Choosing a Car Seat


Why is it important to choose the right car seat?

Choosing a car seat for your newborn is one of the most important things you'll do before your baby arrives. By law, you will need to have a properly installed car seat in your car before you can take your baby home. There are many brands and types of car seats available, and it will take time and effort to decide which is suitable for your child. Here are some things to consider.

What should I look for in a child car seat?

You should look for a car seat that best fits your child and your vehicle. Not all car seats are the same and they don’t all work in every type of car. The car seat that you choose should be based on the height and weight of your child. To determine this, you should test the seat to make sure it fits your baby and your vehicle properly. To ensure that you are properly installing the car seat, read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully or contact a certified car seat technician in your neighborhood.

Is a more expensive car seat better?

Cost should not be your only guide in choosing a seat. All seats meet the same safety standards and are required to pass the same crash tests. A more expensive car seat usually has extra features, but this doesn't necessarily make it safer or easier to use.

Can I buy a used car seat?

Car seat safety regulations change often, so you should not buy a used car seat if at all possible. You should never use a seat that has been in a crash, has missing parts, or is damaged in any way. It is also difficult to tell if a seat has been stored improperly or has been involved in an accident, so purchasing a used seat without knowing its history is not recommended.

No matter what seat you buy, you should carefully read the instructions from the manufacturer. You can obtain user instructions online or from the seat manufacturer. You should also register your seat with the manufacturer and have the seat checked for recalls.

How should the car seat fit my child?

Child car seats have both harness straps and a harness (retainer) clip. Car seats come with more than one harness height to give your baby some growing room. The harness straps fit over your child's shoulders, and the retainer clip holds the harness straps in place. The harness straps should fit snugly on your child, and the harness clip should be placed at armpit level. You should not be able to “pinch” any harness at the child’s shoulder level.

What types of car seats are available?

There are four types of child car seats, including:

  • Rear-facing or infant-only.
  • Convertible.
  • Combination.
  • Booster.

There are also seats and harnesses made specifically for special needs children.

Each type of seat has specific features that work for the stage of life your child is currently in. Different seats also have different weight restrictions and limits. Make sure you always look at the manufacturer’s information that comes with the seat before purchasing a car seat. These instructions will help you know what seat is best for your child at any stage of life.

  • Infant-only seat: Infant-only seats are also known as rear-facing seats. Rear-facing occupants are safest. For the best possible protection, keep your child rear-facing in the back seat of the vehicle for as long as possible. It’s recommended that children remain rear-facing up to 2 years of age. The seat should recline at about a 45 degree angle and should never be placed in front of an air bag. Harness height should be at the child’s shoulder level or just below. Most infant seats are manufactured with a higher end rear-facing weight limit. Do not exceed the maximum height or weight of your rear-facing seat. If your child exceeds the limits, you will need to move the child to a convertible seat in the rear-facing position.
  • Convertible seat: Convertible seats are essentially two car seats in one. They are placed in the back seat and face the back of the car until your child is about 2 years of age and at least 20 pounds. Following that, the seats are turned around to face the front of the car. Forward-facing harness heights should be set just above your child’s shoulder level.
  • Combination seat: Combination seats face the front of the car and are intended for children who are at least 1 year and older and weigh approximately 20 to 40 pounds. These seats can also convert into a belt-positioning booster seat when your child weighs at least 40 pounds or more and is at least 4 years of age. These seats should not be used rear-facing.
  • Booster seat: Booster seats are intended for children who are 4 to 8 years old and are at least 4’ 9”. Your child should start using a booster seat when he or she grows out of his or her car seat (when his or her ears are higher than the back of the car seat, and his or her shoulders are higher than the top strap slots), or when the weight limit for the seat is reached. Booster seats are usually used until your child is at least 8 years old and 4’ 9” tall. They are then ready to use a regular seat belt.

Do you have to have a car seat?

While many state laws are different and some don’t require children over age 4 to ride in a child restraint system, your child is safest when using a car seat. Young children who don’t ride in some kind of restraint system, are unprotected from serious injury. The general rule is to keep children in an appropriate car seat until the child is 4’9”.

When can my child use a seat belt?

Your child is ready to use a standard car seat belt when he or she has met several criteria, including:

  • Exceeding the weight limit on the booster seat (about 80 pounds).
  • Sitting with his or her back against the seatback.
  • Being able to sit with his or her legs bent at the knee over the front of the seat.

Children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat of a vehicle. Everyone should always wear a seat belt in the car.


Where can I find more information about child car seats?

To learn more about car seats and help you find the right one for your family, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website ( This resource has a helpful tool that can help you pinpoint safe car seat options for your child. The car seat finder asks you to enter your child’s birth date, height and weight. It then identifies options that could work. You can find this tool at

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Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy