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Where should I install my child’s car seat? Which spot is safest?

Posted in: Blog, Installation

Toddler rear-facing in center

The center of the back seat is statistically the safest place in the car.

Research from real crashes shows that the center is safest – particularly because you can’t take a direct impact in the center. One study of kids 0-3 years old found that kids sitting in the center are 43% safer than those sitting on the side. A study of all fatal crashes in the US between 2000 and 2003 found that the person sitting in the center of the back seat had a 13% increased chance of survival than those sitting in the back but on one of the side seats.

Click the questions below to learn more.

36 Responses to “Where should I install my child’s car seat? Which spot is safest?”

  1. Christian says:

    I’ve had my Chicco Keyfit 30 installed very tightly rear facing in the center back seat of my 2007 Honda CR-V for my baby’s first five weeks. I went to the car seat safety check event today, and they had me move it to the side because of the armrest in the center. I’m now very confused. You would think that an event sponsored by the police department and the children’s hospital and Safe Kids would have the same information you have above about the arm rest not being a threat. What are your thoughts on these car seat safety check events?

    • Christian – Unfortunately, like any other trained profession – from doctors to electricians – there are some who are well trained (and current) and others who are not. I am glad that you knew enough to question what was done. I would suggest moving the seat back to the center. Here’s a video that shows me installing the Chicco base using LATCH (as your 2007 CR-V is one of the few vehicles that offers center LATCH) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOBXLNMaNa0&list=PLckOK9dalJSP2OgzSsZIBVk-cUKr5Gc3Q&index=9

      • Christian says:

        Thank you so much for the quick and clear response. I feel much better! And we’re back in the center now with LATCH. Thanks for the video link, too!

      • Amber says:

        I have a 1996 Buick Century that does not have the LATCH system. I want to get a new car seat for my 19 month old who is 21 pounds. Any advice for a safe seat for my old car would be GREATLY appreciated 🙂

    • Nikki says:

      What do you recommend using to put under the car seat to have it in the proper recline position for rear facing?

      • First, make sure your seat doesn’t have a mechanism built in (many do, and they are often quite hidden). Once you have read the manual and verified that the seat doesn’t have its own mechanism, then I like to use tightly rolled towels underneath to achieve the proper rear-facing recline.

  2. Jenna says:

    I was told by a car seat tech that if you have to put your car seat in one of the outer positions, place it behind the drivers seat because in a split second decision you are more likely to protect your side however many friends have told me that the car seat techs they went to installed on the passenger side. Any thoughts?

  3. Bethany says:

    We have 2001 and 2005 Audi A4’s. Our 27lb. 2 year old will be 2 yrs and 3 months and closer to 30 pounds when #2 arrives. She is currently in the Chicco NextFit in the middle with LATCH and is rear facing. We already have limited mobility of the driver’s seat as the car seat takes up a lot of back seat space (we found this with all the car seats we looked at). When #2 arrives, #2 will be in the Baby Trend Infant seat with base. What would your recommendation be for configuration as we would like to keep the 2 year old rear facing but aren’t sure if we can due to the car seats’ taking away the needed driver’s space. Thanks for any help!

    • The Baby Trend most likely won’t install securely in your cars (this seat doesn’t install securely in many vehicles). Look into a Cybex Aton for the baby as it takes up 4 inches less room into the front seat than other infant seats.

      For your older one, the Graco Milestone & Clek Fllo (when used without the anti-rebound bar) offer a high rear-facing capacity while taking up very little room into the front seat.

  4. Terri says:

    I have a 2000 Olds Alero, 4 door. The seats are leather. Even the infant car seat wiggled too much in the center. But because the seats are slanted back and hug your butt, in the rear facing position, my son is pretty close to the standing position. When he falls asleep, his head falls forward onto his chest. I do not feel comfortable putting a blanket underneath the car seat to level it out. Any suggestions?

    • Please find someone trained in your area to get help with the installation of the seat – http://www.seatcheck.org
      The center is a flat seat in your car so you won’t likely need to add anything underneath to keep the car seat properly reclined. However, if you install the seat on the side you will likely need to use a tightly rolled towel to keep the car seat properly reclined, unless the car seat you have has a significant recline adjustment mechanism built in.

  5. Jessica says:

    I have a 2002 Chev Tahoe with 3 seats installed in the middle row. They are all Evenflows, the two on the end are rear facing convertibles, the middle is a FF only with a harness. I have no problem securing the rear facing seats but the middle front facing is with a lap belt only (she still uses the harness always) and the tether is not directly behind the car seat so her seat, even though it is very secure with the lap belt and tether, tends to lean to the side the tether is hooked to. Is this a problem? Should the middle seat be sitting properly upright?

    • The lap belt holding the center seat is likely not tight enough, or is not staying tight due to how the locking mechanism in the lap belt (found in the male end of the seat belt) is resting on the edge of the car seat. Definitely continue to use the tether and make sure it is pulled tight. Please find someone trained in your area to get help with the installation – http://www.seatcheck.org

  6. Michelle says:

    Excellent article! My husband and I both have four door cars (2007 Honda Civic, 2010 Hyundai Elantra). We currently have a 4.5 year old son and a 3.5 year old daughter who both sit in Graco Affix Youth Booster Seats on the sides on both cars. We’re now talking about having a third child and have no plans of upgrading vehicles if possible. What would be the correct order to place the car seats? Would you recommend a particular infant seat to make the puzzle work? The middle seat in both cars is just a lap belt. Thank you!

    • I’d try a Cybex Aton/Aton2 in the center for the new baby… but the first thing I’d try is putting the 3 year old back into a 5 point harness as to go in a booster kids should be AT LEAST 4y AND 40 pounds AND mature enough to sit properly for the entire trip (no leaning over, no slouching, no playing with the shoulder belt). The honest truth is that many kids aren’t ready to ride in a booster until closer to 6 years old.

