Car Seat Basics – Selection and Use

Car Seat Basics: Selection and Use

According to
the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention
, motor vehicle crashes are the #1 killer of kids in age groups 1-14.  Safe Kids USA says motor vehicle crashes are the #1 cause of
unintentional injury-related death for all children 14 and under.  While some crashes are
unsurvivable, over 57% of deaths for children 0-15 were because the child was
unrestrained.  Many more were improperly restrained.  Nationally,
the misuse rate for child safety seats is over 80% and as high as 95% in
some areas.   The good news is that correct use of car seats and
boosters does save lives.  Infant seats have been shown to reduce
fatal injury by 71%, and toddler seats by 54%.  The information
and links on this web page can help you with one of the easiest and most
important ways you can protect your children.

Ten Basic Rules:

  • Kids 12 and under should ALWAYS ride in the back seat.
    This cuts their risk of death by 36%.
  • Kids should be in a carseat or booster until they can be seated
    properly in a seatbelt
    .  For most kids, this is around 8-12 years
    old or 4′ 9″ tall, but proper seatbelt fit is the most important
  • Never place a rear-facing carseat in the front seat when
    there is an active frontal airbag.
  • Keep your baby rear-facing
    as long as possible.  That can mean up to 35 or 40 pounds in most
    current convertible seats, unless they outgrow it by height
  • All current car seats pass government safety standards.  
    Select the one that best fits your child, your vehicle and your
      Some models do have different features; select one that
    has the features that will allow you to use it correctly EVERY
  • Always read the owners manuals for your vehicle and carseat
    thoroughly.  They often contain specific information about carseat
    installation that may not be obvious.  Some models may vary from what
    you would expect.
  • Make sure that the harness fits snugly on your child, the carseat
    fits snugly in your vehicle, and that your vehicle seatbelts
    are locked properly.
  • When you buy a carseat, make sure
    you have a good return policy in
    case it doesn’t fit or in case you find you don’t like it.  Have your
    seat inspected by a certified technician for free at a checkup event or fitting
  • Please be wary of used carseats, especially those over six years old, those
    with an unknown history that may have been in a crash, those that show any
    form of cracks or damage, and those with missing labels, model number,
    manufacturing date, instructions or parts.
  • Please give driving your complete, unimpaired attention and wear your
    own seatbelt all the time.  These two simple steps are among these
    easiest ways you can protect yourself and your passengers from injury or

Also see our Frequently Asked Questions List for answers
to other common carseat issues.

Selecting the Appropriate Carseat for Your Child:

There is no single best car seat for every child or vehicle.  It
can be very confusing to decide what type of carseat to buy, or which
features are important.  Our Carseat Buying
can help you learn about many features and has links to other
websites with specific recommendations.  Specific recommendations are
a great starting point, but these vary greatly because someone else’s
personal preferences may differ from yours, as will the fit with their
particular children and vehicles.  One of the most important things
is to determine which type of carseat you need, and be prepared to do some
comparative shopping.  Don’t be discouraged if you have to try more
than one to get a model that works for you and your child!

Nearly all new vehicles and carseats are equipped with Lower
Anchors and Tethers for CHildren (LATCH)

This is a relatively new system that may be used instead of seatbelts for carseat
installation.  Some models, including the Clek Oobr Booster Seat, the Baby Trend TrendZ Combination Seat and Kiddy CruiserFix Pro Booster have rigid
LATCH attachments.  In most vehicles, rigid LATCH is extremely fast, easy and may offer additional
protection, especially in dangerous side impacts.  The tables below list other
features to consider, as well as safety tips.  Some
example models are shown as illustrations; they are not necessarily
recommended as the best models for your child or vehicle!

Infant Carseats and Carriers:

  • Use rear-facing up to 22-35 pounds, depending on the model.
  • A 5-point harness is preferred. Keep chest clip at armpit
    level and not on the neck or tummy.
  • Harness strap slots should be at or below the shoulders.
  • A front adjuster to tighten the harness makes it easy to
  • Newborns and infants should have a 45 degree maximum
  • Built-in angle indicators and adjusters may help get the correct
  • Manufacturers have differing instructions on where handle should be while traveling. Read the instruction manual to learn if it should be up or down in the vehicle.
  • A rear-facing tether or impact foam found
    on some models may improve safety.
  • Infant seats may fit newborns better than convertible
  • Some models include a complete stroller and base system, while
    others may include just the convenient base that installs in the car.
Convertible Carseats:

  • Rear-Facing is SAFEST!
  • Select a model with a 35 or 40 pound rear-facing weight
    limit and keep your child rear-facing as long as possible.
  • Your child should be turned front-facing at the 35 or 40 pound
    rear-facing limit, or if the top of their head is within an
    inch of the top of the shell.
  • Models with a 5-point harness and front harness adjuster
    are preferred.
  • Keep the harness straps at or below the shoulders while
  • Keep the harness straps at or above the shoulders while
  • Some older models require the use of TOP slots while
    front-facing (check your manual).
  • Keep chest clip at armpit level, not on the neck or tummy.
  • Make sure you use the correct seat belt path or LATCH hooks intended
    for front-facing or rear-facing.
  • A 45 degree maximum recline is needed for newborns and young infants
    while rear-facing.  Older babies with good head support can have less
    recline while rear-facing.
  • Upright with no recline is best for front-facing.
  • Some models feature tethers that can also be used rear-facing and
    impact foam for added safety.  Some also have built-in locking
    clips for convenience.
Combination Carseats:

