Choosing a Car Seat - An Important Child Safety Decision

11/24/2011 09:56


If you have children, one of the most important purchases you'll make for your vehicle is a safe car seat. Children who are improperly restrained are at greater risk in the event of a car accident. When choosing a car seat, consider factors like your child's height, weight and age as well as comfort and ease of use.

Review these tips to help you choose a safe car seat or booster seat for your child:

Infant-only car seats are for newborns and infants weighing between 5 and 20 pounds.


Safe infant car seats usually come with handles to act as carriers when not installed in the car. To safely install, be sure the infant seat is in the back seat of the car facing backward. A safe car seat will hold the infant at a 45-degree angle. This prevents the baby's heavy head from tipping forward and obstructing her breathing. Fasten the seat securely with a seat belt. Most new cars are equipped with LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), a built-in system to secure car seats. If you have LATCH, you don't need to use the seat belt for installation. Keep in mind that your infant will outgrow this seat when he turns 1, weighs 20 pounds and his head is within one inch of the top of the seat. All of these conditions need to be met. It's not a matter of whichever comes first. Convertible seats are for toddlers weighing between 20 and 40 pounds.



The convertible seat can face forward and backward. Your toddler should ride facing backward for as long as the seat's manufacturer suggests. Consult the manual for recommendations. Look for a seat with a soft, comfortable harness that's easy for you, but not your child, to operate. For example, two-piece retainer clips are tricky for little fingers. Keep in mind that your toddler will outgrow this seat when the middle of her head is above the top of the seat, typically around 4 or 5 years old. Standard convertible seats accommodate children up to 40 pounds; however, models are available for larger children. Booster seats are for children weighing between 40 and 90 pounds.



The booster seat is designed to position school-age children so the seat belt fits them correctly. Most children can forgo the booster seat once they reach a height of 4'8" or 4'9". This typically happens between 8 and 12. At this point, they can ride without the booster seat, but they still should ride in the back seat. Some states have mandated that children under age 9 must sit in a booster seat while riding in a vehicle, regardless of their size. Children shouldn't sit in the front seat until at least age 13. Other factors to consider when looking for the best car seat:


Choose one that fits your family and your vehicle. If tall or large builds run in your family, choose a seat with a higher limit so you'll be able to use it longer. Before deciding on one, try it out in your car. Smaller, sportier cars tend to have seats whose bottoms aren't flat enough for the bases of the car seat. Compact cars may not have enough room in the back for a rear-facing car seat. You'll want to know this before you buy.

Comfort is also important when choosing a car seat. Despite all your research, it's still possible your child simply isn't comfortable in the seat. You may need to try a few out before you find the right one. Look for sufficient seat padding. This is especially important on long road trips. Another valuable feature is fabric and padding to cover metal parts that could become hot in the sun or cold in the winter.

Safe car seat installation tips:


Call your local police or fire department for a free installation. If there are multiple slots for the harness, make sure the harness is at or below your child's shoulders. If you have an older car, your seat belts may require locking clips. In older cars, seat belts can slacken when met with excessive force; whereas in newer models, they immediately lock into place on adjustment. A locking clip acts like a belt buckle, keeping the belt snug around the car seat. If your baby leans or tips in the seat, place pads around him but never under or behind him. Don't accept a used car seat unless you really know its history. With safety recalls and possible accident histories, you never know if the seat is as safe as possible.


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Before shopping for one, consider this information to help you find the best car seat for your child.