How to Correctly Install Your Carseat


My son recently became a little Houdini, using every ounce of effort to wiggle out of his straps trying to turn around. After pulling over several times for adjustments, I decided it was time to make the switch to turning his carseat around.

Instead of doing it myself, I called the Kansas Highway Patrol and scheduled an appointment for a car seat check. A few people laughed at me, asking can’t you install the car seat yourself?!? Of course I can, but why not take advantage of the experts?

We spend so much time making sure our little ones are buckled into their car seats properly, but I wanted to make sure the seat itself was correctly installed.

I was stunned to learn that up to 90% of car seats are used incorrectly.

Am I the only one who didn’t know that you can force your seat belt to into a locked position? If you pull the whole seat belt out, fasten it and hear a click, then you can feed it back in a locked position!

Thanks to the Trooper who helped me, I now feel confident my son is safe in our vehicles and I would feel comfortable installing it again myself. I asked him to answer a few questions about car seat safety, so we all can feel a little more comfortable knowing our little ones are safe in the back seat.

  1. What’s the #1 mistake parents unknowingly make when installing a car seat?

    According to various reports from National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, car seat, booster seat, and seat belt misuse rates vary from 74 to 90 percent. The majority of misuses he has seen are that seats are secured too loosely in the vehicle. Many instances, caregivers have children in seats past the height or weight requirements or move children to forward facing seats prior to the child outgrowing the rear facing criteria. The safest way to travel is rear facing as long as the child has not outgrown the seat.

  1. How much movement should a car seat have when buckled properly into a car?

    There should be no more than 1 inch movement from side to side or front to rear at the belt path. The belt path is where the seat belt goes through the seat or where the latch connectors pass through.

  2. Why are you not supposed to use both the seat belt and latch system to attach the car seat?

    While it seems like it would be safer, car seats are designed to handle crash forces in specific ways. We know, thanks to federally mandated crash testing, that baby’s car seat will withstand crash forces when installed with the seat belt, or with the LATCH system, we do not know if the same car seat will withstand crash forces when both systems are used at the same time. Using both could put stress on the car seat shell from two different angles during a crash, causing breakage. Using both could also concentrate more crash force on a small area of the car seat.

  3. Where should the harness fit on the child?

    The harness on rear facing seats should be at or below the child’s shoulder level where it exits the seat. On forward facing seats it the opposite. The harness should be at or above the child’s shoulder level. On any seat the harness should be free of twists, tears or any other damage. The harness should be snug and the harness clip (belt retainer clip) should be at armpit level. A way to test the harness snugness is using a vertical pinch test. After snugging the harness, attempt to take a vertical pinch on the harness near the child’s shoulders. If you can get a pinch out of the harness, it needs more tension.

  4. What resources are available to help me install my car seat?

    The Kansas Booster Seat website is a great resource.  Parents or caregivers should always follow the car seat manufacturer’s installation manual. You should also utilize the vehicle owner’s manual that the seat will be installed in as well. Child Passenger Seat Technicians can also be utilized to assist caregivers.

*This article was originally written in 2015