Car Seat Installation: How to Properly Install a Child Safety Seat

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More than 70 percent of child safety seats are used improperly. So how can you make sure your car seat installation is perfect?

While you may think you completed your child’s car seat installation correctly, there’s a good chance that it’s not quite right. In fact, a 2014 study from Safe Kids Worldwide found that more than 70 percent of child restraints were being used the wrong way. So how can you make sure your son or daughter’s car seat is installed perfectly?

Read All About Car Seat Installation
The first and most important step to installing your child’s car seat correctly is to read the manual. There you will find almost everything you need to know: height and weight guidelines, how to secure the seat and how to position your little one.

“You always want to replicate the installation just like the manufacturer does when crash testing the seat,” says Allana Pinkerton, a child passenger safety technician at Diono, a car seat manufacturer. “While you might think you are adding more protection, you might be doing more harm than good.”

Should You Use the LATCH System or a Seat Belt?
There are two main ways to make your child’s car seat stay put — the LATCH system, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, and the standard seat belt. Which is better? It may depend on your child, the car seat and your car itself. “They both crash test equally safe,” explains Amie Durocher, a certified CPS technician since 2004 and the creative director at Safe Ride 4 Kids. “The seat belt has no weight limits, though the LATCH system does. But the real answer is: Whichever you can use correctly every time in your car with your car seat.”

Common Installation Problems and Solutions
Pinkerton says that the most common car seat installation problems CPS technicians see are loose seats, seat belts routing the wrong path and the use of both the LATCH system and seat belt together. Here’s how to identify and avoid these problems.

  • Loose Installation
    “After carefully following the instruction manual, a one-handed tug on the belt path should not move the car seat or base of the infant seat more than one inch side-to-side or front-to-back,” says Pinkerton. Durocher adds that the small amount of wiggle room is fine, as “the car seat is designed to have a little bit of movement for energy absorption during a crash.”
  • Loose Harness Straps
    To check strap tightness, try to pinch the strap with your thumb and forefinger vertically where it hits the shoulders.”If you can pinch the material together, it is too loose and needs to be tightened,” Durocher says.
  • Improperly Positioned Harness Straps
    Even if the seat is secure, having the straps in the wrong position could put your child in danger. “Straps should be positioned at or below the child’s shoulder for rear-facing seats, and at or above for forward-facing seats,” says Durocher. The chest clip should be at armpit level. Whether rear-facing or front-facing, check that the harness straps are properly routed through the hard plastic of the safety seat, and that they always lie flat. If not, Durocher says, “Reroute the straps, making sure to keep them free from twists.”
  • Doubling Up
    Don’t use both LATCH and the seat belt together to install a car seat — only one or the other is needed, according to the Department of Health.

Car Seat Installation Help
If you just can’t figure out the installation, or aren’t sure you have it right, fear not: There are certified CPS technicians in every state, and thousands of free car seat inspection events take place each year. There, trained experts will teach you everything you need to know to make sure your car seat is installed and used correctly. “If your child is available,” says Pinkerton, “bring them along, as this is helpful in setting the harnesses at the proper height and showing you how to adjust everything on the car seat.” If your baby hasn’t yet arrived, ask the technician to use a doll as an example.

Although a first-time car seat installation could take an hour or more, doing it correctly will bring you peace of mind. In the event of an accident, you will be grateful for every second you took to help keep your child as safe as possible.

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