How Child Car Seats Work

Buying-time Checklist

Infant Car Seat

Here's what to look for when buying an infant car seat:

  • Use a rear-facing seat, rated for up to 20 pounds (9.07 kilograms). You will be able to find models that go to 22, 30 or 35 pounds (9.8, 13.6 or 15.9 kilograms), if necessary.
  • A 5-point harness is preferred.
  • A front adjuster to tighten the harness makes it easier to use.
  • Newborn babies and infants should have a maximum recline of 45 degrees. Some car seats have built in angle indicators and adjusters to help get the correct recline.
  • Most models with a handle will require that the handle be lowered when traveling.
  • A rear-facing tether, impact foam and rebound bar may improve safety.
  • Dedicated infant seats may fit your child better than convertible models.
  • Some models may include a complete base system and stroller, while others may just have a convenient base. Select the system that is most suitable for you.

Convertible Car Seat

When looking for a convertible car seat, you'll want to keep the following in mind:

  • A rear-facing seat is safer. Select a model with a 30 or 35 pound (13.6 or 15.9 kilogram) rear-facing weight limit and keep your child rear-facing as long as possible.
  • Your seat should be converted to front facing when the top of your child's head reaches the top of the seat, or when the child reaches the 30 or 35 pound (13.6 or 15.9 kilogram) rear-facing limit.
  • Try to find a model with a 5-point harness and a front harness adjuster.
  • Some models feature tethers that can be used rear-facing and have impact foam for added safety. And, some models may also have built-in locking clips.

Booster Seats

When buying a booster seat, consider this:

  • A booster seat is best used after your child reaches 40 pounds (18.1 kilograms), and is used with a lap and shoulder belt.
  • Use the booster seat until the manufacturer's weight limit is met or until your child can wear a seatbelt properly.
  • Use a high backed model if your vehicle has low seat backs with no head rests. A backless model is fine if your vehicle has headrests.
  • Many booster seats have adjustable head supports and extra padding for comfort.