A: You're right to be concerned: Research shows that about 85 percent of car seats aren't installed correctly. One of the most common problems is seats that don't fit snugly in the vehicle. It shouldn't be able to move back and forth or side to side more than one inch in any direction. Other common mistakes include harnesses that are too loose or are twisted, chest clips that ride too low (they should be at the level of a child's armpit), and using forward-facing car seats too soon. Your baby should ride rear-facing in the back seat until he is at least 2-years-old or exceeds the seat's height and weight limits for the rear position (usually 36 inches and at least 30 to 35 pounds). Even the LATCH system (lower anchors and tethers for children) isn't foolproof. Found in most cars made after September 2002, the LATCH system was designed to make installation easier without the use of seat belts, but it still isn't compatible with certain vehicles. To address installation questions, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site (www.nhtsa.dot.gov) includes a state-by-state listing of child safety-seat inspection stations. Technicians there will check your car seat at no cost to make sure it's properly installed. --Diana McKeon Charkalis
Originally published in the November 2003 issue of Child magazine. Updated 2009.