Your first step should always be to read the instruction manuals for the car seat and your vehicle. Decide how you would like to install the car seat- either using the vehicle seat belt OR the LATCH system.
Next, select the appropriate seating position. If you use a seat belt, be sure it is locked (check your vehicle’s manual to insure the seatbelt is correctly locked, as it varies). If you install using the LATCH, be sure the connectors are attached correctly to the appropriate anchor points. Whichever method you use, the webbing on the seat belt or the LATCH strap needs to be pulled tight. A proper installation includes a tight fit of less than one inch of movement side-to-side and front to back when checked at the belt path.
Now, let’s talk about the top tether strap. Some rear-facing seats allow for installation of the top tether (Diono, Peg Perego, Combi & Britax). This strap will help stabilize the seat in all types of crashes. ALL forward-facing seats come with a top tether, which is part of the LATCH system. Top tethers should always be used with forward-facing car seats, whether you install the seat with the seat belt or the lower anchor strap, as long as there is an appropriate anchor point. If not, the seat still meets safety standards. The top tether adds additional safety during a crash.
Reading the manual ahead of time helps to eliminate frustration and confusion (and hopefully these tips will help too). Many manufactures have installation videos on-line or customer service representatives who are certified technicians. Many manufacturers have an instructor on staff for more complex situations. Additionally, there are over 30,000 certified technicians across the country who are available to help you. Click this link to find a CPST near you: http://cert.safekids.org
Check back for more answers in our series about the most commonly asked questions about car seat installation.