Ok, you’ve made it this far! We hope you’ve worked through our other sections, Selection, Direction and Location. If you haven’t, you should go do that now, we’ll wait. Ok, we all together now? Great! So we are down to our last two sections, Installation and Harnessing. We saved the best for last, and by best, we really mean most important. You can be a certified car seat ninja when it comes to selection, direction and location, but if your harness game isn’t on point and your installations aren’t legit, all your hard work could be for naught. Please pay special attention to the next 2 sections and ask questions if you have them, or there’s something that’s unclear. If you have a question, click HERE and we’ll get right back to you!
We’re Not Going To Lie
Out of all of our sections, installation is probably the most complicated and potentially confusing, simply because of the wide variety of hardware you might encounter. The good news is if you have a relatively newer car, let’s say built in the last 10 years, your hardware will most likely be pretty standard and easy to work with. This doesn’t mean that if you own a car that’s a bit more, let’s say classic, there’s anything wrong with it or it’s unsafe. It just means it probably going to take a bit more work.
This Is A Disclaimer
The procedures below for a LATCH install and a seatbelt install are general installation scenarios. While these installation procedures cover most seats, some seats may have different procedures, unique hardware etc. Yeah, we’re giving you the stink eye, Clek. Some seats can be tethered rear-facing, some can use both the seatbelt and lower anchors at the same time, you get the idea. While these are great general installation procedures, PLEASE check your car seat manual for specific instructions for your seat. And as we’ve said before if you have any questions contact us or come see us for a car seat check.
Let’s Start At The Beginning
So, there are generally two ways to install any car seat in most cars built around 2002 and after, seatbelt and LATCH system. When we are installing a car seat, we want to select one way or the other. (NOTE: There are a few seats on the market that allow you to use both, but 98% of them do not). So what’s safer? We get this question all the time. Neither is safer; it’s simply two different ways of accomplishing the safe thing. Exactly like saying ketchup or catsup, they’re both perfectly fine, some people prefer one, some the other. You can read about both down below and decide what you prefer.
Time for a short history lesson. LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren. A complete “LATCH position” consists of two lower anchors in the bite (crack) of the seat and a top tether anchor that is located somewhere behind the seating position. Cars manufactured for sale in the US starting in 2002 were required to have two complete LATCH positions and a third top tether anchor. LATCH came about as a way to standardize car seat installs and make it easier for parents and caregivers to install seats correctly. It worked. Kind of. Try out both methods and decided for yourself which one you prefer.
Before We Get Into It
Before we use lower anchors to install a car seat we need to verify that we are allowed to use lower anchors in the position you’ve chosen.
The latch system has a few unique limitations that we don’t run into with seatbelts.
- Installs using the LATCH system are limited to a 65 pound child and child restraint weight limit. So if the weight of your child and their car seat, combined exceeds 65 pounds total, you are unable to use lower anchors for an install. This isn’t a big deal, because we can ALWAYS install with a seatbelt. How do you know how much your seat weighs? Check your manual or email us and we’ll let you know.
- The second limitation of a lower anchor install has to do with the seating position. Most sedans and SUVs with a front and a rear seat will have two dedicated LATCH positions in both rear outboard positions. If we install a car seat in the middle with the inner anchors of each LATCH position, we are doing what is called anchor borrowing. Depending on your car, it might be allowed, but generally, it isn’t. If you have questions about where your LATCH positions are in your car, if you’re allowed to anchor borrow or any other questions regarding a LATCH install, email us. If you’ve decided on a center install and you can’t anchor borrow, don’t worry, we can usually get a great install with a seatbelt. This limitation is only for a center, lower anchor installs. You can always install using lower anchors in any dedicated LATCH position as long as you don’t exceed the 65-pound limit.
Let’s Figure Out What We’re Working With
Let’s Identify Your Car Seat Hardware
OK, you’ve verified the position you want to install your seat in is allowed, now it time to get to work. The first thing we need to do is to locate and identify our hardware. The lower anchor straps and tether strap, if your car seat has one, should be easy to identify; if they’re not, check your manual. Latch connectors come in a few different flavors, the ones you’ll see most often are shown below.
