Our top pointers for installing a rear-facing car seat

Chloe Schneider

Chloe Schneider

Chloe is a writer and content strategist with bylines in mindbodygreen, Mashable, Ageless by Rescu, and more. She's a mum to one-year-old Felix, and believes that you can have it all, you just can't have it all at once
Updated on Jul 09, 2024 · 10 mins read
Our top pointers for installing a rear-facing car seat

A car seat might not be the most exciting purchase on your newborn list, but it is, without a doubt, one of the most important. No matter how safe a driver you are or how infrequently you drive, accidents happen, and a properly fitted car seat can be the difference between life or death for a child in a car crash.  


A car seat might not be the most exciting purchase on your newborn list, but it is, without a doubt, one of the most important. No matter how safe a driver you are or how infrequently you drive, accidents happen, and a properly fitted car seat can be the difference between life or death for a child in a car crash.


Here in Australia, we have strict safety standards for child and infant car seats. By law, children aged up to 7 must be in an age-appropriate, approved car seat.

In this article, we’ll share how to choose the right child car seat and ensure it is installed correctly.


Choosing the right child car seat


There are three types of car seats: rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster seat. The type you use will depend on your child’s age and size.

Understanding car seat safety standards

All child car seats must meet Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754 and be labelled accordingly. Look for the certification mark when shopping and ensure the car seat you choose provides the best possible protection in the event of a collision.

Buying a second-hand car seat isn’t recommended (as tempting as it might be in this economy), but if you buy second-hand or use an older sibling’s seat, ensure that it is less than 10 years old and in good working condition with no cracks, stress marks, or damaged straps.

Selecting a seat that meets your child’s needs

Car seats are more about your child’s height than age, but age can also be a helpful guide.

Australian car seat laws stipulate that children should be in rear-facing car seats for the first six months of their life, but it is safest to leave them rear-facing for as long as possible as this is the safest possible position for a child. When they reach the exit height marker or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer, you will need to swap them to a forward-facing or booster seat.

There are other things to consider, including whether you want to get a capsule car seat or a convertible car seat. Convertible car seats can face rearwards for longer (up to 2.5 years), but some parents prefer baby capsules to easily transfer from car to pram.

Finally, you will need to ensure there is enough room in your car for the car seat and that your car has enough anchorage points if you have more than one car seat or capsule. You can check your car manual for information on anchorage points.


Pre-installation checks


There are a few things to check before you install a car seat.

Regularly checking the height of your child

Child car seats have shoulder height markers that help determine when your child is ready to move to a forward-facing or booster seat. Keep your child in the rear-facing seat until their shoulder is aligned with or above the forward-facing or exit height marker.

Ensuring the car seat is safety tested

Choose a car seat that has been safety tested and certified to Australian/New Zealand Standard 1754 and ensure the car seat provides high-quality protection for your child in the event of a collision.

How to install rear-facing car seat correctly


Now that you have your car seat, it’s time to install it.

It’s important to follow the instructions provided by your car seat manufacturer carefully. If you feel unsure about any step or simply want some help (no judgment, these things are tricky!), you can get your car seats correctly installed or checked at an authorised installation or fitting service. Many baby stores offer professional car seat installation services, making it easy to buy and install your child’s car seat in one place.

Fitting the car seat in the rear-facing position

  1. Discard the top-tether anchor point attachment if your car has built-in anchor points.
  2. Choose which side of the car you want to put the seat in. The safest option is the passenger side, but this may be impossible if you have more than one child.
  3. Set the car seat base to the correct angle for your child — most seats have instructions to show you where this is.
  4. Pull out the stabiliser bar from the front of the seat, where your child’s legs will sit, and set the seat into position in your car. The stabiliser bar should sit firmly against your car seat’s backrest.
  5. Pull out the ISOFIX buckles and lock them into place, careful not to twist the straps. Tighten the straps on either side until a green line appears.
  6. Take the top tether strap from the child seat and extend it to its maximum length, then thread it over the backrest or headrest to the tether point at the back of the seat. Click this in and give it a quick yank to test if it is secure, then tighten the strap until there is no slack.
  7. The other side of the tether strap on your child’s seat (near the door) should remain slack until your baby is in the seat – then you can tighten this so it matches the first side.
  8. Finally, adjust the front seat in your car to ensure there is no pressure on the child seat. In smaller cars, this can obstruct legroom — another reason fitting the child seat on the passenger side can be beneficial.

Avoiding common mistakes during installation

Avoid common mistakes by following the manufacturer’s instructions for installing the car seat and checking the seat and tether straps to ensure the car seat is properly fitted to your vehicle. If you feel unsure that your car seat is correctly installed, it’s best to book a professional installation or check before you bring your baby home.

