Everything Parents Need to Know About Car Seat Safety- 8 Common Questions Answered with the Best Expert Advice of 2019

Everything Parents Need to Know About Car Seat Safety- 8 Common Questions Answered with the Best Expert Advice of 2019

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Trivia: Using car seats correctly reduces the risk of death by what percentage??

(Scroll to the bottom of the post for the answer!)


When I first became a mom, I had no idea how little I knew about car seats and car safety!

In this day and age, most parents spend time in the car with the kids every day. Going to school, daycare, the store, running errands… It’s vital for every parent to know exactly how to keep their little ones safe in the car. 

Here is everything new parents need to know- the most updated information from child safety experts at safekids.org! All in one convenient place for easy reference.

Share with your friends, tell new moms, let the school and daycare know, and inform grandparents. Let’s get everyone on the same page with accurate information to keep our kids safe! 

Let’s start at the beginning.

baby beside green textile

1) What Seat Should I Get?

  • Infancy:

Your baby’s first car seat will be a Rear Facing seat. These seats support the baby in a lying down position. 

Most Rear Facing seats are rates for 5-40 pounds. If you have a preemie, make sure your car seat is rated for your child’s weight.

It is important to keep your child in a Rear Facing seat for as long as possible as these seats are the safest option for young children. At a minimum, keep using the Rear Facing seat until 2 years old. Many children ride in a rear facing seat until they are 3. Don’t move your child on to the next seat until he or she exceeds the weight requirements. 

Sometimes, babies seem too tall for the Rear Facing seat. It’s no problem- the child can simply cross her legs to be comfortable.


There are 3 options for Rear Facing Seats: 

1.Rear Facing ONLY- These seats are common because they are portable. It’s easy to buckle a baby into the seat indoors and carry the seat, baby and all, to the car. These seats often clip into strollers for convenience.

The seat usually clips into a base which stays in the car. Parents can choose to purchase multiple bases so that they don’t have to switch the base between vehicles.

Although babies can be safely carried while buckled into these seats, it’s important to unbuckle the child when you exit the vehicle. If the child is sleeping in the seat, undo the buckles to ensure that the child can breathe properly.


2. Convertible Car Seat- These seats are Rear Facing, but they convert to a Forward Facing seat when the child is old enough to make the change to the next seat style.

There are benefits of having a Convertible Seat. The seat is larger and has higher weight limits, so the child is able to stay Rear Facing for a longer time. It’s cheap and convenient to have two styles of car seat in one, rather than purchasing the next style.

However, the Convertible Seat is not portable like the Rear Facing Only seat. Rather than unbuckling the seat from the base, a parent must unbuckle the child every time he enters or exits the vehicle.


3. 3-in-1 Seat- A 3-in-1 Car Seat converts from Rear Facing, to Forward Facing, and again to a Booster Seat. All three styles of car seat are included in one, which is great and economical. These seats can be more expensive than the others, but they are generally cheaper in the long run because you don’t have to purchase three separate seats. 

3-in-1 seats are large like a Convertible Car Seat. They are not portable like a Rear Facing Only seat.

girl holding red maple leaf

  • Young Children (Approximately Age 2-8):

Once a child outgrows the Rear Facing seat, he moves on to the Forward Facing Seat. The exact time of the change is different for each child, but the switch should be made after 2 years of age. Keep the child in the Rear Facing seat until he exceeds the weight or height limits for that seat.

A Forward Facing Seat uses a harness to buckle the child around the chest and around the hips. This method is safer for young children than a seat belt. These seats are designed to support the child’s entire body in the case of a crash, especially focusing on keeping the spine, neck, and head aligned.


There are two kinds of Forward Facing Seats.


1.Forward Facing Only- These seats are cheaper than a Combination Seat. They are just as safe and effective as a Combination Seat, but you will need to purchase a Booster Seat once your child outgrows the Forward Facing Only Seat.

The benefit of purchasing a Forward Facing Only Seat is that it will be several years before you’ll need to buy the booster seat. Booster seats are the cheapest car seats, so it’s not a big deal to buy one later on.

