Infant Car Seats
From birth until around 20 pounds. The rear-facing position offers the best protection for your baby's head, neck, and spine.
1. Install the seat at a 45-degree angle. If it lies too flat, your baby may slide out between the straps; if it's too upright, her head may flop forward, making breathing difficult. If your model doesn't come with an angle-adjuster, wedge a rolled towel under the base.
2. The carry handle should be in the down position for most infant seats. Check your manual to be sure.
3. The harness straps should be in slots at or below your baby's shoulders, the top of the harness clip should be at armpit level, and the harness should lie flat. if you can pinch a fold in the straps, it's too loose.
4. The seat must be tightly secured to the backseat -- where all car seats belong -- either with the vehicle's safety belt or LATCH (see below). If your model has a detachable base, be sure the seat is snapped firmly into it.
5. When properly installed, all car seats will move less than an inch when you tug on them in any direction at the belt path.
What is LATCH? Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren (LATCH) is a system that you can use to secure your car seat instead of safety belts. It's required on all car seats (except boosters) and vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002. But if you have an older car, properly installing the car seat with a safety belt is as safe as using LATCH.
Convertible seats (rear-facing)
From birth until around 30 pounds. Even if your child has turned 1, keep him rear-facing until he has reached the upper weight limit or the top of his head is less than an inch from the top of the seat.
1. The harness straps should be in slots at or below your child's shoulders, and the top of the clip should be at armpit level. Be sure the harness is snug.
2. Newborns and young infants need the seat reclined approximately 45 degrees, but older babies with good head control should recline only about 35 degrees.
3. Convertible seats have a top tether that can sometimes be used rear-facing. Check your manual.
4. Have your older child fold or cross his legs to stay comfortable in a rear-facing seat longer.
Convertible seats (forward-facing)
From at least 2 years or until they outgrown thier previous car seat. Follow the height and weight requiremnts. (weight guidelines vary by seat).
1. For tighter installation, press your body weight into the safety seat and push with your knee to make sure the seat is pressed down and against the vehicle's backseat. Attach your seat's top tether (not visible here) to your vehicle's tether anchor.
2. Convertible and combination seats can be used through multiple stages; this gives them an advantage over forward-facing-only versions (sometimes called toddler seats), which are less common these days.
3. Rethread the harness straps through the top slots, which have the extra reinforcement necessary to keep the harness secure when the seat is forward-facing. The straps should now be in slots at or above your child's shoulders, and the top of the clip should be at armpit level. Be sure the straps are snug.
4. If using the safety belt instead of LATCH, make sure it runs through the seat's forward-facing belt path.
Forward-facing safety seat: From at least 1 year old and over 20 pounds to around 4 years old and 40-65 pounds.
Booster: From around 4 years old and 40-65 pounds to 8-12 years old and 80-100 pounds (depending on the seat), and at least 4'9".
1. The harness straps should be in slots at or above your child's shoulders, and the top of the clip should be at armpit level. Be sure the straps are snug.
2. Unlike with convertible seats, all harness slots in combination seats have the extra reinforcement necessary to keep the harness secure forward-facing, so just choose the one that fits best.
3. Use the harness until your child is ready for a booster seat (see checklist below). Then remove the harness and use the seat with your vehicle's lap-and-shoulder belt.
Ready for a booster?
Yes, if any of these boxes are checked:
Your child's ears are above the top of the seat.
Her shoulders are above the top harness slots of the seat.
She has reached the maximum forward-facing weight limit.
*Some combination seats can also be used rear-facing for babies.
From around 4 years old and 40 pounds to 8-12 years old and 80-100 pounds (depending on the seat), and at least 4'9". A booster seat positions your child so that your vehicle's lap-and-shoulder belt fits properly.
1. If your car has low seat backs or no headrests, use a high-back model (not pictured here). These seats can also offer extra side impact protection, though it can be a struggle to keep older kids in them.
2. Always use both the lap and the shoulder belt, and never allow your child to put the shoulder strap behind his back or under his arm.
3. The shoulder belt should cross his shoulder midway between the neck and the arm. To get the right placement, use your vehicle's built-in shoulder-belt height adjuster or the shoulder-belt positioner that comes with your seat.
4. The lap belt should rest below your child's hip bones (not on his abdomen) and touch the top of his thighs.
Ready to lose the booster?
Yes, if all of these boxes are checked:
Your child can sit all the way back against the seat.
He can bend his knees comfortably at the edge of the seat.
The seat belt crosses his shoulder between his neck and his arm.
The lap belt sits low on his hips, touching his thighs.
Your child can stay seated like this for the entire car trip.