Car Seat Guidelines-Find the Safest and Best for Your Child

Car Seat Guidelines-Find the Safest and Best for Your Child

Car Seat Buying Tips

For obvious safety reasons, the car seat you buy will depend upon the height, weight, and age of your child. As your baby grows he or she will go through different stages that require different types of car seats.  You really shouldn’t trade up to the next stage too quickly. It is strongly recommended and important to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as you can.

When you are starting out, you have the option of putting your newborn into a convertible car seat or a dedicated infant seat. Although convertible types can be forward facing as well as rear facing and will hold your baby until he or she is two tears old, the infant car seat is a much more comfortable choice for a young newborn.

Infant Car Seat

Along with being more comfortable the best and safest type of car seat for newborns is an infant car seat that is rear-facing.

They are convenient with an easy to use carrier that is detachable and mounts onto a base that stays in the car. When it is time to get out of the car, you just click and take the seat with your baby in it. You can also buy additional bases if necessary.

All babies should use a rear-facing seat until they are two years old or have reached the height and weight limit of whatever seat you are using. Weight ranges for infant car seats start can start at 4 pounds and go up to 35 pounds maximum.

 Five-Point Harness

Infant seats are equipped with a seat belt that is actually a  five-point harness that offers good security for your baby, and should only be used in a rear-facing position which is much safer in the event of a crash. The seat should also be adjusted to recline at a 35 to 45-degree angle.

Five-points is in reference to how many points or places the harness is attached to the seat. There are two connections next to your baby’s hips, two at the shoulders, and another connection point between your baby’s legs. Proper fitting of the straps is also essential to the safe operation of the 5-point harness. If your child is seated in a rear-facing car seat place the shoulder straps at or below the shoulders if forward facing place the straps at or above the shoulders.

Once you have all five straps in place and are sure that they are flat and not twisted pull the adjusting strap as shown above to make the harness comfortable but snug. The straps should be tight enough that you cannot pinch the webbing together, just not too tight.

You can install some seats without the base, but the installation is not as secure and often lowers the weight limitation of the seat. Not having a base also allows the car seat to slide around on the seat of the car no matter how tight you may think you have secured it.

Combine your car seat with a car seat stroller to create a travel system. This is a good way to save money if you were planning to buy a stroller as well as an infant car seat.

Pictured above, the Chicco NextFit Convertible Car Seat combined with the Graco Snugrider Elite Stroller and Car Seat Carrier, is another option that you may also consider.

Convertible Car Seat

Similar to the infant model, this type has a five-point harness system and is rear-facing but also has the option of being forward-facing, hence the name convertible.

Some convertible models can accommodate a baby from birth up to 45 pounds. There are some companies offering convertible models for toddlers weighing up to 80 pounds and an allowable height range from a 19″ minimum up to a 53″ maximum.

A convertible car seat will allow you to change from a rear-facing position to a forward-facing one once your child grows into the toddler range. Although this can save you money, this type seat does not offer the same convenience or fit of an infant car seat. They are also not stroller compatible, which is inconvenient if you take your baby in and out of the car often.

All-In-One Car Seats

An all-in-one seat has all the same features of a convertible seat. It can be forward or rear-facing and has a five-point harnessing system. However, this type can be used, after removing the harness, as a belt positioned booster seat. As the name implies, this seat is designed to meet all your car seat needs from birth until the time you transfer your child into a booster seat.

The advantages of an all-in-one seat are higher rear-facing weight limits (up to 40 lbs.) and a longer seat length. The increased length makes it easier to keep your baby in a rear-facing position for a longer time without having to worry about the weight limitation.

Some manufacturers claim that their all-in-one car seats have a “maximum recommended weight ” as high as 120 lbs. However, the weight limit of this type seat should not exceed 50 to 65 pounds while still using the five-point harness.

This allows certain toddlers to take advantage of the five-point harness system, which is a much safer and more preferred method than the 3-point seat belt system of your vehicle. An all-in-one will definitely save you money because it could be your child’s only car seat.

The larger size allows your child to stay rear-facing and safe for a longer time, but it may not work as well for a newborn as an infant car seat.

Pictured here is the Chicco Next Fit Convertible Car Seat that is the best selling convertible car seat on Amazon with very high ratings and excellent reviews

Booster Combination Car Seat

These models can be forward or rear-facing and have five-point harnessing systems that will easily convert into a toddler booster seat after your child grows out of the harness. However, my opinion which is really based on simple research is that if your child is still within the limits of requiring the five-point harness then your child should continue to remain in the rear-facing position.

When your child has reached the upper height and weight limits of the five-point harness, it is a simple task to remove the harness. Then and only then, you will have a booster seat that you will be able to use to raise your child to the proper height for use of your vehicles seat belt and reposition your child to a forward facing position.

There are a few things that you need to consider when opting for a toddler booster combination car seat. Some manufacturers will certify that the weight range for a particular model is between 20 and 65 lbs.

It is not recommended, nor is it a good idea to put any child or infant weighing as little as a 20 lbs. in a forward-facing car seat. Oftentimes, some children under the age of three will weigh enough to meet the low-end weight requirements of a belt positioned booster. Research has shown that this is not nearly as safe as a five-point harness when facing forward.

Booster Seats

It is easy to mistake a booster combination for a high-backed booster seat and vice-versa. The simple difference is that a high-backed booster seat doesn’t have a harness and is meant to be used with your vehicle’s 3-point seat belt.

A belt-positioned booster or “booster seat” doesn’t have a harness built-in. It is designed only for use with your vehicle’s seat belts. 

A booster seat does not require any installation. Some of the more recently introduced models do come with LATCH (“Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children”). LATCH will keep the booster secure and prevent it from flying forward in the event of a crash.

Typical rear seat LATCH locations

When using a booster, it is the vehicles seat belt that keeps your child secure, not the booster seat. Some of the high back booster seats have slots or guides that help you better position the belt on your child, but a backless booster is only a cushion that raises your child enough to enable the use of a seatbelt.

A quality booster seat will put the shoulder section of the seat belt over the strong bony part of your child’s collar-bone and chest and allow the lower strap of the belt to go across his or her hips and thighs, and not across the stomach or abdomen.

When properly fitted, your child’s back should rest comfortably against the back of the vehicle seat (or the back of the booster seat, if using one). Your child’s knees should bend comfortably at the seat’s edge. The safety belt should also stay put when your child moves about on the seat.

5 point Harness and Shoulder Strap Modes

It is always wise to follow the recommendations and suggestions from the car seat manufacturer. However, if you ever have questions or are unsure about anything concerning the safety or functionality of your car seat visit your local, or State Police, or Dept. of Motor Vehicles. Someone, there will always be happy to assist you.