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What’s the right car safety seat for your child? How do you install them? Do you even need them or are seat belts enough? Your child’s safety is extremely important. Child car safety seats ensure that your child is safe and secure when riding along with you. Your child is constantly growing. This means that, over the years, you’ll need to invest in different types of car safety seats for their comfort and security. This resource gives you a detailed look at different types of car safety seats, how to install them, and tips on seat placement, comfort, regulations, and more. Let’s dive in.

Depending on your child’s age, height, and weight, you’ll need to invest in different car safety seats. What are the most common types of car safety seat? Here are some of the common seat types you’ll encounter:

  • Rear-facing-only car seats
  • Rear-facing convertible car seats
  • Forward-facing convertible seats
  • Booster seats

Rear-facing-only Car Seats

Starting from the first car ride home from the hospital, we recommend that infants only ride in rear-facing only car seats. Rear-facing seats should be used for at least 2 years until your child exceeds the weight and height recommendations set by the seat manufacturer. The weight limit is usually between 22 to 35 pounds.

Rear-facing Seat

The main reason to use a rear-facing only seat is that the design absorbs some of the crash force in case of an accident. The protection is necessary since the infants haven’t developed to the point where they can handle impact forces. Infants have delicate necks and spinal cords, making them especially susceptible to whiplash. Rear-facing only seats offer the best chance of survival.

Even if your child doesn’t like sitting rear-facing, rear-facing seats should be used for at least two years to ensure safety. Rear-facing seats offer statistically better outcomes and could help your child immensely in case of an accident.

Many rear-facing only seats come with a base that can be left in the car while the seat can be carried around with you. This makes it easy to use the seat in any car with the seat base installed. If you have several cars, it’s a great idea to install seat bases in each car.

Rear-facing Convertible Seats

When your child is old enough to use them, convertible rear-facing seats are an improvement over rear-facing only seats. Toddlers often use rear-facing convertible seats at around two years old and continue using them until after preschool. Rear-facing convertible seats can be used by kids under two, provided they’re exclusively deployed in a rear-facing position. Because they can convert between the rear and forward-facing seat positions, rear-facing convertible seats are a great value proposition: you’ll only need to buy one convertible seat instead of multiple non-convertible models.

While being more convenient for your child, rear-facing convertible seats are larger and heavier than the non-convertible kind. This makes it more difficult for the parent or in-charge to carry the seat when going outside the car. However, they provide a high level of protection for the child. The protection levels come from a stronger frame that ensures that these seats can take a higher amount of force if the car meets with an accident.

While installation is often not as simple as with non-convertible seats, you can do it on your own without help. Being bigger than normal, convertible seats also tend to come with more safety-centric features. Seats with a 5-point harness system, for example, ensure that the shoulders, hips, and legs are secured tightly.

Different manufacturers will give you different weight and height recommendations for convertible seats. What matters, though, is your child’s comfort and safety. Continue to use rear-facing convertible seats if they are comfortable for your child.

Installation Tips for Rear-facing Car Seats

Most manufacturers provide two main ways to install rear-facing car safety seats: through the seat belts or through the LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system. The LATCH system is convenient. Here’s how to install a LATCH seat:

  • Place the safety seat in a rear-facing position over your back seat
  • Make sure your LATCH tethers align with the car’s anchor points
  • Click the tethers into place.

installation is simple because LATCH systems attach to your car seat’s LATCH tethers with just a simple click. Seatbelt-based installation is often more complex. However, both options are equally safe. With certain models, parents can use both systems simultaneously to provide more protection.

What is LATCH?

LATCH is an attachment system that negates the need to use seat belts when installing a car safety seat. Many cars manufactured after 2002 have two sets of anchors to install LATCH systems. These are small bars on the rear seat cushions where you can connect LATCH tethers. Cars with anchors typically come with attachments you can use to fasten LATCH tethers to them.

What are LATCH tethers, though? They’re straps that securely attach your safety seat to the anchors on your car’s rear seat, holding the seat in place. Because they attach securely, tethers provide an extra level of protection in case of a crash: they’ll keep your child’s head from moving too fast, reducing the risk of whiplash.

The LATCH attachment system has a longer strap tether at the top of the seat, while the lower LATCH attachments are located at or near the base of the seat.

