Choosing a car seat is an extremely important decision, probably one of the most important purchases you will make, and installing a car seat that is safe and appropriate for your child’s age and size is crucial! 

These tips from the American Automobile Association (AAA) should be followed when making your car seat choice:

Read your vehicle owner’s manual carefully before going car seat shopping. This is important to assist in car seat placement and installation. Most car seats can be attached using either the seat belt or LATCH system (which stands for the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, and which all new vehicles have).  Make sure you choose the correct seat for your child’s age, weight and height. Each car seat owner’s manual details the weight and height specifications for that particular seat. It is important to know how much room you have in the back seat. A seat with a large base may not fit in a small car and you may have to opt for one with a narrower base instead. Make use of the instruction booklet (which should always be kept with the seat) and the diagrams on the seat itself. Install the seat before it’s time to bring baby home from the hospital. The easiest way to ensure correct installation is to have a child passenger safety technician in your area do it for you. Click here to find one in your area.

If you are going to install the safety seat with the car’s seat belt, you will do so using the safety seat’s belt path. This will keep the seat secure. Once the seat belt is in place on the safety seat and properly fastened, there should be no more than 1 inch of side-to-side motion at the belt path. This means that if you grab the seat at the point where the belt enters the belt path, and push the seat side-to-side, you shouldn’t be able to move the seat more than 1 inch.

Choose a seat with two-piece retainer clips. These clips are more difficult for a child to unfasten. The two-piece clips take some dexterity and ingenuity to unfasten. Without these, toddlers may be able to unbuckle and climb out of their seat by themselves. Look for accessible harness adjusters. All safety seat harnesses adjust, but you want to make sure the adjustments are easy to reach and simple to use. An improper harness adjustment makes the seat less effective in the event of a crash. Choose something easy to clean. Seats made with a smooth fabric will wipe clean more easily. When choosing the correct car seat, be aware of your little one’s posture. If you notice your baby is slouching down or to the side, use blanket rolls on both sides of your infant. Do not place padding under or behind your infant or use any sort of car seat insert unless it came with the seat or was made by the manufacturer of the seat. 

Type of Car Seats Include:

Infant Car Seat

This is the first seat for most new parents.  It can only be installed rear-facing, and has a convenient, removable carrier that connects to a base installed in the car. This provides the best fit for newborns and smaller babies, and can be used for children from 4 lbs. to 40lbs, depending on the model. Children will probably get too tall before they get too heavy for these seats. A child is too tall when the crown of his head is less than one inch from the top of the carrier shell, or they exceed the height limits of the seat. 

Convertible Car Seat

This is likely the next step after outgrowing an infant seat, to be purchased no later than a child’s first birthday.  It can be installed rear- or forward-facing.  The harness system is similar to those in infant seats, but these have a higher rear-facing weight limit.

Children can ride rear-facing longer, which both Consumer Reports and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend as the safest option.  These seats can be used rear-facing up to 40-50 lbs, depending on the seat, and recommended to be rear-facing until at least age 2, or the rear-facing limits of the seat. When your child is ready, the seat can be turned around and used forward-facing until it is time for a booster seat.   

Many can hold children as heavy as 65 lbs. Although the minimum weight limit allows for newborns and smaller infants, this type of seat often does not provide the best fit for smaller babies or the convenience of a detachable carrier. 

Booster Seat

When your child outgrows the weight and height limit for a forward-facing seat’s harness, it’s time for a booster that uses a car’s own seat belt.

Boosters raise a child up in the car so that the seat belt fits correctly; over the sternum and the center of the collarbone (not the neck) and low across the upper thighs (rather than the abdomen). They come in two main st‌yles, high-back and backless.

Backless versions are quite portable and easy to install, but we recommend high-back models, which better position the shoulder belt and provide some side impact protection. Many states have booster laws, some of which require children as old as eight and as heavy as 80 lbs to use a booster. 

Check out your individual state laws here.

We hope you enjoyed our Car Seat Guide! 

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