We do need to make sure that your lower anchor strap is routed correctly. For infant-only and combination seats, routing will be easy because these seats only have one belt path. Convertible seats have two distinct belt paths, so depending on the current routing of the lower anchor belt, you might have to reroute to the other belt path. For example, if your seat shipped with the lower anchor strap in the forward-facing belt path and you want to do a rear-facing install, you have some work to do. For specifics on how to reroute your lower anchor strap, check your car seat manual. Ok, so we’ve found you’re lower anchor staps, we made sure it’s routed correctly and the belt looks great, no rips, twists, tears etc.
Now it’s time to find our tether. Remember, we generally only use tethers for forward-facing seats. However, a few rear-facing seats may allow tethering, check your seat’s manual. Your tether should be attached to the back of your seat and should look like one of these below. Once you’ve identified it, we can use it later during the install if needed.
Let’s Identify Your Car’s Hardware
The last step before installing is to identify the hardware in your car. If your vehicle was manufactured after 2001, you should have lower anchors in your seat byte (crack), even though you might not be aware they’re there. Most car have some way of telling you where your anchors are. Some ways manufacturers mark the location of lower anchors are shown below.
Reach in the byte of your seat to verify the anchors are there, you should feel a large metal loop. Once you’ve located both lower anchors and checked for any damage, it’s time to find your tether anchor location. Some cars have fantastic markings to identify their tether anchors, some don’t.
Depending on your car, your tether anchor could literally be anywhere. In SUVs, they are popular on the seatbacks and sometimes on the floor. Some Subarus have their tether anchors in the ceiling while most sedans have them on the rear shelf thing.
Trucks are a completely different animal, and they may be anywhere! If you have any questions about where your tether anchor is located, please let us know, and we’ll help you out. The picture below shows various ways tether anchors may be marked. You can also find your tether anchor locations by checking your car’s manual. Please don’t assume that something is a tether anchor and use it without being 100% sure. Some vehicles have cargo hooks that look very similar to a tether anchor, yeah, we’re looking at you early 2000s Chevy Suburbans!
OK, we’ve identified your seat’s and your car’s hardware. We’re almost done!
Time To Be All About That Action Boss
Is what we’re sure Marshawn Lynch would say when it’s time to get to installing your seat. Place your seat in the desired position and connect your two lower anchor connectors to your two lower anchors in your seat byte. We always want to clip in from the top, never upside down, and make sure our harness strap is nice and straight. If your seat is forward-facing, it’s time to attach the tether to your tether anchor as well. Often when you tether a forward-facing seat, you will have a headrest in the way. Check your car’s manual for how to deal with the headrest when you route your tether. In some cars, you go over the headrest in some you go under. If you have questions about how to route your tether strap, you know what to do, get in touch with us!
So, now we’re all hooked up, all we have to do it tighten it up. Put some weight on the seat pan while you tighten the anchor strap. One trick we’ve learned is that to truly get an anchor strap tight, you have to pull parallel but opposite to the lower anchor belt. Think about it like tightening a belt, you want to pull parallel, but opposite to really get it tight. Another trick we like to use is to run the tail of the anchor strap back through the belt path and tighten from the opposite side. Once you have your anchor strap tight, it’s time to snug up your tether.
Congratulations! You just installed a car seat! Way to go! Continue down below to learn about the inch test to double-check your work!
Seatbelts have been standard in cars sold in the US since the mid-60s. Seatbelt install may seem trickier at first, but once you get a little experience, you be able to get a wicked tight install in just a minute or two. Most newer cars on the market have relatively standard seatbelt components that make car seat installations a breeze. The older a vehicle is, the more likely we are to run into a unique part or two that changes how we’ll install the car seat.
Let’s Get Some Terminology Straight
Before we go any further, we need to familiarize ourselves with a few different pieces of your seatbelt system. There are many parts of the seatbelt system, as seen in the graphic below. In the interest of brevity and not putting you to sleep, we will only cover two. The latchplate and the retractor.
Beginning in 1996, cars had to a way to lock every seatbelt, except the driver’s seatbelt, to help facility car seat installation. So if your vehicle was made after 1996, every seatbelt in your car, except for the driver’s belt, has some way to lock it. We just have to figure out how to do that.
