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A guide to choosing the right car seat

Car seat assessment

Starting with your child's first car ride home from the hospital, he or she needs to be buckled up in a car seat on every trip. Proper use of car seats can help make sure your child is protected in an accident.

There are several types of car seat to choose from. Which one is best depends on a variety of factors, such as your child's age and size.

This tool can help you learn which car seat is right for your child.

Note: This assessment is not intended to be a substitute for a visit with your healthcare provider.

If your child is younger than 2 years old:

Your child should ride in a rear-facing infant-only or rear-facing convertible seat. This is true unless the child has reached the seat's weight or height limit.

There are good things about each type of seat. An infant-only seat may be easier to take in and out of the car. But a convertible seat can change to forward-facing. That means your child might be able to use it longer. Kids who get too big for an infant-only seat should ride rear-facing in a convertible seat. Kids who get too big for a convertible seat should ride in a forward-facing seat with a harness.

Make sure your child's seat is installed tightly in the back seat. And make sure the harness fits snugly. If you need help putting the seat in, or just want an expert's review, visit safercar.gov/cpsApp/cps/index.htm to find the child safety seat inspection station nearest you. Inspections are usually free.

If your child is 2 years of age or older:

Your child can ride in a forward-facing seat with a harness.

But if your child is still within the height and weight limits of his or her rear-facing seat, keep using that seat.

There are different kinds of forward-facing seats to choose from. Height and weight limits vary. Be sure the one you use fits your child.

Make sure the car seat is installed tightly in the back seat and that the harness fits snugly. If you need help putting the seat in, or just want an expert's review, visit safercar.gov/cpsApp/cps/index.htm to find the child safety seat inspection station nearest you. Inspections are usually free.

If your child has reached the height and weight limits of his or her forward-facing seat: Your child may be ready for a belt-positioning booster seat.

Booster seats MUST be used with a lap-and-shoulder belt. Make sure the lap belt lies low and snug across your child's hips and pelvis. The shoulder belt should cross the middle of your child's chest and shoulder. Make sure to place the booster seat in the back seat of your vehicle.

If you need help putting the seat in, or just want an expert's review, visit safercar.gov/cpsApp/cps/index.htm to find the child safety seat inspection station nearest you. Inspections are usually free.

If your child is at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and 8 years old:

Your child may be ready to wear an adult safety belt—as long as it fits properly without the booster seat. Make sure the shoulder part lies across the middle of your child's chest, not the neck or throat. And the lap part should be low and snug across the child's hips and pelvis, not the belly.

For the best protection, your child should always use a lap-and-shoulder belt.

Your child should ride in the back seat until he or she is at least 13 years old.


reviewed 9/27/2018

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