Is your carseat installed properly?  Many parents and caregivers don’t know what constitutes a proper installation or the right way to check to make sure the carseat is installed properly.  On the flip side, some CPS technicians wonder if it’s possible to install a carseat too tightly?  And what about belt tightening devices like the Mighty-Tite?  Are these devices necessary and are they safe to use?   

Let’s start with what constitutes a good or acceptable installation.  If you can get the child restraint (CR) installed so that there is less than 1″ of side-to-side and front-to-back movement at the belt path, then the seat is properly installed.   The belt path is the part of the CR or base where the seatbelt or the lower LATCH anchor attachment belt is threaded through.  That’s the area that you want to tug on to check for movement.  Check for movement before you attach and tighten the tether strap if this applies to your situation.   

Use a reasonable amount of force to check for tightness.  You want to give it a good tug at the belt path to check for movement (especially if you’re installing a heavy seat) but you don’t want to push or pull so hard that you’re forcing the seat to move.            

What about belt tightening devices?  If it’s a feature on your seat (such as lower LATCH attachments with a built-in ratcheting device a la Evenflo Symphony or SafeGuard Child Seat) then it’s fine – obviously.  However, separate ratcheting devices such as the Mighty-Tite are unnecessary, prohibited by the vast majority of CR manufacturers, may void the CR’s warranty and may actually damage the vehicle’s seatbelt.  

Here’s the bottom line – install the seat (or base) as tightly as you can but don’t use a mechanical device unless it’s a feature of your CR.  As long as you’re just using compression, leverage and your bare hands to install the CR then it isn’t really possible to exert so much pressure that you compromise the seatbelt.  If you can get the CR installed so that it doesn’t move at all when you check for tightness – that’s great.  But don’t feel like you have to kill yourself trying to get it in rock-solid if you’re struggling just to get it within the 1″.  As long as you can get the seat tight to the point where it moves less than 1″, that’s fine. 

Of course, some CRs are just legitimately incompatible with certain seating positions and no matter what you try – you’re just not going to be able to get it to move less than 1″.  I hate these situations and they’re increasingly less common but it still happens.  In these cases you can try a different seating position within the vehicle (if that’s possible) and if that doesn’t work, then the only options are either finding a different CR that does work or getting a different vehicle.         

To be honest, most of the time what may initially seem like an “incompatability”, isn’t really.  If you know a few tricks, it’s usually possible to get the seat installed properly.  CPS Technicians learn over time what methods work best in different situations and will pass these tips onto parents.  Sometimes, the simplest adjustment can make a huge difference in the installation. 

Stay tuned for our new blog series “Tricks of the Trade” where we’ll be covering various tips and tricks that may help to simplify the carseat installation process.  We can’t guarantee that these tips will help everyone in every every situation but if it makes one person’s life a little easier, and one kid a little safer then it will be worth the effort.