Locking With A Retractor
Take a look at the latchplate below, if you have one of these on your seatbelt, awesome! It’s called a sliding latchplate, and means that you have what’s called a switchable retractor.
This is really great news, switchable retractors are very easy to work with. Let’s test it real quick and make sure it’s functioning the way it should. Slowly pull out about two feet of the belt and stop. Let six inches or so of the belt flow back into the retractor then pull it back out again. Your belt should flow freely in and out of the retractor. Now for step 2, pull the belt all the way out until it stops. Let a foot of the seatbelt flow back into the retractor, now try to pull it back out again. If you can’t pull any belt out, that’s awesome, your retractor is working perfectly. This is how we lock our car seat into place.
Locking With A Latchplate
The other way we can lock a car seat into place is with a locking latchplate. Take a look at the pictures below of common locking latchplates. They’re easy to identify by the thick bar that runs across the belt webbing on the backside and are far bulkier than a sliding latchplate.
The way this latchplate is positioned in your car is what makes it lock. To test this, we want you to hold the buckle parallel to the belt webbing, so flat against the belt. The latchplate should slide up and down the belt easily. Now, turn the latchplate so it’s perpendicular to the seatbelt webbing and try to slide it up and down. It shouldn’t move, it should be locked. If it doesn’t move, great! If it does move, not so great. You might have a broked latchplate or just one that’s tricky to work with. If this is the case, you know what to do, set up an appointment with us for a car seat check. We’ll check all of your hardware out and make sure everything’s working correctly.
Neither Applies To My Car
If you don’t have a lockable latchplate and your retractor doesn’t lock then your car’s going to require some special attention. We’ll have to use a tool called a locking clip to achieve an acceptable install. Don’t worry, we’re pros with locking clips, but we’re not going to cover them on the website. If this situation applies to you, you know what to do. Come see us.
It’s Go Time
Once we’ve verified that either you retractor or latchplate lock and they are in good working condition, it’s time to get down to getting down and install your car seat.
Place your seat in your desired seating position and route your seatbelt through the correct belt path and buckle it. Now, all we have to do is tighten it up.
Installing With A Switchable Retractor
With a switchable retractor we have to engage locking mode. We do this by pulling the belt all the way out. Once the belt is locked, it’s time to tighten. We like to pull the shoulder belt out and down and then feed whatever slack we were able to remove back up into the retractor. We usually have to do this two or three times before we have an acceptably tight install.
Installing With A Lockable Latchplate
With a lockable latchplate we just need to pull as much slack out of the belt as possible. We do this by pulling the shoulder belt out and down. The orientation of the latchplate causes it to lock, so once it’s sufficently tight, it should stay that way.
What is an acceptably tight install? We’re glad you asked. The final thing we want to do is test the tightness of our install by performing what’s called and inch test. Continue on down to the inch test section to learn about the inch test. Once your car seat passes the inch test, your ready to go! Good Job!
We have some extra space in this column, so enjoy these adorable pictures of babies and puppies. If you don’t love babies and puppies, it’s time to go back to bed!
The Inch Test
To test the tightness of our installs, we use the “Inch Test.” Everything else about your car seat can be perfect, harnessing, selection, direction and location, but if your install is crap, none of that is going to matter. Why?, you ask. Read this amazing section on crash dynamics and you’ll understand why. So getting a wicked tight install is vitally important.
When we perform our inch tests, we test at the belt path with our dominant hand. We grab the car seat with one hand and put our thumb in a position where it’s on both belt and car seat, so it’s we’re feeling both webbing and plastic, and push and pull, with moderate force, front to back and side to side. The general rule is if your car seat moves less than one inch in either direction, your install is good. We’re not happy unless your car seat moves a half-inch or less. When it comes to car seat installs, tighter is better! Want to know why? Crash Dynamics
Watch the video to the right, it shows a great example of how we perform Inch Test during our car seat checks. Again, if you have any questions, you know what to do. Contact us HERE.
Once your seat passes the inch test, it’s time to move on to harnessing.