Know thy seat belts> When you use a vehicle’s seat belt to secure a car seat, that seat belt must be prevented from letting out slack. Otherwise, your car seat will end up sliding around the seat of your car no matter what you do.
Not all vehicle belt systems operate the same way, so read your vehicle manual. If the car’s seat-belt system requires the use of a separate locking clip, consider buying a car seat that comes with this feature built in (only Britax currently offers this). It’s a more expensive route, but it’s easier than using the separate metal locking clip that comes with other car seats.
Make it tight> Now it’s time to get the seat in tight—which means the car seat should move no more than 1 inch in any direction. First, follow all of the instructions to a “T.” When you’re sure the car seat is placed correctly, lean hard into the empty seat as you tighten the seat belt. I actually get on top of it and push my back into the top of the car for extra leverage. Be sure to get rid of any slack.
Use that tether> Top tethers now come with every new car seat that can be used in the forward-facing position. It’s well worth using the tether when it’s time to turn your child around because it adds overall stability to the seat. “By anchoring the top of a forward-facing car seat to a vehicle’s tether anchor, a top tether dramatically reduces how far a child’s head can be thrust forward during a collision,” explains Sandy Waak, R.N., a member of the Regional Child Passenger Safety Team, a consortium of city departments and child-safety advocacy groups in Washington, D.C.
Your vehicle manual will tell you whether your car comes equipped with a tether anchor and, if so, where it is located. If you have an older model, your car dealership should be able to tell you if and where an anchor can be installed. DaimlerChrysler and most Ford and General Motors dealerships retrofit older vehicles free of charge.
Schedule a checkup> Once you’ve done your best to install your car seat, pay a visit to a certified CPS technician for a once-over. A technician will determine if and how the seat fits your vehicle and your child, check to make sure that the product has not been recalled, and—most important—show you how to correctly install it by yourself. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site (www.nhtsa.dot.gov) maintains a ZIP-code directory of institutions and individuals qualified to provide free child-passenger safety checkups. You can also contact the