How to Install a Child Car Seat

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Car accidents are currently a leading cause of death for children ages one to 13. However, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the use of child car seats while riding in cars significantly reduces the risk of fatal injuries in small children. That’s why it is so important for parents to not only buy and use child car seats, but also pick the right one, install it correctly, and position their child properly.
Before you can drive home from the hospital with your brand-new baby, you must first properly install your car seat. In addition, any time you need to move a car seat from one vehicle to another or if you purchase a new car seat, you will need to be able to correctly install it all over again.
According to the AAA, when used and installed correctly car seats can reduce the risk of injury by 71% to 82%, as well as reduce the risk of death by 28% when compared to children using just a seat belt alone. Using them is just the first step. Installing them correctly in your vehicle is the next.
  • Note: It’s important to keep in mind that the installation process will depend on the type of car seat, as well as have some slight differences by brand. Be sure that the car seat you are using is the correct fit for your child and follows any car-seat laws in the state you will be driving in.

Read the directions and research your car seat

Once you have selected and purchased your car seat, be sure to thoroughly read the installation directions. Whether this is the first time you’ve had to install a car seat or the thousandth, not all car seats are made exactly the same and may have some adjustment options you might not be aware of.
  • Tip: Don’t throw away the manual! Some car seats are convertible and can be changed to fit a growing child and installation steps may differ at each stage. In addition, keeping it close can come in handy if you forget how to do something or have someone unfamiliar with the installation process.

Read your car owner’s manual

In addition to reading through the instructions on your car seat, it is recommended to check your car’s manual for information related to car seat installation. Vehicle’s that were manufactured on or after September 1, 2002 are required to have a Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system to help install car seats more quickly.
Several models that were manufactured prior to 2002 may also feature a LATCH system. Read your manual to be knowledgeable about how to install a car seat in your specific vehicle.

Choose the correct seat

Child Car Seat Options
Type Age Features
Infant only rear-facing Under one year Cradle design and harness straps
protect the spine and neck in a collision
Child rear-facing One to three years Keeps child rear-facing until his or her
weight or height reach the maximum limit
recommended by the seat manufacturer
Front-facing Four to seven years, or those
under four who have surpassed
their seat’s weight and height
Tether straps are much safer
for small children than standard
seat belts
Booster seat Eight to 12 years, or those under
eight who have surpassed their
seat’s weight and height maximum
Adds extra height to ensure the
seat belt fits the child correctly
Step 1: Get a seat that is appropriate for your specific child. There are a number of different child car seat options available on the market, and it is crucial that you pick the right one for your child’s size and age. Here are a few tips:
  • Keep in mind that size is a bigger factor than age when it comes to deciding whether to move the child up to the next type of seat.
  • Rear-facing is the safest and best traveling position, so keep the child in this type of seat for as long as you can.
The NHTSA is a helpful resource in this regard as they have outlined some helpful guidelines for choosing the best safety seat for your child.
Step 2: Pick a reputable brand. Some big-name brands include Chicco, Britax, and Graco. Be sure to research the brand as well as the specific model you are interested in and read plenty of reviews to ensure you have the safest and most reliable seat possible.

Steps to install a car seat

Once you have read the directions and have done your research, it’s time to install the car seat. Follow these tips for a smooth installation:
Step 1: Fit the car seat to your child. Before you install the car seat, it must fit your child properly.
Make sure they are the correct weight and height for the seat.
Have your child sit down in the seat before you install it and check and adjust the height of the shoulder straps to be at or directly below your child’s shoulders.
Step 2: Select the car seat’s location. The safest place for a car seat is in the back of a vehicle. In the backseat, studies show that placing the car seat in the center can be 43% safer than installing the seat on the right or left side.
Step 3: Carefully read all of the instructions. Don’t try to install the seat through guesswork; read all instructions to ensure that you appreciate how to install the seat safely and securely.
Pay attention to both the seat manufacturer’s instruction manual and your vehicle’s manual for proper installation as the procedure varies across models.
Note that if you ever need to move the car seat to another car, you should be prepared to consult that vehicle’s manual as well for specific safe installation instructions.
Step 4: Determine the direction of the car seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children under the age of two years old remain rear facing, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat.
Step 5: Properly secure the car seat. Make sure straps are not twisted and that all connections are made. Tug on each strap after it is connected to make sure it’s secure.
If you are not using the LATCH system, check your vehicle’s manual for ways to lock the seat belts. In addition, make sure the car seat has no more than 1-inch of “wiggle room” in any direction. Place some of your own weight onto the car seat when tightening straps to ensure there is a snug fit.
Step 6: Adjust the car seat. Most car seats have the ability to adjust the angle of the seat back. Make sure that the car seat is completely adjusted to fit your child.
Step 7: Make sure the seat is secure. Once the car seat is attached, either by the anchors or by a seat belt, move it front-to-back and left and right. If the seat moves in any way by more than one inch, it is not secured tightly enough.
Step 8: Attach the tether. For front-facing seats, there is an additional strap near the top for added stability. If possible, connect this tether strap to an appropriate point and tighten it. This will prevent excessive head movement during a collision.
Step 9: Adjust the angle. Rear-facing seats need to be adjusted so that the seat’s base is level. This will stop the child’s head flopping forward. Use any indicators located on the sides of the seat to help.
Step 10: Do a few installation practice runs. It may be tempting to set it and forget it once you finally have the car seat installed, but it is recommended to do a few practice runs installing and removing the car seat to ensure you can do so quickly and without any problems.

How to position the child

Installing the seat properly is only half the battle; you also have to make sure that you place the child in it correctly in order to ensure full safety.
Step 1: Remove any unnecessary clothing. Extra layers can get in the way of a secure fit. To make sure that the harness apparatus is correctly adjusted to the size of the child, any bulky clothing should be removed.
If you are worried about the child being cold, layers can always be added over top of the child once he or she is properly buckled into the seat.
Step 2: Put the child into the seat. Place the child in the seat so that his or her back and bottom are flush with the seat and the child is not slouching or arching his or her back.
Step 3: Make sure the straps are snug and flat. The straps need to be snug without being too tight and lie flat with no knots or twists.
Step 4: Check the shoulder straps and chest clip. Shoulder straps need to be connected to the car seat at or below the child’s shoulders. The chest clip should be level with the child’s armpits.
Step 5: Have the seat inspected. It is always a good idea to have someone check your work. Find an inspection location near you and have an expert ensure that your child is safe and secure when in the car seat.
The NHTSA even has a handy inspection location finder that you can use.

Have your work checked by a professional

If you want to be 100% certain you have properly installed your car seat, you can have it checked by a professional at a child safety seat inspection location through the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The safety of your child depends on the correct installation of your car seat. Take your time, follow the instructions, and have your work checked by a professional to make sure everything is installed right.
It is imperative to use a child seat every single time a child is in the car. A correctly installed car seat can keep your child safe while driving, whether you have a crash or a quick stop. Correctly installing your car seat is important for safety and keeping your occupants safe should there be a crash.

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