According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids buckled securely in properly installed car seats experienced a 71% to 82% reduced risk of injury. This makes it clear that seat belts can save lives. However, learning how to put a car seat in your car is important to ensure your kids benefit from their protection. 

I remember when I was a new mother, I struggled to come to grips with the installation mechanisms of car seats. Even though I followed all the steps in the instruction manuals, the seats would move too much when I took sharp turns or braked instantly. I read many articles with instructions to secure car seats properly, but none gave me a stepwise approach I could easily follow. 

Let me introduce you to the approach I’ve developed so you don’t have to go through the same ordeal I did. I will explain the LATCH system used in most vehicles today and how to put a car seat in your car. My stepwise process gives clear instructions on how you should install infant seats, toddler seats, and booster seats. 

LATCH – Lower Anchors And Tethers For Children

LATCH is a system developed in the late 90s and early 2000s to securely install car seats without seat belts. LATCH is found in most vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002. These vehicles have at least two LATCH-equipped seating positions in the rear seat. The system has two components: 

  • Anchors: Each seating position has two small bars called anchors. These anchors are used to install rear-facing and forward-facing car seats. The anchors are two small bars – one for each seating position. 
  • Top tether anchors are metal loops near the rear windows on the rear shelf area. Minivans and SUVs may have anchor points under the seat, on the floor, or the ceiling. 

Child seats installed using the LATCH system use two components – lower anchor connectors and tether strap and hook.

Lower Anchor Connectors

While seat belts are a secure way to install a car seat, I find it challenging and often time-consuming. Use the lower anchor connectors when you don’t want to use the vehicle’s seat belt. 

You cannot use both. If both the seat belt and lower anchors are used, stress is placed on the wrong areas of the car seat during a crash. Most manufacturers advise that car seats do not function properly when using the seat belt and lower anchor. 

Few booster seats are exceptions that are secured to the car and allow a seat belt to be fastened across your child’s body. But most booster seats are secured using the vehicle’s seat belt.

Most car seats with a 5-point harness have a lower anchor strap with hooks on each end that are connected to the vehicle’s lower anchors. Some seats have two anchor straps with a hook each on one end. 

Tether Strap And Hook

Car seats that use the LATCH system have a tether strap with a hook. Connect this hook to the tether anchor in the vehicle. When I apply brakes at very high speeds, the force creates involuntary head movements for my kids. But if the tether strap is securely hooked, these movements are eliminated.

Tether straps reduce the movement of your child’s head in the event of a crash, lowering the risk of injuries from colliding with hard parts in the vehicle. 

How To Safely Install An Infant And Toddler Car Seat

install car seat

Here are my step-by-step instructions on installing an infant car seat safely. 

  1. Read the owner’s manuals: I recommend reading the car seat manual and your vehicle owner’s handbook. Car seat manuals describe the seat’s unique features and installation mechanisms, while the vehicle owner’s handbook describes where the LATCH connectors are fitted and how to use them.
  2. Hook the anchors: Infant car seats have only lower anchor connectors and don’t include tether straps. If the seat has a base, you can find the anchors on the base, not the seat itself. Fasten the seat’s lower anchor connectors into the vehicle’s lower anchors. 
  3. Hook tether straps: Toddler seats facing the forward direction include a tether strap. Hook the strap’s tether anchor connector to the tether anchor under the seat, on the floor, on the top, or on the rear shelf of your car. 
  4. Check the straps: Check if you’ve hooked the connectors in the correct direction and the strap lays flat on the seat and is not twisted.
  5. Tighten and adjust: Follow the instructions in the car seat manual to tighten and adjust the lower anchor straps and the tether strap (for forward-facing toddler seats only). Use your upper body weight to press down on the car seat as you tighten the lower connector anchors for a tight fit. 
  6. Check the fit: After installing the seat, check that the seat does not move more than an inch side-to-side or forward. 

I’ve always used the six steps above as an effective checklist to install car seats for my children and drive with peace of mind. 

How To Secure A Newborn In The Car Seat

install a car seat

Are you nervous about how to put your newborn in a car seat? Then read on. Once you’ve secured the car seat, place your baby in the seat and follow my steps below to ensure your little one is safe and comfortable.

  1. Set up harness straps: Place your baby’s arms and shoulders gently through the harness straps. The straps should be slightly between or below your baby’s shoulders.
  2. Buckle your baby: Attach the crotch buckle and chest clip. The crotch buckle should be as close as possible to your baby’s body to avoid gaps that they can slouch into.
  3. Adjust harness straps: Slide the chest clip down to your baby’s belly and tighten the harness straps. Ensure the straps on your baby’s body are secured, snug, and flat, not twisted. Move the chest clip to the level of your baby’s armpits.
  4. Swaddle your baby: I could never drive in peace, doubting if my baby was warm enough in the backseat. You can swaddle your baby by using blankets over the harness straps. Never place blankets or winter jackets below the harness.