How do you decide on whether to use LATCH or seatbelt-based installation? This depends on whether your car is LATCH compatible. As a rule of thumb, most cars manufactured after 2002 have LATCH tethers in place. If your car was manufactured after 2002, you would likely be able to use LATCH.

Another factor to consider is how much your child and the seat weigh together. LATCH systems work best with toddlers who weigh between 22-50 lbs. If you have an older toddler or if you’re using a heavier convertible seat, the LATCH system might not work on its own. Seat Belt reinforcement is a must.

Other factors when installing rear-facing seats

When installing a rear-facing convertible seat, it’s important that you follow the installation manual provided by the manufacturer. Also, be sure not to add further padding on the seat behind the child.

After installation, you’ll need to check whether the safety seat moves more than one inch on the LATCH tethers or the seatbelt. If it does, the seat is not installed tightly enough. You’ll need to refit it.

When a child is in the seat, make sure to tighten the belt over the child’s shoulder and cross their legs so that their neck and the spinal cord won’t face as much force in the event of a collision.

Forward-facing Convertible Seats with Harness

All rear-facing convertible seats can be turned into front-facing convertible seats once your kid has outgrown the rear-facing mode. Forward-facing convertible seats are often used by kids in preschool or older. To use a forward-facing seat, your kid should be two years old at a minimum and weigh at least 30 lbs.

Forward-facing Car Seat

Forward-facing convertible seats can be used until your child is four years of age and around 80 pounds: the exact how long you’ll use them depends on the manufacturer’s weight and height specifications.

Many forward-facing seats feature harnesses. These provide an extra layer of safety when your child is in a forward-facing position. Be sure to use the harness if it’s part of your forward-facing seat.

Many cars now feature built-in forward-facing seats. The same rules apply to these as for external forward-facing seats: do not use them until your child completely outgrows the rear-facing seat. Built-in forward-facing seats sometimes come with travel vests that a child up to 168 pounds can wear. This offers yet another layer of protection when your child is sitting upfront and can come in handy for years.

By the time they’re ready for forward-facing seats, your kid might not appreciate having to sit in a safety seat. It’s important to have a safety conversation with your child and ensure that they’re willing to sit in a safety seat: your child is growing and remains far more susceptible to injuries in case of a car crash than adults.

Installation Tips for Forward-Facing Convertible Seats

Here’s what you’ll need to do if you bought a convertible seat for the first time:

Check the manuals for your car and safety seat to ensure that both are compatible. You’ll need to make sure your kid’s compatible, too! Check the weight and height specifications mentioned in the seat manual to ensure that your kid can fit comfortably in the seat.

If you already have a convertible seat and are looking to convert it into a forward-facing seat, here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • First, simply turn the seat around.
  • Reattach the seat to the LATCH tethers.
  • Make sure to attach all the tethers, top and bottom, to ensure that the seat is installed tightly. The lower tether on its own might not be able to take the weight of the child.
  • With models that lack a top tether, make sure to also use a seatbelt. This will reduce seat movement while traveling and reduce the stress put on your child’s body.
  • The shoulder straps should be put on in a way that will cover your kid’s torsos when they’re in the seat.
  • The harness should cover the front of their body and then cross over the legs in such a way for a tight yet comfortable fit.
  • A retainer clip can be used to adjust the tightness.
  • The seat’s angle t should also be adjusted so that it is upright when your child sits in it.
  • While not essential, it’s a great idea to use a seat belt in tandem with the safety seat harness.

Booster Seats

Booster seats are the last step in the safety seat hierarchy. They’re for children who have outgrown the dimensions of rear-facing and front-facing safety seats but aren’t quite ready to use a seatbelt alone. You’ll know it’s time for a booster seat when your child’s shoulders are above the harness slots on the seat or when their ears have reached the top of the seat.

Booster Seat

From backless to high-backed to combination seats, there a few different kinds of booster seats that parents can choose from. It’s important to choose one that gives your child the best possible protection.

Typically, children will start using booster seats at the age of 4 and will continue to need them until they are eight to twelve years old or 4’9’ tall. Children should only be allowed to sit with just a seatbelt after they’ve crossed these crucial thresholds.