  7. mandy falgout says:

    i am about to have baby #2 and have a 2/5 yo already. he’s in a convertible that’s forward facing in the center of the rear seat in our 2012 Honda CRV. i have attempted to put the infant seat (Graco Keyfit 30) next to him and the seat just doesn’t look very secure. what would be best?

  8. Jamie says:

    My step daughter has a baby due on January 28th. We got his car seat a couple days ago. For the last 6 months, I’ve been watching my godson, he is still rear-facing, but I’ve noticed since I’ve had his car seat in my car that the base doesn’t sit tight. I can move it about three inches in either direction because my back seat seat belts don’t lock. Both car seats, my godson’s and grandson’s car seat have the LATCH, as does my car, but even with the LATCH properly installed, the base still moves more than an inch. What am I doing wrong? Do I need to get a new locking mechanism so the base doesn’t move? Please help!

  9. Brittany says:

    I have a 2005 Pontiac Grand am. My car seat is a graco my size 65. My. Baby is 7 months, I like to install in the middle but with the lap belt I find it doesnt seem tight enough can I use the locking clip? Am I missing something?

  10. Liz says:

    I just purchased an Evenflo Chase LX harnessed booster seat for my 37lb (almost) 3 year old. I have a 2008 Toyota Yaris. She has been FF in a graco my ride but with baby #2 coming any day, I wanted a slimmer seat as to not have things too crowded back there. Anyways, my husband installed the seat this evening and although the seat is tight and does not move much, the front edge is lifted off of the seat about 2 inches. Could this be because of the shape of my backseats? How do I fix it or should I find a different seat?

  11. Candi Christenson says:

    My husband’s car has lap belt only seat belt in his car. We currently have a 4.5 year old in the center spot with a 3 point harness car seat. He is now too tall for the car seat straps and too heavy for the 3 point harness car seat. Can we put our 8 year old in the middle seat w/o a booster seat? Our state laws say he can be out of the booster seat at age 8. Although he is still in a booster seat 95% of the time. We have also have a 6 year old in a booster in the other seat.

    • The only person that can ride safely in a position with a lap belt, is a child in a 5 point harness car seat. Take a look at the Britax Frontier as this has a very high top shoulder strap slot. The Evenflo Sure Ride does as well.

  12. Amber says:

    I have a 1996 Buick Century that does not have the LATCH system. I want to get a new car seat for my 19 month old who is 21 pounds. Any advice for a safe seat for my old car would be GREATLY appreciated 🙂

    • Amber – Keeping a child rear-facing as long as possible is always important (at least until a minimum of 24 months), but even more important in older cars where it may be difficult to get a tether anchor retrofitted (the tether is the most important part of a forward-facing car seat). In the center of your 1996 Buick you have a very long female end of the seat belt – which can make it tough to get some car seats tightly installed. A car seat that has a low belt path that allows for all of the seat belt hardware (the male and female end of the seat belt) to go in the inside of the belt path will be best. The Diono Radians would be a great option. I like the RXT the best as it has extra wings by the side of the child’s head – but any of the Radians will be fine. You’ll also want to get an angle adjuster (sold separately by Diono) to help the seat sit a little more upright so it doesn’t take up any room into your front seat. Make sure to get the installation checked by someone trained – http://www.seatcheck.org
      http://www.diapers.com/p/diono-car-seat-angle-adjuster-243608?utm_source=cse&utm_medium=cpc_D&utm_campaign=googleproductsearch&site=CA&utm_term=SK-140&CAWELAID=1338675633

  13. Janelle says:

    I am pregnant with my second child and my first will only be 21 months when she is born. I will need 2 car seats installed. What placement for 2 seats is safest?

    • Many cars can not fit 2 car seats, especially 2 rear-facing ones, installed side by side – so most likely the 2 kids will end up on either side, and there is no difference in safety between the 2 sides. If your car can safely accommodate 2 car seats side by side (which partially depends on your choice of car seats – as you’ll certainly need narrower ones) then while both are rear-facing it doesn’t matter who gets the center or the side… but most likely there will be one layout that the car seats fit better than the other layout.

  14. Heather Powell says:

    We have a 2010 Honda pilot. I am wondering where would be best to install my children’s carseats. We have two kids in booster seats with backs, one rear facing convertable carseat and one rear facing infant. The car has two rows with 3 seats each. 3 kids will fit across the front row, but I heard a rumor that it’s better if carseats aren’t next to each other. Should I put two in the front and two in the back or can I still have 3 in the front?

    Thanks.

    • It’s ok to have car seats next to each other. In order to access the 3rd row, you’ll need to put the 2 rear-facing seats in the 2nd row driver & center positions – which will require narrow seats. The Clek Foonf & Cybex Aton2 are 2 seats that will work in this side-by-side situation.

  15. Ching Neely says:

    Hello! I love that you are very specific with your advice. We have a 9 month old who is approaching 22 lbs and outgrowing his rear facing carseat. Do you recommend infants at this age to be in a front facing carseat? Thank you.

  16. Maria says:

    Hi!
    Coming to you for help and understanding as I’m getting conflicting advice. My local technician stated that according to vehicle manual seat should be reclined. When it came up again in another professional car seat installation conversation i was informed seat should not be reclined. I have a 2007 Acadia she is RF. Should the second row bucket seat be reclined?

    • The vehicle seat must be upright or very close to upright – as the back of the vehicle seat is part of the restraint system that keeps an adult or a car seat in place during a crash. Please refer to your vehicle’s owners manual for further instructions.