Children's Car Seat Installation

Proper children's car seat installation is crucial. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as many as 50-80% of car seats in use today are improperly installed.

Child Vehicle Restraint Systems (AKA Car Seats) are designed to protect your child in the event of a car accident. Unfortunately, if your child's car seat is not installed correctly it could be completely ineffective in an accident resulting in unnecessary death or injury. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as many as 50-80% of car seats in use today are improperly installed. There are several steps you can take to make sure your child's car seat is properly placed and installed.

The first step is to find a car seat that is compatible with your vehicle. Each car seat has a different profile, and will fit differently in different vehicles. The car seat that works wonderfully in your friend's SUV may not work out in your compact car. Before you purchase a car seat, try several out. Most stores that sell car seats will allow you to take them out to your vehicle for a "test drive". Also consider your child's size and age when purchasing a car seat. Pay attention to the weight limits of the particular car seat you are purchasing. They vary from seat to seat.

After you have made your purchase, read the installation and use manual carefully! Don't assume that you know how to install your new seat because you have installed other seats, or saw your friend install theirs. Your seat may have it's own particular safety requirements that you need to be aware of. Also check in the owner's manual of your car to see if any information is provided about car seat installation specific to your car. Check the warning tags on seat belts, sun visors, and doors if there are any. There are some vehicle safety belt configurations that can not be used to properly secure a car seat. Seat belts that cannot be locked, retractable belts that loosen on their own, belts attached to doors, and belts that are placed forward of the back seat cushion cannot be used to secure a car seat. If your vehicle has any of these belt types, either move the seat to a different area of the car that has an appropriate belt, of visit your car's manufacturer and have the seat belts retrofitted to comply with car seat safety requirements.

The placement of your child's seat in your car is also very important. All children should ride in the back seat. The center of the back seat is the safest place for young children. Infants in a rear-facing car seat should never ride in the front seat of a vehicle that has an air bag. Air bags were not designed to work with rear facing infant seats and the results in a crash can be fatal. If your car does not have a back seat, and you have air bags you must take your vehicle to the manufacturer and have them install an on/off switch for the air bag.

Once you have determined the proper seat for your car and child, read all the instructions, and decided on placement, you get to install it! Be sure you are following the instructions for your child's age and weight (infants and young children should ride rear facing, older children can ride forward facing). When installing the seat, make sure the seat belt is flat and untwisted. Thread the belt through the specified area on the car seat.

For seat belts that automatically retract and lock on their own, simply buckle the belt and then place your full weight on the seat to push it into the cushion and lock the seatbelt down firmly on it. Your car seat should fit snugly, and not have more than an inch of side to side or front to back movement. You will need to push the seat down into the cushion to achieve a snug fit. Check the level on the car seat (if one is provided) to make sure the seat is at the correct angle. Check all the straps on the seat to make sure they will function properly when installed.

If you have a vehicle belt that must be pulled through a clip, tighten the belt, place the locking clip on it, thread the belt through the car seat then place your weight on the seat untill you can securely lock the vehicle seat belt. The seat should be tight against the cushions of the car. If the seat is not in snugly, unlock the seat belt, tighten it some more, and try again. Installation is more difficult with this type of belt, but it is still imperative that the seat be fitted snugly into your car. Again, once installed check all the car seat's straps to make sure they will function properly when used.

Check your child's seat on a regular basis to make sure all straps and cushions are in good condition, and to make sure the seat has not slipped out of place. A properly installed and maintained car seat can save your child's life.

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