Car Seat Guide

Finding the Right Fit:​​​

The Harness: A five point harness is the safest option for your child. The car seat label will tell you the weight and height requirements. Check regularly to make sure your child hasn’t outgrown i

Ensure you are placing the harness straps in the proper position.

    • In rear-facing car seats, the shoulder straps should come through the car seat slots BELOW your child’s shoulders.
    • On forward-facing seats, the shoulder straps should be ABOVE the shoulders.

Using the correct harness and belt placement:

Car Seat: Use a 5-point harness for your child for as long as your child meets the weight or height limits of the car seat. A 5-point harness provides more protection than a seat belt used with a booster seat or a seat belt alone. Make sure that the harness fits snugly around your child’s hips and shoulders.

Do the Pinch Test to make sure the harness is snug enough: After you buckle and tighten the harness, pinch the harness at the shoulder. If the harness is snug, your fingers will slide off the webbing. If the harness is loose, you will be able to pinch the webbing between your fingers. A loose harness is a common mistake and is not safe. Keep tightening the harness until it passes the Pinch Test. 

Booster Seat: After your child has outgrown the car seat harness, move to a booster seat. Use the car’s lap and shoulder seat belt with a booster seat.

  • The shoulder strap should fit across the chest and on the shoulder, not across the face or neck.
  • The lap belt should lie on the top of the legs or low on the hips, not across the stomach.
  • Follow the seat belt guides on the booster seat.
  • If your child moves the shoulder belt behind her back and under her arm, it means that the seat belt and booster seat aren’t fitting properly.
  • If your child cannot use the booster seat just as the manufacturer requires, return to the car seat with a harness instead.

Seat Belt Alone: Do the Seat Belt Fit Test in every car your child uses. Use the seat belt alone when your child has outgrown the booster seat and passes the Seat Belt Fit Test. Place the seat belt over the shoulder and low on the hips. If your child cannot fit properly and safely with just a seat belt, use the booster seat instead.​

  • To do the Seat Belt Test, have your child bend their knees at the edge of the seat when their back and bottom are against the vehicle seat back. Their feet should touch the floor for comfort and stability.
  • The vehicle lap belt fits snugly across the hips or upper thighs.
  • The shoulder belt fits across the shoulder and chest, NOT across the face or neck.
  • If your child does NOT meet all three conditions, your child should continue to use a car seat or booster seat. You can do the test again when your child grows.  

Installing Tips

  • Take time to read the manuals of both the vehicle and the car seat.
  • The back seat is the safest place for the car seat and for children to sit under 13 years old. Not all seats with a seat belt can have a car seat placed on them, so check your owner’s manual before installation
  • There are 2 ways to install a car seat:
    1. One way is to use the vehicle seat belt. Place the seat belt through the car seat at the belt path. Arrows on the car seat or directions on the car seat label will show you the correct belt path to use. On all forward-facing car seats, use a top tether when securing the car seat.​ ​​​​​
    2. The second way is to use the lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH) to attach the car seat to the vehicle. Car seats have lower attachments that connect to the car’s lower anchors. On all forward-facing car seats, use a top tether when securing the car seat. ​
  • Both the seat belt and LATCH methods are safe, but don’t use them at the same time. Pick the option that best provides the car seat with a snug fit. To ensure that the car seat is snug, do the inch test. If you push and pull the seat, it shouldn’t move more than 1 inch in any direction.
  • Know your car seat’s limits. Use the LATCH method only for kids less than a certain weight listed on the car seat. When the child gets bigger, switch to the seat belt method instead.

Buying Tips:

  • Make sure you know what kind of car seat you need. There are three types: Rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster seats
  • Check that the car seat comes with all the parts you need.
  • Read the label for weight, height and age requirements
  • Don’t buy used car seats that you don’t know the previous owner: they could be faulty or have been in a crash before and that can make them dangerous
  • Register your car seat. The manufacturers will notify you if there is a safety recall  

When to Change:

  • Don’t rush from one seat to the next. Use your current seat until the child reaches the maximum weight or height limits indicated on the label. Every step forward reduces safety
  • Use a rear-facing car seat until the age of 2 or more, or at least until they reach the maximum height or weight limits. Why keep your child in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible? If you are in a front-end crash (the most common type of crash) a rear-facing car seat allows your child’s head, neck, and spine to move evenly into the seat, not away from it.
  • Once your child outgrows the rear-facing seat, you should switch to a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness and top tether ​Your child may need a forward-facing car seat with a harness that has a higher weight or height limit before moving to a booster seat. 
  • When ready and after your child gets too big for the weight or height limits of the forward-facing car seat, put your child in a booster seat used with the vehicle lap and shoulder seat belt. You should transition to a booster seat only after your child reaches the weight or height limit of the seat you are using. A child in a forward-facing seat with a harness and top tether is more protected than one in a booster seat with lap and shoulder belt or when using just a seat belt alone. Will your child stay in a seat without a harness? If moved to a booster seat too soon, children sometimes climb out of the booster seat. If they do this, it means they’re not ready for the booster seat ​

What to do with your old car seat:

  • When your child gets too big for her car seat, you can give the seat to someone you know. Make sure the seat has all the original parts, labels, and instructions. If the seat was in a crash or is missing parts, throw it away!
  • When you throw away an expired or unsafe car seat, take it apart and put the pieces in separate dark trash bags to prevent someone else from using it.
  • Remember, car seats expire. You can find the expiration date on your car seat. Look for the date on a label or imprinted on the plastic.