For easier viewing, most of this information is in links. Please click on the links… you’ll get a lot more info that way!
What do those letters stand for? Common Car Seat Abbreviations
Can I use anything to protect my vehicle seat? Carseatblog.com Updated Car Seat Protector Post
For the lastest info, reviews, etc. check out CarSeatBlog!
4 Steps for Kids Handout – a great basic CPS handout.
What are the laws in my state? Keep in mind that if you follow best practice, you’ll always be meeting or surpassing the safety laws. Also, some states have proper use clauses that basically prohibit misuse seats without explicitly stating when to RF, FF, booster, etc. Finally, many laws vary in fines, enforcement, exceptions, etc. which may not be listed on these sites. IIHS Law Map and List AAA/CAA Law List
How long should my child be rear facing? You should keep your child rear facing as long as possible, to the limits of a rear facing convertible car seat. The AAP recommends rear facing to the limits of your car seat, until at least 2 years of age or longer. NHTSA recommends rear facing as long as possible for children 1-3 years old. 1 year old and 20# (or higher depending on the seat) is the bare minimum for turning from rear facing to forward facing; NO child should ever be turned before that.
More info on why rear facing is so important:
How do I make my RF convertible more upright? (Scroll down the thread or check out the pics in our Picture Club.)
How long should my child be in a harness? When can I move my child to a booster? 4 years old and about 40# is the minimum for moving from a harnessed seat to a belt positioning booster. Before 4 years old, a child should be harnessed as children that young are neither physically nor behaviorally mature enough for a booster. From about 4-6 years of age, moving from a harness to a booster becomes individual to the child’s size and maturity. After age 6, most children are ready for a booster even if they’re a little less than 40# (as long as they meet the seat’s minimums). If a child is within the age, size, and maturity range to where both a harness and a booster are appropriate options, there is no evidence to say one is safer than the other; in such cases both are safe options. The AAP now recommends children use a harnessed seat from age 2 until at least 4 years of age. NHTSA recommends children ages 4-7 ride in a harnessed seat until they outgrow it (so a child should not be in a booster before age 4).
More info on harness vs booster for a 4-6 year old child:
*In order for a booster to be used safely, the child must sit properly at all times. The shoulder belt must remain on the shoulder to keep the child’s upper body contained, and the lap belt needs to stay low on the child’s lap in order to prevent abdominal and spinal injuries. If a child cannot maintain proper position in a booster, the adult may find herself constantly reminding the child to sit still. This is frustrating for both the child and the parent. Putting a wiggly or impulsive child in a booster means you’re taking safety out of the parents’ hands and placing it in the hands of a child who’s too immature to handle such responsibility.
*A 5 point harness spreads crash forces over larger areas and provides more points of restraint than a 3 point lap/shoulder belt (a 2 point lap only belt should never be used for anything other than harnessed restraint installation). Because of this a harness is more likely to keep a child contained in and protected by the seat in a side impact or rollover.
*A 5 point harness is also better for children who sleep in the car as it provides greater support and maintains the child in proper position.
*In 3-across situations a harnessed seat is generally easier to buckle than a booster.
*While there is a not enough evidence to say that a harness is safer than a booster for children who meet the age, size, and maturity requirements for a booster, there is also not enough evidence to say that harnessing is less safe than boostering. For a child who meets the requirements for both a harness and a booster, both a harness and a booster are safe choices.
*There have been reports of belts failing to lock and/or retract securely with lighter children (less than 40-50#). If possible, it may be a good idea to keep a child harnessed until they weigh 40-50#.
How long should my child ride in a high backed booster? How long should my child ride in a booster altogether? When can my child move from a booster to just the seat belt? How long should my child sit in the back seat? Ideally, children should use a high backed booster until the back portion no longer fits properly. High backed booster provide increased support for younger or smaller booster rides as well as better shoulder belt fit and enhanced side impact protection. Children should ride in a booster (high backed or backless) until the 5 Step Test is passed. This may be different from vehicle to vehicle and even from one seating position to another within the same vehicle. (You have to test in each vehicle and seating position, and your child may need a booster in one vehicle or seating position and not another.) For prepubescent children, there may be some benefit to staying in a booster until the fit is better without the booster than with it. Children generally do not pass the 5 step test until they are at least 4’9″ tall and 8-12 years old. The AAP recommends children use a booster until the seat belt fits properly, they are 4’9″ tall, and they are 8-12 years old. NHTSA recommends children ages 8-12 use a booster until they fit the seat belt properly without one. (In other words, a child under 8 should not ride without a booster.)
Children should ride in the back seat until they are 13 years old or older. For children and young adults (and adults up until old age) the back seat is safer than the front seat. There is evidence that children should be seated in the back seat until they are learning how to drive (generally 15-16 years old). Even when matched for size (height and weight), older teens and young adults have lower rates of injury and death than younger teens and tweens when seated in the front. In other words, your “adult sized” child still has a child’s musculoskeletal system and will not tolerate crash forces as well as an adult’s. The AAP and NHTSA both recommend children sit in the back seat until age 13.
What features should I look for in a seat? Why do you recommend certain seats over others? Features to look for in each stage of car seat. Make sure to look past any marketing and select a seat that will fit your child, your vehicle, and your budget which you can use and install correctly every time. Why the 3in1/Alpha Omega type seats may not be the first, last, and only seat.
Car seat measurements - Keep in mind measurements may vary based on who is measuring. The recline of the seat, how the child sits in the seat, etc. may affect functional internal dimensions, and how a seat installs or fits in a vehicle may affect functional outer dimensions as well as puzzling with other seats.
What seats do you recommend? Click on each category’s link for more info on the individual seats.
Infant Seats (CLICK HERE for more info on these and other infant seats as well as best seats for budget, space, preemies, etc.)
Safety 1st OnBoard35/OnBoard35 Air/Eddie Bauer Sure Fit
Convertible Seats (CLICK HERE for more info on these and other convertible seats as well as best seats for budget, space, skipping infant seat, etc.)
Britax Roundabout 50 Classic
Recaro Performance Ride
Forward Facing Only Seats (CLICK HERE for more info on these seats and other forward facing seats as well as best seats for budget, space, etc.)
Harmony Defender 360/Secure Commander
Booster Seats (CLICK HERE for more info on these and other boosters as well as best seats for budget, space, etc.)
The most important thing with boosters is proper belt fit. The following ratings are based on IIHS’s testing of boosters to determine which are more likely to fit kids well in most vehicles. It is important to ensure your child fits properly in whatever booster you chose. The shoulder belt should cross the chest between the neck and shoulder (not near the edge of the shoulder/arm), the lap belt show lie low on the thighs (not up on the abdomen), and the belt should have good contact at the thighs and shoulder.
High Backed Boosters (provide more support and side impact protection, better for younger, smaller, or less mature booster riders)
Backless Boosters (provide less support and side impact protection, should generally only be used for older, larger, more mature booster riders)
When is my child’s seat outgrown? When can my child move up to the “next step”? How to tell when your child is ready for a new seat or the next step in car seats.
CDC Growth Charts - For estimating age for weight, age for height, or height for weight based on percentiles
What is LATCH? Am I using it correctly? LATCH info and common LATCH mistakes
How do I tether my car seat rear facing? RF tethering of Britax and SKJP/Diono convertibles and the Combi Coccoro (No other seats other than these allow RF tethering. Secure and/or stow the tether if you will not be using it.)
My car seat was in a crash. Do I need to replace it? Manufacturer and NHTSA guidelines for reuse/replacement after a crash.
How do I become a CPST? Info on finding and attending a CPST course.
Common Britax Questions