car seats

The Basics of Buying a Car Seat

The list of what your newborn needs to come home from the hospital is short: a baby blanket (easy), an adorable outfit (choosing one is actually fun), and a car seat (oh, boy). A car seat is an absolute must-have item—and a purchase that can be a little daunting if you’ve never chosen one before.

Children are required by law to ride in a car seat. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), car seats reduce the risk of your child being injured in an accident by more than 70 percent. Many hospitals even check that your newborn is properly strapped into a car seat before sending you home. Also remember that technology in car seats is always improving and the parts do wear down. That’s why it is recommended that you buy a new seat instead of taking a hand-me-down. How do you decide which kind to buy? The most basic features to look for relate to age appropriateness.

Rear-Facing Seats

Until the age of 2, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children sit in a rear-facing seat. (That is, a seat in which your child faces the rear window.) In the event of an accident, a rear-facing seat will cradle your baby like a ball in a mitt instead of jolting her forward. Infant seats can be snapped into a car-seat base, making it easier to get your little one in and out of the car—especially when he’s asleep. A convertible car seat can safely be used rear-facing and, once he is old enough, forward-facing. Convertible seats are bulky, but they can grow with your child until he is ready to switch to a booster. /

Forward-Facing Seats

From the age of 2 until about 4, most kids will ride in a seat that faces forward (or faces the front window). Children should remain strapped in with a five-point harness—which is two shoulder straps, a belt around each leg and a chest clip. Make sure to check the height and weight limits of your seat, and ride with your child seated upright, which is a safer position than reclining.

Booster Seat

Once your child outgrows the upper-weight limit of the convertible seat (about 40 pounds and around age 4), he can graduate to a booster seat. The booster gives your child a lift, so the car’s seat belt fits snugly and safely across the waist and chest. According to the AAA, when your child is at least 4’ 9” (usually between the ages of 8 and 12), he will be big enough to ride without a booster.

Check out our new car seat buying guide.