Earlier this week, our van’s battery died just as we were on our way home from getting my daughter from school. We were able to snag a ride home, but that meant the car seats had to be transferred out of the van and, later, back into the van. Yesterday, as I was installing my son’s combination seat, I realized that I was so thankful that it came easily for me. As a car seat tech (well, technically a Child Passenger Safety Technician), I have been able to pick up little tips and tricks to help make the installation process easier and better. Hopefully you’ll find one or two of them helpful!
1) Whenever possible, recline the seat a little before installing
OK, so it won’t work most of the time in a car, but it works for most SUVs and minivans. But if you are putting the seat in a place where you can reline the back of the seat, do so just a little bit before using the LATCH or belt to install the seat tightly. Once you get the seat in securely and correctly, then put the seat back back where it started. The car seat should never more more than an inch at the belt path, but now it should be REALLY secure!
2) Use your noodle
Pool noodles are a tech’s favorite way to fix the recline in rear-facing seats when the seat either doesn’t have a way to adjust the recline in the seat or when what is there isn’t enough. Many people know (well, hopefully) that the only other way to fix the recline safely is to use rolled up towels. But noodles are crash-tested and approved and in many ways far better than the towels. All you need to do is cut a small section of the noodle (It needs to fit between the belt and the buckle) and slide it under the seat. There you go!
3) Check weight limits for LATCH
LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) was created to help simplify the installation process. It’s kind of done that, but it’s still possible to misuse it. (And never, ever, ever think it’s OK to use the seatbelt AND the LATCH system at the same time to install a seat.) But in many cars and seats, LATCH (More specifically, the lower anchors) does have an upper weight limit. Check the manuals for both your car and the car seat manufacturer to see what that weight is, and defer to the lower weight. My son has pretty much hit the maximum allowed by the car seat, so I put his seat back in yesterday with the seat belt but still used the tether. And remember, both ways are equally good, as long and you can use it to get the seat in securely.
4) When not in use, store the LATCH belts securely!
On this seat, there are little hooks to clip the LATCH belts to when not in use. If I let them be loose, in the event of a crash, those heavy hooks could go through the air and injure someone. Every seat has a different place and way to do this, so check your owner’s manual to make sure you are doing it correctly.
5) When buying a seat, check the “made on” or “expiration” date!
Car seats have birth dates, and they do expire. (For real they do, and no, it’s not some corporate or government conspiracy. I promise.) Always check with the manufacturer, but make sure you get the most out of the seat by buying the seat of your choice that is the youngest. Recently, I was at a clinic, and the brand new seat I was helping an expectant couple with was already 18 months old. They had just bought it, but obviously the store had it sitting around for awhile. Check out those dates before bringing it home!
If you have more questions about car seat installation and usage for any child up to the age of 9, please sign up for our Car Seat Class. And if you have questions about installing your seat into your actual car, free car seat clinics abound.
I hope this was helpful! As always, leave comments and questions below. I wish you safe driving!