If the seat expired or if the seat was in a car accident, you would need to purchase a new one anyways. It might be a better fit for your family to purchase a cheaper Forward Facing Only Seat rather than risk spending more money on a seat that might not last all the way until your child is 8-12 years old. 


2. Combination Seat- This seat converts from a Forward Facing Seat to a Booster Seat. It’s perfect for someone who wants to use a portable Rear Facing Only Seat for a baby. You get all the convenience of the Rear Facing Only Seat. When your child needs a Forward Facing Seat, you get the next two seats all in one. It can be cheaper to buy one seat rather than purchasing both seats.

If you got in a crash or if the seat expired, you would need to buy a new car seat, which is a bummer.

woman in blue shirt with blond curly hair and blue eyes

  • Older Children (Around Ages 8-12)

A child moves on to a Booster Seat when the child outgrows the shoulder straps or the height/weight limits of the Forward Facing Seat.

A Booster Seat lifts the child so that they are tall enough to use an adult seat belt without the seat belt crossing over their neck or face.


There are two styles of Booster Seat, and one alternative option to a traditional Booster.


1. Backless Booster Seat- These are the cheapest Booster Seats. They are safe as long as your car has a high backrest on the seat, including a headrest for the child.


2. High Backed Booster Seat- This is the best style to use if your car does not have a headrest or if the seats are low.

High Backed Booster Seats can be more expensive than Backless Booster Seats.

It is nice to have a High Backed Booster Seat because it is safe in any vehicle. You never know when your child will be invited to go somewhere with a friend, a grandparent, or a family member whose vehicle is styled differently than yours.


3. Alternative Option to the Booster Seat: Travel Vests- Travel vests are designed to increase seat belt safety for a child. It has a harness similar to a Forward Facing Seat.

The seat belt attaches to the harness, keeping the seat belt in the ideal position across the child’s lap and shoulder. If a child were to experience a crash, the travel vest absorbs much of the impact, resulting in less injury to the child. See specific travel vests for specific ages or weight/height limits.

photo of woman holding white and black paper bags

2) What do I Need to Know When Shopping for a Car Seat?

  • Expiration Date- All car seats have an expiration date. Car seats are made out of plastic. Plastic becomes brittle over time, especially when exposed to extreme temperatures. Car seats become less safe the older they are. Following the expiration date ensures that your child is safe in a new and properly functioning car seat. If you need to find the expiration date, look on the tag or on the side of the seat.
  • Specs of the Car Seat- Each car seat has its own size and shape. Consider your needs and what will fit best in your vehicle. If you have more than one child in a car seat, how much room will you need in the back seat to fit both children?
  • Weight/Height/Age Limits- What are your family’s needs? Do you need this seat to last for several years or for a short time until the child grows out of the seat? Consider what seat will fit your circumstance the best.
  • After-Market Products can be Dangerous!- There are products like extra padding that can be purchased for car seats. These extra products are not rated for a specific car seat and could compromise the seat’s safety. If there is a product that you prefer, make sure you purchase a seat that already includes that product. If the product is included, the manufacturer has already tested to make sure that the product is safe for that specific seat.
  • Used Car Seats- Used car seats can be very dangerous! It is easy for a seller to lie about the car seat’s history, which could make all the difference in your little one’s safety! A used car seat is not safe if:
    • It has been in a crash
    • It is expired
    • It does not come with the original parts, instructions, and labels
    • If it has any visible damage, like cracks
  • Price- The most expensive car seat isn’t guaranteed to be the best, and the cheapest car seat isn’t guaranteed to be the worst. Consider your family’s unique circumstance to find the best fit for you.
  • Registering– Register your car seat provides the manufacturer with your contact information so that they can immediately let you know if there is a recall or a deficiency in your car seat. They do not share your personal information. Register your car seat quickly to keep your child safe. Usually, you can register your seat by using a mail-in or by going online.

gray metal part lot

3) What are the Various Parts and Pieces of a Car Seat?

Image from www.safekids.org : 

Basic parts on a car seat of the front and back of a car seat.

