Recommendations and Tips
What Type of Child Car Seat Should I Use?
For additional information on car seat types
What Car Seat Should I Buy?
Congratulations! You did your homework and you’ve decided what type of seat will be safest for your child to use. But wait, there are still plenty of decisions that need to be made before you’re ready to buy a car seat. All car seats that are rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) meet the government’s safety standards. All seats on the market that are rated are safe, but it’s important to determine which one fits your child and vehicle best in order to not compromise the performance of the car seat. Once you’ve figured out what car seat is appropriate for your child and vehicle, the hard work is done and the rest is in the details and features.
For more information about having the right car seat for your child, visit NHTSA.gov.
Before you buy a seat, make sure it will fit in your vehicle. Many retailers will allow you to test out a floor model of their car seats in your vehicle, take advantage of that and make sure you give special consideration to these common areas of incompatibility between car seats and vehicles:
It is important to install a rear-facing car seat at the correct angle, typically between 30°-45° (exact angle may vary by manufacturer so be sure to check the manufacturer’s instruction manual). Not all vehicle seats are the same so many car seats will have an adjustable base that allows you to accommodate the angle of the vehicle seat in order to achieve the proper angle. Not all car seats have this option, and even those that do may not be able to accommodate all vehicle seats. Most car seat manufacturers allow you to insert a rolled towel or pool noodle to “modify” your vehicle seat to produce the correct angle. However, purchasing a car seat which already accommodates your vehicle’s seat angle will save you this step and will allow for an easier installation.
SPACE BEHIND FRONT ROW
Rear-facing car seats often interact with front row seats. If you drive a smaller car with relatively less space, or if you often have tall adult passengers in the front seats, consider purchasing a car seat with a shorter profile. Also note whether your vehicle allows car seats to touch the back of the front row seats. Some manufacturers prohibit this because the extra pressure on the back of the vehicle seat can confuse airbag sensors for the front row. Some car seat manufacturers also have specific instructions regarding front row seat contact. Be sure to follow all manufacturers’ instructions.
HEAD REST INTERACTION
Head rest interaction can result in a gap between the back of a forward-facing car seat and the vehicle seat in which it is installed. This gap is not necessarily unsafe, but it can cause difficulty in achieving a tight installation. Large, protruding vehicle head rests can also force the car seat forward on the vehicle seat, closer to the edge and closer to the front row of vehicle seats. Remember, it is important to keep your child’s head a safe distance away from all surfaces in the vehicle’s interior. Read your vehicle owner’s manual to see if the head rest can be removed during car seat installation, or whether another seating position may provide a more appropriate fit.
Do not use any type of harness covers, body pillows, custom car seat covers, or other accessories which did not come in the box with your car seat. These items have not been crash tested with the car seat, and may interfere with the performance of the seat in the event of a collision. Check with the manufacturer of your car seat to see which, if any, after-market items can be safely used with your seat.
DO NOT STRAP YOUR CHILD INTO A CAR SEAT WHILE SHE IS WEARING A THICK OR BULKY WINTER COAT
Even though the harness may look tight, the coat actually creates a lot of compressible space between your child’s body and the harness. In colder weather, dress your child in a lightweight or fleece jacket, harness her into the seat, and then tuck her heavy coat or a blanket over top of her.
Car seats really do expire! Do you ever wonder why?
- Materials wear down after time and car seats are especially prone to potential deterioration due to being left in the extreme heat and cold of a vehicle day after day, year after year. Even if your car seat looks fine, there may be structural weaknesses that you can’t see and it may not perform as it was intended if you’re using it past its expiration.
- Safety standards change so an expired seat may not meet the current government standards. Car seat manufacturers are constantly updating and improving their products to keep your children safer.
Expiration dates vary by manufacturer so be sure to check the manual for your specific seat. If you’re unable to locate an expiration date on your car seat, or in your car seat manual, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) suggests replacing your car seat after six years.
If you have an expired seat you should discontinue using the seat immediately! When disposing of an expired seat you should do it in such a way that it can’t be re-used by anyone; remove the cover, cut the straps, and mark it clearly as “expired – do not use.”
After a Crash
CAR SEATS SHOULD ALWAYS BE REPLACED AFTER BEING INVOLVED IN A MODERATE TO SEVERE CRASH, AND MAY NEED TO BE REPLACED AFTER A MINOR CRASH.
Check with your car seat manufacturer or NHTSA’s guidelines for replacement after a crash
When in doubt, do not purchase and/or use car seats from garage sales or secondhand shops. Used car seats may be missing parts, be damaged, or have an unaddressed recall. Keep in mind that a seat may have damage that isn’t visible after a crash. If you must use a secondhand seat, be sure you’re receiving it from someone you know and trust, and that you know the entire history of the seat. If you are planning to donate or receive a used car seat, use our Used Car Seat Donation Information form to be sure that the seat’s history is known by all parties involved.