Seems like making the transition between car seats should be clear-cut -- but too often, it's not. Answers to your biggest questions:
Q. My little butterball is 9 months old and already weighs 25 pounds. Can I keep him in his infant seat until he turns 1?
Only if you have an infant seat designed to hold babies heavier than the standard 20 to 22 pounds, says Lorrie Walker, training manager and technical adviser for Safe Kids Worldwide.Otherwise, it's time for a convertible model that will keep him in the rear-facing position.
Q. I'm dying to turn my baby forward so I can see her when I'm driving. How soon can I do this?
As much as you'd love to see her grinning face in the rearview, she should remain turned around until she's at least 1 year and 20 pounds. And that's the minimum: Experts now advise keeping kids rear-facing as long as possible; this position offers the best protection for your child's head, neck, and spine in the event of a crash.
Q. It's expensive to buy an infant seat, then a convertible seat, then a booster. Is there another option?
Some parents opt to buy a convertible seat to use rear-facing right off the bat; and given that many go up to 35 pounds, you can get some serious mileage out of it. Another option is to buy a combination seat after he outgrows his infant one. These seats can only be used in the forward position (a drawback if your child isn't big enough yet), but the upper weight limits range from 40 to 65 pounds for use with a five-point harness. After that, you can use the seat as a belt-positioning booster until your child is 80 to 100 pounds.
Q. My 9-year-old complains about riding in her booster seat. When can we ditch it?
It's safest for your child (embarrassed or not) to remain in a booster until she's at least 8 years old and 4 feet 9 inches tall, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. When she meets those guidelines, she can go booster-free. But don't forget: She stays in the backseat until she's 13.
Many local police and fire departments will do a safety check on your car seat, tugging on straps till they're snug and safe (or completely reinstalling the seat if it's really off). To find additional car-seat checkpoints, call toll-free 866-SEAT-CHECK or visit seatcheck.org.