Updated 8/29/2023

Installing a car seat doesn’t require a degree in rocket science, but it can still be overwhelming when your tiny human’s safety is at stake. Your kiddo’s car seat may be your most important purchase, so there’s a lot riding on getting the installation right (literally). Here’s what to do (and what NOT to do) when putting in your child’s car seat.

DO purchase a new car seat or a refurbished car seat certified by the manufacturer. That secondhand car seat you found on Facebook Marketplace might save you a pretty penny, but without a manual or any way of knowing whether it’s been in a crash, it’s risky. If you’re passing down a car seat from your older child, make sure to check the expiration date.

DON'T install your car seat with both the vehicle belts and Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH). Only use one installation method at a time – installing with both might seem *extra* secure, but in reality, it can impact how well the seat does its job: protecting your kiddo. For most car seats, it’s perfectly safe to use either installation method up to a certain weight, usually 40 lbs. Check the manual for LATCH installation weight limits.

DO keep the manuals handy. Both the car seat manual and your vehicle’s manual can tell you important information about how to install your car seat, like when to remove the infant inserts or how to lock the seat belt in your car.

DON'T use any after-market items underneath or around the car seat that could become a projectile in the event of an accident. That includes car seat pads, mirrors, window shades, and other accessories that haven’t been tested with the seat. Similarly, avoid hard-sided toys and cups in the car, and store other potential projectiles safely away when driving.

DO position the straps correctly. The harness straps should come through the car seat slots at or slightly below your child’s shoulders in rear-facing mode and at or slightly above their shoulders in forward-facing mode.

DON'T let the harness straps twist or bubble. The straps should be snug and straight all the way from the shoulders into the buckle. Conduct the pinch test by pinching the harness at your child’s shoulder. If you can grab any of the fabric between two fingers, it’s too loose.

DO position the chest clip properly in a five-point harness. The chest clip should be the same height as your kiddo’s armpits. Any placement above or below can cause serious injury. It’s called a “chest” clip for a reason!

DON'T dress your tot in loose or bulky clothing. Puffy winter coats and thick sweaters can make you think the fit is tight when there’s actually too much space between your little one and the harness.

DO tighten the car seat as much as possible. A properly installed car seat shouldn’t be able to move more than one inch in either direction when installed with or without a base. To test for a secure installation, with one hand grab the car seat at the belt path from the side where the vehicle belt or LATCH threads through the seat.

DON'T panic. You can always consult a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) to walk you through the process or double-check your installation. We offer free virtual installation appointments to help you get it right.