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’s manuals handy, as you will need to reference both several times.
Before installing the seat, adjust the harness straps to the appropriate level. For newborns, the infant seat should start at the lowest slot. If the car seat is in the rear-facing position, the shoulder straps should begin at or just below the child’s shoulders. If your child is forward-facing, the shoulder straps should be positioned at or just above their shoulders.
Next, determine if you plan to install your child’s car seat using LATCH (which stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) or by using the seat belt. In most cases, you can only use LATCH if the combined weight of your child and the car seat is below 75 lbs. LATCH usage is also only allowed in designated seating positions in your vehicle, which often does not include the center back seat. When installing with a 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.
Whether using LATCH or the seat belt, be sure to route the seat belt or LATCH straps through the correct belt path on the car seat, as most convertible car seats that can be used in both rear and forward facing positions will have different belt paths depending on how the seat is being used.
For rear-facing infant seats, there is often a level indicator on the side of the car seat, to ensure you have installed it at the proper angle. This is important for infants because the correct level of recline helps promotes 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, so ensure this has been tightened and there is no slack.
The final step, and this is critical, check to see if the car seat moves 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 an inch of the material between your fingers, vertically. The chest clip should be at arm pit level. Remove or secure any objects in the car that could become projectiles in the event of an accident.
Phew, that’s a lot! 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 pops-up at a variety of baby gear retail locations in NYC, and they also have their own location in Midtown East as well.
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.