  • Use the internal harness front-facing to the maximum limits indicated in the manual!
  • Models with a 5-point harness and front harness adjuster
    are preferred.
  • Keep chest clip at armpit level, not on the neck or tummy.
  • When the child reaches the weight limit of the harness or his or her shoulders are above the top harness slots,
    remove the harness and use the seat as a booster with a lap AND shoulder belt.
  • As a booster, the lap belt should ride high on the thighs or low on
    the hips.
  • As a booster, the shoulder belt should cross the center
    of the shoulder and chest.
  • Use the built-in shoulder belt guide if the shoulder belt
    doesn’t fit correctly.
  • The shoulder belt guide on some models can “catch” the seatbelt and
    leave slack.  Please make sure the belt is tight at all
  • Look for high, top harness slots to accommodate taller children up to
    40 pounds (more for many models) in the harness.
Booster Carseats:

  • Best used after 40 pounds with a only lap AND shoulder belt.
  • Use until the manufacturer’s weight limit, or until your child
    can wear a seatbelt properly, usually around 8-12
    years old or 4′ 9″ tall.
  • Shoulder belt should cross the center of the shoulder and
    chest, not on the neck.
  • Lap belt should be high on the thighs or low on the hips,
    not on the tummy.
  • Use a high back model if your vehicle has low seat backs
    with no head rests. Some models may offer increased side impact protection.
  • A backless model is fine if your vehicle has headrests,
    or if there is plenty of growing room from the tops of your
    child’s ears up to the top of the seat back.
  • Many models have open loop shoulder belt guides that don’t catch like
    some guides on combination seats.
  • Many have adjustable head supports and extra padding for added
    comfort, compared to combination seats.
Front-Facing and Specialty Models:

  • Some models are suitable for older kids in vehicles that don’t
    have shoulder belts, or for big kids that are still too
    immature to ride properly in a seatbelt or booster. 
    Others are designed for children with special needs. If you have a lap-only belt seating position and
    cannot have a shoulder belt retrofitted, one of these models may work for you.
  • The Britax Marathon 70, Boulevard 70, Boulevard 70 CS and Advocate 70 CS are convertible seats that are rated
    to 70 pounds front-facing. Top shoulder height setting is around 17.
  • The Britax Frontier 85™ goes to 85 pounds
    with an internal 5-point harness. Top shoulder height setting is about 20″. The seat then converts to an adjustable high-back booster for children 40 lbs. to over 100 lbs.
  • The Britax Regent (discontinued) goes to 80 pounds
    with an internal 5-point harness. Top shoulder height setting is about 19″.
  • The Cosco/Safety 1st Apex goes to 65 pounds with an internal 5-point harness. Top shoulder height setting is about 17″ but the vehicle must provide adequate head restraint.
  • The Diono Radian™ comes in three models; a 65 pound version, and two 80 pound versions, all with an internal 5-point harness. Top shoulder height setting is 17″+. The seat is relatively narrow and can also be used rear-facing.
  • The Evenflo Titan DLX goes to 35 pounds rear-racing and to 50 pounds front-facing with a five point harness.
  • The Evenflo Triumph Advance 65 goes to 40 pounds rear-racing and to 65 pounds front-facing with a five point harness. Shoulder strap height is easily adjusted from the front of the seat and the harness is tightened by turning an adjustment knob on the side of the seat.
  • The Graco Nautilus is a front-facing only seat with an internal harness to 65 pounds. The seat then converts to an adjustable high-back booster from 30 to 100 pounds.
  • The Graco My Ride is a convertible car seat with a 40-pound rear-facing weight limit and a 65-pound front-facing weight limit. The top harness height is about 17″.
  • E-Z-On Products makes harnesses for vehicles with lap belts and
    children with special needs, including the Kid-Y Harness and similar Kid-Y Harness plus Ride Ryte Booster. The vehicle must provide adequate head restraint.
  • Safe Traffic Systems makes the RideSafer Travel Vest in a 60 and 80 pound version as an alternative to boosters and for vehicles with lap belts. Vehicle must provide adequate head restraint.
  • The Safety 1st Go Hybrid Booster Car Seat goes to 65 pounds with a hybrid 5-point harness. Top shoulder height setting is over 17″, depending on the vehicle. The vehicle must provide adequate head restraint.
  • The Cosco Dreamride™ Car Bed and AngelGuard Infant Car Bed can
    be used for premature infants and babies with possible breathing problems or special needs
  • Snugseat and Columbia Medical make
    models for children with special needs.
EZ-On Pro Kid Y Harness and Ride Ryte Booster
E-Z-On Kid-Y ™

The specific models listed or shown are not necessarily recommended by
Car-Safety.Org or Car-Seat.Org.  Contact information for the listed
manufacturers can be found at the Child Seat Manufacturers Listing.  Below are
some other excellent resources on carseat selection, including specific
recommendations from advocates and technicians.

Recommended Links on Carseat Selection:

Have More Questions?

The links above will answer many questions.  We also have a more
complete links page
and a Frequently Asked
Questions (FAQ)
page with references to more sources of
information.  Finally, we would be very happy to try to answer any
questions or problems you may have regarding specific seats or
vehicles.  Please post them at our FORUMS.

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