TERMS AND DEFINITIONS

Term Definition
level/angle indicator Built-in car seat feature, which identifies correct rear-facing installation angles. Some car seats also use angle indicators for forward-facing mode. Common types include a color-coded window with a bubble or wheel which responds to gravity, or a molded line or sticker which must be level to the ground.
LATCH Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren - LATCH is an alternative installation method that relies on anchors built into the vehicle and specific connectors provided with your car seat.
locking clip An H-shaped metal clip that can be used to lock the seat belt by preventing the belt from sliding through. A locking clip will only be used when installing a car seat using a seat belt that does not have its own locking mechanism and when the car seat does not have a lock-off.
lower anchors Horizontal bars built into the vehicle seat, located where the bottom and back of the seat cushion intersect (part of the LATCH system).
lower anchor connectors A flexible strap and associated hardware that is used to connect the car seat to the lower anchors in the vehicle (part of the LATCH system).
lockoff A locking mechanism built into a car seat to prevent movement of the car seat relative to the seat belt. A lockoff is used in place of the seat belt’s locking mechanism, or in situations where the seat belt does not have its own locking mechanism.
tether anchor Attachment point built into the vehicle, usually located behind the head rest: either on the back shelf, the back of the vehicle seat, or the floor of the vehicle behind the seat.
tether strap A flexible strap and associated hardware that is used to connect the car seat to the tether anchor in the vehicle.
belt path The path(s) on a car seat where the seat belt or lower anchor strap is routed. For seats that can be installed both rear and forward-facing there will be two separate belt paths.

POSITIONING YOUR CAR SEAT

CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 13 SHOULD RIDE IN THE BACK SEAT

The front seat puts passengers closer to the windshield, frontal air bags, and closest to the impact in the event of a frontal collision. If your child must sit in the front seat, the vehicle seat should be moved back as far as possible to keep the child away from the dashboard.


NEVER INSTALL A REAR-FACING CAR SEAT IN A POSITION THAT HAS A FRONTAL AIRBAG

If an air bag deploys in a crash, the force of the air bag contacting the car seat could leave a child severely injured or worse.


THE REAR-CENTER POSITION OFFERS GREAT PROTECTION - AND NOT JUST FOR CHILDREN!

In the event of a side-impact, the center position keeps your child away from taking a direct hit from either door.


THE SAFEST SEATING POSITION
IS THE ONE IN WHICH
THE CHILD SEAT FITS BEST

Whether you wish to use LATCH or the vehicle’s seat belt to install your child’s car seat may determine what seating position is possible. Not all vehicles have lower anchors in the center seating position. While “borrowing” anchors from the outboard lower anchors may seem like a reasonable way to install a car seat in the center position, it may not be allowed by the car seat and/or vehicle manufacturer. If you’re determined to have your child seated in the center, an installation using the seat belt may be the only approved method per the manufacturer. Likewise, if you’re determined to use lower anchors to install your seat, an outboard seat may be the only approved position per the manufacturer. Be sure to read the vehicle AND car seat instruction manuals to determine accepted installation positions and methods. If you’re installing a forward-facing seat you’ll also need to be aware of where the tether anchors are located. Vehicles manufactured after September 2000 are required to have three tether anchors; if your vehicle was manufactured before 2000 you may not have a tether anchor available in all seating positions. Having a forward-facing car seat installed with the tether can reduce the forward motion of your child’s head by 4”-6” in the event of a collision, so be sure to install your child’s forward-facing seat in a position that has a tether anchor available.


Before you buy a seat, make sure it will fit in your vehicle. Many retailers will allow you to test out a floor model of their car seats in your vehicle, take advantage of that and make sure the car seat you're considering is compatible with your vehicle.

INSTALLING YOUR CAR SEAT

Car seats can be installed into a vehicle using the vehicles seat belt or LATCH system. Neither method is inherently more or less safe than the other, so it’s important to determine which method works best for your seat and your vehicle.


