Children’s car seats are known for having very specific installation procedures. When a car seat is installed incorrectly, it can put a child at risk of serious injury or even death. However, proper car seat installation, when performed correctly, is one of the best ways of protecting children in an accident.

Here’s everything you need to know about installing a car seat as well as additional resources available to assist parents and guardians.

Car Seat Essentials

One of the leading causes of injury or death for youngsters is motor vehicle accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tens of thousands of children are injured or killed in car accidents annually — a number that could be significantly reduced by properly securing children in their car seats.

Car seats do for children what seat belts alone do for adults by spreading the force generated by a collision over a wider portion of the body. A car seat protects a child’s head and spinal cord, making proper car seat installation essential to any parent’s routine.

Proper Car Seat Installation

Proper car seat installation starts with finding a seat that fits your child. Your child will go through several seats as she grows. Never assume that the one she had when she was four years old still fits her at age seven.

The car seat must also be compatible with your vehicle’s make and model. Vehicle design can have a huge impact on whether the car seat will fit and hold your child securely. Research indicates that seven out of 10 kids in child safety seats are not properly buckled in.

Fortunately, a national campaign by SeatCheck enables families to find a certified inspector to ensure that the seat is correctly installed. Local fire departments and hospitals are among the participating organizations in this campaign.

Installation Instructions and Tips

Depending on the child’s age, weight and height, proper car seat installation and placement will vary. For example, rear-facing seats are necessary for children ages two and younger or until the child reaches the upper weight limit of his car seat, typically 35 pounds. Car seats may be faced forward once children reach the upper limit of their first seat. They can continue to use a car seat until they reach the maximum weight and height restriction of that particular model.

Once a child outgrows her car seat, she must sit in a booster seat. You should use a booster seat for children ages 8 to 12, or until they reach 4 feet 9 inches tall. As a general rule, all children under age 13 should sit in the back of a car.

Car Seat Recalls

It is important that parents track the many and ongoing car seat recalls and take immediate action. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides a current list of recalls, noting any and all defects and the corrective action required. Unfortunately, car seats that are more than 10 years old are not listed. In this case, old seats should be disposed of and replaced. Parents should also check to ensure that their car seats have not expired.

Car Seat Safety

Your child’s life is too precious to neglect proper car seat installation. In fact, it’s the law in all 50 states and the District of Columbia that parents and guardians make use of car and booster seats for their children. Visit your state’s DMV department for requirements specific to your state.

For more information on car seats of all kinds, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

This story originally appeared on the NAPA Know How Blog and was reprinted with permission here.