How to Use Owners' Manuals for Car Seat Safety

When it’s time to install a child safety seat correctly, manuals are excellent sources of information. It is important to read and understand both your vehicle owner’s manual and safety seat manual. Always keep both in an easily accessible place, such as your vehicle’s glove box or another storage bin or seat pocket.

Can’t find your manuals? You can get replacements, freely available online in digital form.

How to use car seat manuals

Your car seat manual contains information about the seat’s height and weight requirements. It also provides important safety precautions. These include never leaving a child unattended in the car seat, not using the seat if it has been damaged or is missing parts, and ensuring you maintain the labels that come affixed on the seat.

The table of contents helps you locate specific information, such as

  • Installation guidance, including the ideal location in your vehicle
  • Securing your child in the seat
  • Harness and chest clip adjustments as your child grows
  • Cleaning instructions
  • Airplane usage
  • LATCH system instructions 

Common uses for your child safety seat manual

Height, weight and age limits. When can my child start using this seat? When will they outgrow it? Different seats have different limits and restrictions.

Correct installation in your vehicle. What installation methods does your seat’s manufacturer allow? What positioning options are available? Pictures and diagrams are often included to make installation easier.

Where a seat should be installed. The back seat is the safest location for installing a child safety seat. But each vehicle may vary regarding which seating position is best. For example, some vehicles’ rear center seat would not be a safe location if they lack anchor points.

Use of the LATCH system. Your safety seat manual will explain how to use the Lower Anchor and Tether for Children (LATCH) system. But you’ll also need your vehicle owner’s manual to determine the location of the lower anchors and tethering point. If your car was made on or after Sept. 1, 2002, it will include the LATCH system in at least two seating areas. Use either the LATCH system or a seat belt, but never use both together. Each vehicle manual will explain which installation methods are allowed.

Expiration. How long will this safety seat remain safe? Most seats expire in six to 10 years. Check your manual for your specific seat’s useable life. You should also be able to find this information on a label adhered to the seat itself.

Care instructions. Using correct cleaning methods will help avoid damage to the seat, which may void its warranty.

Aircraft use. Do you travel frequently? Consult your manual to learn if your safety seat is approved for aircraft use. A notice will appear on a seat label as well.

How to use vehicle owner’s manuals

Your car owner’s manual is likely in the glove compartment. If you cannot locate it or it did not come with the car when you bought it, you can find a digital version online. Check your auto maker’s website, or call your nearest dealer for help.

Whether your car is new or used, register it with the manufacturer so they can contact you in case of a safety recall. You’ll need the vehicle’s make, model name and year. This information is likely on the front cover. You’ll also need the vehicle identification number (VIN). This is often on a white label on the dashboard facing the windshield, or on a white label on the driver’s door well (check next to the driver’s seat).

The table of contents will guide you to information about how your car operates, its specific features, and passenger safety. When locating information about child safety seats, look for phrases such as “child restraint” or “child passenger safety.”

Use the manual to locate seat belts and air bags. This information will help you know the best location to install the safety seat. Never place a rear-facing seat in front of an active air bag. When available, the back seat is always the safest place for children.

The owner’s manual also provides guidance about how and where to install different types of child safety seats. It explains how to use the LATCH system, including the location of the tether anchors. This is a critical safety feature when the seat is facing forward.

When installing the car seat, always consult both manuals. Both include information about child passenger safety. Reference them together to ensure the car seat is installed as safely as possible.