You may not realize it until the moment comes, but a car seat is one of the most important purchases you’ll ever make. It’s not until you’re about to put your little one in the car for the first time that you appreciate how critical it is to have a car seat you trust. There are several different types of car seats, and the right one for your child depends on a few factors, such as your child's age and weight, as well as your vehicle type, to name a few. Below we’ll go over the different types of car seats and which may be appropriate for the milestone your child is at.
Infant car seats are meant to cradle your baby. They’re designed as a portable car seat for newborns and infants that can only be used rear-facing. Infant seats have a carry handle because they’re highly portable. They can be clicked into and out of a stay-in-vehicle base, and many infant seats also can be secured into a stroller. This means the infant does not have to be removed from the seat because the seat itself is portable.
Infant car seats offer excellent family mobility; however, they do not provide the longest usage. Most children will outgrow their infant car seat in height before they reach the weight limit of the seat. Always make sure your child's head is at least one inch from the top of the highest headrest position. Once you have maximized your infant car seat height and weight limits, it's time to move to a convertible or all-in-one car seat.
This type of seat is called convertible because it can be used as a rear-facing seat and then converted to forward-facing as your baby reaches the appropriate weight and height. A convertible car seat is bulkier than an infant car seat, and it stays in the vehicle, meaning it can’t click into a stroller like the infant seat. But many parents like convertible car seats because they can be used from birth into preschool years, so your investment lasts longer. Use this type of car seat until your child outgrows it per the guidelines.
An All-in-One Car Seat has several advantages, such as versatility and a long duration of use. This seat can change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat (with a harness and tether) and to a booster seat as a child grows. Another advantage to the all-in-one option is that the car seat can be adjusted to accommodate the growth of your child from the infant stage to the booster stage. All-in-one car seats are designed to provide value and versatility for families who seek a one-and-done seat, as well as limit the carbon footprint. This is also a good choice for grandparents who may not transport the child all of the time, but want a seat when the grandkids come to visit.
What are the perceived disadvantages of the all-in-one car seat? Many parents (and their kids) like the idea of starting with a new car seat as the child “graduates” from one to the next. Moving up to a new car seat is seen as a milestone to celebrate. With the all-in-one, the child rides in the same seat all the way until they’re out of a car seat. Keeping the same car seat clean through many years of constant use can also be a challenge.
A harness booster is used as a forward-facing seat with a built-in five point harness, and then transitions into a Booster Seat. A combination seat (or harness plus booster car seat) is a forward-facing-only car seat that provides a more mature seat design for riding in the five-point harness and transitions into a belt-positioning booster. Since these seats are forward-facing only, children must meet the age, height, and weight requirements outlined by the car seat manufacturer before using this seat type.
Boosters have no internal harness system. Instead, they are used to position a child passenger to safely use the vehicle’s seat belt for restraint. Though manufacturing guidelines differ, most booster seats are designed for children who are at least four years of age, weigh at least 40 pounds and are at least 38” tall.
You should never place a child in a booster seat until size requirements are met, and you should also be confident that your child will sit relatively still in the booster seat so the vehicle seat belt stays positioned properly for the duration of every ride. A child may safely graduate to the vehicle seat when the vehicle seat belt can fit snugly across the upper thighs, not the abdomen, the shoulder belt lies across the shoulder and chest rather than neck or face, and is close to 5 feet tall. Should a crash occur, the child would be highly vulnerable to injury if using an ill-fitting seat belt. A booster seat puts the child at the right height for the seat belt to have the best chance of preventing injury. Booster seats should be used until your child meets the seat belt fit test:
- They sit all the way back in the vehicle seat, their legs break at the end and their feet touch the floor.
- The lap belt fits over their hip and the shoulder belt is over their collar bone.
- The child will sit like this for the entire ride.
While age shouldn’t be the only factor when deciding which car seat is right for your child, this graphic may simplify or help you narrow down your decision. Again, refer to the seat’s instruction manual to understand the specific requirements and limits of each seat.
Keep these considerations in mind:
- Car seats expire. Be sure to check and follow your seat’s expiration date.
- Follow installation instructions carefully. Your car seat will come with a guide from the manufacturer that you should adhere to. Be sure to check your manufacturer's website. Most have certified car seat technicians as customer service representatives and instructional videos.
- Get help with installation. If you’re unsure about car seat installation, many fire stations and local organizations have events to help you.
- Avoid bulky clothing. When loading your child into a car seat, it’s recommended to remove bulkier clothing items like puffy jackets and simply put them over top of the harness if it’s cold. In a wreck, harness straps will likely condense these items, causing the straps to be too loose to safely secure the child.
- Stick to the backseat. Never put a car seat in the front seat of the vehicle.
- Pass on used seats. Don’t use a seat you don’t know the history of. If a car seat has been in a crash, check with the manufacturer to see if it can continue to be used. If the seat does not have the manufacturer’s label and instructions, don’t use it.
- Check recalls. Ensure your car seat isn’t on a recall list, and follow the instructions for that car seat if it is on a recall list.
The right car seat for your child is the one that fits your child, your vehicle and will be easy to install correctly, every time. There’s no one seat that is considered the best. Even price alone is not an indication of the safest or most suitable car seat. You must take into consideration your child’s size, your vehicle design, and your lifestyle needs when deciding which type of car seat is right for your family. Consult the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's guide on ensuring car seat safety based on your child’s age, weight, and height.
Chicco has car seat options for children of all ages and common sizes. Browse our car seats, bases, and boosters.