Infant Car Seat Buying Guide

Infants and children are required to use a certified car seat while riding in any vehicle. How long a child must use a car seat varies by state, provincial, and federal laws. Your child must be in a car seat when leaving the hospital, so you will need to research and choose a safe car seat BEFORE the baby is expected to arrive. For more information on how best to prepare for a newborn infant, check out our newborn essentials guide. Infant Car Seat Buying Guide

Researching Car Seats

When looking for car seats, keep in mind that some models work better with different cars. Many stores will let you test the car seat in your own vehicle to make sure it can be strapped in tightly. Pay attention to weight limits; look for a car seat that will allow your child to stay rear facing as long as possible. If you can’t test the seat in your car before purchasing, make sure you hold onto the receipt so you can make an exchange later if you’re unable to fit the seat securely.

Car Seat Types

There are many different brands and styles to choose from, but they all support an infant’s head, neck, and back. These seats are rear facing only and should be installed in the center of the back seat. Most have a detachable base so the base stays secure in the car and the carrier can be removed without waking up the baby. Infant car seats have two different restraint systems.
  • A three-point harness that has latches at the shoulders and between the child’s legs.
  • A five-point harness that has latches at the shoulders and in between the legs as well as at the hips.
Convertible car seats are for newborns and toddlers. The weight and height limit vary by seat, but most can rear face until after the child’s first birthday. Once the child reaches the time to forward face, the seat can be turned around. Convertible car seats are also available in five- and three-point harness systems. The five-point system is the safest because it offers the best protection against a head injury. The three-point system uses a shield in the front to hold the child in place. A three-point harness with overhead shield has a padded shield that comes down over the baby’s head. Straps on the shield keep the baby’s torso in place and a final strap buckets between the legs.

Booster Seats

Infant Car Seat Buying Guide Booster seats are the final car seat a child needs. These are used when a child has outgrown a convertible car seat, but can not sit in a seat alone for safety reasons or due to the law. These are designed to lift the child so that the vehicle’s seat belt fits the child better. These seats are made for children from 40-80 pounds and ages 4-8. There are two different styles of booster seats. A belt-positioning booster is for children from 40-80 pounds. These are available in high-backed and backless seats. The seat uses the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belts to hold the child and seat in place. A high-backed booster with a five-point harness is for children who weigh 20-40 pounds, or more depending on the seat. This seat is attached to the car with the LATCH system or with the vehicle’s seat belt. When the child reaches 40 pounds, the five-point harness is taken off the seat and it becomes a belt-positioning booster.

Tethers and Latch

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now mandates that all car seats have a tether strap. This better stabilizes the seat and reduces the risk of the seat moving forward in a crash. The tether is attached to a loop on the rear shelf area in most cars.

Additional Safety Tips

Here are some guidelines from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
  • For rear facing infants, the straps should be at or below the baby’s shoulders.
  • An infant should ride at a 45 degree angle from horizontal.
  • Ensure that harness straps fit properly every time.
  • Never place a car seat or booster in a seat with a front air bag.
  • Use a car seat that is the correct size for your child in both height and weight.
  • Fill out the registration card. If there is ever a recall on the car seat, the manufacture will notify you.
  • The car seat base should be firmly rested on the seat. It must also be surely tightened with the vehicle’s seat belt. It the seat moves more than one inch in any direction, it is too loose.
  • If the car does not have a seat belt that locks, you must use a locking clip that should come with the car seat or can be purchased separately.
  • To ensure that the seat is installed correctly, go to a car seat safely check and read tips from the NHTSA.
  • Do not purchase a used car seat. Normal wear and tear, sun damage, and any accidents will reduce the seat’s effectiveness.

General Guidelines For Shopping

Look for a seat that is easy to install and easy to strap in your child. Also, make sure your child will fit in the summer with little clothes on as well as during the winter with a coat. Also make sure that the seat will grow with your child.
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April 24, 2011

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