How do I know if a car seat has passed government standards?
It’s important to know that all car seat manufacturers in the U.S. are required to meet the same performance standards issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Car seat regulations ensure that all children will receive appropriate protection, no matter what brand or style of car seat parents and caretakers choose. Some seats may be more expensive than others based on fabric, padding or other bells and whistles, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are safer.
Is it best for children in the back seat to be seated in the middle or behind the passenger?
The middle seat is the safest in the event of a crash because it’s furthest away from windows and airbags. However, there are multiple factors that parents should take into consideration, such as the number of children riding in the car, which seats you are using and the size of your vehicle.
Do you have a car seat you recommend?
The best car seat is the one that is right for the age and weight of your child, fits correctly in your vehicle, and you can install correctly each time.
Is it safe to use products and accessories that don’t come with the car seat?
We don’t recommend using any accessories that did not come with the car seat, or have not been approved for use with your car seat by the car seat manufacturer. This is because they have not been crash-tested for use with that car seat. Some car seat manufacturers offer accessories that have been responsibly crash tested with their car seats, so before you go out and purchase that mirror, neck pillow, extra padding or handle toys, make sure to check with the car seat manufacturer.
How do I know if my car seat has been installed correctly?
Always start by following the car seat and vehicle manufacturer’s instructions when installing your seat. After you’ve installed the seat, we encourage parents to do the following tests:
First, there is the “inch test.” Grab the car seat at the bottom where it attaches to the car seat and tug it from side to side and front to back. If the seat moves more than an inch in either direction, tighten it.
Once your child is buckled into the seat, there is the “pinch test”. The “pinch test” is a quick, easy test to make sure the car seat straps are tight enough. Pinch the car seat strap near your child’s shoulder; if you can pinch a wrinkle in the fabric, tighten the strap until it is snug.
Additionally, throughout our website, you can click on a button to find a certified car seat technician near you. This way, you can have your car seat checked to see if it is installed correctly.
What is the best way to install my child’s car seat?
Always start by reading your child’s car seat owner’s manual when preparing to install the car seat in the vehicle. Both installation methods, seat belt and lower anchors, have been crash-tested, so either one is appropriate and safe to install your child’s car seat. The best way to install your child’s car seat is the method that will allow you to install the car seat correctly and tightly each and every time. Keep in mind that this could vary depending on the vehicle being used for travel. There are also a few things to keep in mind when installing your child’s car seat.
- The middle seating position in the backseat of the vehicle is the safest place for a passenger to ride, as it is furthest away from air bags and windows. That being said, once there are multiple children being transported in car seats, it can be somewhat of a challenge to have two car seats next to one another. This depends on the car seats being used, so it may be a good idea to make an appointment with a car seat technician near you to help with where to place each car seat in the vehicle.
- Although the middle seating position is the safest, there are many vehicle manufacturers that do not allow the use of the lower anchors in this position, as the lower anchors are only crash-tested in the outboard seating positions for that particular model of vehicle. Therefore, when installing the car seat in the middle position, first check your vehicle owner’s manual to see if the lower anchors can be used in that seating position for your vehicle. Many times, the best method for installation in the middle seating position is to install the car seat using the seat belt and placing it in locking mode. For any questions, visit our Car Seats 101 page, or make an appointment with a car seat technician near you.
- As your child grows, it is important to check your car seat’s maximum height and weight limits to be sure your child is still within the appropriate range for that car seat. In addition, vehicle manufacturer’s have a maximum weight limit when using the lower anchors to install a car seat. This weight limit includes the weight of the child and the car seat. Therefore, if you have your child’s car seat installed with the lower anchors, you will want to check that your child’s weight is still within the allowable limit to use the lower anchors for installation, as well as the weight of the car seat. Best course of action is to check both the vehicle owner’s manual for the lower anchor weight limit, as well as the car seat owner’s manual for the weight of the car seat to help determine how much your child can weigh before needing to switch to using the seat belt for installation. If the child’s weight is outside of the allowable limit, then it is time to switch methods and use the seat belt to install the car seat. For any questions with this process, contact a car seat technician near you to make an appointment for a car seat check.
How do I know when to transition my child from an infant car seat?
Keep your child rear-facing as long as the car seat manufacturer allows it. Even if they have outgrown the height limitations of their infant car seat, they may be under the weight limitations. Therefore, you can transition them to a rear-facing convertible car seat to give them more room to grow. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
You can find your car seat’s limits on the stickers affixed to the side of your car seat, or in the owner’s manual.
