There’s a lot more to installing a car seat than just tossing it in the back seat and fastening the buckles. Follow these tips to help make sure your car seat will keep your child safe and secure.
Years ago, installing a car seat usually required complicated maneuvers with seat belts to properly secure the seat. But almost every vehicle built after Sept. 1, 2002, is equipped with the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system. This convenient system features anchors between the cushions and behind the seat, making it easier and simpler to safely secure a car seat.
Yet studies still show that most car seats are not installed correctly. This is especially important because vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Start with the Manual
To correctly install a car seat, start at the beginning: Thoroughly read the car seat’s manual — and make sure you fully understand the directions. It sounds basic, but each model of a child safety seat is different, and the manual is the best way to learn its dos and don’ts.
Register Your Seat
Mail the seat’s registration card back. The information you provide allows the manufacturer to contact you with recall or safety news.
Get the Dimensions Right
Experts consistently stress the importance of making sure that your car seat fits your child’s age, weight, and height. Car seats are built to very specific dimensions, so you want to be sure it fits your child just right. Smaller infants or those with special needs might require a car bed. Your doctor should advise when a special seat is necessary.
Face the Right Way
Car seats should always be installed in the back seat of the vehicle, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics‘ 2013 recommendations, all infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are 2 years old or until they reach the maximum height and weight allowed by the manufacturer of their car seat. The AAP recommends that children who are over 2 years old or those who have outgrown their rear-facing car seats use a forward-facing car seat with a harness until they reach the highest weight allowed by the forward-facing car seat’s manufacturer.
The next step is a booster seat until the child reaches a height of 4 feet, 9 inches, according to the AAP recommendations. After that, the child should sit in the back seat and use lap and shoulder seat belts, the AAP recommends.
It’s All About the Angles
It’s also important to position the seat at the proper angle-some car seats sit at 45-degree angles, while others use lower angles. Most car seats feature a built-in level, so users can set the correct angle. And several smartphones have apps that can help guide you in setting the correct angle.
Once you’ve installed the seat, give it several strong pushes at the base to ensure it’s secure. A correctly installed seat shouldn’t move more than an inch from side to side or front to back. And don’t just be satisfied with your own tests: There are many inspection stations throughout the country where officials will ensure the seat is secure. The stations are located at police stations and Secretary of State offices. Also, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides a location finder tool here. Hospitals often have car seat technicians on staff, too.
Even after an accident, you might be able to reuse the car seat. Conventional wisdom used to be that car seats should be thrown away after even the most minor accident. But now, the NHTSA recommends keeping your car seat if all of the following criteria are met:
Car seats should be replaced after a moderate or severe crash. Car seats are largely self-contained, but consider purchasing a “seat saver” to put under the car seat if your car has leather seats. It will help keep your car’s seat clean and prevent the car seat from sliding.
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