The Definitive List of Car Seats for Every Age and Size
Car seats are a source of confusion among parents. With seemingly countless options and styles, how do you know which is right for your child’s age and size?
We’ve compiled some helpful information to remove some of the mystery from car seats.
There are five primary types of child safety seats:
- Infant seats,
- Convertible seats,
- 3-in-1 seats,
- Combination seats, and
- Booster seats.
While each style is different, there are some universal truths about car seats.
- Every car seat sold in the U.S. must meet government safety standards.
- Rear-facing seats offer the most protection in the event of a crash. The National Transportation Safety Board recommends keeping children in a rear-facing car seat until age 3; the American Academy of Pediatrics says kids should remain rear-facing until they reach minimum size requirements, usually around age 4.
- There are no universal size standards across brands and styles. Check height and weight guidelines from your car seat’s manufacturer.
- All car seats have expiration dates. It’s usually six years from the date of manufacture. Learn the expiration date, especially if you’re using a seat you also used for an older child. If you can’t find a date stamped on the seat, check the owner’s manual or call the manufacturer.
- Premature babies or those with special medical needs may need a car bed before graduating to a traditional car seat. Hospitals usually help families get a specialized car bed if necessary.
Infant Car Seats
Portability makes infant car seats extremely convenient. The seat attaches to a base that’s anchored in your vehicle using the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system or a seatbelt. When it’s time to get baby out of the car, simply lift the carrier from the base and be on your way. You can purchase multiple bases to use in different vehicles so going from one car to another is simple and efficient.
- Can only be used in a rear-facing position.
- Fits children from birth until around 24 months, depending on the brand and how fast your child grows.
- Uses a five-point harness to secure babies.
Convertible Car Seat
Convertible car seats can be used from birth until your child outgrows it. That makes it a good investment. But since the seat itself is strapped to the vehicle using either the LATCH system or a seat belt, you can’t easily transfer it to another vehicle. These seats can seem rather large for newborns, but their size also provides a feeling of security. Like infant seats, convertible seats use a five-point harness to secure your child. The harness attaches at the shoulders, hips and between the legs.
- Can be used in either rear-facing or forward-facing positions.
- Some are designed to hold children up to 40 pounds in a rear-facing position and 70 pounds in a forward-facing position.
- Ideal for bigger babies and toddlers who outgrow an infant seat, but need to stay rear-facing for safety.
Three-in-one seats can be used in three ways: rear-facing, front-facing and booster. Since they grow with your child, in theory, you’ll only need to buy one car seat. Since these seats are larger, they may not fit in a smaller car when used in the rear-facing position.
- Some models accommodates children up to 50 pounds in a rear-facing position and 80 pounds in a forward-facing position.
- Uses a five-point harness when rear or forward-facing. The booster version is secured with a seat belt.
Think of this as a two-in-one seat. It functions as a front-facing car seat with a five-point harness. Remove the harness and use it as a high-backed booster seat. The lap and shoulder seat belt secure the seat in place.
- Can only be used forward-facing.
- Uses a five-point harness when forward-facing. The booster version is secured with a seat belt.
Booster seats are used for bigger children. They are intended to secure a child who has outgrown a forward-facing seat, but aren’t large enough to be safely restrained with only a seat belt. Children are usually not large enough to use a seat belt alone until they are about 4 ‘9” tall. For most kids, this comes sometime between 8 and 10 years of age.
There are two booster styles: high-backed and backless. High-backed versions provide head and neck support while backless seats do not. Therefore, only use a backless booster in a vehicle with adequate neck support. Some booster models allow you to remove the back.
- Children usually graduate to a booster between 40 and 65 pounds, depending on the model of forward-facing car seat.
- A child needs to remain in a booster seat until he or she who can sit with his or her back against the seat and bend their knees at the edge of the seat, without slouching.
- Utilize the seat-belt positioning mechanisms on the booster chair to ensure a proper fit.
Knowing which car seat is right for your child can be difficult. Your child’s height and weight will dictate which style is right. When shopping for a seat, consider the manufacturer’s sizing guidelines to make sure the seat will work for your child.