One of the questions we hear the most is, “What type of car seat should my child be using?” There are factors of age, height, weight, and parental preference which can sometimes make this a complicated answer…
Phase 1: Infant Car Seat
Most rear facing infant seats have a weight limit of 30-35 pounds and 32 inches tall. If your child fits comfortably in their infant seat, is still within the seat’s weight and height limit, and you want to keep them in this seat — go for it! If you are tired of carrying them around or your child seems uncomfortable at any point, you are able to move them up to a convertible car seat because most convertible seats are made to accommodate newborn sizes anyway!
Typically, it’s strongly encouraged to keep your child in their current seat until they max out the height and/or weight limitations of it. The transition from the rear facing infant seat to a convertible seat is the only one that can be done at any point. You can even omit the infant bucket seat and go straight to a convertible or all-in-one seat since they both will rear face and accommodate an infant. They just aren’t removable from the vehicle during errands.
0 – 2+ years
30 – 35 lbs
Phase 2: Convertible Car Seat
The next step up is the CONVERTIBLE CAR SEAT. You guessed it, it’s called a convertible seat because it converts from rear facing to forward facing. Most of these seats actually accommodate newborn sizes, as mentioned above, as long as you keep them rear facing according to your state laws. At this point, most states say you can turn your child around at age one, however, I advise keeping your child rear facing until at least two years old, but would highly advise keeping them rear facing until they outgrow the maximum weight of their specific seat (usually 40-45lbs). A lot of states are currently working on laws to bump that age up to two, for good reason! Bio-mechanically, they are much safer rear facing than forward facing when they are so little.
When your child reaches 40 pounds, you can forward face in the convertible seat until up to around 65 pounds. Again, be sure to check the weight and height specifications for your specific seat, but these convertible car seats, on average, will hold your child from 5-65 pounds and include a 5-point harness and tether. I recommend keeping your child in a convertible seat vs. a combination harness to booster seat as long as they fit, because convertibles typically offer more head protection and their rounded structure tends to provide additional impact protection.
**This is the seat your child will probably be in the longest, it is worth doing your homework to find the seat that best fits your vehicle, lifestyle, and budget!
0 – 7+ years
up to 49 inches
5 – 65 lbs
Once your child outgrows their convertible car seat, the next seat I would recommend is a high back COMBINATION HARNESS TO BOOSTER SEAT. The five-point harness offers much more protection than just a seat belt on young children, as long as your child does not tamper with the harness!
And if they are buckled in properly, they should not have the dexterity to unclip themselves. Some combination harness to booster seats can convert into a belt-positioning booster, so that is a money saving option as they grow. Combination Boosters typically go up to 90 – 120 pounds and 63″ (but again, check your specific seat).
4 – 12+ years
up to 63 inches
up to 120 lbs
After they outgrow their HIGH BACK BOOSTER SEAT, they can move to a backless booster and seat belt.
It is important to make sure their legs bend at a 90 degree angle over the edge of the booster or seat and that they can touch the ground before graduating out of any booster seat! In many states, like Montana, the law states that children must be at least 6 years old AND 60lbs before being able to sit in a vehicle seat with no child safety restraints. Other states require children to be at least 8 years old AND 80lbs.
8 – 12+ years
up to 62 inches
up to 120 lbs
ALL-IN-ONE CAR SEATS were introduced several years ago and have become very popular. As their namesake implies, they can rear-face for the infant phase, can then forward for the toddler phase, and then you can remove the straps and transform then into a high back booster. If you get an all-in-one car seat, it is the ONLY SEAT YOU WILL EVER NEED! One disadvantage during the infant phase is that these seats do not come out of vehicle and so you could not make a travel system with your stroller or carry them somewhere in their car seat.
Another cool thing about all-in-one seats is that they typically expire in 10 years (vs the typical 5-7 years) of other types of car seats.
0 – 10 years
up to 63″
5 – 120 lbs
Still not sure?
You can always check with a Certified CPS Tech to make sure all your children are in the proper seats and they are all installed correctly! Most fire stations have a trained Tech on staff to help with all your car seat needs!!
- Select a car seat based on your child’s age and size, and choose a seat that fits in your vehicle and use it every time.
- Always refer to your specific car seat manufacturer’s instructions (check height and weight limits) and read the vehicle owner’s manual on how to install the car seat using the seat belt or lower anchors and a tether, if available.
- To maximize safety, keep your child in the car seat for as long as possible, as long as the child fits within the manufacturer’s height and weight requirements.
- Keep your child in the back seat at least through age 12.