Still have questions? Check out the FAQs below for more information.
You may also find a local certified Car Seat Technician for more support.
Car Seat Safety
Q: What are my car seat choices?
There are many choices, but while there are hundreds of options, they fall into three main types.
- Rear-facing for children under 2 years old: rear-facing only, rear-facing convertible, rear-facing 3-in-1
- Forward-facing with harness and top tether for children over 2 years old: forward-facing convertible car seat, forward-facing only, combination car seat, forward-facing 3-in-1
- Booster seats for children who are too heavy or too tall for a car seat with a harness: high back booster seat, backless belt positioning booster, combination car seat without harness
Most children are between 8 and 12 years old before an adult seat belt will fit them correctly. Do the Seat Belt Fit test to see when your child is ready.
Q: Is one car seat safer than the other?
All U.S. car seats are required to meet and pass crash tests under U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Inexpensive seats will meet the same standards as the more expensive seats but may not have all the comfort features you want. When you buy a car seat, select the one that has all the features you want at that time. That way, you know the manufacturer tested and approved them. If you buy a car seat and then add other features, it could actually make your child less safe.
Q: How can I find out about my state law?
Every state in the country has a child passenger safety law, and each state law is different. Some laws apply to children up to age 18 while others may have laws up until age 5 or 8. Laws generally cover the minimum protection, but we at Safe Kids Worldwide know that parents want what is best for their child. That is why our tips are based on best practices developed by industry experts in child passenger safety. To find your state laws, go to our updated Child Safety Laws Tracker (https://www.safekids.org/state-law-tracker) for car seat and seat belt laws. The sources were the Governors Highway Safety Association, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and individual state laws.
Shopping for a Car Seat
Q: What are NHTSA’s Ease of Use ratings?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) works to make it easier for families to select and use a car seat correctly. Their Ease of Use star system ranks every car seat to help parents and caregivers find a car seat that has easy-to-follow labels, color coding and instructions. The Ease of Use Rating does not measure safety or rate crash performance. Five stars will tell you which car seats have the best information. One star lets you know it may be more difficult to get information.
Q: Can someone at the store help me install my car seat?
Some stores might have certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians to help you, but that is not guaranteed. Call the store first and ask if they have a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician on staff. Even if a store offers to put a car seat in your car, it does not mean your helper is properly trained to install car seats. Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians are specially trained to teach families how to install their car seats. Safe Kids coalitions have thousands of car seat checkup events around the country with trained technicians. Find an event here. If there isn’t an event near you, look here for a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.
Q: Is it okay to buy the car seat before the baby is born?
Yes, in fact, it is a smart decision. We highly recommend that pregnant moms not wait until they are on the way to the hospital to try to install the car seat! Select and practice installing your car seat at the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy when it is easier for you to climb into the back seat to try different locations and get familiar with the seat belts or lower anchors. Rear-facing-only car seats do not use a top tether, so you will have only the seat belt or lower anchors to practice with. Learn the basics of harnessing your baby, too. Use a teddy bear and try moving and adjusting the harness straps. Follow the car seat and vehicle instructions to make sure your baby’s first trip, and every one after that, is a safe one. Be sure to prepare everyone who will transport your baby so they can use your car seat correctly, too.
Expirations, Recalls, and Used Car Seats
Q: Do car seat expire?
Car seats expire usually between 6 and 10 years. Look for a label on the car seat or in the plastic shell that tells you the make, model, date of manufacture, and manufacturer information. Quick tip: Take a picture of the label with your phone and keep it handy.
Q: How can I find out if my car seat is recalled for safety problems?
The best way is to register the car seat. You can either mail the registration card that comes with your car seat to the manufacturer, or you can register the car seat online using the information on the car seat labels. If there’s a safety recall on the car seat you have, the car seat manufacturer will contact you about those safety issues and tell you how to fix it. You may also sign up with NHTSA to register your car seat and receive email alerts about car seat and booster seat recalls from NHTSA. If your car seat is recalled, do not panic. You will automatically receive the recall “fix,” and instructions for making the repair, without even asking for it. Sometimes the fix is changing a label or adding, switching or upgrading a part. Fix your car seat and tell your friends, too.
Q: Are used car seats okay?
Unless you are using a family member’s car seat and you know its history (has it been in a crash?), buying a new car seat is best. This will ensure that you have a car seat that has the latest technology and all the parts, labels, and instructions that go with the car seat.
