One of the most common complaints that I hear from caregivers is how much they struggle to get a tight car seat installation. Many caregivers feel as though they’re physically unable to do it, despite not necessarily having any physical limitations. Installing a car seat can feel intimidating and overwhelming. However, contrary to popular belief, getting the car seat installed correctly has very little to do with brute strength, and almost everything to do with leverage. While every car seat and vehicle is different – and have their own subtle nuances – I’m going to share some of my favorite tricks which work well for most configurations.
Since leverage is one of your biggest allies, you want to take full advantage of it. Most of the time that will mean that you want to pull the slack both toward you and parallel to the belt path of the car seat.
For example, if you’re installing a car seat using lower anchors (LATCH), you’ll want to look to see where the adjuster is on the lower anchor strap. It will be on the same side of the strap where the “tail” of the strap is located. Most of the time, I find that caregivers will grab ahold of the tail on the outside of the seat and try to tighten it by pulling it away from the car seat. While this seems perfectly logical, this does not utilize the available leverage very effectively. Instead, when possible, you’ll want to position yourself on the opposite side of the car seat that the adjuster piece is located on so that you can pull that “tail” toward you, parallel to the belt path of the car seat. For even better leverage, try pulling the strap inside of the car seat’s belt path and pulling from there. Many times this can be accomplished by pulling the cover of the car seat back at the belt path, and pulling the tail inside of the belt path. After the seat is installed tightly, simply replace and re-secure the cover.
Installing a car seat with a seat belt is very similar. You can often utilize the same method, but instead of pulling on the lower anchor strap’s “tail”, you’ll be pulling the vehicle shoulder belt toward you, over the car seat’s belt path, to better remove all of the slack from the lap belt portion of the seat belt. (Don’t forget to check your manuals for instructions on how to lock the seat belt.)
Remember to only check for movement directly at the applicable belt path on the car seat, and only by using about the same amount of force with which you would use to give somebody a firm handshake. If the car seat moves 1” or less directly at the appropriate belt path, then the car seat is installed tightly. If it’s moving more than that, then repeat the steps above.
Before you install your car seat, please be sure to consult your child safety seat’s owner’s manual for seat-specific installation instructions, as well as your vehicle owner’s manual for vehicle-specific installation instructions. And of course, don’t forget to schedule a seat check with a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.