Car Seat FAQ
The recommendations in this list are based on current best practice in the United States.
You should carefully read the owner's manuals for your vehicle and car seat.
The recommendations in the manuals should be followed if they differ from those given here.
Q1: Why should I have my child in a child restraint? Why do I need a seat belt?
Motor vehicle crashes are the #1 killer of children from ages 1 to 14. About 50% of these deaths to children under 5 involved children that were unrestrained. Of those that were restrained, misuse is reported in 80-95% of cases. Injuries requiring hospitalization are even more common, and many involve the head, neck, and spine. Some of these injuries are permanent. Child restraints are VERY effective for reducing deaths and injuries.
Q2: Isn't it safer to hold my baby? Won't I be safer if I don't use a seat belt and can be thrown from the car? Won't it be harder to escape after a crash if I use a seatbelt?
No. No. No. These are three of many myths used by people to avoid proper use of child restraints or seatbelts. Statistics prove that those ejected in a crash are four times more likely to die. The forces in a crash can be hundreds of pounds or much more, too great for someone to hold a child safely. Plus, the reaction time needed in a crash makes it virtually impossible to restrain another passenger. It is far easier to escape a vehicle if you don't suffer the serious head and chest injuries associated with crashes where seatbelts aren't used.
Q3: What are the laws for child restraints?
Laws can vary by state and municipality. See the IIHS List of State Laws for Vehicle Restraints or the Inventive Parent Carseat Laws Page.
Q4: How long should children be in a carseat? In their seatbelts?
Children should be in an appropriate safety seat until they are about 8 years old, unless they are already 4 feet and 9 inches or taller. After that, they should be properly seated with a lap and shoulder belt. Children 12 and under should remain in the rear seat. All passengers should wear lap AND shoulder belts at all times.
Q5: Does the Government give any advice?
Yes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has many resources.
This website is a great starting point:NHTSA: Traffic Safety, Child Passenger Safety Program
In Canada, start here:
Transport Canada Child Safety
Q6: How long should a child remain rear-facing?
Why Rear-facing is Safest.
Rear-Facing Carseats: What you need to know, by Kathleen Weber
Q7: When should a child be put into a booster?
Many convertible and forward-facing seats have 40 pound weight limits when using the harness. A convertible or forward-facing seat with a 5-point harness is the safest option for children from 30-40 pounds who are not too tall for their forward-facing carseat. If a child's shoulders are above the level of the top slots in their regular carseat, or the tops of their ears are above the top of the shell, then they may be able to move to a booster or another forward-facing seat which accommodates taller children. Usually a child can be moved to a booster when they are too big for a harnessed carseat, and once they are able to sit properly in a seatbelt. A child should be in some type of booster seat until around 8 years old, unless they are already 4' 9" tall (Also see Question 9 below).
Q8: My child is over 40 pounds or too tall for his carseat, but isn't mature enough to sit in a seatbelt with a booster. Are there any options?
There are a few Forward-Facing and Specialty Models for this situation. First are the Britax Boulevard, Marathon and Decathlon convertibles with 65 pound front-facing limits. There is also the Britax Regent, with an 80 pound harness limit, though a top-tether is required for above 50 pounds. Next is the Graco Nautilus, a combination booster with a 65 pound harness limit. Other models like the Cosco Apex also have a 65 pound harness. There are also some discontinued models that can still be found online or at ebay, such as the Britax Husky (up to 80 pounds in a harness). You may also use a Safe Traffic Systems RideSafer Vest or E-Z-ON Kid-Y harness/booster.
Q9: When can my child be in a regular seatbelt without a booster?
Children are not ready to be in a regular lap/shoulder seatbelt until:
* They are tall enough so that their legs bend at the knees at the edge of the seat; and
* They are mature enough to remain seated with their backs flat against the back of the seat and not slouch; and
* The lap belt sits high on the thighs or low on the hips (NOT on their tummy!); and
* The shoulder belt crosses the shoulder and chest (NOT on their arms or neck!); and
Each passenger must have their own lap and shoulder belt! Never allow children to share a seatbelt.
Some organizations will also give limits like 80 or 100 pounds, 4'9" in height or 8 years old. These are rough guidelines, not absolute limits. The criteria above are most important.
Q10: What is the safest carseat?
There is no single safest child safety seat for all children and vehicles. The safest seat is one that fits your child, fits your vehicle and one you will use correctly each and every time. Please also see:
Guide to Carseat Basics on Selection and Use
Q11: How can I find out if my carseat has been recalled?
