baby talk

When to Install a Car Seat

Chicco KeyFit 35 Infant Car Seat Base image

Welcoming a new addition to your household is exciting for the entire family, but it comes with a long to-do list. It can be a lot for many parents, especially if it’s your first child. Thankfully, there are many things new parents can do to prepare in advance.

One of the most important things you can do to prepare is install your car seat ahead of time. But how soon is too soon? And when exactly should you install your infant car seat? Read on to learn more about car seat best practices.

Once your baby is born, you’ll have enough on your plate. Taking proactive measures, like installing the car seat ahead of your little one’s arrival, can go a long way in alleviating stress down the road. Early installation allows you to spend time acquainting yourself with the correct installation process. You’ll also have the opportunity to make any necessary adjustments, like car seat placement and front seat position, to ensure a secure and comfortable ride for all passengers.

The best time to install the infant car seat is during the latter part of the third trimester, preferably in the final weeks. This way, the car seat will already be installed when your bundle of joy arrives, and you’ll still have time to make any necessary adjustments, such as position changes or adjusting the vehicle seat.

If you already have your car seat in hand and know when you want to install it into your vehicle, you may have other questions regarding the ins and outs of car seat installation. Below are some tips and best practices to help guide you through a car seat installation.

Read the Manual

Keeping your car seat’s manual handy is crucial, especially if you’re new to installing your infant car seat. Some brands, like Chicco, have manuals you can find by visiting their website or scanning a QR code on the product for easy access. Online car seat manuals may also link to other helpful resources like installation videos.

Your car seat manual contains specific instructions tailored to your seat’s safe installation and use. The manual will guide you through each step, from installing the seat in your vehicle to adjusting the harnesses for your little one’s comfort.

Your car seat’s manual also outlines other important details, like safety information and tips to keep your car seat in the best condition possible. Neglecting to read the manual could lead to incorrect installation, potentially compromising your child's safety.

Install the Car Seat on Level Ground

When you install your car seat, make sure your vehicle is on level ground. Installing the car seat on an incline or decline can cause it to be angled incorrectly, which can potentially affect its performance in an accident or collision. Thankfully, most car seats have built-in level indicators to help you find the correct angle.

Choose Between LATCH or Belt Installation

Modern car seats offer two installation methods: the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system or the vehicle’s seat belt. The LATCH system makes installations easier and more consistent, while seat belt installations are more commonly used with older vehicles that do not have LATCH anchors.

Choose the installation method that best suits your car and car seat and ensure it’s executed correctly. Remember to pick only one method, never both.

Regardless of the method, once installed, the car seat should not move more than an inch in any direction when tested at the belt path.

Ensure the Car Seat Is Installed Correctly

The stability of the car seat is essential for it to function correctly in the event of an accident. The seat should not wobble, tip, or slide after installation. When tested at the belt path, a properly installed car seat moves less than an inch side-to-side or front-to-back.

To check the car seat’s installation, apply gentle but firm pressure in a back-and-forth motion at the base of the car seat, near where the belt path is located. This motion mimics the direction of force in a frontal collision.

Most car seats have a top tether. Parents should always use the top tether if there is an attachment for it in the vehicle seating position.

If the seat moves more than 1 inch side to side, recheck the installation instructions and adjust to secure it firmly.

There will likely be times when you have to reinstall your car seat, such as when switching cars or cleaning your vehicle. A solid grasp of the installation process ensures you can do so correctly and safely.

Avoid Using Second-hand Car Seats

You should always avoid using second-hand or used car seats. Second-hand car seats may have expired or have hidden damage, which can compromise their safety. Without a known history, it's impossible to be sure that a car seat has not been in an accident.

In some cases, older car seats may not meet current safety standards and regulations. Always opt for a new car seat or one from a trusted source where the entire history is known.

Avoid Adding Non-Approved Accessories

Using non-approved accessories with a car seat can interfere with its designed safety features. Purchasing accessories such as aftermarket infant inserts and head supports may be tempting. However, if these items are not crash-tested with the seat or explicitly approved by the manufacturer, they can risk your little one’s safety.

imilarly, toys or mirrors attached to or near the infant car seat, though entertaining, have not been tested for safety in the event of a crash and could become hazardous projectiles.

Always stick to using the accessories provided by the manufacturer or those explicitly approved for use with the specific car seat model.

Familiarize Yourself With the Car Seat

Familiarize yourself with the installation and daily use of your car seat before your due date arrives. Understanding your car seat's features and safety mechanisms is crucial for ongoing safety on the road.

Set aside time to review the car seat's manual and understand how to use it correctly, including how to secure your child into the seat, adjust the car seat harness, and use the infant insert properly. While these may seem like small things, you don’t want to be left to figure them out after your baby has arrived.

Remember—all car seats have height and weight limits. It’s important to remember these and regularly monitor your child's growth so you know when it’s time to transition to the next phase.

If you need clarification on the installation, seek assistance from a Child Passenger Safety Technician. You can find a CPST in your area by visiting the Safe Kids Worldwide website and entering your zip code, state, city, or county. These professionals provide hands-on help and demonstrate how to install your car seat correctly.

Child Passenger Safety Technicians also offer valuable tips and answer any questions you might have about using your car seat safely. Their services are especially helpful for new parents, as they can ensure the car seat is installed correctly and provide you with peace of mind.

After buying the perfect car seat for your child, it’s important to study the manual and familiarize yourself with the dos and don’ts of car seat installation. Remember, if you have any questions or are unsure about anything while installing your car seat, don’t hesitate to contact a CSP Tech for advice.

For more information about car seat installation and other helpful parenting tips, visit the Chicco Baby Talk Blog!