upper anchor keeps the top of the car seat from thrusting forward in an accident. LATCH-compatible car seats typically have a belt routing path or two bars that attach to the anchors rather than using your car's seat belt. Attach all straps to anchors and pull them as tight as you possibly can.

  6. Seat belt: If your car does not have the LATCH system, thread your car's seat belt through the appropriate belt path on your car seat. If your car seat has a lock-off clip, you will want to thread your seat belt through that first. Slowly pull the shoulder belt out, buckle the seat belt, then let the belt retract. If you cannot easily pull the seat belt out again, that means the seat belt automatically locks, which is safest. If you can easily pull the seat belt out again, you will need to purchase a locking clip.

  7. Double-check: After you have installed your car seat, check it to make sure it is secure by trying to move it. Car seats shouldn't move more than one inch in any direction. If it does move more than an inch, tighten the straps until it doesn't move anymore. If tightening the straps doesn't work, you may need to reinstall the car seat.

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