How to choose a child car seat? Overview of the main types.
When transporting a child in a car, safety plays an important role. For this purpose, «special chairs» or car seats have been developed that are rigidly attached to the internal parts of the car and allow you to comfortably put the baby in the designated protected place. The product has many varieties for the weight of a small passenger, methods of fixing the device and available adjustments. When choosing a car seat, you should also take into account the parameters of the car, as well as the attachment points.
The information below will help you to understand all the features of this product and purchase the most suitable option. By the way, you can check this post to learn which booster seats are the best for traveling.
Car seats for the littles – Rear-Facing Seats
The AAP recommends that all infants ride rear-facing starting with their first ride home from the hospital. All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing seat until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat manufacturer. Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more. When infants outgrow their rear-facing–only seat, a convertible seat installed rear-facing is needed. All parents can benefit from getting installation help from a CPST to ensure that their child’s seat is properly installed.
Types of Rear-Facing Seats
Three types of rear-facing seats are available: rear-facing–only, convertible and all-in-one. When children reach the highest weight or length allowed by the manufacturer of their rear-facing–only seat, they should continue to ride rear-facing in a convertible or all-in-one seat.
- Are used for infants up to 22 to 35 pounds and 26 to 35 inches, depending on the model.
- Are small and have carrying handles.
- Usually come with a base that can be left in the car. The seat clicks into and out of the base so you don’t have to install the seat each time you use it. Parents can buy more than one base for additional vehicles.
- Should be used only for a child’s travel (not sleeping, feeding, or any other use outside the vehicle).
Convertible seats (used rear-facing)
- Can be used rear-facing and, later, “converted” to forward-facing for older children when they outgrow either the weight limit or the length limit for rear-facing. This means the seat can be used longer by your child. Convertible seats are bulkier than infant seats, however, and they do not come with carrying handles or separate bases and are designed to stay in the car.
- Many have higher limits in rear-facing weight (up to 40–50 pounds) and height than those of rear-facing–only seats, a feature that makes convertible seats ideal for bigger babies and toddlers.
- Have a 5-point harness that attaches at the shoulders, at the hips, and between the legs.
- Should be used only for a child’s travel (not sleeping, feeding, or any other use outside the vehicle).
All-in-one seats (used rear-facing)
- Can be used rear-facing, forward-facing, or as a belt-positioning booster. This means the seat may be used longer by your child as your child grows.
- Are often bigger in size, so it is important to check that they fit in the vehicle while they are rear-facing.
- Do not have the convenience of a carrying handle or separate base; however, they may have higher limits in rear-facing weight (up to 40–50 pounds) and height than those of rear-facing–only seats, a feature that makes all-in-one seats ideal for bigger babies and toddlers.
What do I do if my child slouches down or to the side in the car seat?
You can try placing a tightly rolled receiving blanket on both sides of your child. Many manufacturers allow the use of a tightly rolled small diaper or cloth between the crotch strap and your child, if necessary, to prevent slouching. Do not place padding under or behind your child or use any sort of car safety seat insert unless it came with the seat or was made by the manufacturer for use with that specific seat.
What if my child’s feet touch the back of the vehicle seat?
This is a very common concern of parents, but it should cause them no worry. Children can bend their legs easily and will be comfortable in a rear-facing seat. Injuries to the legs are very rare for children facing the rear.
Why should I dress my child in thinner layers of clothing before strapping him or her into a car safety seat?
Bulky clothing, including winter coats and snowsuits, can compress in a crash and leave the straps too loose to restrain your child, leading to increased risk of injury. Ideally, dress your baby in thinner layers and wrap a coat or blanket around your baby over the buckled harness straps if needed.
Do preemies need a special car seat?
A car safety seat should be approved for a baby’s weight. Very small babies who can sit safely in a semi-reclined position usually fit better in rear-facing–only seats. Babies born preterm should be screened while still in the hospital to make sure they can sit safely in a semi-reclined position. Babies who need to lie flat during travel should ride in a car bed that meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213. They should be screened again while in the hospital to make sure they can lie safely in the car bed.
Toddlers & Preschoolers – Forward-Facing Seats
Any child who has outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for her convertible seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by her car safety seat manufacturer. It is best for children to ride in a seat with a harness as long as possible, at least to 4 years of age. If your child outgrows a seat before reaching 4 years of age, consider using a seat with a harness approved for higher weights and heights.
Types of Forward-Facing Car Seat Restraints
- Convertible seats: Seats can “convert” from rear-facing to forward-facing. These include all-in-one seats.
- Combination seats with harness: Seats can be used forward-facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 65 pounds (depending on the model) or without the harness as a booster (up to 100–120 pounds, depending on the model).
