There are so many car seat types and models, how do you know which one is right for your child? The right car seat or booster fits your child and your car, and is one you will use correctly every time you travel. Not only will your child ride as safely as possible, you will be establishing the foundation for a lifelong habit of seat belt use every time your child travels.
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Select a car seat based on your child’s age and size, and choose a seat that fits in your vehicle and use it every time.
Always refer to your specific car seat manufacturer’s instructions; read the vehicle owner’s manual on how to install the car seat using the seat belt or LATCH system; and check height and weight limits.
To maximize safety, keep your child in the car seat for as long as possible, as long as the child fits within the manufacturer’s height and weight requirements.
Keep your child in the back seat at least through age 12.
Birth - 12 months
Your child under age 1 should always ride in a rear-facing car seat.
There are different types of rear-facing car seats: Infant-only seats can only be used rear-facing. Convertible and 3-in-1 car seats typically
have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.
1 - 3 years
Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. It’s the best way to keep him or her safe. Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the
rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness.
4 - 7 years
Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your
car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it’s time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the back seat.
8 - 12 years
Keep your child in a booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. For a seat belt to fit properly the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and not cross the
neck or face. Remember: your child should still ride in the back seat because it’s safer there.
Description (Restraint Type)
is the best seat for your young child to use. It has a harness and in a crash, cradles and moves with your child to reduce the stress to the child’s fragile neck and spinal cord.
positions the seat belt so that it fits properly over the stronger parts of your child’s body.
has a harness and tether that limits your child’s forward movement during a crash.
should lie across the upper thighs and be snug across the shoulder and chest to restrain the child safely in a crash. It should not rest on the stomach area or across the neck.
Rear-Facing Car Seats
The safest place for your child to ride is in a rear-facing car seat, in the back seat. In a crash, the rear-facing car seat protects your child's head, neck, and spine. Keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible according to manufacturers' instructions.
Infant Car Seat (Rear-Facing Only)
"Infant-only" car seats can only be used rear-facing. These types of seats are designed to be portable and are generally lighter in weight and easier to carry than car seats intended for older kids.
When your child outgrows the infant car seat, move him or her to a convertible, 3-in-1 or an All-in-One car seat, used rear-facing. These seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing longer. If a baby under 1 year old grows too tall or too heavy for an infant-only car seat, we recommend moving the baby to a car seat with higher rear-facing size limits.
Convertible car seats offer you the advantage of using one seat for both the rear-facing and then the forward-facing position as your child grows. Read the manual carefully, and remember that children should continue to ride rear-facing until they reach the top height or weight limit before you move them to the forward-facing position.
All-in-One or 3-in-1
All-in-One and 3-in-1 seats offer you the advantage of using the same seat for the following positions: rear-facing, forward-facing with harness, then booster.
For both types of seat: Read the manual carefully, and remember that children should continue to ride rear-facing until they reach the top height or weight limit, before you move them to the forward-facing positions with harnesses.
Keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible, according to the car seat manufacturer’s directions. If your child is older than age 2 and still fits the car seat -- used rear-facing -- it’s fine for your child to continue to ride rear-facing. Be sure to check the height and weight limits for the seat. You can find the height and weight limits printed on the labels on the car seat and in the manual.
Forward-Facing Car Seats
When your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, the child should ride in a forward-facing car seat in the back seat. A forward-facing car seat has a harness and uses a top tether to limit your child’s forward movement during a crash.
Convertible car seats convert from rear-facing for babies and smaller children to forward-facing for older and larger children.
3-in-1 / All-in-One
All-in-One and 3-in-1 seats offer you the advantage of using the same seat for the following positions: rear-facing, forward-facing with a harness, then booster. Use these seats forward-facing with a harness and tether after your child reaches the top rear-facing size limit allowed by the manufacturer.
Combination car seats convert from a forward-facing car seat with a harness to a booster seat. Keep your child in the full harness for as long as possible. Check the manufacturer's instructions for the size limits.
Best Practice: Don't rush to move your child to a booster seat too early. Continue to use your forward-facing car seat with a harness and top tether in the back seat for as long as possible. The harness and top tether provides upper torso, head, and neck protection. Always read manufacturer instructions for size limits.
Some younger children may outgrow the weight or height limit of the forward-facing car seat with a harness, but may not be ready to stay seated properly in a booster seat using the lap and shoulder belt. If this is the case look for a car seat with a higher size limits.
We know you have many options to choose from when selecting a car seat or a booster seat – whether it is the first seat you use or when you are ready to transition to the next seat type. For more help in this area, CLICK HERE for our Ease of Use Ratings on all car seats.
A booster seat raises and positions your child so that the vehicle's lap and shoulder belt fit properly. A booster seat keeps the lap belt from causing injury to the child's abdomen and keeps the shoulder belt in place to give the child upper body protection. In the event of a crash, an adult seat belt that does not fit a child properly can actually cause injury rather than prevent it, because it doesn't fit over the strong parts of the child’s body.
High-Back Booster Seats
We recommended that you use a high-back booster if your vehicle has a low seat back. A low seat back does not offer any support for your child’s head either by the vehicle seat back or the head rest.
Backless Booster Seats
If your vehicle seat or head rest do provide support for your child’s head, you may use a backless booster seat.
Combination or All-in-One Car Seats, Used as Boosters
When your child outgrows the height or weight limits of the harness, remove the harness and use the seat as a booster. Be sure to carefully follow the instructions on how to convert your seat to a booster.
When to Move to a Seat Belt:
For a child to properly fit a seat belt, the child must:
Be tall enough to sit without slouching;
Be able to keep his or her back against the vehicle seat;
Be able to keep his or her knees naturally bent over the edge of the vehicle seat, and
Be able to keep his or her feet flat on the floor.
The lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach; and
The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest, and not cross the neck or face.
Never let children put the shoulder belts under their arm or behind their backs, because it could cause severe injuries in a crash.
Best Practice: Keep your child should in the back seat because it is safer there.