Did You Know? 

Placing blankets, extra clothing, or shawls underneath the harness doesn’t allow it to fit tight enough to ensure a safe ride for your baby. 

How To Safely Install A Booster Seat

Switch to a booster car seat once your child outgrows infant and toddler seats. Follow my simple steps and learn how to put a booster seat in your car and secure your kid.

  1. Place the seat: Place your booster in the backseat of your vehicle and adjust it until it’s flush with the seat. 
  2. Adjust the seat belt: Have your child sit, pull the vehicle seat belt across their shoulder, and buckle it. The lap belt should go under both car seat armrests and lay flat and snug over your child’s upper thighs. The shoulder belt should go under only one armrest and lay snug over the center of your child’s shoulders. 
  3. Position the shoulder belt: Position the shoulder belt into the belt-positioning clip provided with the booster car seat. The clip’s strap should lay across your child’s back.
  4. Tighten the shoulder belt: Pull up on the shoulder belt to tighten and check if your kid is comfortable. Check if the top of your child’s shoulder is even with the line on the belt-positioning clip to ensure a snug fit.
  5. Check your child’s position: Instruct your child never to slouch. Never put the shoulder belt behind the child’s back or under their arm. 

I recommend thoroughly reading the owner’s manuals of your car seat and vehicle before installing it. I remember the anxiety of driving on a trip after discovering I had incorrectly installed my child’s car seat. Reading the owner’s manual again helped me avoid simple anchoring and strapping mistakes.

Importance Of Manufacture And Expiry Dates

install a car seat

According to car seat manufacturer Graco, car seats can be used only for a defined period, typically 7 to 10 years. Traversing the challenging years of parenthood, I’ve noticed numerous changes in safety technology, vehicles, and regulations. Car seats are used almost every day, and they undergo wear and tear. These changes render old car seats obsolete. 

You won’t be criminally charged for using an expired car seat. But check the expiration date and upgrade when the seat has completed its intended lifecycle. If you plan to use a hand-me-down car seat, check its expiry and if the manufacturer ever recalled it. 

Look for the exact expiry date or the date of manufacture (DOM) on the shell of your car seat. If the DOM is given, check the owner’s manual to see how many years after manufacture the seat can be used. 

Conclusion

This article shows that car seats can be installed safely using a stepwise approach. Whether you’re driving your precious newborn home for the first time or taking a long trip with your preschooler, you now know how to secure them comfortably in the backseat of your car. I recommend going through the car seat timeline to understand which car seat suits your kid and how installation mechanisms vary. Always read the owner’s manual and drive safely!

FAQs

1. “What are the proper steps to install a car seat in a vehicle?”

Follow the steps below to install a car seat in a vehicle.

  • Read the owner’s manuals.
  • Hook the anchors.
  • Hook the tether straps.
  • Check the straps.
  • Tighten and adjust the straps to get a comfortable fit.
  • Ensure the seat does not move over an inch sidewards or forwards.

2. “What safety precautions should be taken when putting a car seat in a car?”

Always read the owner’s manual before putting a car seat in a car. Ensure the anchor connectors are hooked securely into the car’s LATCH anchors of the vehicle. The anchor straps must be flat and not twisted. Forward-facing seats include tethers that must be safely secured into the vehicle’s tether anchor. Check that the seat does not move over an inch side-to-side or forward. Tighten and adjust the straps on your kid to achieve a secure and comfortable fit. 

3. “How can I securely place a newborn in a car seat?”

Follow the steps below to securely put your newborn in their car seat.

  • Set up the harness straps.
  • Buckle in your baby.
  • Adjust the harness straps for a safe and comfortable fit.
  • Swaddle your baby with a blanket over the harness and not underneath it.

4. “What are the guidelines for correctly installing a booster seat in a car?”

Follow the guidelines below for correctly installing a booster seat.

  • Place the seat in the backseat of the car.
  • The lap belt of the vehicle’s seat belt should move under both armrests and rest flat on your child’s lap. The shoulder belt should move over the center of your child’s shoulders and under only one armrest.
  • Buckle the seat belt.
  • Use the belt-positioning clip to position and tighten the shoulder belt.
  • Instruct your child never to slouch or put the shoulder belt behind their back or under their arm.
Author

Welcome to my car seat blog! As a mom of 3, I put together with other hard-working moms a highly informative one-stop car seat resource, full with many reviews and buyer guides. I hope you find it invaluable. Thank you for trusting me & my team! - Keren

Keren Simanova

Welcome to my car seat blog! As a mom of 3, I put together with other hard-working moms a highly informative one-stop car seat resource, full with many reviews and buyer guides. I hope you find it invaluable. Thank you for trusting me & my team! - Keren