You might think that anyone who can read an instruction manual and follow directions could install a car seat correctly. In reality, though, it's not so easy.
And according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3 out of 4 car seats are improperly installed.
Below are the most important factors when it comes to installing your car seat correctly and where to turn for help if you're confused. (Illustrations courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.)
Placement and orientation of the car seat
Car seats for young babies should be installed in the rear-facing position in the center of the rear seat (or the center seat of a van or station wagon with more than one backseat). Keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible – until age 2, or when your child reaches the seat's maximum rear-facing height and weight limits. (Read more about how to choose and use a car seat .)
Once your toddler outgrows the rear-facing capabilities of his car seat, he can ride facing forward. The middle of the backseat is still the safest place for him to sit.
Booster seats – used for children weighing 40 to 100 pounds (ages 4 to 12 and up to 4 feet 9 inches tall) – are intended for use with a shoulder and lap belt, ideally in the backseat. See more information about how to choose and use a booster seats .
Tips for installing your seat successfully
- Read your car seat and vehicle manuals to make sure you understand how to install the seat. If the information isn't clear, call the automaker, the safety seat manufacturer, or both. Or take a 30-minute workshop to make sure you get it right (see "Getting more help," below).
- Use the tether system if possible. All child safety seats and vehicles manufactured after 2002 must be compatible with the LATCH system, which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (some cars manufactured between 1999 and 2002 also have the system).
The LATCH system is designed to make installation of a car seat easier and safer by attaching the car seat directly to anchors permanently attached to the vehicle instead of using the seat belt to secure the seat. Although only front-facing infant
and toddler car seats are required to have both the upper and lower attachments, all child safety seats with a five-point safety harness (including rear-facing infant car seats) are required to have the lower anchorsIf you own a vehicle that doesn't have the anchoring system, consider having your car retrofitted (check with your local auto dealership for information on cost and feasibility).
If the seat moves, you'll need to secure it with a locking clip, a small metal device that looks like an oversized paper clip. The locking clip fits around the seat belt (about half an inch above the buckle) to hold the belt firmly in place.If you have an older car and your car seat didn't come with a locking clip or you've misplaced it, contact the manufacturer to order one or purchase one at a children's supply store.