By Jennifer Beall Saxton
Congratulations! You have selected a new car seat for your baby or child, so let’s review some installation tips to ensure that he or she is safely secured. Before you begin, have both your vehicle and car seat manuals handy.
Before installing the seat, adjust the harness straps to the appropriate level. For newborns, the shoulder harness straps should be routed through the car seat at the lowest level. If the car seat is in the rear-facing position, the shoulder harness straps should be routed through the car seat right at or just below the child’s shoulders. If your child is forward-facing, the shoulder harness straps should be right at or just above their shoulders.
Next, determine if you plan to install your child’s car seat using LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) or by using the vehicle seat belt. In most cases, you can only use LATCH if the combined weight of your child and the car seat is below 65 lbs. LATCH usage is also only allowed in designated seating positions in your vehicle, which often does not include the rear center seat. When installing with the vehicle seat belt, you will almost always need to lock the seat belt by pulling it all the way out of the vehicle to ensure it keeps the car seat in place. Tip: When locking the vehicle seat belt, pull the shoulder strap all the way out until you hear a ratcheting sound as you feed it back into the vehicle retractor.
Whether using LATCH or the vehicle seat belt, be sure to route the seat belt or LATCH straps through the correct belt path on the car seat. For example, convertible car seats can be used in both rear and forward facing positions and have different belt paths depending on how the seat is being used and on which position the seat is being used in.
For rear-facing infant seats, there is often a level indicator or level line on the side of the car seat or base, to ensure you have installed it at the proper angle. This is important for infants because the correct level of recline helps promote an optimal airway opening for their wobbly heads. For forward-facing positions, most car seats also require use of the top tether for additional stability, make certain the top tether has been tightened and there is no slack.
The final step, and this is critical, check that the car seat does not move more than one inch in any direction. Always grasp the seat near the belt path when checking for movement. If it does move more than one inch, you need to tighten the belt. Tip: You can also thread LATCH straps from inside some car seats, potentially giving you a better angle to tighten.
Once you feel confident that you have the car seat installed tightly, make sure your children are correctly buckled up. Ensure harness straps are not twisted and that the buckles are not sticky or gummy. When secured, the harness straps should be tight enough that you cannot pinch any of the material between your fingers, vertically. The chest clip should be at armpit level. Remove or secure any objects in the car that could become projectiles in the event of an accident.
Still unsure? Tot Squad’s team of certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians will teach you to how to install your car seat or will check your installation. Tot Squad has a service center at buybuyBABY in Chelsea open Fridays through Tuesdays and visits Face Values & Beyond on the Upper West Side every Wednesday. You can purchase a house call from Tot Squad when buying a car seat from Amazon.com. They also offer virtual car seat checks via video chat to help you with your car seat whenever and wherever its convenient for you!
Jennifer Beall Saxton is the founder and CEO of Tot Squad, a trusted partner of retailers, stroller brands, and car seat brands, that offers car seat cleaning and installation, stroller cleaning and repair, and other baby gear cleaning services. For more information on Tot Squad, visit nyc.thetotsquad.com!