How To Install a Child Safety Seat

The best protection for your child in a crash is a properly secured child safety seat. But, despite the importance of proper installation, research shows that 7 out of 10 child safety seats are not installed correctly.

Not all car seats fit every car. For more information about buying the right car seat for your car, visit our How to Buy a Child Safety Seat page.

To make sure your child's car seat is properly secured:

The LATCH System

Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH, is a way to install a car seat by attaching its anchors and tethers to the metal latches/hooks in the back seats of vehicles manufactured after 2002.

NOTE: In 2014, a new NHTSA regulation will take effect that requires car seat manufactures to inform consumers of LATCH system weight limits. When the combined weight of your child and the car seat reach the LATCH system's weight limit of 65 pounds, you should use your vehicle's seat belt to secure the car seat.

Installation Techniques for Infant Car Seats

Always read the instruction manual and safety procedures before you install and use your car seat. Installation techniques will vary.

Included below are helpful tips.

Car Seat Installations Tips

The main types of infant car seats include:

  • Rear-facing seats, which are required for all children up to 12 months old
  • Convertible car seats, which are designed to be modified as your child grows and may include more gadgets and straps that aid with restraint.

When installing a car seat:

  • Place it in the back seat.
  • Ensure the seatbelt straps/tethers are tight. You should not be able to move any strap, harness, or the entire seat itself more than an inch.
  • Make sure there are no twists in the seat belt straps.
  • Make sure the base of the car seat is at the correct recline angle. Many car seats come with a built-in adjuster or angle indicator.
  • If you have a vehicle manufactured prior to 1997, you may need to use a locking clip, which:
    • Is used to create a fixed length of webbing on a lap/shoulder belt when there is no other way to lock the belt.
    • Must be positioned within 1 inch from the latch plate.
  • If your car seat came with a base, the carrier handle should be out of the way when the car seat is attached. Read your car seat's instructions.

NOTE: The NHTSA recommends that you keep your child in the rear-facing seat until he or she exceeds the seat recommendations for height and/or weight.

How to Secure Your Child

Read your car seat's specific instructions on fastening your child in the seat.

When securing your child in the car seat, make sure:

  • Your child sits with his or her back and bottom flat against the car seat.
  • The carrier straps are tight and the harness clip is even with the baby's shoulders or armpits.
  • You buckle your child in the seat first before placing coats or blankets over the harness.
  • You buckle the harness and the chest-clip.
  • The straps are snug, with no more than 1 finger's slack.
  • There are no twists in the harness strap.

If there is a gap between the buckle and your child's groin, try placing a rolled washcloth or diaper in the space after your child has been securely fastened into the car seat for a more secure fit.

Installing Forward-Facing and Booster Seats

As your child grows and reaches the rear-facing car seat's weight limits, the car seat should face forward and eventually be replaced by a booster seat. Before installing any car seat, read the owner's manual.

Forward-Facing Car Seats

When installing a forward-facing car seat:

  • Keep it in the back seat.
  • Read the manufacture's instructions.
  • Secure the car seat with the LATCH system until the combined weight of the seat and your child reach the weight limit.
  • If you do not have a LATCH system, carefully thread the seatbelt through the belt path.
  • Ensure that the seatbelt straps are tight and the car seat has less than an inch of movement, if securing the seat with your vehicle's seat belt.

Booster Seats

When your child out-grows the car seat, they should begin using a booster seat.

There main types of booster seats include:

  • No-back, which must be used with a lap and shoulder belt and fastened to a seat with a headrest that sits above your child's ears.
  • High-back, which must be fastened with a lap and shoulder seat belt and can be used in seats with or without headrests.
  • Combination, which can be modified as your child grows.

When you install a booster seat,

  • Have your child sit in the booster seat before securing it.
  • Pull the seat belt across your child's body and buckle it in place.
  • Adjust the seat belt so it fits snugly across your child's thighs rather than the stomach.
  • Adjust the shoulder belt so it rests snugly across your child's chest.
  • Periodically check the seatbelt.

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