Two car seats sit next to each other in a studio.

Choosing a car seat that will keep your child both safe and comfortable is an important decision. Between the cost, safety concerns, and variety of styles, there’s a lot to think about when you’re looking for the right child safety seat. To help you avoid trial and error, our team has compiled some tips and resources to look into before buying and securing a car seat.

Whether your child is in a forward-facing car seat or a convertible seat, you should have peace of mind that they’ll be safe from serious injury if there’s a car accident.

An Overview Of Car Seat Safety

When you’re considering any car seat, safety should be the top priority. Experts and researchers in the automotive industry are responsible for putting car seats through rigorous testing and multiple stages of approval before these products are released on the market for the public.

Beyond manufacturing and testing, a 2020 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that 46 percent of car seats weren’t installed correctly in vehicles. This puts young children at risk for serious injury during auto accidents. Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit that aims to prevent injuries in children, reported in 2017 that one child under the age of 13 is involved in a car accident every 33 seconds. That’s equivalent to more than 2,600 children being involved in a car crash each day.

Understanding how to purchase and properly install any type of child car seat could prevent life-threatening situations. It should be noted that every new car seat comes with the manufacturer’s instructions and an owner’s manual that cover how to install it.

Types Of Car Seats

Your child’s age, height, and weight can determine what kind of car seat they’ll need for safety and comfort. A good general rule of thumb is to stick with each type of car seat until your child has reached the height or weight limits of that type.

The type of car seat you are in the market for can help narrow down the knowledge you need prior to making your purchase.

Infant Car Seats

nfant car seat Chicco KeyFit sits in a studio.

Infant car seats are fit for infant passengers. These car seats are to be installed in a rear-facing position to provide the safest environment for your child. It’s recommended to keep your child in a rear-facing seat for as long as they’re within the height and weight limits for that model. Once they reach those limits, you should transition to a new car seat that’s more accommodating.

Our team tested and reviewed the best infant car seats of 2023.

Toddler Car Seats

The Graco Tranzitions sits on a table in a studio.

Toddler car seats are generally recommended for young children between 40.0 and 65.0 pounds and under 49.0 inches tall. But keep in mind that each car seat will have its own weight and height limits. After outgrowing a rear-facing seat, your child should stay in a forward-facing car seat with both a harness and tether until they reach the weight and height limits.

Our team tested and reviewed the best toddler car seats of 2023.

High-Back Booster Car Seats

The Diono high-back booster seat as reviewed by our products team.

Both high-back booster seats and regular booster seats without a five-point harness are recommended for slightly older children. High-back boosters are generally for kids between the ages of four and seven according to the NHTSA. Once your child outgrows a high-back booster, which is usually when they reach over 120.0 lbs., you can transition to a backless booster seat.

Our team tested and reviewed the best high-back booster seats of 2023.

Backless boosters should be used until children are 4.0 feet, 9.0 in. tall. This ensures that the seat belt fits properly and safely across their shoulder and lap while in the back seat. Children’s Health states that the lap belt should rest low on the hips near the upper thighs, not across the stomach, and the shoulder belt should lie across the chest and sit firmly in the middle of your child’s shoulder.

Convertible Car Seats

The Maxi-Cosi was chosen as one of our best convertible car seats.

Convertible car seats have the ability to be configured into infant, toddler, or high-back booster seats, making them multi-use and accommodating as your child grows. Convertible car seats help prevent the need to purchase a new car seat with a higher weight or height limit while still meeting all safety standards necessary for public use.

Our team tested and reviewed the best convertible car seats of 2023.

Resources On Car Seat Safety

There are numerous verified resources that discuss car seat safety, the importance of having a correctly fitted car seat for your little one, and the testing that goes into ensuring different car seats are safe to be sold on the market. Below are a few resources we recommend. They offer information on crash testing, air travel, and injury prevention in relation to recalls and general car seat safety.

A child rests in a car seat.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

The NHTSA is a United States government agency dedicated to making the roads safer for drivers, workers, pedestrians, and children. They offer various resources to inform parents about car seat safety including an easy way to check for potential car seat safety issues and recalls that can occur at any time.

