Car Seat Considerations: How your type of vehicle can affect your car seat installation

Not every car safety seat can be installed in all types of vehicles or seating positions. Learn how to test the seat before you purchase it, how to install and use it correctly, and what to look for when buying a family car.

Child Safety Seat Compatibility

Not every car safety seat can be installed in all types of vehicles or seating positions. Given the numerous models of child safety seats, the over 300 models of passenger vehicles and the wide range of belt systems available today, correctly installing a child safety seat can be challenging. The best way to be sure your safety seat is compatible with the vehicle you are considering is to test it – before you purchase or lease the vehicle.

Safety First

To correctly install a child safety seat, place your knee into the seat and lean forward while tightening the belt.

Be sure to read the child safety seat’s instruction manual and review all information in the vehicle owner’s manual concerning correct installation.

Once the safety seat is installed, check it by firmly pulling the base of the seat from side to side and forward. The seat should not move more than one inch in any direction.

Other Factors to Consider

  • Two-door vehicles: It can be difficult to install child safety seats correctly in those types of vehicles, because you must get into the back seat yourself. It can also be difficult to get your child in and out of the safety seat.
  • Small back seats: The back seats of small cars and many pickup trucks are too small to properly accommodate some safety seats, especially those in the rear-facing, reclined position. In addition, some rear center safety belts in small cars are too close together to fit safety seats with wide bases. Wide bases may block access to buckles for outboard lap and shoulder belts. In this case, try a safety seat with a narrow base.
  • Deep bucket seats: Many safety seats will not fit in vehicle seats with deep buckets. Try a safety seat with a narrow base or top tether strap.
  • Tether anchorage: This is a metal plate bolted into the vehicle to attach a top-tether strap that comes with some child safety seats. Tethers may improve protection by attaching the top of the safety seat more securely to the vehicle. Virtually all passenger cars made since January 1989 have pre-drilled holes that can be used for top-tether anchorage.
  • Slope and angle of back seat: Rear-facing infant and convertible seats should be reclined at a 45-degree angle. The slope of the seat may cause the safety seat to tilt too far forward, putting the infant in an upright rather than reclined position. To remedy this situation, try placing a tightly rolled towel under the base of the safety seat. Always check the safety seat instructions and owner’s manual for correct installation.
  • Contour of back seat: While the rear center seat may seem the safest place to put a child, many back seats have a hump in the center, making it difficult to install a child safety seat correctly. The safest position is where the safety seat fits securely.
  • Split bench seats: Splits in wide bench seats can make it difficult to install a safety seat correctly.
  • Forward-anchored belts: If the safety belt extends from the seat in front of where the back and seat cushions meet, the safety seat may be too loose. Move it to a different seating position, or try a different style safety seat, perhaps one that can accommodate a top-tether strap.
  • Pickup truck jumpseats/extended cabs: Child safety seats will not fit properly in many pickup truck rear seats. There is not enough space between the rear of the front seat and the child to allow forward motion in the event of a crash or even a sudden stop. Side-facing jumpseats used as a safety seat are not safe for a child under any circumstances.

Vehicles manufactured before Sept. 1, 1995

Some vehicles may have safety belt systems—such as automatic safety belts—that require additional hardware to install child safety seats correctly. Be sure to read both the vehicle and safety seat manuals and labels on safety belts.

Vehicles manufactured after Sept. 1, 1995

Vehicles now are equipped with safety belt locking features—such as locking or switchable retractors—that make installation of child safety seats easier. To ensure that is the case, read the vehicle owner’s manual and safety belt labels.

Beware: Danger Areas for Children

Kids Are Not Cargo!

Never let children ride or play in the cargo area, trunk or bed of any vehicle – even if the area is covered. They can be thrown from the vehicle in the event of a crash, sudden stop or even when driving over a rough road.


Make sure children do not have access to your vehicle’s trunk. Once inside, they may not be able to escape, even if they have entered through the interior, since many rear seats only release to the trunk from inside the passenger compartment. Children trapped in trunks can die of suffocation or heat stroke.

Unattended Children

Never allow children unmonitored access to vehicles or leave them unattended in a vehicle. When left in a vehicle, children can quickly become ill or die from heat build-up inside of the vehicle. In addition, never allow children access to car keys or remote locking/unlocking devices. A child could inadvertently put the vehicle in gear or neutral and cause it to roll away.

Keep children safe by keeping them out of your vehicle unless you are there!

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