Car Advice

How to check your child seat is fitted correctly

Here are our five top tips to help you make sure your child seat is fitted correctly in your car.

RECENT RESEARCH by Neurosceince Research Australia (NeuRA) suggests around 90 per cent of parents make at least one mistake when it comes to fitting a child seat into a car. National laws introduced in 2009 and 2010 mean that most Australian children now sit in the correct restraint for their age.

The introduction of ISOFIX restraints onto the Australian market recently has made fitting a child seat to a car easier because of the red and green makers letting you know when the seat is properly locked in place. But, many parents still make mistakes when it comes to the child being fastened into the restraint.

And, on any given school day you’ll see far too many young children sat in the front seat of the car, when it’s recommended that children up to the age of 12 should remain in the back seat. Indeed, I took the mother of my son’s soccer team to task over her very short eight-year old travelling in the front seat of the car instead of the back seat… I coached the team and so felt responsible… the mother simply told me to mind my own business. Hmmm.

According to NeuRA, mistakes occur in three ways:

  1. When the child seat or restraint is installed or a restraint is moved from one car to another.
  2. When a carer puts a child in the car. For instance, any slack in a seatbelt or harness – if you can pinch some fabric between your fingers it is too loose – may allow the child to move during the crash.
  3. Errors caused by a child who may take an arm out of the restraint or fiddle with the sash.

Best Practice for child seats

Up until the age of four, children must use either a rearward or forwards facing seat with a built-in harness; it’s recommended you keep your child in a rearward facing seat for as long as they will fit (there are many rearward facing seats available for toddlers).

From four- to seven-years-old a child must use a forward-facing car seat or booster seat.

From seven- to 12-years-old must either use a booster seat or car seat with an adult seat belt. How can you tell if your child has outgrown a booster and is ready to sit in an adult seat? Follow the five-step test:

  1. Can the child sit with their back against the vehicle seat back?
  2. Do the child’s knees bend in front of the edge of the seat?
  3. Does the seatbelt run across the middle of the shoulder, not across the neck?
  4. Is the lap-sash part of the seatbelt sitting low across the hips and not touching the child’s thighs?
  5. Can the child stay seated in this seat for the whole trip?

How to check your child seat is fitted correctly

  1. If you’re using an ISOFIX seat then make sure the locks are indicating green.
  2. Check that the top tether strap is not twisted and clipped into the correct mounting point and not a luggage hook.
  3. Don’t use a car seat headrest to secure the child seat; this needs to be moved out of the way so that the child seat can sit back against the back of the seat.
  4. Check the car seat belt is running through the correct path in the child seat and that it is not twisted; it should hold the seat securely in place and resist you pushing on the seat. If you push against the seat and it moves, reassess why the seat is not locking in securely.
  5. If you’re using a seat with a harness, remember to adjust it to suit your child’s clothes. You can use the pinch test to check if the harness is fitted correctly; simply try and pinch the harness at your child’s collarbone. If you can get a good amount of fabric between your finger and thumb then the harness is too loose.
  6. (Call it a bonus) If in doubt, always have your child seat checked by a trained child seat fitter. Many baby stores, have trained child seat fitters and all the motoring clubs around the country, like the NRMA, RACV, RAA, etc offer child seat fitting services.


  • Graham Cox

    Its great to see practical advice provided, however, SLACK in the seat belt is a critical element causing children to be exposed to higher risk of being ejected from the seat in a collision. Most children fidget and this leads to the lap belt loosening off and rising up off the upper thigh onto the stomach. Look out for a simple device called SHOFT that solves this.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.