There is a very good recall list here (Adobe PDF format):
SafetyBeltSafe Recall List
NHTSA Recall List
Or call the NHTSA at:
Or Seatcheck at 1-866-SEATCHECK
Q12: How do I contact the manufacturer of my carseat or vehicle?
First, check your owner's manual or the labels on the carseat. This website also has a very thorough contact list:
SafetyBeltSafe Carseat Manufacturer Contact List
Carseat Manufacturer Websites:
Angel Guard | Baby Trend | Britax | Century | Columbia Medical | Learning Curve (Compass, The First Years | Dorel (Cosco, Safety 1st, Eddie Bauer) | E-Z On | Evenflo | Fisher Price | Gerry (Evenflo) | Graco | Jane USA | Jupiter | Kolcraft | Learning Curve (Compass, The First Years | Mia Moda | Peg Perego | Recaro USA | SafeGuard | Safeline | Snug Seat | Sammons Preston | Sunshine Kids | Tumble Forms |
Vehicle Manufacturer Websites:
Acura | Audi | BMW | Buick | Cadillac | Chevrolet | Chrysler | Daewoo | Daihatsu | Dodge | Eagle | Ford | Ford Motor Co. | Geo | General Motors Corp | GMC | Honda | Hyundai | Infiniti | Isuzu | Jaguar | Jeep | Kia | Land Rover | Lexus | Lincoln | Mazda | Mercedes | Mercury | Mitsubishi | Nissan | Oldsmobile | Plymouth | Pontiac | Porsche | Range Rover | Saab | Saturn | Subaru | Suzuki | Toyota | Volkswagen | Volvo
Q13: Which carseats are compatible with my vehicle?
It may be impossible to tell in advance if a carseat will fit tightly in a particular vehicle. The best advice is to see if you can try the carseat in your car with your child before you buy it. Also make sure you have a good return policy in case it doesn't fit. You can also search this database to see results other parents have submitted:
Carseat/Vehicle Compatibility List
Q14: Is a built-in child seat safe?
Yes. Make sure your child is within the age/weight limits listed in your vehicle's owner's manual. If the seat fits your child and is used properly, it should be very safe and, of course, you never have to worry about installing it in the vehicle. There may be some disadvantages to integrated carseats (see #15, below).
Q15: Do I need a separate carseat if my vehicle has an integrated child seat already?
Maybe. Integrated carseats, especially those with a harness, may have some disadvantages when used as the primary restraint for a child:
* Emergency personnel often prefer to remove a child in a separate carseat. This keeps the child immobilized in case of head/spinal injury and may allow for safer transport in the ambulance.
* Integrated seats do not function rear-facing. Rear-facing is safest for children, and many separate carseat models allow for rear-facing use to 30, 33 or 35 lbs.
* Integrated seats do not usually have any form of side impact protection. Many separate carseats have some form of protection, and a few have special foam or plastic specifically for side impacts. Deep wells on the side also help keep a sleeping child's head more upright.
* Harnesses on some integrated seats can be difficult to adjust, and may not fit tightly, especially on smaller children. This can lead to an unsafe fit, and make it easier for a child to remove all or part of the restraint. Some integrated seats have limited or no harness height adjustment, a feature found on most separate carseat models. This means a child may be too tall for an integrated seat well before they exceed the weight limit.
* Using an integrated carseat as your primary restraint may leave you without a method to transfer your child to another vehicle (relative, caregiver, vehicle being repaired, etc).
* The comfort on some integrated seats is far below the level found on most separate carseats. Integrated seats also tend to be less comfortable for an adult when folded.
* Optional integrated seats are often more expensive than most separate child restraints.
Q16: Which carseats have higher slots or fit larger children? Which ones are narrow or short enough to fit a small back seat?
Some seats will accomodate taller children more easily. Also, it is important that at least 80% of the base of the carseat is in contact with the vehicle seat. This website has measurements and slot height listings for some models:
Carseat Model Measurements and Slot Heights
Q17: Which carseats have the most features?
The best way to compare features is to try carseats yourself in person. You may find some features simply aren't important to you.
Q18: Should I buy a carseat with a harness or a shield?
A 5-point harness is considered safest. T-shields and overhead tray shields may be less safe, especially for small infants. Also see:
SafetyBeltSafe Best Car Seat
Q19: Which other features are important?
Many features can enhance safety or convenience. See this feature guide for some information:
Car-Safety.Org Carseat Buying Guide
Q20: Are combination systems with strollers and carseats any good?
The carseats in combination travel systems are all tested and safe. You may find you don't get all the features you want in the carseat or stroller when buying a system. On the other hand, some infant seats have convenient bases that allow you to move the carrier from one car to another car to a stroller without waking your infant. Only you can decide if one is right for your situation.