child safely buckled into a car seatAs part of Child Passenger Safety Week, we’re taking a look at common types of car seats and how to choose the best one for your child. Should they ride forward facing or rear facing? What is a convertible car seat? When is it safe to transition your child to a booster seat? Choosing the right car seat is critical for keeping your kids safe.

Types of Car Seats

Infant Car Seats

Infant car seats are designed to protect your littlest passengers. They’re always rear-facing since that position allows the seat to cradle the child’s body in case of impact. This provides the best support and protection for their spines and necks.

Typically, infant car seats lock into a separate base installed in your car. This way, you can easily transport the baby in the seat without unbuckling them. The base also ensures the seat reclines at the correct angle and securely fastens to the car.

Many infant car seats safely accommodate babies weighing up to 30 lbs, but parents often make the switch to a convertible car seat before that point. That’s because the weight of the child plus the car seat becomes more and more difficult to lift out of the car.

Convertible Car Seats

Convertible car seats are handy in that you can install them in either the rear-facing or forward-facing position. (This is the “convertible” part.)

Rear-facing should be your first choice because the position offers more protection for your child in a crash. Some of the newer models have rear-facing limits of up to 50 pounds, so they should easily accommodate babies who have recently outgrown their infant car seats. The manufacturer’s recommendations will indicate the maximum height and weight of the child in each position.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently revised their recommendations to state that kids should ride rear-facing as long as possible. Once your child exceeds the recommendations for rear-facing, you can reinstall the convertible seat in the forward-facing position.

While this shift to forward-facing may seem like a milestone to some parents, it actually reduces the safety of the child. During impact, the five-point harness will hold their body in place, but their head will flop forward. This can potentially cause neck or spinal damage. So, if your child can ride rear-facing, leave them rear-facing.

Front-Facing Car Seats

After rear-facing car seats, front-facing car seats are the next safest option. Like infant and rear-facing seats, they use a five-point harness to secure your child. The positioning of the clip at their chest makes it superior to that of a regular three-point seat belt. It secures them where their bodies are strongest, and keeps the shoulder straps in position to hold them in place during a crash.

Many front-facing car seats accommodate children up to 65 pounds, but you should always check the manufacturer’s instructions.

Booster Seats

Booster seats position your child so that they can use the three-point seat belt rather than the five-point harness. Because of this, they’re significantly less safe than front-facing car seats. Rather than the central clip, they only have the sash and lap belts to hold them in place just like an adult passenger.

Some booster seats have backs, so they look a little more like car seats. Some offer head support and cushioning to provide limited side-impact protection, though it’s usually less than what a car seat offers. Beyond that, it serves to position the seat belt sash over their chest.

Backless booster seats, on the other hand, just adjust the child’s height so that they can use the seat belt. They offer no additional protection.

Your child should ride in a booster seat until the seat belt fits them properly without it. The sash should cross their chest (not their neck) while the belt restrains them at their lap (not their waist).

Combination and All-In-One Car Seats

Combination car seats are another style of convertible safety seat. You can install them as forward-facing seats with harnesses or booster seats.

All-in-one car seats are the ultimate option, having rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster seat installation modes. Their versatility may limit their weight allowances in each position, however, so again we remind you to check the instructions carefully.

Car Seat Recommendation Chart

To summarize, here is a helpful chart courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

choosing the right car seatAgain, keep in mind that these are general guidelines. Check out their Car Seat Finder for more guidance and download their car seat recommendation infographic as a handy reference.