Car seats help protect your children if you have an accident, which is why it’s so important to use the right car seat every time your child is in the car. There are many car seat choices on the market today and it’s important to know which one is appropriate for your child’s age and size and that the seat fits correctly in your vehicle.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are four types of car seats. Learn how to choose the right car seat for your child and ensure they are protected on the road. Also, don’t forget to register your car seat and sign up for notices about safety or recalls.
Types of Car Seats
1. Rear-Facing Car Seats
Rear-facing car seats are the best choice for babies and very young children. Since it has a harness, in the event of a crash, rear-facing car seats cradle your baby or child and reduces the impact of the crash to their neck and spine that are just starting to develop.
- Infant-Only Child Safety Seats: Infant-only child safety seats are exclusively rear-facing, and typically come with a five-point harness, though some have three. These seats double as an infant carrier with a portable handle when removed from the car seat base, which can be installed and left in the car. If your infant will frequently ride in different cars, you can purchase a base for each vehicle to avoid un- and re-installing the base. Babies usually outgrow their infant car seats by 8 or 9 months. Once a child reaches their seat’s weight limit, they will need a larger rear-facing seat, such as a rear-facing convertible child safety seat.
- Convertible Child Safety Seats: A convertible child safety seat can be used in both the rear- and front-facing positions, depending on your child’s age and weight. The convertible seat should be placed in the rear-facing position until a child exceeds the seat manufacturer’s height and weight limit. Then, the seat can be converted to the front-facing position.
- All-in-One Seats: All-in-one seats can change from a rear-facing seat, to a front-facing seat and eventually to a booster seat. This kind of seat allows your child to remain in rear-facing seats for longer as it can adapt as your child grows.
2. Front-Facing Car Seats
A front-facing child safety seat is used for children who have exceeded the height and weight limit of their exclusively rear-facing seat. These seats have a harness that limits your child’s movement forward during a crash.
- Convertible Child Safety Seats: The convertible seat should be placed in the rear-facing position until a child exceeds the seat manufacturer’s height and weight limit. Then, the seat can be converted to the front-facing position.
- Combination Seat: This seat changes from a front-facing seat to a booster seat as your child grows.
- All-in-One Seats: As mentioned previously, all-in-one seats can change from a rear-facing seat, to a front-facing seat and eventually to a booster seat.
3. Booster Seats
A child is ready to use an adult seat belt once they exceed the height and weight limit for their front-facing child safety seat, but they will need a booster seat to place them in the correct position for the car seat belt to be effective in the incident of a car wreck.
The booster seat should be used until the child is the appropriate size for the vehicle seat belt, which is typically when they reach a height of 4’9” between the ages of eight and twelve. Once they are big enough to ride without a booster seat, they should exclusively ride in the back seat until the age of 13.
Seat belts should lie across the upper thighs and be snug across the shoulder and chest to restrain your child safely in a crash. It should not rest on the stomach area or across the neck or face.
Choosing a Car Seat
- Make sure the seat you choose complies with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213, a standard that ensures child restraint systems keep children up to 65 pounds safe.
- Avoid used car seats. While the price may be tempting, the safety of an old seat is more likely to have been compromised from previous use, it is more likely to have recalls and it is less likely to have the most recent safety updates.
Things to Keep in Mind
- Ensure you are alerted of car seat recalls by filling out and sending in the product registration card.
- Car seats should only be used in the back seat. The front seat isn’t safe for children under 13.
- Carefully read the owner’s manual when installing your seat, and have the seat installed before you go to the hospital to deliver. You can also attend car seat check-ups in your area to have a certified car seat technician confirm your seat is installed properly.
- Ensure the car seat chest clip is at armpit level when buckled.
- Make sure the harness fits snugly over your baby.
- Place blankets and bulky clothing items, like coats, over the harness, never under.
- For newborns, keep the seat tilted at the proper angle to keep their head from flopping forward. Most car seats have built in angle indicators or adjusters to assist you.
- Keep children in a rear-facing car seat until they exceed their seat’s height and weight limits.