How Do I Choose the Right Car Seat?

Finding the right car seat for your child may feel overwhelming. Countless brands, varieties, and styles are available to choose from, and finding the right one may be difficult. Parents should keep several things in mind when purchasing car seats; finding the right one typically depends on the size and age of the child.

Car Seats for Infants

An infant should ride in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches age 2, but a child may remain in a rear-facing seat until age 4 as long as he or she still fits comfortably in this position. A rear-facing car seat offers the highest degree of protection in a car accident. The child’s head, neck, and back have support from the car seat, which limits impact on these sensitive areas in the event of a crash. Additionally, facing the rear of the vehicle helps prevent whiplash-related injuries from the force of coming to a sudden stop.

Many types of infant car seats are available. Some solidly attach to the car while others may be modular. For example, you may find an infant stroller that comes with a basket that doubles as a car seat. This type of set will generally include a base that remains attached to one of your vehicle’s back seats. When it’s time to put the baby in the car, the basket seat detaches from the stroller and attaches to the base inside the vehicle. It’s crucial to carefully read the included instructions with these car seat systems to ensure proper installation.

Forward-Facing Car Seats

Once your child is too large for a rear-facing seat you can put him or her into a forward-facing seat. Again, some modular car seat systems may enable you to adjust your car seat for a larger child, but you may also need to upgrade to a larger forward-facing seat once your child is at least 4 years old and too tall to sit in a rear-facing seat.

A child in a rear-facing seat should wear a five-point harness. This means one strap over each shoulder, one across each hip, and one between the legs that fasten securely near the child’s chest. Make sure the harness fits your child and keeps him or her secure without being too tight. A good way to tell when your child is too big for a forward-facing seat is to measure the shoulder straps. The car seat’s shoulder straps should be even with or above the child’s shoulders. Once their shoulders are higher than the highest slot for your seat’s shoulder straps, you may be able to move your child into a booster seat.

Booster Seats

A booster seat is ideal for children over 4 who are too large for forward-facing seats with five-point harnesses. Some booster seats may include these harnesses while others offer fixtures for using the car seat’s included safety belt. These seats help position safety belts, so they do not hurt a child’s neck if he or she is too short for a regular belt. Parents should ensure their kids do not move shoulder straps behind them and adjust straps accordingly to fit a child securely.

Once a child is at least 4’9” tall, he or she should be able to ride with just a seat belt. Some states have specific laws that dictate how long a child must remain in a booster seat or forward-facing car seat or enforce additional height and weight requirements. Be sure to check your state’s laws before allowing a child to ride with only a seat belt. Additionally, remember that it is always safer for children to ride in the backseat of a car, even if a child is tall enough to ride with just a seatbelt.