How to Install Your Baby Car Seat Properly

Do you know the ins and outs of properly installing a car seat for your child? According to one study, 95 percent of parents install baby car seats wrong (source). Apparently, installation is not as easy as we all thought.

The thing is, car seats for babies come with various recommendations and restrictions. Plus, cars are different and you need to know the best way to fit a car seat into your specific car.

Besides that, there is much more information you need to know. This is exactly what we are going to tackle in this article. Read on to find out the best way to install your car seat properly and ensure safety for your baby.


Where Should the Car Seat Go?

The first thing you should do is check out your car’s manual. Look for the child passenger safety section to see exactly where a child seat should be installed. Read the car seat manual as well to find out what should go where.

According to a study, the safest position for your baby car seat is the center of the second row (source). Even though head-on collisions are common accidents, side impacts are usually worse. Having a baby in the middle protects them from both front and side accidents.

However, this is not always possible, especially when you have more than one child. Apart from that, not all vehicles have the necessary “LATCH” anchors in the middle seat. The LATCH system stands for “Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children” (source).

It was designed to make car seat installation easier for parents. Most car models from 2003 and onward have these anchors.

Driver or Passenger Side: Which Is Better?

In an accident, the driver instinctively protects his or her side. And you won’t need to walk around the car for the baby if you are both on the same side.

However, it’ll be harder to check up on them when they are directly behind you. Of course, safety should come first, right?

What If There’s More Than One?

If you have two kids, you can place the newborn in the center position as they are more vulnerable. If it’s not possible to put two baby seats next to each other, use the outside seats instead. Consider which child takes longer to buckle in and out, then put them on the driver’s side.

If you have three kids, fitting three car seats in the back seat could get tricky. You can get narrow baby seats that will fit your car. Do keep in mind that children below the age of 13 should always sit in the rear seat (source).

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What Direction Should the Seat Face?

Kids below the age of 2 should use a rear-facing car seat. This is the safest position for their developing bodies.

Keep them rear-facing until at least 2-years-old or until they reach the weight limit. All car seats come with a set limit, so check your car seat manual for that.

Infant carriers could support up to 22 pounds or more. Convertible seats could be anything from 35 to 50 pounds.

Many parents feel kids are at risk of leg injuries while rear-facing. However, approximately only 0.1 percent of rear-facing kids suffer lower-extremity injuries in car accidents (source). Kids are also quite flexible and rear-facing is not usually uncomfortable for them.

They are at a greater risk facing forward. When an accident occurs, a child’s feet come in contact with the front seat, which is moving back simultaneously.

Stay Away From The Front

Furthermore, you should never place your rear-facing baby seat in the front. This is the most dangerous place for them.

Airbags deploy at a dangerous speed and could potentially injure your child quite severely (source). Yes, it’s possible for you to switch off the airbag. But, it’s also possible for you to forget or for the airbag to malfunction.

At What Angle Should the Seat Recline?

Baby car seats should be installed at different angles depending on the age of the baby and what direction the seat is facing. All seats come with an angle indicator, though some just have one line while others have a wider range.

Infant seats should be installed at 45 degrees. If too flat, they might slide out of the straps. However, if too upright, they might flop forward, which could limit their breathing.

If your baby seat does not feature an angle indicator, use a rolled towel and wedge it under the base. Older kids should recline at 35 degrees (source). Ensure your car is on level ground so you get the angle right.

What Installation Methods Are Available?

There are two options for a safe car seat installation — the LATCH system and the seat belts.

LATCH is not necessarily a safer method because the seat belt works just as fine. Using both the LATCH anchors and the seat belt does not make it safer either. Rarely will you find a car seat that allows both installation methods, but the manual should guide you.

LATCH Method

Most car manufacturers place two LATCH anchors in the outside seats and not the center (source).

Others do have more than two anchors, which is why you need to refer to your car manual. Here is a step-by-step guide for you:

  1. Your seat base has tethers that click into the LATCH anchors on both sides.
  2. Determine what direction your LATCH clips need to go. They could be hiding in the crease of the seat so check for a button or label close by.
  3. Once you find your anchors, push in the connectors until they click in place.
  4. Pull to ensure they are safely secure.
  5. Route the LATCH strap through the seat belt path for the direction the seat is facing, leaving no twists.
  6. Check your angle indicator and adjust accordingly.
  7. Remove excess webbing and apply pressure to the seat to tighten the LATCH straps.
  8. Ensure there are no movements.

Seat Belts

It is important that you learn how to do this. Not all cars have the LATCH system, but all vehicles, including taxis, should have seat belts. This method easily applies to a car seat without the base.

Regardless of which car you use, you can always assure your child’s safety.

  1. Start by routing the belt through the right belt path for the direction you want the seat to face.
  2. Ensure there are no twists, then buckle it.
  3. Check your angle indicator and adjust accordingly.
  4. Lock the belt using the car seat mechanism or use the lock off.
  5. Remove excess webbing and apply pressure to the seat to tighten the belt.
  6. Ensure there are no movements.

Handy Car Seat Tips

  • Is it okay for baby to sleep in the car seat? A quick supervised nap during a short trip is absolutely fine. However, car seats are generally not designed for that purpose (source). If left unsupervised, the baby could be at risk of death through suffocation or strangulation.
  • Is it okay to use your baby car seat in the shopping cart? Some baby seats do feature a locking mechanism for that purpose. As convenient as this may be, the baby could outweigh the cart and potentially tip over. If you must, be vigilant.
  • Can you use the baby car seat on a flight? Most baby seats are certified to be used on a plane. Infants or children below 40 pounds are required to use a child safety seat on a flight (source). You’ll just use the plane seat belt to secure it in place.
  • What’s the problem with bulky clothes? It is recommended you don’t strap in your child wearing bulky clothes. They make it hard to tighten the straps and might compromise their safety.
  • What to do if you are unsure of your installation: If you don’t feel confident about your installation, check in with your local car seat inspection station. The National Child Passenger Safety Certificate Program is likely to have an updated technician who will help you (source).
  • Always use the tether anchors for front-facing seats: Regardless of the installation method you choose for forward-facing seats, use the tethers. These will offer maximum safety and secure the seat in place. The tether anchors are designed to reduce forward movements during a crash.
  • When should you switch to a booster seat? Your child needs to be at least 8 years so they are mature enough to sit properly (source).
  • Never use a seat that doesn’t fit your child: Very often you will find 2-year-old children strapped to an infant-only seat. Even worse, you’ll see a 2-year-old in a booster seat. Car seats have specific height and weight recommendations, so you can ensure your child is in the right seat.
  • Don’t get creative with your car seat: You might not believe this, but parents have used duct tape and bungee cords to secure the car seat. This is such a bad idea.
  • Be wary of hand-me-downs: This applies to second-hand car seats sold online. Car seats do have expiry dates and technology and safety features improve by the year. Unless you still have the manual and you are sure it was not in a crash, an old seat is not worth your child’s life.
  • Always use the harness straps correctly: Harness straps should always be at or below the shoulders when securing a rear-facing baby. They should be at or above the shoulders while securing a front-facing child. Besides that, always ensure they are snug enough.
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Now You Know

With all the pointers we’ve provided, we hope you’re feeling more confident and up to the task at hand.

Now that we’ve explained how to install your child’s car seat, it’s time for you to put it into practice. If you do things right, it’s not that hard. Once you’ve done it a few times it will become second nature.

Leave us a note in the comment section and let us know how it goes down. We’ll also answer any questions, and we’ll be thankful if you share this article.

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