How do I know I've installed my child's car seat correctly?
Experts estimate up to 95% of car seats are installed improperly.
Before installing your child's car seat, read the instructions carefully, as well as the installation guidelines in your vehicle owner's manual. Your goal is to get the tightest possible fit with the least amount of "give". To do this, follow these steps:
- Make sure the car seat is flat against the rear seat's bottom and back.
- Use your hands to push down as hard as you can on the car seat — or better yet, place your knee on the car seat and push down with all of your weight to squash the air out of the cushion underneath it.
- While you're holding the seat down, thread your vehicle's lap or lap-and-shoulder belt through the appropriate slots on the car seat, pulling the belt as tight as possible so there's no slack. Once you've buckled the belt into place, give it a yank to make sure it's locked. (If you're using the LATCH system rather than safety belts to secure the seat, carefully follow the installation instructions that came with your car seat.)
- Test it! Take hold of the top of the seat and try to tilt it toward the front and sides of the vehicle. If the seat moves more than an inch in any direction, unbuckle it and repeat the steps above until you have a tight fit.
Buckle your child in securely
- Car seat harness straps are too loose.
- Harness clip is too low on your child's chest.
You shouldn't be able to pinch any fabric from the harness straps between your fingers, and the harness clip should be at the level of your child's armpits.
Also check that the harness straps aren't twisted and are threaded through the right strap slots on the back of the car seat. The correct slots are the ones level with or slightly below your child's shoulders for rear-facing seats, and level with or slightly above the shoulders for front-facing seats. Kids this age grow fast, so remember to check the strap level frequently.
Make sure the car seat is in the right place. The safest place for most car seats is in the center of the rear seat, where it's best protected from a side-impact crash. If you have two kids in car seats, positioning will depend on the contours of your back seat. If you can, you're best off putting one child in the center and one on the right side of your vehicle's rear seat (where you can see him more easily than if he were directly behind you, and which will make getting him out of the car easier and safer when you park on a busy street). But if sitting close together is an invitation for your kids to poke, pinch, and grab each other (distracting you from safe driving while you play referee), you'll probably need a buffer zone in the center. And, of course, never let any child under age 13 ride in the front seat, especially if you have a passenger air bag, which can cause serious head and neck injuries to a child when it inflates.