How to Install a Car Seat + Other Child Passenger Safety Tips

Did you know a car seat can reduce your child’s risk of injury in a crash by 71-82%? Despite the clear safety benefits of car seats, only 46% are installed correctly according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

To help you keep your child safe, we go over how to correctly install car seats in front- and rear-facing positions—plus other must-know safety tips for child passengers.

Infant (Rear-Facing) Car Seats

#1 Choose the Seatbelt or Lower Anchors

Depending on the car seat you choose, you’ll need to attach it to the back seat of your car using the car seat’s lower anchors or by threading the seat belt through the bottom of the car seat. Note: Even though it may feel more secure, you shouldn’t use both methods unless the car seat manufacturer states that it’s safe. 

#2 Place the Base of the Car Seat in the Car

You want to place the base of the car seat where you’ll get the tightest fit, but make sure you always refer back to the car seat manual for guidance. While a center fit is usually ideal for infant car seats, it may not be allowed by the manufacturer. 

#3 Lock the Anchors or Thread the Seat Belt

Snap the car seat’s hooks onto the designated metal anchors that stick out near your car’s seat belts. Refer back to your manual to ensure you’ve secured them correctly. If you use the seatbelt, thread the belt through the car seat base and buckle it, checking that there aren’t any twists or knots in the belt. 

#4 Tighten the Connection

Press firmly onto the center of the car seat and remove any slack in the seat belt or the anchor straps. From there, gently shake the car seat. If it moves more than an inch in any direction, press down again to tighten the seat belt or straps.

#5 Check the Incline Angle

Babies need to be sitting at the correct angle to keep their airway open, which is why many car seats come with level indicators that you can check to ensure you have the right position. As your child grows, be sure to adjust the angle accordingly.

#6 Add the Infant Carrier

Once the base is installed, you can place the infant carrier. In most cases, the carrier will simply click into place when it’s in the right position. 

Front-Facing Car Seats

#1 Choose the Seatbelt or Lower Anchors

Just like back-facing seats, front-facing seats are attached using the car’s seat belt or metal anchors, and you should choose one or the other—not both.

#2 Thread the Seat Belt or Attach Anchor Straps

After placing the car seat in the forward-facing position, thread the seat belt through the belt path, which you’ll find either on the back or bottom of the car seat. Make sure there are no twists or knots in the seat belt. To attach using lower anchors, locate the metal anchors in your vehicle and attach the car seat’s anchor straps, ensuring there are no twists.  

#3 Tighten the Connection

To remove any slack, press down firmly on the seat and tighten the seat belt. The car seat shouldn’t move more than one inch side to side or front to back. 

#4 Anchor the Seat With the Tether

The NHTSA recommends always using the additional tether that is attached to the top rear of the car seat. Once you’ve located the tether, feed it over the back of the vehicle’s back seat and attach it to the metal anchor located on the back. 

Best Safety Practices

Know the laws

To keep your child safe (and to avoid getting in trouble with the law), brush up on your local car seat regulations. In Arizona, for example, children under eight years old or under 4’9” must be properly secured in a child safety seat that meets the right height and weight specifications for your child. 

Always keep the car seat in the back

Placing your child’s car seat in your vehicle’s front seat can be a deadly decision. While Arizona doesn’t have laws dictating when a child can sit in the front, most vehicle and car seat manufacturers recommend that children under 13 stay in the back seat. 

Don’t rush to change car seats

Every time you move up to the next type of car seat, it becomes less safe, so don’t be in a hurry to change. Keep your current seat until your child reaches the maximum height or weight limit. In general, rear-facing seats should be used between birth and three years of age, a forward-facing seat from four to seven years, and a booster seat from eight to 12 years. 

Avoid bulky clothes

Car seats are the safest when the harness fits snugly, and bulky clothes or blankets can leave the straps too lose. Always buckle your child in first, and then cover them with a jacket or blanket. 

Want to learn more about how to stay safe in the car and on the road? Our defensive driving and driver’s education courses are here to give you all of the skills and information you need.