Using a car seat, also called a child safety seat, is the best way to protect your kids when they’re in a car. Car crashes are one of the leading causes of death and injury for children. Because car seats save lives, using a car seat is the law in every U.S. state.
But keeping your child safe depends on choosing the right safety seat and using it correctly. The best car seat is the one that fits your child’s weight, size, and age, as well as your vehicle.
Here are some things to know so you can pick a seat that’s right for your child:
- Choose a seat that meets or exceeds Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213. The seat’s label will say so.
- Learn how to install the seat and use the harness before your child’s first ride. Don’t depend on store displays to show you how to do it.
- To get help or to double-check that you’ve installed it properly, visit a child car seat inspection station, set up by the federal government across the country. You can also get help from many local health departments, public safety groups, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and fire departments. Be sure to ask for a certified child passenger safety technician.
- Be careful about using a secondhand car seat:
- If you know a seat was in a crash, don’t use it. It may be damaged in ways you can’t see.
- Don’t use a seat that is missing parts or lacks a manufacture date and model number. If there’s no instruction manual available, don’t use the seat. Also, check the seat for the recommended “expiration date.”
- If you have any doubts about a seat’s history, or if it has cracks or other signs of wear and tear, don’t use it. Car seat recalls are common. Contact the manufacturer and ask how long the seat can safely be used. If a seat has been recalled, the manufacturer might provide a replacement part or new model.
- Be sure to fill out the product registration card so you hear about recalls right away.
Babies start out in infant-only (rear-facing) seats or convertible seats. As they grow, kids switch to forward-facing seats before moving to a booster seat. Here’s a rundown of which seat to use when.
Types of car seats at a glance:
This chart is a quick guide on where to start your search. It’s important to continue your research to learn about each seat you use.
|Types of Car Seats at a Glance |
|Age-group||Type of Seat||General Guidelines |
|Infants and toddlers||Rear-facing-onlyRear-facing-convertible||All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing seat until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat manufacturer. Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear facing for 2 years or more.|
|Toddlers and preschoolers||Forward-facing convertibleForward-facing with harness||Children who have outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their convertible seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat manufacturer. Many seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds or more.|
|School-aged children||Booster||All children whose weight or height exceeds the forward-facing limit for their car safety seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years of age. All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat.|
|Older children||Seat belts||When children are old enough and large enough for the vehicle seat belt to fit them correctly, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for the best protection. All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat.|
Installation information: seat belts & LATCH
Car safety seats may be installed with either the vehicle’s seat belt or its LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system. LATCH is an attachment system for car safety seats. Lower anchors can be used instead of the seat belt to install the seat, and many parents find them easier to use in some cars. The top tether should always be used with a forward-facing seat, whether you use the seat belt or lower anchors to secure it. The seat belt and LATCH systems are equally safe, so caregivers should use one or the other, whichever works best for them, for their car safety seat, and their vehicle. In general, caergivers should only use 1 of the 2 options unless the car safety seat and vehicle manufacturers say it is OK to use 2 systems at the same time.
Vehicles with the LATCH system have lower anchors located in the back seat, where the seat cushions meet. Tether anchors are located behind the seat, either on the panel behind the seat (in sedans) or on the back of the seat, ceiling, or floor (in most minivans, SUVs, hatchbacks, and pickup trucks). All forward-facing car safety seats have tethers or tether connectors that fasten to these anchors. Nearly all passenger vehicles and all car safety seats made on or after September 1, 2002, are equipped to use LATCH. See vehicle owner’s manual for highest weight of child allowed to use top tether.
All lower anchors are rated for a maximum weight of 65 pounds (total weight includes car safety seat and child). Parents should check the car safety seat manufacturer’s recommendations for maximum weight a child can be to use lower anchors. New car safety seats have the maximum weight printed on their label.
NOTE: Seat belts—If you install a car safety seat by using your vehicle’s seat belt, you must make sure the seat belt locks to hold the seat tightly. In most newer cars, you can lock the seat belt by pulling it all the way out and then allowing it to retract to keep the seat belt tight around the car safety seat. In addition, many car safety seats have built-in lock-offs so you can lock the belt without having to lock the seat belt separately as well. Refer to the vehicle owner’s manual for details about how your seat belt locks.