For more specifics, check out this AMAZING post by babycenter.com: Anatomy of a Car Seat

baby on gray stroller

4) How do I Install a Car Seat in my Car?

There are two major methods of securing a car seat into a car. Each family should choose one or the other, but never use both methods at the same time.

1.Seat Belt Method- The seat belt method has been around for a long time. Vehicles older than September 2002 will use the seat belt method because the latch systems were not installed until after that date. Pull the seat belt through the designated slots (see individual car seat instructions for specific details). Buckle the seat belt. Pull the belt tight. If you plan to use the seat belt method, make sure the seat belt locks!

2. Latch Method (Lower Anchors and Tethers For Children)- The latch method tethers the car seat to anchors found in the vehicle. It is important to note that the car seat can only be placed in certain seats of the vehicle, depending on the location of the anchors.

Latch systems are installed on vehicles newer than September 2002. In these vehicles, you can check the owner’s manual to find specific locations of the anchors.

There is a lower latch that secures the bottom of the seat and a top tether to secure the back of the seat. This keeps the top of the car seat from launching forward in a car accident. 

The tethers and anchors are rated for a specific weight (usually 65 pounds). This weight limit includes the weight of the child plus the weight of the car seat. Once the weight of the child plus the weight of the seat exceeds 65 pounds, switch to using the seat belt method.

  • Rear Facing Seats- Rear Facing Seats are installed using a base that stays in the vehicle. The base is secured using the seat belt or latch method. Place the car seat into the base and push down firmly until the seat clicks into place. It is important to check the Angle Indicator (located on the side of the car seat or in the instructions) to make sure the Rear Facing Seat is angled properly. An improper angle could cause a baby to struggle to breathe.
  • Forward Facing Seats- Choose between the seat belt method and the latch method.
  • Booster Seats- A booster seat does not need to be secured. The seat belt will tightly hold the child and the seat in place in the event of an accident.
  • Tips for All Car Seats- 
    • Always place the child in the back seat until they are 13 years old.
    • Avoid placing children near air bags.
    • Always test to make sure the seat is installed tightly. Pull the seat from side to side and front to back. The car seat should not move more than 1 inch in any direction.


Want More Safety Tips? Check out these Related Articles!

How to Respond When Children Wander Away (Or Worse)

11 Steps to Delivering a Baby Alone- Be Prepared For Those Crazy Times When Sh*# Like That Happens


5) How do I Buckle My Child Into the Car Seat Properly?

I used to think it was simple and easy to put a child in a car seat. Then I learned I was doing it all wrong!

And I’m not the only one. 3 out of 4 car seats are used incorrectly! Here’s some great pointers to make sure you are keeping your child safe.

  • There should not be anything behind or under the child. No blankets, pillows, big puffy coats, etc. These things get in the way of tightening the seat properly by adding unnecessary bulk.
    • If you are concerned about your child being cold in the car, use a light jacket, warm the car before you get in, or place a blanket over his lap (and over the buckles- never place the buckles over the blanket as this causes the same problems).
  • The recommendations for how to use Shoulder Straps change based on the type of seat your child uses. 
    • Rear Facing Seat: The harness straps should come out from behind the seat at the height of your child’s shoulders or BELOW your child’s shoulders, but NOT above the child’s shoulders.
    • Forward Facing Seat: The harness straps should come out from behind the seat at the height of your child’s shoulders or ABOVE your child’s shoulders, but NOT below the child’s shoulders.
  • Even though it’s a pain, the best practice is to loosen and tighten the harness every time you get in and out of your vehicle. Don’t assume that the straps are adjusted perfectly. In order to test if the straps are tight enough, pinch the strap next to the child’s shoulders. The strap should be tight enough that your fingers slide off the material, rather than folding the strap in half.
  • The chest buckle should be equal with the child’s armpits, not down by her belly or up by her neck.
  • When using a Booster Seat avoid lap only seat belts. The child should use a lap and shoulder seat belt, which supports his body in the event of a crash. A lap only belt would allow his body to launch forward, causing injury.

6) What Else Can I Do to Keep My Child Safe in the Car?

