The Car Seat Conundrum: Which Is Right for Your Child?

Posted by Safeco September 17, 2015

Tips for Choosing and Installing Car Seats

Car Seat Requirements Change as Your Child Grows

First-time parents, feeling bewildered by all the car seat requirements and options?

You search and search and finally find the right one. Then you realize that, as your child grows older (and bigger), you’ll need an entirely different style of seat.

Thankfully, you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. There’s a lot of information out there to help you make the best choice for your child, and we’ve gathered some answers to common questions here.

What type of car seat do I need, and when?

  • Rear-facing car seat — at minimum, birth through 12 months. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), children under age 1 should always be in a rear-facing car seat. You can choose an infant-only, convertible or all-in-one style.

    Convertible and all-in-one seats have higher height and weight limits, so they will adapt to your child’s changing needs and you won’t have to purchase another seat so soon. However, infant-only seats may offer the added convenience of a base that remains in the car. This allows you to quickly snap the carrier in and out. Whatever option you choose, the NHTSA recommends keeping your child rear-facing as long as possible.
     
  • Forward-facing car seat — ages 1-3 (at the earliest) through ages 4-7. The NHTSA says children should remain in a rear-facing seat until they reach the height or weight limit specified by the manufacturer. Then they can move to a forward-facing seat with a harness and tether. Convertible seats and all-in-one seats include forward-facing capability.
     
  • Booster seat — after the forward-facing seat is outgrown. Booster seats are designed to position the seat belt properly on your child’s body. They should be installed in the back seat, which is safer than the front. Use a booster seat until your child is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly, with the lap belt across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt across the shoulder and chest. All-in-one seats feature booster-seat capability.

Do I have to buy a brand-new car seat?

Consumer Reports recommends purchasing only new car seats, but encourages you to consider the following factors if you are considering a used model (or if you have a new child and want to use the same seat you used with an older child):

  • Age: Look for a seat’s expiration period in the manual or on labels on the seat. Typically, the service life of a car seat is six years.
     
  • History: If the seat has been in an accident that caused injuries, forced air bags to deploy, required the vehicle to be towed or damaged the seat or the nearest door, it needs to be replaced.
     
  • Recalls: Check on the NHTSA website for car seat recalls.

If you don’t have complete information regarding any of these issues, do not use the car seat. It may be defective.

How do I install a car seat?

Start by reading the instructions, for both the car seat and your vehicle. Seats must be secured either with anchors or a seat belt, always in the back seat. And, make sure yours is secured tightly; it should not move more than 1 inch, side-to-side or front-to-back. Other tips:

  • For rear-facing seats, install the seat at the correct recline angle. Many seats have indicators or adjusters to assist with installation.
     
  • For forward-facing seats with a tether strap, connect the strap to the tether anchor and tighten.
     
  • To ensure your seat is installed correctly, many fire and police stations offer free inspections. Search for a car seat inspection location near you at SaferCar.gov.

What about the fit?

When your child is in the seat, make sure that harness straps lie flat — not twisted — and that extra material cannot be pinched at the shoulder when the harness and chest clip are buckled and tightened.

  • For rear-facing seats, place straps through the slot at or below your child’s shoulders.
     
  • For forward-facing seats, place straps through the slot at or above your child’s shoulders.

Becoming a new parent can be stressful enough — choosing and installing a car seat doesn’t have to be. Get even more tips on choosing the right car seat from the NHTSA.

 

Choosing the Right Car Insurance Is Important, Too

No matter which car insurance carrier you choose, be sure to select enough coverage to protect you and your family from various mishaps. Talk to your independent insurance agent about what options are right for you.

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