Middle of the back seat—The safest place to ride for all children younger than 13 years is the back seat. If possible, it may be best for the child to ride in the middle of the back seat. However, it is sometimes difficult to install a car safety seat tightly in the middle if the vehicle seat is narrow or uneven. Also, many vehicles do not have lower anchors for the middle seating position. It is safest to put the car safety seat in a position where you can install it tightly with either the lower anchor system or the seat belt; in some cases, this position may be on either side of the back seat rather than in the middle. A child passenger safety technician (CPST or CPS technician) can help you decide which place is best to install your child’s car safety seat in your vehicle.
Read More: Best Infant To Toddler Car Seats
Best Safety Rated Infant Car Seats (Top 5 Updated)
The SnugRide 35 Lite LX is the best safety rated infant car seats you can buy online. It installs easily using vehicle seat belt or LATCH. It also features a rotating canopy to keep baby shaded. SnugRide 35 Lite LX attaches with a one-step secure connection to Graco strollers so you can create your own travel system.
The lightweight Graco SnugRide 35 Lite LX Infant Car Seat supports infants from 4-35 lb and up to 32″.
The car seat weighs just 7.2 lb, making it easy to carry baby from car to stroller.
The 4-position adjustable base with level indicator ensures an accurate install, and soft, two-piece infant head and body supports keep baby snug and comfortable.
For over 60 years, the Graco brand has provided thoughtful, practical, and dependable parenting solutions to generations of families. Our approach to caregiving stems from a heritage of innovation designed around safety, durability, and the best intentions of loving parents.
Built to Grow
From the headrest, to the harness straps, to the crotch strap, the seat has multiple comfort adjustment options to fit kids from birth to 10 years.
Multiple recline options means kids can lean back and enjoy a more comfortable
Parent Friendly Design
When arched backs and flailing arms and legs make it difficult to get kids in and out of the seat, our harness holders keep straps out of the way.
Easy to Clean
Messes are going to happen, so we’ve made the seat pad and cupholders easy to remove and machine-wash safe.
- Works for babies 4–30 lbs and up to 30”
- Great LATCH installation, but tough to install using a seat belt
- Slim profile and can often work three-across
The Chicco KeyFit 30 consistently ranks as a top choice for lots of parents. And we see why, as there are some big pros to this well-priced infant car seat. Things like an easy LATCH installation, a thickly padded seat lined with energy-absorbing foam and a removable, washable cover are all big pluses here.
If you’re parenting multiples or anticipating needing more than one car seat across your back seat, you’ll definitely want to give the KeyFit a look. This seat has a slim profile and is a good choice for smaller cars or if you need to fit three-across.
What’s Worth Considering
Kimmenau notes a few important things worth considering with this Chicco seat. Installation without the base is possible, but it’s super difficult, so if you’re planning on using it in taxis, ride shares or on a plane, you may want to keep looking. And getting the right fit for infants can be touch and go; for some, it’s not a problem at all, but for others it can be a bit frustrating.
- Seat fabric removes easily for cleaning
- Lightweight—under 9 pounds
- Straightforward, simple installation
The Mico Maxi has a few great features going for it, namely its light weight and how easy it is to clean. Weighing in at just under nine pounds, it’s one of the lightest seats on our list, making it easier on your arms when you need to tote your baby around in their infant seat. The seat’s pad can be easily removed and machine washed.
Plus, the fabric is self-wicking, which keeps babies dry and comfortable, especially in warmer temps.
The seat is easy and straightforward to install. And when it comes to safety, its features include extra side-impact protection and an anti-rebound bar.
What’s Worth Considering
The anti-rebound bar adds some length to the seat base, which makes it a tight fit in compact cars.
- Lots of safety features
- Easy to install, but no European belt path
- Slim profile
The B-Safe offers standout safety features at a great price point. The deep, narrow seat has sidewalls with energy-absorbing foam for side-impact protection along with a steel frame and an impact-absorbing base. It’s also a cinch to install. If you’re using the LATCH system, you’ll tighten it using straps that extend from the middle of the base, not the sides, a feature that lots of parents really like. (However, installation isn’t so simple without the base. So if you’ll need to use this seat in cabs and friends’ cars, the B-Safe may not be your best bet.)
What’s Worth Considering
This seat is on the heavier side. (But that’s because of the steel frame, so at least you know it’s for a good reason.) And as we mentioned above, it’s not a great choice if you’ll need to install it without the base.