Car Seat Installation Mistakes

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Installing your car seat may seem like a simple task, but did you know that up to 80% of parents use or install their car seats incorrectly? If you’ve taken a look at your car seat manual, you’ll quickly understand why. These manuals are often hard to understand or interpret. In today’s blog, we are going over four of the most common car seat installation mistakes. This blog does not, in any way, replace the need to have your car seat installation inspected by a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). To find a local CPST check out the SafeKids World Wide website.

Using LATCH in the Middle

All cars manufactured after 2012 are required to have the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren)  system. The LATCH system often makes car seat installation easier but is also widely misused.  Today, we will specifically be talking about the lower anchors. The lower anchors are the bars in between the bottom of the back seat and the back of the seat where the car seat anchors attach to the vehicle. Lower anchors are designed to be used in pairs that are exactly 11 inches apart from each other. Parents and caregivers often install their car seat in the middle seat using LATCH as they assume this is the safest position for their child. However, this is called “LATCH borrowing” and is prohibited by nearly all car seat or vehicle manufacturers.

Solution: Car seats installed in the middle seat should be installed using the seatbelt. There are very few exceptions to this, but exceptions include vehicles with five lower anchors available such as the Honda CRV.

Using the Seatbelt AND the LATCH

Many parents believe they are being extra safe by using both the seat belt AND the LATCH during their car seat installation. Contrary to popular belief, this is untrue and potentially dangerous. There are very, very few car seats that allow the use of both restraints at the same time. Furthermore, there are even fewer vehicle manufacturers that allow this configuration.

Solution: The safest way to install your seat is using the LATCH or seat belt, whichever fits best, but not both.

Not Installing Tight Enough

Car seats should be installed tight enough that they do not move more than one inch from side to side at the belt path (where the seat or LATCH belt is going through the seat.) Parents and caregivers often have trouble getting their car seats installation tight enough because of awkward angles and lack of experience. Here are some links to our favorite tips:

Solution: When installing the seat you want to push it toward the bight (the crack between the back and bottom of the seat) and down. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is to get behind the seat and push it IN with your knee and down with one hand as you use your other hand to tighten the belt or LATCH.

Incorrect Recline

On the side of every car seat with a rear-facing capability is text that says “This line should be level to ground” or a close variation of this. It is crucial that the line be level after car seat installation as newborns have very heavy heads and if the line is not level it could mean the car seat is tipped too far forward, which puts your child at risk for positional asphyxiation. Many convertible car seats and bases have level indicators with bubbles or rollers.

Solution: Use the recline foot on your base or to achieve the proper recline. Alternatively, you may use pool noodles or rolled up towels (as permitted) to accomplish the same task.