Seat belts are meant to restrain a full-grown adult in the event of a collision, so it’s safe to say that they can restrain the weight of your child and his car seat. When installing a car seat using the vehicles seat belt, it is important that the seat belt be “locked”. All vehicles manufactured after 1996 are required to have seat belts with a locking feature. You know when you have to hit the brakes too quickly and your seat belt locks up, keeping you from moving forward? That’s the locking feature and it’s meant to keep you restrained in the event of a collision. You probably also notice that until you hit the brakes your seat belt is able to move freely. Car seats are NOT meant to move freely, which is why the seat belt needs to be locked. Generally a vehicles seat belt can be locked by pulling the belt out completely, which engages the lock, then feeding the belt back into the slot until it reaches the desired length (you’ll hear a ratcheting sound as the belt winds back up). If this method doesn’t work for you, check your vehicles owner manual to determine the appropriate way to lock your seat belts. Many car seats have a locking mechanism built into them (called a “seat belt lock-off” or simply “lock-off”), which may allow you to bypass your vehicles locking mechanism - read your car seat instructions to determine the best method for securing your car seat.


The LATCH system is an alternate method for installing a car seat. It was implemented in all vehicles manufactured in 2002 and beyond, so if your vehicle was manufactured prior to 2002 you may not have any LATCH components available for installation. Using LATCH can sometimes be simpler for caregivers, and allows them to install their child's seat quickly and correctly each time. However, vehicles equipped with the LATCH system may not allow all seating positions to use lower anchors, and even seating positions that do allow it may have obstacles to overcome in order to achieve a tight installation. If you choose to use the LATCH system, be aware that this system has a weight limit. If the combined weight of the child and the car seat is greater than 65 pounds, you should use the seat belt to install the seat instead of LATCH.


Below are some basic steps for installing a car seat. Each car seat and vehicle is different so additional steps may be required in order to incorporate features specific to your car seat or vehicle.

TO INSTALL A SEAT USING YOUR VEHICLES SEAT BELT FOLLOW THE STEPS BELOW:

  1. Read your vehicles owner's manual and car seat instructions. Pay close attention to the way your vehicles seat belts “lock”; this may be achieved by using a locking mechanism built into the vehicle seat belt, the car seat, or by using a special locking clip provided with your car seat.
  2. Place the car seat on the vehicle seat in the position which will give you the best installation based on your vehicle, installation method, and car seat. The base of your car seat should be able to sit flat on the vehicle seat, and there should be minimal interaction with head rests, front row seats, and seat belt hardware. You may need to try several seating positions to determine which is best.
  3. Thread the seat belt through the appropriate belt path, and make sure the seat belt is not twisted. Convertible and 3-in-1 seats will usually have separate belt paths for forward and rear-facing installations.
  4. Buckle the seat belt.
  5. Put the seat belt into locking mode, if available. If your seat belt does not lock, use an alternative method such as a seat belt lock-off or a locking clip.
  6. Press down firmly on the car seat and tighten the seat belt. Grab the car seat at the belt path and pull on it firmly; it should not move side-to-side or front-to-back more than 1 inch. If the car seat is moving more than 1 inch, continue to tighten the seat belt.
  7. If you are installing a rear-facing car seat, be sure to check that the recline angle indicator(s) is within the appropriate range. If you are installing a convertible or 3-in-1 seat, there may be various recline angles allowed in each orientation. Check your manufacturer instructions to be sure you have selected an appropriate angle.
  8. For forward-facing seats, connect the top tether strap to the tether anchor and tighten it until there is no longer slack. Occasionally a car seat manufacturer will allow for a tether anchor to be used in a rear-facing installation; read your instruction manual to be sure.
  9. Secure your child in the car seat using the 5-point harness. Tighten the harness until it fits snugly on your child. You shouldn’t be able to pinch any excess material on the harness straps. If your child is in a rear-facing seat, the harness shoulder straps should be at or below shoulder height. If your child is in a forward-facing seat, the harness shoulder straps should be at or above shoulder height.
  10. Adjust the chest clip so that it is at armpit level on your child.

