How Do I Securely Install a Car Seat?

Each car seat model works slightly differently, but most car seats fasten in to the car through anchors or seat belt straps. You should consult your car seat’s manual to determine which specific method your seat uses.

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Understanding Car Seat Types

How to install a car seat properly depends on the type of car seat you need to install. Car seats fall into three main types: rear-facing car seats, front-facing car seats, and booster seats.

Rear-Facing Car Seats

Rear-facing car seats must always be secured in the back seat, and they use either an anchor system or a base that can be secured with a seat belt.

Front-Facing Car Seats

When children outgrow the manufacturer’s recommended top height and weight limits for a child seat, they are ready for a front-facing car seat. These seats can also be secured by either an anchor or a seat belt system.

Booster Seats

Once children outgrow the front-facing car seat, they will use a booster seat. Boosters are usually affixed using the vehicle’s installed safety belts.

Installing Your Car Seat or Booster Seat Safely

No matter what type of car or booster seat you have, installing a car seat will always involve certain standard guidelines. These steps will ensure a secure car seat installation.

  • Read the Owners Manual: Every car seat or booster seat comes with thorough instructions from the manufacturer. This manual will include detailed information about how to install your car seat. Don’t skip ahead and try to guess about the proper installation. The best way to securely install a car seat is by thoroughly reading and following the directions provided by the manufacturer.
  • Review Your Car’s Manual: Cars come with different car seat safety features that will help you securely install your car seat. Some have anchors built in to the seats that are used to secure a car seat. Refer to your vehicle’s manual to find out if your car has anchors and where they are located.
  • Put Your Car Seat in the Right Spot: The back seat is the safest place in the car for children to ride. Rear-facing car seats should always be installed in the back seat, but kids should stay in the back after graduating from rear-facing seats, too—even in a front-facing or booster seat. If possible, place the car seat in the center of the back seat, which is the safest spot in the vehicle. Car seats should never be placed in seats with active airbags.
  • Lock Seat Belts: If your car doesn’t come with lower anchors, check the owners manual to find out how to lock the seat belt. Locking the seat belt once the car seat is installed adds extra security and ensures that the belt won’t come loose.
  • Use the Tether Strap: Some front-facing car seats come with an extra strap included as an additional safety measure. The tether is usually located at the top of the seat and should be attached to the vehicle to prevent head movement in the event of a crash.
  • Tighten It Up: Once the car seat is installed and affixed to the anchors or seat belt, make sure everything is as tight as possible. Wiggle the seat back and forth and from side to side. If it moves more than one inch in any direction, you need to tighten up the restraints that secure the seat to the car.
  • Adjust the Angles: When using rear-facing car seats, you need to make sure that the base of the seat is level. If the base is angled, the child’s head can fall forward, making them less safe during vehicle travel. Most car seats have level indicators on the side of the seat to help you identify if the base is not level.

Keeping your child safe whether you’re on the road or at home is a top priority. Be sure to save this child safety seat how-to, and bookmark other safety resources, to make sure you’re prepared for safety in every situation. We also have a helpful guide to choosing a reliable car seat or booster seat, so read through that to ensure you find a safe seat for your little one

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Celeste Tholen
Written by
Celeste Tholen
Celeste has dedicated her decade-long career to reporting and reviews that help people make well-informed decisions. She oversees editorial strategy and production for SafeWise, with a goal to help people find the information they need to make their homes and lives safer. Prior to SafeWise, she worked as an editor and reporter for KSL and Deseret News. She continues to report on local news as a volunteer with the community paper. For the last six years, she’s led a Girl Scout troop, teaching girls about safety and preparing for whatever life throws their way.

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