How easy is it to install a car seat?

Installing a rear-facing car seat (photo courtesy of IIHS)

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), three out of four car seats are not used correctly.

Most cars since 2002 are required to have a Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) restraint system, which is meant to make it easier to hook in a child seat.

But as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) points out, that isn't always the case.

IIHS recently started testing ease-of-use for LATCH hardware in vehicles, and it found that out of 102 vehicles tested, only 3 are "Good." More than half are poor or marginal.

Common problems include lower anchors that are buried within the seat, too much force is required to attach them and hardware confusion on where to attach the tether anchor.

"If manufacturers fix the problems with LATCH hardware then parents will have an easier time installing restraints correctly, and kids will be safer as a result," said

Jessica Jermakian, senior research scientist for IIHS.

Under the new rating system, IIHS states that LATCH hardware will get a good rating if all the following criteria are met:

  • Lower anchors are no more than 3/4 inch deep in the seat bight.
  • Lower anchors are easy to maneuver around.
  • Force required to attach a standardized tool to the lower anchors is less than 40 pounds.
  • Tether anchors are on the vehicle's rear deck or on the top 85 percent of the seat back.
  • The area where the tether anchor is found doesn't have any other hardware that could be confused for the tether anchor.

To get an acceptable rating, the vehicle must meet at least two out of three of the lower anchor requirements and one out of two of the tether anchor requirements.

Surprisingly, none of the three vehicles to get a "Good" rating are minivans. The top three were the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz GL and Volkswagen Passat.

The 10 worst-rated vehicles?

  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500
  • Ford Fiesta
  • GMC Sierra 1500
  • Hyundai Accent
  • Lexus ES
  • Mazda 6
  • Nissan Altima
  • Toyota Sienna
  • Toyota Tundra
  • Volkswagen Jetta

You can see the complete list and get more information on the new LATCH ratings, on the IIHS website.

While IIHS focuses on how easy the vehicle makes it to install a car seat, NHSTA offers ease-of-use ratings for car seats themselves. The listing is a bit clunky because it isn't searchable, but it captures all the ease-of-use ratings in an alphabetical list. So, as long as you have the make/model of the car seat, you can check it's specific rating easily.

One really cool feature on the NHTSA website, however, is the car-seat finder, which allows you to type in the birthday, weight and height of your child. Then it produces a list of recommendations in an easy-to-view list, complete with ease-of-use ratings and the ability to compare seats.

If you're a new parent installing a car seat for the first time, you're probably a bit paranoid about making sure you do it right. That's why we're thrilled with the NHTSA and IIHS ratings on car seat and vehicle ease of use. Even if you're a veteran parent, with all the new cars and technology available, a refresh on the car-seat research is necessary for each child.

Here are some great resources for parents who have kids in car and booster seats:


You can also find Auto Matters on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Let's continue the conversation!