How to Install a Front Facing Car Seat
It’s rare to find a car seat made only for front facing use. They are more commonly seen as part of a convertible or combination car seat. Convertible seats generally transition from rear facing to forward facing use. Combination seats generally transition from forward facing to booster seat. But the terms are not consistent among brands.
Convertible Car Seats
This Britax USA Boulevard ClickTight car seat is a great example of a convertible seat. It is made to be used rear facing for infants under between 5 and 40 pounds. Then it can be used front facing for babies (and kids) over 1 year old weighing 20 to 65 pounds.
This ClickTight style by Britax has a unique and easy to use seat belt installation feature, but no option for using the LATCH system. Other Britax Boulevard styles do use the LATCH system, as well as most styles of other brands.
Combination Car Seats
A combination car seat can also be known as a 2-in-1 or toddler car seat. A 2-in-1 car seat is usually intended to be used first as front facing with a 5-point harness, and later as a booster seat with the car’s seat belt. Some of these offer the LATCH system and some anchor in using the seat belt.
This Graco Atlas 65 2-in-1 seat is a great example. When it’s being used as as a front facing car seat with the 5-point harness, it’s secured with the vehicle’s seat belt. When a child reaches the maximum height and weight for use with the harness, it can be removed. The child then uses the seat with the seat belt. In this mode, it’s important to buckle the seat in, even when not in use, so that it doesn’t become a projectile in a crash situation.
The details on how to install your specific seat will vary by manufacturer and seat style. This is one time that reading the instructions will be worth it. If you don’t have the instructions, they can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website. Also, your vehicle manual will have car seat installation tips, too. You may discover safety features unique to your vehicle.
Front facing car seats should not be installed in the front seat of a vehicle. Safety experts say kids are safer in the back seat until age 13. In some states, riding in the back seat is included as a requirement of the Child Passenger Safety law. See the links on your state’s page for more details.
Generally speaking, a front facing car seat should be tightly secured in the vehicle, not swaying more than 1″ side to side or front to back when tested where the belt crosses over. If your seat comes with a top tether strap, clip it to the tether anchor. In a crash situation, this limits forward head movement.
A few links with additional information:
YouTube – A thorough video by Virginia DMV covering LATCH or seat belt installation.
Car Seat Installation Inspection
Want to have your installation checked? No problem. You can visit the links on your state page for local links to inspection stations or events near you. Or, you can use the search feature provided by these national organizations. You can also contact the children’s hospital nearest you. Be aware that you might need to schedule an appointment weeks in advance.
SaferCar.gov – search feature offers an option to locate Spanish-speaking technicians
NHTSA.gov – offers the option to view search results on a map