The NHTSA also has various test dummies, ranging from an adult male to a newborn infant. Through the use of crash and car seat testing, they are able to better evaluate how safe car seats and vehicles are. This allows the NHTSA to provide reliable and honest information as well as recommendations for the best car seats that will fit your child and vehicle, and most importantly, keep your child safe.

One of the NHTSA’s most useful resources for parents in the market for car seats is its guide to car and booster seats. This informational page covers the different types of seats for children, as well as how to select a car seat and install it. The guide also helps you find local sites where certified technicians can inspect your car seat to see if it meets safety standards and is installed correctly.

Federal Aviation Administration

The FAA covers all information or concerns you could have with regard to air travel. The FAA’s goal is to provide a safe, functional, and efficient way to travel by air. The FAA has information on flying with children. This covers the age children need or do not need to fly with a car seat, as well as guidance on installing a child restraint system (CRS) if your child is under two years of age.

The FAA does recommend that children who are still required to sit in a booster seat should have a car seat as an added safety precaution in case of turbulence or unexpected runway incidents that are rare but can occur.

National Child Passenger Safety Certification

The National Child Passenger Safety Certification Training Program (CPS certification program) is a program of the Safe Kids Worldwide organization made up of technicians who certify individuals to become child passenger safety technicians and instructors. As a group of experts, the certified child passenger safety technicians are able to educate, support, and guide parents and others interested in taking part in the program on car seat inspections and car seat safety. 

Their website also offers an abundance of information regarding car seat safety and choosing the right car seat for your child, ranging from forward-facing or rear-facing car seats to high-back booster seats. From giving information on buying, installing, finding the right fit, and even knowing when it is time to change to a larger seat, this company works to make car seat safety easier and more understandable for all parents.

Our Research

In 2022, our reviews team launched a study to gauge what shoppers valued most while searching for car seats. This is what consumers told us they look for before purchasing any size or style of car seats:

  • Approximately 89 percent of respondents stated safety as their top priority.
  • Over 46 percent of respondents said the car seat needed to be the appropriate size for their child.
  • 42 percent of those surveyed mentioned functionality as a priority.
  • Over 38 percent of respondents listed easy installation.

Our team also found that 73 percent of respondents rarely uninstall their car seat once it is in place. Roughly a quarter of those surveyed said the most they removed the car seat was a handful of times each month.

The NHTSA has an online function to identify the ease of use ratings for nearly every type of car seat available on the market. As we’ve established, safety and ease of use are closely related and are two of the highest priorities of people buying car seats.

Ease Of Use: What Each NHTSA Rating Means

Evaluation of Instructions is the examination of the clarity of the instructions and the actual content of the manual for the car seat.

Vehicle Installation Features look at how easy the different parts and installation pieces are to use. This takes into account ease of installation and versatility, meaning some car seats are easier to install than others depending on the vehicle you drive.

Evaluation of Labels identifies the clarity of any and all labeling attached to the car seat. Depending on the car seat, this could include installation steps, safety features, and FAA-approval labels. 

Securing the Child is the process of examining the ease of use in regard to securing and buckling your child into the car seat. This involves how simple the car seat is to maneuver so you can easily place your child in the car seat and buckle them in securely before driving.

Ease of use ratings by the NHTSA make choosing your car seat easier and more reassuring. The NHTSA is a trusted and reliable source that has put in years of research and experience to reassure parents and drivers about car seat safety and the importance of keeping your child safe and secure in the car.

Car Seat Safety: Bottom Line

Improper car seat installation is a leading cause of death among children when involved in a car crash. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in a 2020 study that proper installation and use of a car seat reduces the risk of injury in a crash by 71 to 82 percent for children.

Ensuring you have the proper knowledge and understanding to make the right purchase for your child will give you peace of mind the next time you are behind the wheel. Our informational guide has hopefully served as a resource for current and expecting parents and caregivers to help emphasize the importance of car seat safety.

Car Seat Safety: FAQ

Here are a few frequently asked questions about child car seat safety.

*Data accurate at time of publication.