- Integrated seats: Some vehicles come with built-in forward-facing seats. Weight and height limits vary. Do not use a built-in seat until your child has reached the highest weight or height allowed for your rear-facing convertible car safety seat. Read your vehicle owner’s manual for details about how to use these seats.
- Travel vests: Vests can be worn by children 22 to 168 pounds and can be an option to traditional forward-facing seats. They are useful for when a vehicle has lap-only seat belts in the rear, for children with certain special needs, or for children whose weight has exceeded that allowed by car safety seats. These vests usually require the use of a top tether.
What if I drive more children than those who can be buckled safely in the back seat?
It’s best to avoid this, especially if your vehicle has airbags in the front seat. All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat. If absolutely necessary, a child in a forward-facing seat with a harness may be the best choice to ride in front. Just be sure the vehicle seat is moved as far back away from the dashboard (and airbag) as possible.
School-aged Children – Booster Seats
Booster seats are for older children who have outgrown their forward-facing seats. All children whose weight or height exceeds the forward-facing limit for their car safety seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years of age. Most children will not fit in most vehicle seat belts without a booster until 10 to 12 years of age. All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat.
There are a large number of travel booster seats. Instructions that come with your car safety seat will tell you the height and weight limits for the seat. As a general guideline, a child has outgrown a forward-facing seat when any of the following situations is true:
- He reaches the top weight or height allowed for his seat with a harness. (These limits are listed on the seat and in the instruction manual.)
- His shoulders are above the top harness slots.
- The tops of his ears have reached the top of the seat.
Types of Booster Seats
High-back and backless are 2 standard types of booster seats. They do not come with a harness but are used with lap and shoulder seat belts in your vehicle, the same way an adult rides. They are designed to raise a child up so that lap and shoulder seat belts fit properly over the strongest parts of the child’s body.
Most booster seats are not secured to the vehicle seat with the seat belt or lower anchors and tether but simply rest on the vehicle seat and are held in place once the seat belt is fastened over a child. However, some models of booster seats can be secured to the vehicle seat and kept in place by using the lower anchors and tether along with lap and shoulder belts. (Currently, only a few vehicle manufacturers offer integrated booster seats.)
Common Questions about Booster Seats:
What if my car has only lap belts in the back seat?
Lap belts work fine with rear-facing–only, convertible, and forward-facing seats that have a harness but can never be used with a booster seat. If your car has only lap belts, use a forward-facing seat that has a harness and higher weight limits. You could also
- Check to see if shoulder belts can be installed in your vehicle.
- Use a travel vest (check the manufacturer’s instructions about the use of lap belts only and about the use of lap and shoulder belts).
- Consider buying another car with lap and shoulder belts in the back seat.
What is the difference between high-back boosters and backless boosters?
Both types of boosters are designed to raise your child so seat belts fit properly, and both will reduce your child’s risk of injury in a crash. High-back boosters should be used in vehicles without headrests or with low seat backs. Many seats that look like high-back boosters are actually combination seats. They come with harnesses that can be used for smaller children and, later, removed for older children. Backless boosters are usually less expensive and are easier to move from one vehicle to another. Backless boosters can be used safely in vehicles with headrests and high seat backs.
Older Children – Seat Belts
Seat belts are made for adults. Children should stay in a booster seat until adult seat belts fit correctly, typically when children reach about 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years of age. Most children will not fit in a seat belt alone until 10 to 12 years of age. When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for the best protection. All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat.
An adult seat belt fits correctly when
- The shoulder belt lies across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not the neck or throat.
- The lap belt is low and snug across the upper thighs, not the belly.
- Your child is tall enough to sit against the vehicle seat back with her knees bent over the edge of the seat without slouching and can comfortably stay in this position throughout the trip.
Other points to keep in mind when using seat belts include
- Make sure your child does not tuck the shoulder belt under her arm or behind her back. This leaves the upper body unprotected and adds extra slack to the seat belt system, putting your child at risk of severe injury in a crash or with sudden braking.
- Never allow anyone to “share” seat belts. All passengers must have their own car safety seats or seat belts.
I’ve seen products that say they can help make the seat belt fit better. Should we get one of these?
No, these products are unapproved and should not be used. They may actually interfere with proper seat belt fit by causing the lap belt to ride too high on the stomach or making the shoulder belt too loose. They can even damage the seat belt. This rule applies to car safety seats too; do not use extra products unless they came with the seat or are specifically approved by the seat manufacturer. These products are not covered by any federal safety standards, and the AAP does not recommend they be used. As long as children are riding in the correct restraint for their size, they should not need to use additional devices.