Be sure to register the seat, even if it is used, so you will be notified of recalls.
In some parts of the country there are programs that recycle car seats. Contact your local waste management company to see whether they do this.
Car Seat Maintenance and Care
Q: How do I make sure this car seat lasts a long time?
Car seats expire, usually between 6 and 10 years. Look for a label on the car seat or in the plastic shell that tells you the make, model, date of manufacture, and manufacturer information. Quick tip: Take a picture of the label with your phone and keep it handy.
Follow the cleaning instructions for the car seat. When you’re not using it, store it in a dry, cool place. Don’t use bleach or harsh chemicals or an iron. Don’t place pads or harnesses in the washer and dryer unless the manufacturer says you can.
Moving Seats and Carpooling
Q: Can I move the car seat from car to car?
Car seats can be moved from car to car. But be aware that seat belt systems, lower anchor attachments and top tethers may not fit the car seat the same way in each vehicle. You can buy an extra detachable base for some rear-facing-only car seats.That will make it easier to move from one car to another.
A car seat or base can be used with a seat belt in one car and LATCH in another. The best way to learn this is by reading your car seat manual and car manuals at the same time. A certified car seat technician can also help you figure this out.
Q: How will I know my car seat is installed tightly enough?
After a car seat or detachable base is installed tightly with either the seat belt or lower attachments (LATCH), place your hand in the base or car seat and push down to take the air out of the vehicle’s seat cushion. Then re-tighten and lock the seat belt or lower attachments. This is easier to do with two people. Once you have the base or car seat in as tight as possible, look at the angle indicator to be sure the angle is still good for a rear-facing child.
Do the Inch Test to be sure the car seat is locked: place your hand at the belt path and try to move the car seat side to side and front to back. If it doesn’t move more than 1 inch in any direction, it is locked in place. Check it from time to time to be sure it is secure.
Q: What do I need to know about safe carpooling?
Be sure that all drivers who transport your child have a valid driver’s license, carry auto insurance, require everyone to wear a seat belt, have a good driving record and have not been convicted of a crime against a child.
Discuss safe passenger rules with older children who ride with someone else. Be sure that each child will ride in a car seat or booster seat or use the seat belt, based on the child’s age, weight, and height. Make sure that all children exit a vehicle on the curb side.
Once children exit your car, wait until they are safely supervised before driving away. And if someone else is driving your child, remind that person to never leave your child alone in the car, even for a minute. Keep the empty car and trunk locked so children cannot get into it.
When to Change
Q: Do the guidelines for moving to a forward-facing car seat change for babies who are either small or large for their age?
Great question. The answer is YES!
Babies come in all shapes and sizes, and babies who are very small and very large for their age may have different needs than babies of an average size. Research tells us that babies who are riding rear-facing in their car seats do better and have less injury in crashes than kids who are forward-facing. Based on that, any child who can ride rear-facing, even kids over age 2, should do so, using a car seat to the highest weight or height that their car seat allows. In some cases, very big babies will outgrow the car seat with a handle that fits in a stroller before age two. Heavier or taller kids would benefit from staying rear-facing but moving into a bigger “convertible” seat that changes from rear-facing to forward-facing once the child outgrows the new rear-facing requirements. Rear-facing car seats have the most protection possible for children. Do not be in a hurry to switch to forward-facing when your child still has the chance to be rear-facing.
Q: Do the guidelines for moving to a booster seat change for kids who are either small or large for their age?
At Safe Kids we see parents and kids who want to move from the car seat with a harness to the booster seat that uses the adult seat belt long before their child is ready for the freedom the adult seat belt provides. Children as young as two may be heavy enough to ride in a booster but they still need the harness to keep them in the car seat when the car is in motion. Often parents have car seats at home or in the trunk that can be used until the child is 5 or 6 but they move to a booster because of carpools or school pickup lines. Keep your child in the car seat with a harness until the seat is completely outgrown by height or weight. The stickers on the car seat will tell you what weight or height that is. Hold off moving your child to the next seat for as long as possible. Tell your friends that rear-facing seats have the most protection, forward-facing seats with a harness have the next amount of protection, booster seats are next best protection. The seat belt adults use has protection for adults and really big kids, but not for little kids who need car seats.