If you just bought your first car seat, you might think installation is a cinch. However, if in the past you’ve bought 1 or 2 car seats (or dozens, in our case), you know that installing your seat can be a little complicated. Now, it’s nothing you can’t manage, but there is a lot to know and more decisions than you probably anticipated. That’s why Safe in the Seat was born—to simplify car seat education!

One of those many choices you have to make when installing your car seat is where to put it! You know it doesn’t go in the front seat, but that still leaves 3-6 other options for placement. What’s the most practical seat and, most importantly, what’s the safest seat?

Today, we’re answering this very question. We’ll break down all the factors that go into deciding the right place to put a car seat. This is where you should install your child’s car seat.

Where Should You Install Your Car Seat?

The safest place for car seats is the area of the vehicle farthest from crash force and airbags. This means the second-row center seat is the safest placement for a car seat, or any passengers, for that matter. A 2007 study showed that 0-3 year olds were 43% safer in the center back seat than anywhere else in the car. That’s no small number, friends. 

However, we understand there are circumstances where this seating position is unavailable. (And to ease your mind when this is the case — vehicle safety has come a very long way since 2007, and newer cars are safer than ever, even on the side seats!)

If your vehicle has captain seats, therefore, no available center, then any seat in the rear will do. There’s no better seat when comparing the right or left side, so then it’s just a matter of preference (and a few other factors we list later). For instance, if you often street park, putting the seat on the passenger side of the vehicle is probably best. 

Additionally, when you have multiple kids, they can’t all be in the center seat. Putting the seats next to each other is fine, but they can’t affect each other’s install at all and they can’t share lower anchors.

The bottom line. 

Other things equal, the safest place is in the center seat in the back row. However, any back seat placement in a properly fitted and installed car seat will significantly lower the risk of injury in a crash. And, the real priority is to just get a good safe installation.

If you can’t do that in a center seat, put the car seat somewhere else. That perfect install combined with correct buckling is what really makes the difference! No matter where in the backseat the car seat is installed, it’ll do its job if it’s used correctly.

Before you run out and install your car seat, it’s important to discuss circumstances and constraints related to rear-facing car seats vs. forward-facing car seats. So, we’ll do that next! And, if you’re looking for safe installation instructions on other types of vehicles, check out our posts on airplanes and RVs

Safest Spot for Rear-Facing Car Seats

As we discussed, the safest place is where you can get the best installation. We also know that children are 75% less likely to die or be seriously injured in an accident when they’re in a rear-facing position. Because of this, your kiddos should stay in their rear-facing car seats until they max out the height or weight limits according to the instruction manual. 

Check out our YouTube Video on why rear-facing is safest.

Why Rear-Facing is Safest

So, a rear-facing car seat installed correctly anywhere in the back seats is a great choice to keep your child safe. If you opt for the center back seat, make sure you choose the right installation process. 

Rear-facing car seats can be installed with a seat belt or the vehicle’s lower anchor system. However, most center seats do not have lower anchors. If this is the case, do not use one anchor from each outside seat to install the car seat. This is usually not allowed! Instead, opt for the seat belt installation option—the lower anchors have a weight limit anyhow, so the seat belt option will be a more long-term measure. 

Another factor to consider is the position of the front seat. Some rear-facing car seats take up a lot of space in the back of the car, although there are some very compact options. However, it’s not acceptable for the car seat to brace or forcefully push against the front vehicle seat. This is forbidden by most manufacturer’s instructions because of the potential distribution of crash force! Most allow only light touching. If you or your partner need the seat scooted way back, install the car seat on the opposite side.

Safest Spot for Forward-Facing Car Seat

If your child is in a forward-facing car seat, again, most rear-seat options will work. Remember that front-facing car seats have a tether that needs to be connected to an anchor behind the seat. Not every seat, specifically third-row seats, have a top tether anchorage point. If that’s the case, the car seat cannot be safely installed there. 

Headrests may be another problem you’ll encounter, depending on the vehicle you have. If your car’s headrests angle forward and are not removable, your forward-facing car seat may not fit. If the vehicle headrest pushes the car seat forward or prevents it from sitting flat on the vehicle seat, you won’t be able to get a safe and secure install. 

Safest Spot for a Booster Seat

High back and backless booster seats can usually go in any rear seating position. This is because boosters don’t need a top tether the way that forward-facing harnessed seats do. This leaves you with a little bit more flexibility when assigning seats!

However, there are still some things to consider. Just like forward-facing car seats, the vehicle headrests can cause interference if they can’t be removed. Some booster seats allow the vehicle headrest to create a gap behind the car seat, so it’s important to choose the right booster if you can’t remove your backseat headrests.

Some boosters have lower anchors connectors. In booster mode, the lower anchors aren’t there to install the car seat tightly like it is for harnessed car seats. The biggest benefit of the lower anchors for boosters is that it secures the booster seat when it’s empty so that it doesn’t become a dangerous projectile. If your booster has lower anchors connectors, you will probably want to choose a seating location that allows you to use them. If you can’t, or if your booster doesn’t offer this feature, that’s fine too! Just have your child buckle the seatbelt over their empty booster seat when they leave the car. This does the same job as the lower anchors for the empty seat, and keeps other passengers in the car safe from a huge potential projectile of an empty car seat.

How to install a seat using lower anchors:

How to install with LATCH

Overall, we can’t emphasize enough that your child must ride in one of the back seats! They’re safest there because of airbag placement and the fact that most injury accidents happen in frontal collisions. Even if your child passes the booster graduation requirements and can use a seat belt without the booster, keep them in the back.

No matter what back seat you choose, proper installation is the key to keeping your child safe in their seat. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends kids be in some sort of child passenger safety restraint system until around 12. That’s a long time! Keep them safe by getting a perfect install and placing them in the back seat (and center, if you can.)

Click play on this YouTube video to see why your kids will be in a car seat for 10+ years!

How long will your kid be in a car seat?

If you’re unsure if you have installed your car seat correctly, hire a car seat consultant, who will help you get the right fit and answer any questions you have! You can even book a consult with us here. Your car seat manufacturer may have virtual assistance as well!

The truth is, installation and placement aren’t the only car seat safety tips you need to know as a parent. Luckily, we at Safe in the Seat have made it simple. We have car seat courses, informational articles, and even buying kits to make sure all your passengers are safe in their seats! 

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