  • Children grow fast! Double check the child’s weight and height often to make sure your child is using the appropriate car seat for his changing needs.
  • Be aware of objects in the car. If you got in a crash, hard objects could shift or be thrown throughout the car. This could easily hurt a child! Secure necessary objects. Don’t let the child bring hard toys in the car. Instead, choose soft toys like stuffed animals.
  • Don’t leave a child alone in the car for any amount of time. This could cause many accidents, including:
    • Heat stroke. A car is like a greenhouse. It traps heat, making the inside of the vehicle many times hotter than outside the vehicle. This can lead to injury or death in just a few minutes.
    • Strangulation. Many common features in a car can be dangerous when used by an unsupervised child- including: power windows, seat belts, sunroofs, straps of a car seat, etc.
    • Runaway vehicles. Children can bump the car into gear, causing it to start driving without you. This can cause injury to the child in the vehicle, injury to others outside the vehicle, and property damage.
  • Always wear your seat belt to be a good example of car safety. 
  • Model cautious driving. Always follow the rules of the road and avoid unnecessary risks.
  • Avoid road rage, as this can cause unnecessary aggressive driving.
  • Set family rules about riding with other drivers. Address topics like the driver’s level of experience, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, always wearing seat belts even if others do not, etc.
    • Communicate your expectations for your child’s safety to family, schools, neighbors, daycare, or anyone else who might transport your child to make sure everyone is transporting your child safely!

black trash bin

7) How Do I Dispose of Old Car Seats?

If your child has outgrown a car seat before the expiration date, feel free to pass it along to a friend, family member, or neighbor. Be sure that they get all the original labels, instructions, and pieces of the seat. Give them a complete history of the car seat so that they know it is safe to use.

If the car seat is expired, do not place it somewhere where another person might use it mistakenly. Instead, take the seat apart into pieces. Place each piece into separate trash bags and dispose of the bags.

If the seat has been through a crash, research carefully to find the exact recommendations for your seat.

Start by checking the instructions that came with your car seat. Some manufacturers recommend disposing of the car seat if it has been through any sort of crash. Others allow the seat to be used if the crash was minor.

How do you know if the crash was “minor”? A minor crash meets ALL of the following requirements: 

  • The car was not damaged (enough to drive away from the accident.)
  • The door closest to the car seat was undamaged.
  • There were no injuries to anyone inside the vehicle.
  • None of the airbags were deployed.
  • There is no visible cracks or other damage to the car seat itself.

If you have further questions about if a seat is safe, feel free to contact the manufacturer directly to have your questions answered.


8) How do I Know When My Child is Ready to Stop Using Car Seats All Together?

Teens and preteens eventually give up using the Booster Seat. Make sure they meet the following guidelines before they make the transition:

  • The child can use the adult seat belt correctly.
    • The belt crosses the child’s lap and chest.
    • The belt NEVER crosses over the child’s face or neck, as this could lead to injury in a crash.
    • The belt fits securely, not loosely.
  • The child’s feet can touch the floor when she sits with her back against the back of the seat.
  • The child’s knees bend properly at the edge of the seat when she sits with her back against the back of the seat.
  • Check out a video here of how to test if your child is ready to give up the car seat!

Remember, each car’s dimensions are different. There might be one car that is safe for your child to ride in without his Booster Seat and another car that is not safe for your child. Test to see if a car is safe every time you change vehicles!

Again, make sure your child sits in the back seat until at least age 13 to protect them from airbag deployment, which can hurt younger children.


There you have it! Everything you need to know about car safety, all in one place!

Here’s to keeping our little ones safe!!!


Mrs. S


Who is Mrs. S… and why do people call you that? 

It’s my favorite nickname! That’s what all my students call me!

I’ve been around the block a time or two. I’ve worked with children from ages 0-18, some with mental illness, some with disabilities, some with Autism, and many with behavioral problems.

I also worked as a parent educator!

All that doesn’t hold a candle to my best experience with children- being a mom. Want to learn more about me? Click here! 


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Trivia Answer: Using car seats correctly reduces the risk of death by 71%!!!

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