TO INSTALL A SEAT USING LATCH FOLLOW THE STEPS BELOW:

  1. Read your vehicles owner's manual and car seat instructions to help locate the lower anchors and tether anchors (the tether anchor will not be used in a rear-facing installation unless specified by the car seat manufacturer) and determine how to use the LATCH connectors.
  2. Place the car seat on the vehicle seat in the position which will give you the best installation based on your vehicle, installation method, and car seat. The base of your car seat should be able to sit flat on the vehicle seat, and there should be minimal interaction with head rests, front row seats, and seat belt hardware. You may need to try several seating positions to determine which is best.
  3. Ensure that the lower anchor straps are threaded through the appropriate belt path. Convertible and 3-in-1 seats will usually have separate belt paths for forward and rear-facing installations.
  4. Connect the lower anchor connectors to the lower anchors on your vehicle seat, and make sure that the straps are not twisted.
  5. Press down firmly on the car seat and tighten the lower anchor straps. Grab the car seat at the belt path and pull on it firmly; it should not move side-to-side or front-to-back more than 1 inch. If the car seat is moving more than 1 inch, continue to tighten the lower anchor straps. Occasionally it is difficult to get a tight enough installation based on the seating position and distance between the lower anchor points. You may need to move your child’s seat to another seating position or install the seat using the vehicle seat belt.
  6. If you are installing a rear-facing car seat, be sure to check that the recline angle indicator(s) is within the appropriate range. If you are installing a convertible or 3-in-1 seat, there may be various recline angles allowed in each orientation. Check your manufacturer instructions to be sure you have selected an appropriate angle.
  7. For forward-facing seats, connect the top tether strap to the tether anchor and tighten it until there is no longer slack. Occasionally a car seat manufacturer will allow for a tether anchor to be used in a rear-facing installation; read your instruction manual to be sure.
  8. Secure your child in their car seat using the 5-point harness. Tighten the harness until it fits snugly on your child, You shouldn’t be able to pinch any excess material on the harness straps. If your child is in a rear-facing seat, the harness shoulder straps should be at or below shoulder height. If your child is in a forward-facing seat, the harness shoulder straps should be at or above shoulder height.
  9. Adjust the chest clip so that it is at armpit level on your child.

INSTALLATION CHECKLIST

  • Right seat:
    Is your child in the right seat based on his age, weight, and height? Is the seat expired?
  • Right place:
    All children should ride in the back seat until they are at least 13. The safest spot in a vehicle is the center-rear seat, but only if the car seat fits appropriately and can be installed correctly there.
  • Right direction:
    Children should remain rear-facing as long as possible! Keep your child in a rear-facing seat until he outgrows it, and then move him to a forward-facing seat (and don’t forget the tether).
  • Inch test:
    Grab your car seat near the belt path - can you move your car seat side-to-side or front-to-back more than 1 inch? A seat that is installed correctly will not move more than 1 inch. Be sure that your seat belt or lower anchor straps are locked, an unlocked belt/strap is unsafe and will allow the seat to move too much.
  • Pinch test:
    Try to pinch the harness material near your child’s shoulders and hips; if you can gather the fabric of the harness between your fingers, then the harness is too loose.
  • Clip it:
    Make sure the chest clip placed at armpit level on your child.

WRAP UP

96%

96% of parents THINK they have correctly installed their child's car seat.

Up to 90%

Between 74%-90% of car seats, booster seats, and seat belts are misused in a way that could increase a child’s risk of injury in the event of a collision.

YOU CAN KNOW THAT YOUR CAR SEAT IS INSTALLED CORRECTLY BY GETTING IT CHECKED BY A CERTIFIED CHILD PASSENGER SAFETY TECHNICIAN (CPST).

Find a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician in your area.