One of the questions we hear the most is, “What type of car seat should my child be in?”. To know which seat is best for you and your child, there are many factors to consider such as age, height, weight and fit which can sometimes make this a complicated answer. As you’ll see, there are many stages of car seats and I highly recommend you follow our guidelines and not jump ahead once your child meets the minimum of the next seat up. So much research and development goes into creating each seat and they are specifically designed to give the best protection to your child at every stage.
Phase 1: Infant Car Seat
REAR FACING INFANT SEATS can also be known as “bucket seats” because of their shape. They are portable, convenient and help tote your new babe around while out and about. Most have a weight limit of 30-35 pounds and a height limitation of 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 or an all-in-one (at any time!) because these seats are made to accommodate newborn sizes anyway!
State laws and regulations vary, but it is strongly encouraged to keep your child in their current seat until they max out the height and/or weight limitations of it. The reason for this is that a lot of engineering goes into keeping your little as safe as possible and every stage of car seat is developed with the size and biomechanics of your child in mind. 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 forego the infant bucket seat and go straight to a convertible or all-in-one seat since they both will rear-face and can accommodate a newborn. Some will even rear-face up to 50 lbs!! The major difference is that you can’t remove a convertible or all-in-one seat from the vehicle during errands. For many parents, having the ability to keep their child IN their infant seat during errands is very important (and convenient!)
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, many states, and car seat manufacturers, say that you can turn your child around at age one AND 20 lbs, however, I strongly advise keeping your child rear-facing until at least two years old, and I would also recommend keeping them rear-facing until they outgrow the maximum weight of their specific seat in that position (usually 40 – 45 lbs). A lot of states are currently working on laws to bump that age up to two, and for good reason! Bio-mechanically, they are much safer rear-facing than forward facing when they are so little. In the rear-facing position, the crash forces are distributed throughout the child’s seat and entire spine versus just across their 5-point harness (shoulders, chest and pelvis) as when they are in the forward-facing position.
When your child reaches 40 – 45 pounds, you can forward face in the convertible seat until up to around 65 pounds. 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 (i.e. the next seat up) as long as they fit, because convertibles typically offer more head protection and their rounded (concave) 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!
If they are buckled in properly, they should not have the dexterity to unclip themselves. Combination harness to booster seats can convert into a belt-positioning booster, so that is a money saving option as they grow. Combination Boosters are typically suitable for children from 25 lbs up to 90 – 120 pounds and 63″ (but again, check your specific seat).
4 – 12+ years
up to 63 inches
up to 120 lbs
A high back booster seat is one that is only forward-facing and that can only be used with a seat belt. It does not feature a harness option. Once your child outgrows their high back booster, they can transition to a backless booster that is also used with just your vehicle seat belt.
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-face 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 though is that these seats do not come out of the vehicle and so you could not make a travel system with your stroller or carry your child somewhere in their car seat. I would also highly advise you purchase 2 all-in-one car seats if you have more than one vehicle that will often be driving with your child – these seats can be bulky and are not meant to be swapped between vehicles often. See one of our favorite seats below – the Britax One-4-Life! 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
Before your child can transition out of any car seat, it is important to make sure they can fit in your vehicle seat properly. To test, have your child sit all the way back in the vehicle seat. Their legs must bend at 90 degrees over the edge of the seat and they must be able to TOUCH THE GROUND. If they cannot perform BOTH of these tests, they still need to sit in at least a booster seat (backless or high back) until they grow a bit bigger.
In many states, like Montana, the law states that children must be at least 6 years old AND 60 lbs 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.
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 Car Seat SafetyTech on staff to help with all your car seat needs!! Or feel free to email us your questions at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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.
Once you know what seat you want, make sure that you and your child are using it properly! Read on for more safety tips.