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Child Safety Seat Compatibility

Not all child safety seats can be installed in all vehicles and in all seating positions. With so many models of child safety seats, more than 300 models of passenger vehicles, and the wide range of belt systems available today, correctly installing a child safety seat can be a challenge. The best way to be sure your child safety seat is compatible with the vehicle you may buy, is to test it before you buy or lease the vehicle, or before you buy or receive the child safety seat.

Read the child safety seat’s instruction manual and review the information in the vehicle owner’s manual about correct installation. Once the seat is installed, check it by firmly pulling at the base of the child seat, at the safety belt path, from side to side and forward. The child safety seat should not move more than one inch in any direction.

Other Factors to Consider

  • Two-door vehicles — It can be difficult to install a child safety seat correctly because you have to get into the back seat to install it securely. Two-door cars also make it harder to get your child in and out of the child safety seat.

  • Small back seats —The back seats of some small cars and pick-up trucks are too small to correctly install some child safety seats, especially those in the rear-facing reclined position. The base of the child safety seat must not be wider than the space between the seat buckle and safety belt attachments. Wide bases can cover buckles for outboard lap and shoulder belts, making installation difficult. In this case, try a child safety seat with a narrow base or a different seating position.

  • Deep bucket seats —Many child safety seats will not fit in vehicle seats with deep buckets. Try a child safety seat with a narrow base or top tether strap, provided the vehicle has a top tether anchor.

  • Slope of back seat —Rear-facing child safety seats should be reclined at about a 45-degree angle. The slope of the vehicle seat may raise the back of the child safety seat too much, putting the infant in an upright rather than reclined position. To fix this situation, place a tightly rolled towel or firm, solid-core foam between the vehicle’s seat cushion and the seat back. This will help get the correct angle. Always check the child safety seat instructions and vehicle owner’s manual for correct installation.

  • Contour of back seat —While the center of the rear seat may appear to be the safest place for a child, many back seats have a hump in the center, making it hard to install a child safety seat correctly. The safest position in the back seat is where the child safety seat fits securely.

  • Splits in bench seats —Splits in wide bench seats can make it difficult to install a child safety seat correctly. Move it to a different rear seating position.

  • Forward-anchored belts —If the safety belt extends from the seat forward of where the back and seat cushions meet, the child safety seat may be too loose. Move the child safety seat to a different rear seating position, or try a different style child safety seat with a top tether strap, provided the vehicle has a top tether anchor.

  • Pick-up truck jump seats/extended cabs —Child safety seats will not fit safely in rear seats of many small pick-up trucks. There is not enough space between the rear of the front seat and the child to allow forward motion in a crash or even a sudden stop. Side-facing jump seats are unsafe for a child safety seat under any circumstances.

  • Vehicles manufactured before September 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 child safety seat manuals and any safety belt labels.

  • Vehicles manufactured after September 1, 1995 —Vehicles are now equipped with safety belt locking features—such as locking or switchable retractors—that make installation of a child safety seat easier. Read the vehicle owner’s manual and any safety belt labels to be sure you are installing the seat correctly.

    Go to www.nhtsa.dot.gov/CPS/CPSFitting/Index.cfm for help in finding a child safety seat inspection station nearest you. You can also call 1-888-327-4236 or 1-866-SEATCHECK.


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