How To Install A Car Seat

A child safety seat may not protect your child in a crash if it isn't used correctly and installed properly in your vehicle. Take a minute to be sure.

infant in car seat

Where to begin

  • All children age 12 and younger should ride, properly restrained, in the back seat.
  • Never place a child safety seat in the front seat.
  • Keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible.
  • Read the car seat's use and installation manual before use.
  • Read the manual seat belt and child seat installation sections in your vehicle's manual.

Is your child using the right safety seat?

Newborns and babies up to 1 year old (and beyond, for as long as possible) should ride in the back seat in a rear-facing safety seat. Harness straps should be at or below the infant's shoulders, fit snugly and lie in a relatively straight line without sagging. The harness chest clip should be placed at the infant's armpit level. This keeps the harness straps positioned properly.

Infants weighing 20 pounds or more before 1 year old should ride in a safety seat rated for heavier infants; some convertible seats are rated up to 65 pounds rear-facing.

Older babies, toddlers and preschoolers

Keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible — for at least two years. Your child can use her car seat until she exceeds its height or weight limit. Harness straps should fit snugly at or above child's shoulders and should be threaded through the top slots, in most cases. Straps also should lay in a relatively straight line without sagging. The harness chest clip should be at the child's armpit level, which helps keep the harness straps positioned properly on the child's shoulders. Once your child outgrows the height or weight limit for her seat, she is ready to move to a forward-facing safety seat.

Older children

Older children should ride in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until he outgrows the height or weight limit set by the manufacturer, at which point he is ready to move into a booster seat.

Booster seats should be used until the adult lap and shoulder belts fit the child properly. Belt-positioning boosters can be used only with both the lap and shoulder belts across the child. The shoulder belt should be snug against the child's shoulders and chest, resting across the collarbone. The lap belt should lay low across the child's upper thigh area, not his waist or belly.

Your child should ride in the back seat until at least age 12.

Other situations

If only a lap belt is available in the rear seating positions, contact the vehicle dealer to see if retrofit shoulder belts can be installed. Another option may be to install a product that can be used with a lap belt only, such as a specially made harness or vest. Contact the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Auto Safety Hotline at (888) 327-4236 for additional

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