Choosing a Car to Transport Children

Selecting the proper child-safety seat is only part of insuring the safety of your child. Vehicle and installation considerations also play a vital role.

  • Children belong in the backseat, so pick a vehicle with an accommodating one.
  • Many backseats are contoured in a way that prevents proper child-seat installation. The child-safety seat must sit flat and rest at a particular angle, typically indicated by a gauge on the seat itself.
  • The location of the seat belts and buckles affects installation, too. Some configurations — such as a belt buckle that emerges too far forward — prevent the belt from securing the seat tightly enough, depending on the model used. Always bring your child seat to the dealership to make sure it can be installed securely.
  • Even if the backseat is accommodating and the belts or LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) anchors are well positioned, the car's design can affect your ability to install the child seat. A two-door with a sloping roofline makes it difficult for the parent to put his or her knee into the seat and press it into the cushion before securing it — as is recommended.
  • The safest location for a child seat is in the center of the backseat, as it's as far as possible from the car's perimeter in all directions. These days, the center position often is raised to offset passengers' hips and shoulders. Unfortunately, this may frustrate child-seat installation. If the child seat rocks left and right even when belted tightly, you'll need a different child seat or a different car.
  • LATCH anchors simplify child-seat installation, but relatively few vehicles offer them for the center backseat position — the safest for a child seat. Most cars have a pair in each outboard seat. Here you're trading ease of installation for a less-than-optimal location. Consider vehicles that offer three LATCH pairs across the backseat or that position their two pair far enough inboard that the center anchors of each pair are close enough that they can be used with some LATCH-compatible child seats.
  • Top-tether anchors are required in all news cars, but they aren't all created equal — especially in sport utility vehicles, hatchbacks and minivans. Sometimes they're on the back of the rear seat's backrest or near the floor where they're reasonably accessible. Complications can arise in vehicles whose top-tether anchors are in the middle of the cargo floor or on the ceiling above the liftgate: In this case, the tether spans the cargo area and can interfere with cargo hauling.
Posted on 8/5/05