Seated Safely: Choosing the Best Car Seat

Choosing, installing, and using a car seat can be confusing. Here’s some need-to-know information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Infant Seats

Infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat for as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. Check your safey seat instructions. Most convertible safety seats have height and weight limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more.

Infant-only seats are small and portable, but they can be used only until a baby weighs up to 20 to 35 pounds, depending on the model. A convertible seat is bigger and can be used longer, so it may be better for a larger baby.

With a convertible seat, your baby is safest riding rear-facing until reaching the seats height and weight limits set by your car seat. When it's safe to turn a convertible seat to face forward, you’ll need to adjust the shoulder strap slots, seat position, and seatbelt path. If your vehicle was made after 2002, it likely comes with the LATCH system, which will secure the seat without the use of seat belts.

Booster Seats

Your child’s ready for a booster seat when one of the following is true:

  • He reaches the weight and height limits for his seat

  • His ears reach the seat top

  • His shoulders are above the harness slots

Safety Tips for Installation and Use

When installing a safety seat, make sure it’s buckled in tightly enough. Tighten the seat belt if the seat moves more than 1 inch from side to side or toward the front of the car.

Every time you put your child into a safety seat, buckle your child in snugly. That means using the right harness slots and tucking blankets in only after adjusting the harness straps.

Not sure you’ve correctly installed your child’s safety or booster seat? Check it at a child safety seat inspection station. To find a local station, go to, or call 1-866-SEAT-CHECK.

Health Tip

According to the AAP, some used car seats are still safe. Your used seat shouldn’t be more than five or six years old, and it should not have been in a moderate or serious crash. In addition, a used seat should have:

  • A crack-free frame

  • A label with a date of manufacture and the model number

  • Instructions

  • All its parts.

Also, be sure to check that the seat has not been recalled.

Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Jovino, DO

Date Last Reviewed: 4/6/2010

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