How do I know when to place my child’s car seat in the forward-facing position?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation, children should remain rear-facing until they reach the corresponding maximum height or weight limit of their convertible car seat.
You can find your car seat’s limits on the stickers affixed to the side of your car seat or in the owner’s manual.
Learn about what kind of car seat your child will need and when on our Car Seat 101 page.
Why should my child stay rear-facing longer with the new recommendation from the AAP?
Since children grow at varying rates, it is difficult to claim when a child can be turned around forward-facing based strictly on the child’s age. Rear-facing is the safest position for children to ride in the vehicle, as the child and car seat are in better positions to protect the child’s head and neck in the event of a crash. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) changed their stance on the issue in 2018 and now recommends that children remain rear-facing in the car until they reach the maximum weight or height limit of the car seat being used. Once a child outgrows a rear-facing only seat (infant seat), then he/she can be moved to the rear-facing position of a convertible car seat until the maximum weight or height limit of that seating position is reached. At that point, then the child can be turned around forward-facing in the convertible car seat.
For more information on which car seat is best for your child, visit our Car Seat 101 page.
When does my child switch to riding in a booster seat?
Toddlers should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness until they reach the maximum height or weight limit of the car seat and then transition to a booster seat.
You can find your car seat’s limits on the stickers affixed to the side of your car seat or in the owner’s manual.
How long does my child need to stay in a booster seat?
Children should ride in a booster seat until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall. Little ones can be eager to sit like big kids. However, seat belts often don’t fit young children properly and can ride up around their waists or necks, potentially causing injury during a crash.
Booster seats elevate children so that seat belts can fit properly.
How long can I use the inserts that come with my child’s car seat?
Different car seat models will come with their own head and body pillows to provide extra cushion and support for the child to use in the car seat. When to remove these inserts is dependent on the car seat manufacturer and model. Many times there is a weight limit for how long the inserts can be used, so the best step is to check the car seat owner’s manual. If there is no weight limit mentioned, then often times the inserts can be removed when they are no longer needed and taking up room needed by the child. If there is any concern, contact your car seat manufacturer’s customer service.
Can I wash my child’s car seat cushion?
With all the adventures that happen in the car, car seats can definitely see their fair share of messes. Fortunately, many car seat manufacturers allow you the ability to remove the car seat cushion to clean the fabric. Every car seat manufacturer is a little different though, so best thing is to check your car seat owner’s manual for cleaning instructions.
How often should I buy new car seats?
There are a number of scenarios that require parents to buy a new car seat for their child, including:
- As soon as their child reaches the height or weight limit specified on the car seat;
- The car seat is past the expiration date;
- The car seat has been recalled;
- The car seat has been involved in a crash;
- The car seat shows signs of wear and tear on the harness, padding, shell or frame; and
- The car seat is missing parts of the seat.
Do I need to replace my car seat after a crash?
If you have been involved in a crash and wonder whether you should replace your car seat, ask yourself the following questions:
- Did the airbags deploy during the crash?
- Was anyone taken to the hospital after the crash?
- Is the car seat visibly damaged?
- Were you unable to drive your vehicle away from the scene?
If you answered YES to any of the questions, you must replace your car seat.
If none of the questions apply to your particular situation, you should contact your car seat manufacturer for advice.
Is it safe for my child to wear a winter jacket while buckled into their car seat? Are there car seat approved winter jackets?
No, before securing your child in their seat, remove their winter coat or snowsuit, as these garments can prevent the harness from fitting correctly. They also could compress in a crash, leaving additional room for your child to move and compromise the harness’s ability to protect your child.
If you’re concerned about your child being warm enough when it’s cold out, you can use a blanket over the car seat harness or a thin fleece jacket under it.
Is it safe to rent a car seat or use a second-hand seat?
No, if at all possible, don’t use a car seat if you’re not familiar with its history. It may have been involved in a car crash that could affect its ability to protect your child.
While rentals may be convenient and second-hand seats may be more affordable, they’re not worth the risk.
What does the expiration on a car seat really mean?
Car seat manufacturers are always making improvements and testing their products to be sure children are riding in the safest seats possible. Through the extensive testing conducted on car seats, each manufacturer has determined a specific amount of time that the car seat should be used before it is best to replace it with a new one.
The expiration date can usually be found on a sticker affixed to side or bottom of the seat, or the registration card.