How To Install a Baby Car Seat

Until 2002, installing a baby car seat was a somewhat complicated procedure. In 2002, LATCHES appeared making installations much easier.

Child car seat install

Until 2002 installing a baby car seat was a somewhat complicated procedure as you had to rely solely on the car’s seatbelt system to secure the seat in the vehicle. In 2002, though, the LATCHES (latches, anchors and tethers for children) system. This system not only standardized car-seat installation but also made installations easier, provided you followed the steps exactly.

What happens if you don’t follow the installation steps as laid out? The answer is very simple, the seat won’t be installed properly and your baby won’t be protected very well.

Since the installation is so important, it is a good idea to review proper installation techniques. At the same time, it is a good idea to review the best place to install the car-seat.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car seats are installed based on the age of the babies involved. For example, infant seats must be installed in the rear seat area facing the rear of the vehicle. This is the safest location for infants. Convertible car seats must also be installed in the rear seat area, as must booster seats.

Never install a car seat in the front seat is it will be too close to the passenger airbag. A rapidly deploying airbag can damage the car seat and injure the baby riding in the seat. To help you install the car seat correctly in the spot you choose, here’s a suggested installation procedure:


Open the car seat box and remove the seat and instruction booklet.


Read the installation instructions carefully.


Locate the car seat hold-down anchors in the back seat of your car. You should find six, located in pairs of two, along the crease between the seat bottom and the seat back.


Looking at the car seat, locate the three anchor
straps. They are located as follows, on the left and right sides of the seat and at the top center of the rear panel.


Looking at the car’s rear seat, determine where you want to place the car seat.


Place the car seat in the spot you have chosen so that it is on the front part of the rear seat. The rear must face the rear end of the car and the seatbelts must be clear of the car seat.


Line up the left-hand anchor strap with the left-hand hold-down anchor and snap the strap into place.


Line up the right-hand anchor strap with the right-hand hold-down anchor and snap the strap into place


Locate the center hold-down anchor on the rear deck and attach the center anchor strap or straps (some car seats have two anchor straps mounted in a harness). The center anchor strap must remain clear and as taut as possible to prevent any movement.


Pull the anchor straps as tightly as possible to prevent any car seat movement.


Complete the installation, using the appropriate rear seatbelt. If you are installing the car seat on the right, use the right-hand seatbelt. If it is on the left, use the left-hand seatbelt. If it is in the center, use the center seatbelt.


Pull the seatbelt from its retainer until it hits the stop.


Thread the seatbelt in front of the car seat and snap it closed.


Pull the seatbelt so that it is tight against the front of the car seat.


Holding the seatbelt in position, let the retainer take up any slack so that when the slack is gone the seatbelt is tight.

That completes the installation. If you take your time and follow the suggested installation steps you will have little trouble installing the car seat correctly.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that more than half of the car seat installations it views are incorrect. The agency views installations at a network of inspection sites it maintains across the country. They are manned by inspectors whom you can contact to look at your installation and determine if it is done correctly. If it is not, the inspector will fix it.

Marc Stern has spent more than 40 years in and around cars. His work has included answering motorist questions, motor vehicle reviews and evaluation and writing dealers, consumer and industry news pieces. In addition, Mr. Stern has contributed to well-known automotive publications including Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek and Old Cars Weekly, among others.

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