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Everything You Need to Know When Purchasing and Installing a Car Seat

Everything You Need to Know When Purchasing and Installing a Car Seat

The proper car seat and installation can save your child’s life.

Car seat regulations are hard to keep up with and manage, especially because they are constantly changing and are different state to state. Keep this checklist, compiled with the help of Shane Bland, certified car seat safety technician through Safe Kids Worldwide Westchester, and Greg Durocher, CEO and child passenger safety technician instructor at Safe Ride 4 Kids, on your fridge, in your glove compartment, in your purse, or wherever you will remember to reference it for properly purchasing, installing, and putting your child in a car seat.

Don't neglect the owner's manual!

We live in a world where we constantly check the Internet for everything. Resist that urge when it comes to car seats. The first thing you should do when purchasing a car seat is thoroughly read the owner’s manual, according to Bland, who is also the manager of Gymboree Play Music Center in Scarsdale. If you have questions, check the owner’s manual. If they still aren’t answered, check the FAQ section on the manufacturer’s website.

Safe Kids Westchester is led by Ardlsey Police Department and provides staff and resources to assist in keeping children safe through programs including car-seat checkups, safety workshops, and sports clinics.

Location is everything

The safest spot in the car for a child in a car seat is the middle rear spot, according to Durocher, who, before coming a child passenger safety technician, was a paramedic. This location protects the child the most from an impact on any point of the vehicle because it is the farthest from the left, right, front, and back of the car. 

“Safety is about putting the odds in your favor and looking at the real risk exposure,” Durocher says. “How do we mitigate as many risks as we can?”

Safe Ride 4 Kids is a team of child passenger safety technicians who empower parents to keep children safe while driving.

If you have two car seats, the rule of thumb is to put the youngest child closest to the driver so the driver does not have any trouble getting the child out of the car, and an older child can exit the car on his own on the curbside away from traffic, according to Bland.

Face the trunk for as long as possible

At Safe Kids Worldwide, the recommendation is to keep your child rear facing for as long as she can fit that way comfortably. The purpose of a rear-facing car seat is to allow the car seat to act as a shell in the case of a forward-facing crash, according to Bland. When a car is hit from behind, which is the most frequent kind of crash, the child will be propelled toward the front of the car regardless of which way he is facing. If the child is facing the trunk, he will be propelled into the car seat, which will protect him, rather than into the seatbelt, which will give him whiplash. The seat will protect the head and spine of the child.

This baby is forward-facing too young, and the steat is not strapped in correctly.


This baby is rear-facing and the five-point harness is secured correctly, right below the shoulders.


Like milk, car seats expire

Each manufacturer will place an expiration date on a child safety seat, which is normally around six years. While passing down a car seat can save money, make sure it is still safe to use.

Be cognizant of recalls

When purchasing a car seat, check for recalls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, While NHSTA issues recalls, it does not certify car seats, the federal government issues crash test performance criteria and each manufacturer crash tests its own products in accordance to this criterion. The manufacturer will then certify the product on its own website.

Seat security

After you install a car seat, it should move no more than 1 inch in each direction. This is measured at the seatbelt buckle, in other words at the child’s feet when rear facing and at the child’s bottom when forward facing. This test can be performed by shaking the seat ‘with the strength of a firm handshake,’ according to Durocher.

The belt path securing the car seat is too lose, giving the car seat too much room to move in the seat.


This forward facing car seat is properly and securely strapped in.


Proper buckling

In a rear-facing, five-point harness car seat, the hole where the strap goes through on the back of the car seat should be at or below the child’s shoulders, according to Durocher. In a forward-facing, five-point harness car seat, the loop should be at or above the child’s shoulders. The difference is, in a forward car crash, a forward-facing child will lean into the seatbelt when it is higher up rather than having it compress their spine. If the child is rear facing, a lower seatbelt prevents the child from sliding up the back of the car seat.

This forward-facing five-point harness is too low, which would compress the child’s spine.


This forward-facing five-point harness is properly placed at the child’s shoulder, allowing the child to lean into the seatbelt in the event of a crash.

When determining how tight a harness should be, perform the pinch test. If you can pinch the webbing, but not enough that the straps completely touch each other, the straps are secured properly.

These five point harness straps are too loose.


This harness is properly secure.

“The straps should be ‘snug as a hug,’” Durocher says.

Five-step test

When determining whether or not your child still needs a booster seat, you should perform the five-step test as referred to by the National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration.

  1. Make sure your child’s back is touching the back of the seat.
  2. Do her feet touch the floor?
  3. Do her knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat?
  4. Does the seat belt cross the shoulder and the lap belt sit low on the hips?
  5. Can the child stay seated, comfortably, this way for the entire duration of the trip?

This child is too short to be out of a booster seat, her feet do not touch the ground.


This car seat helps the seat belt fall properly on this child’s chest and waist.

While many parents think the defining moment to take a child out of a booster seat is only his height, you still must determine that the child passes each of the steps above, despite his height. The ultimate goal is not a certain height, but rather proper seatbelt positioning, according to Durocher.

“Seatbelts are not designed for children under four-foot-nine and do not protect your young child on their own,” Bland says. “The booster seat ensures that the seatbelt is placed appropriately on the shoulder and the lap belt sits comfortably on the hipbones.”    


Images Courtesy the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration


Installing a car seat and have specific questions you want to ask? Sign up for Mommybites Momcast with Greg Durocher, CEO and car seat safety instructor at Safe Ride 4 Kids. 

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Melissa Wickes

Author: Melissa Wickes is a graduate of Binghamton University and the NYU Summer Publishing Institute. She's written hundreds of articles to help New York parents make better decisions for their families. When she's not writing, you can find her eating pasta, playing guitar, or watching reality TV. See More

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