While some models come with limited tether options, most booster seats are not attached directly to the car. Instead, they’re fastened in place with a seatbelt. This means that it’s essential to use a seatbelt alongside a booster seat. Instead of a harness, booster seats generally come with shoulder and lap belts to protect your child’s body from high forces.

If they don’t come with secure harnesses, what’s the point of using a booster seat? Seatbelts don’t offer optimal protection if your child is shorter than 4’9”. Booster seats ensure that your child is elevated to the level where they can be protected by seatbelts.

Installation Tips for Booster Seats

Here’s what you need to do when installing a booster seat:

  • Before installing the booster seat, make sure that it is compatible with your car.
  • After this, place the booster on the back seat of your car.
  • Once your child is in the booster seat, ensure that the seat belt and lap belt are securely fastened.
  • Make sure that the lap belt is snug across the child’s legs while the torso belt covers their chest well.
  • Since most booster seats aren’t directly secured to your car, it’s crucial to ensure adequate seatbelt tightness.

Already have a safety seat installed? We have tips for you on a range of areas–from Seat placement to comfort to safety regulations. These tips ensure that you’ll get the most out of your child safety seat, maximizing security, comfort, and convenience.

Seat Placement

Getting a good quality safety seat is a top priority. But it’s just as important to ensure that the seat is placed correctly in your car. According to a recent study, kids are 45% less likely to be injured if they are seated in the middle than on either side. The data also pointed out that the center position was the safest yet least preferred position. However, is the back of the car always the best location for a safety seat? Every year, over 50 infants die due to “Forgotten Baby Syndrome.” This is where parents forget cars, often with tragic results. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Look before you lock” campaign reminds parents to be vigilant.

While fear of “Forgotten Baby Syndrome” might seem like a compelling reason to put seats in front, it is imperative that you don’t do this. Front seats have airbags. When triggered, they exert a tremendous amount of force on front seat passengers, pushing them back to avoid the lethal impact of an accident. Most adults can manage broken ribs and bruises from a triggered airbag. The same force, however, is lethal to young children. Never put your young children in the front seat. Put safety seats in the back. Make sure to double-check that your children are outside before you lock the door.

Comfort

While the priority of a safety seat is to keep your child safe and secure, seat comfort is an important factor, too. Your child won’t like riding in an uncomfortable seat–constant complaints could cause you to neglect safety in favor of comfort, with potentially dangerous results. When it comes to comfort, the first thing to check is whether your safety seat is the right size for your child. Manufacturers make safety seats with a wide range of weight and height specifications. Ensure that your child falls firmly within the seat’s established spec. If they’re too big or too small for the seat, comfort and safety might both be compromised. Here are some key comfort factors to look out for:

  • Make sure that the safety seat is soft and padded to provide comfortable cushioning.
  • If present, side wings can act as an impact protector and a multi-point flexible safety harness to secure the kid from sudden movements without being overly tight in any one area.
  • For rear-facing seats, adequate legroom is a must to allow your child to ride comfortably for longer.
  • Children must ride semi-reclined to ensure that their airways remain open. Recline your safety seat according to the manufacturer’s instructions so that your child’s head is at an optimal angle for comfortable breathing.
  • Some safety seats have features like an adjustable headrest to make sure that your child’s head doesn’t drop forward–causing discomfort and increasing the risk of whiplash.
  • As your child grows, you’ll need to adjust the reclining angle accordingly. Angle adjustors are a handy feature on some safety seats that can help you with this.

Safety Regulations

Child car safety is a legal requirement in all states. Most states have laws that specify age, weight, and height requirements for using different types of safety seats. This means that child safety seats aren’t just an option for greater safety: they are a requirement for legal compliance in most jurisdictions.

Apart from specifying safety seat criteria, many states have laws that forbid placing rear-facing child seats in front seats next to an active airbag. This is because rear-facing seats put a child’s head near the airbag, which can cause severe head injuries or death if the airbag deploys. Certain car models have a switch that enables or disables the passenger seat airbag if a safety seat is in use. You will need to look at local laws to ensure that this is acceptable in your state. When a child sits rear-facing in a front seat, their head’s in close proximity to the airbag. If the airbag deploys, it can cause injury or death.

Safety seat regulations are often found alongside other passenger safety norms on ABS, mandatory airbags, and child lock requirements, all of which have a tangible impact on your child’s in-car safety.