Rear-facing car seat safety benefits


By law, a rear-facing car seat is required until a child is at least 6 months old, but many parents choose to keep their children in this position for much longer.

The importance of extended rear facing for child safety

Extended rear-facing occurs when parents delay turning the car seat until their child is older (up to approximately 30 months old, depending on the child’s height and weight and the limits of the seat).

The rear-facing position cushions the body better in an accident, making it the safest option for children.

If you opt for extended rear-facing, you’ll need a convertible car seat rather than a capsule. A convertible car seat lacks some of the conveniences of a capsule, but they tend to be safer, allowing for rear-facing until a child is up to 3 years of age.

Age should be treated as a guide, and your child’s pinnacle should be the determining factor for switching from rear-facing to forward-facing.

Installation and maintenance best practices


There are a few things to consider when installing your child seat or transitioning kids from one style of car seat to another.

Where to install the car seat in your vehicle

The back row of seats is the safest place in the car for children aged 12 years and under, no matter what car seat you have. The passenger seat in the back is considered the safest seat for a car seat to be installed, plus placing your child seat here allows for adequate driver leg room.

If you have backseat airbags, adjust the seat as far back as possible. This will help protect your child from injury if activated during a collision.

How to install multiple car seats in a car

The number of child car seats you can install correctly in your car will depend on its size and seating configuration. Most stores will allow you to take a car seat out to your car to test it before you buy; this is always a good idea to ensure that car seats can be installed and fitted correctly.

Regularly inspecting and maintaining the car seat and harness

Regularly check your car seat and harness for signs of wear and tear, and ensure problems are fixed quickly or that an expert is consulted when necessary. It’s also a good idea to check for twists in straps and fix them before you drive.

Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for maintaining the car seat and harness, and register your car seat to ensure you are made aware of any product recalls or updates.

Child car seats FAQ


1. How do I know if my car seat is installed correctly?

Start by consulting your car seat manual to see if your car seat looks like the illustrations or photographs provided. Check for twisted straps, pull on the tether strap to test how firm it holds, and ensure the seat does not easily move about. You can also ask an authorised restraint fitter to check your car seat installation for you — this is worth the investment if you feel even slightly unsure about whether your car seat is installed correctly.

2. Can I install a rear-facing car seat in the front seat?

Children under 4 years of age must not sit in the front seat of a vehicle with 2 or more rows of seats. From ages 4 to 7, a child must not sit in the front seat of a vehicle with two or more rows of seats unless all other seats are occupied by children under 7. They must always be in an approved child car seat. If a passenger seat airbag is in the front seat, you must not use a rear seat in the front row.

In short, the back seat is the safest option even as your child grows.

3. What should I do if my car doesn’t have ISOFIX?

If your car is not ISOFIX compatible, you can use the seat belt installation method instead. This will be detailed in your car seat manufacturer’s instructions.

4. How tight should the car seat be installed?

Test your car seat by putting your hand at the base of the belt path and giving it a firm shake front to back. If it moves more than one inch, you need to tighten the car seat and ensure it is properly adjusted.

5. When should I switch from a rear-facing to a forward-facing car seat?

This depends on the type of car seat you have, the size limitations outlined by your car seat’s manufacturer, and your child’s height and weight. Check your car seat instruction booklet for more information, and use the guides on your car seat to determine whether your child is ready to be in the forward-facing position. Remember, a rear-facing car seat is best until your child outgrows it.

6. Are there any accessories to avoid using with a car seat?

Child restraints are designed to be used without requiring additional accessories, and there are accessories on the market that can increase the risk of serious injuries in an accident. Seatbelt positioners, buckle covers, additional pillows or padding not provided by the manufacturer and tested with the restraint, and chest clips are all examples of accessories that can pose a risk. For better protection, it is strongly recommended you use your child’s car seat as per the manufacturer’s guidelines and don’t be fooled by marketing spin.

Sources


Child car seats, NSW Government. Available at: https://www.nsw.gov.au/driving-boating-and-transport/roads-safety-and-rules/safe-driving/child-seats#:~:text=Children%20aged%20between%206%20months,or%20an%20approved%20booster%20seat.

Safety: Child car seats, The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Available at: https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Safety_Child_car_seats/

Child restraints for use in motor vehicles, Product Safety Australia. Available at: https://www.productsafety.gov.au/product-safety-laws/safety-standards-bans/mandatory-standards/child-restraints-for-use-in-motor-vehicles

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