Most jurisdictions also make crash testing mandatory. This means that your car safety seat model has likely gone through rigorous testing in frontal, side, rear, and rollover tests to ensure compliance. It’s always a good idea, though, to look at local laws and assess how compliant your safety seat model is.

Value Additions

Like any other industry, the safety seat industry is evolving through constant innovation. Having an average, regulation-compliant safety seat isn’t enough in today’s market. As a result, manufacturers have come up with a variety of safety seat innovations to enhance safety, comfort, and convenience.

For optimal safety and comfort, many seat manufacturers equip harnesses with up to 5 points of contact for a more comfortable and secure fit. These harnesses secure the head, shoulders, chest, hip, and crotch. Reducer cushions on seats ensure head and body support for young children.

Because the frame of the safety seat is vital in ensuring support, many manufacturers offer reinforced safety seat frames. A steel-reinforced frame provides strength and durability for years of use.

To maximize convenience, some manufacturers offer harness compartments with Fuss-Free harness storage. This holds the buckle out of the way, making it easy to get your child in and out of the seat. Manufacturers also integrate dual cup holders to keep your child’s drink, snacks, and toys secure.

Additional Safety Tips

There’s a lot more that you can do for your child’s car safety. Let’s look at additional car safety tips:

  • Bulky sweaters and blankets can often prevent the harness strap from securing your child. Make sure to first tighten the harness and then cover your kids with blankets to keep them warm.
  • It’s important that harness straps are tight. How will you know if a strap is tight enough? You should not be able to pinch a properly tightened strap away from the shoulder of your child.
  • Another strap safety tip: Make sure to fasten safety straps at the proper height. This will ensure that your child is in a stable position and will stay secure in case of a bumpy ride.
  • Always remember to use both the lap and shoulder belt with booster seats–not just the lap belt. Lap belts should cross your child’s hips, while shoulder belts settle over their shoulder and chest.

Child safety seats have expiry dates clearly listed on them. The car seats typically expire after six years from the date of manufacture. A sticker that provides the serial number, as well as the manufacture and expiry dates, is displayed on every car seat. Make sure that your safety seat is manufactured recently and hasn’t expired.

While it may be cheaper, we don’t recommend buying a used seat. Used seats might be past their expiry date, subject to wear and tear, or might be models that were recalled due to safety risks. According to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), you need to replace safety seats after moderate or severe crashes. This ensures that they continue to offer adequate protection to your child. Because it’s impossible to determine the actual history of a second-hand safety seat, used seats pose a major safety hazard. Always buy new safety seats.

Make sure to read your safety seat’s manual and follow all the instructions. Over 95% of safety seats installed are either not the right type for the child, attached loosely or incorrectly to the car, hooked with an incompatible belt in the vehicle, or incorrectly placed in front of airbags. Studies indicate that most deaths occur due to faulty safety seats or incorrect placement.

FAQs

Are some child safety seats safer than others?

Child safety seats are available at a range of price points. This might make you think that more expensive options will deliver protection. This isn’t exactly the case, however. This is because all child safety seats on the market must comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and pass stringent crash tests. More expensive models might be more comfortable or offer extra features, but safety seats on the market meet standards for safety.

Is it safe to buy used safety seats?

We strongly recommend that you don’t buy a used safety seat. Unless you’re buying it from someone you know, you can never be 100 percent certain about what the used seat has gone through. If it’s been in a moderate to severe crash, it may not provide your child with adequate protection.

How long should rear-facing seats be used?

Make sure that your child rides in a rear-facing safety seat until they’re at least two years old. In many jurisdictions, this is a legal requirement. If your child is small for his or her age, it’s a good idea to keep them riding rear-facing until they outgrow their rear-facing seat.

How long should I use booster seats with older kids?

Booster seats can be used for kids between 6-12 years of age. This is a wide age range. This is because every child grows at a different rate. If your child is small for their age, they may need to stay in a booster seat for longer. Make sure your child stays in a booster seat until they’ve completely outgrown it.

How long is it safe to continuously use a car safety seat?

Research on infants suggests that sitting in a car safety seat results in a higher heartbeat and breathing rate, implying a greater stress level. We recommend taking breaks after two-hour driving sessions to ensure that your child has time to sit free.

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