When shopping for a toddler car seat, you’ll want to consider safety, sizing, and comfort. It’s also important to know exactly when to switch to a toddler car seat from an infant car seat as size requirements are a vital component of car seat safety.
When To Switch To Toddler Car Seat
Your car seat choice should be dependent on your child’s size and weight, and you should switch to a toddler car seat after your infant outgrows a rear-facing car seat. Any car seat will list maximum height and weight recommendations. Once your child outgrows these limits, it’s time to switch.
For children between the ages of two and seven, forward-facing car seats are typically the most appropriate. Some all-in-one car seats can be installed in both forward- and rear-facing positions, making them suitable for infants as well as toddlers.
Toddler Car Seat Safety
Any car seat eligible for sale in the United States must meet federal safety standards, which involves crash testing. However, second-hand car seats may not be safe if they are expired or have been in a crash.
Is It Safe To Buy A Used Car Seat?
It is generally not recommended to purchase a secondhand car seat. This is because that seat could have been damaged or have parts missing and you might not know. Some secondhand sellers may also offer untested, counterfeit, or showroom-only car seats.
Used car seats are not inherently unsafe, however, and may be a good option if you can verify the following:
- Expiration date. Most car seats expire after 10 years. Check the label to insure your car seat is not expired.
- Recall information. Buckle Up NC’s recall list is a handy tool for determining which seats have been recalled and is regularly updated.
- Crash history. Once a car seat has been in an accident, the impact forces can damage the seat rendering it no longer safe for children, as critical parts may be compromised.
If you can afford to buy a new car seat, this is the safest option. However, if you must use a secondhand car seat, it is much safer to get it from someone that you know and who can verify the seat’s history.
In addition to choosing a safe car seat, it needs to be properly installed to ensure passenger safety. If you are unsure about your own installation, you can have it inspected by a professional. The NHTSA website features a handy locator tool to help caretakers find nearby inspection sites.
Before installing your car seat, also be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions. We had a chance to speak with Petra Stanton, the Safe Kids Supervisor at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, and she strongly encourages parents to read their owner’s manual.
“I feel like reading the manual has never been people’s favorite thing to do, but in this case it should be. Because the manufacturer created the product, they were there from the beginning stages. They ruled out everything that did not work in safety testing, that might have malfunctioned in a certain way, they fixed it, went back to testing, spent thousands of dollars to create a manual on how this product will work.”
Toddler Car Seat Safety Ratings
When considering any car seat, safety should be a top priority. Various experts and researchers in the automotive industry are responsible for ensuring that car seats go through rigorous testing and multiple stages of approval prior to being put on the market for the public.
NHTSA Car Seats
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was established in 1970 as part of a national effort to reduce auto-related fatalities. As part of this effort, the NHTSA website offers a number of resources, including an ongoing list of car seat safety issues and recalls.
Another good resource is the NHTSA’s information on car and booster seats. This guide includes recommended car seat types based on age and height as well as instructions for proper car seat installation.
The NHTSA also conducts research on the effects of a car crash on the human body. NHTSA researchers employ various test dummies of different weights and sizes ranging from an adult male to a newborn infant.
Safe Kids Worldwide
Safe Kids Worldwide is an organization dedicated to reducing child injuries. Safe Kids Worldwide works with the NHTSA to operate the National Child Passenger Safety Certification Training Program (CPS certification program). This program certifies technicians to inspect car seat installations and educate parents on the proper way to secure their children.
The Safe Kids Worldwide website also offers information regarding car seat selection and installation.
FAA-Approved Car Seats
It’s recommended that children use specialized seating in planes as well as automobiles. Those who plan to travel with small children might consult the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) guide on flying with children. This resource provides tips on installing a child restraint system (CRS) and explains the rules for traveling with children under two.
How Should A Toddler Fit In A Car Seat?
Simply purchasing a qualifying car seat doesn’t ensure safety. You must use the right type of car seat based on your child’s height and weight. This sizing chart, developed by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), clearly outlines the type of seat to use. Kids around toddler age typically need a forward-facing car seat like those suggested in this review.
Toddler Car Seats: Terminology
Certain terms appear frequently in descriptions of car seats, but their meanings are not always obvious. Many manufacturers also use brand-specific terms that can be confusing. The following list describes common car seat terms:
- No-rethread harness: As your child grows, you will need to reposition the shoulder straps in your car seat. With a rethread harness, straps must be removed and rerouted through different slots in the car seat. A no-rethread harness only has one slot for shoulder straps, and strap height is adjusted by raising and lowering the headrest.
- EPS Foam: Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam is essentially Styrofoam™. EPS foam is excellent at dissipating the force of high-speed impacts and so is a standard material for crash safety devices like helmets and car seats.
- Five-point harness: A five-point harness is a seatbelt design that is secured at five points (over both shoulders, at each hip, and between the legs). This strap system provides increased safety over a three-point strap system typical in passenger automobiles.
- SuperCinch® (Chicco): The SuperCinch system is a specialized pulley that Chicco attaches to the anchor straps that connect the car seat to your vehicle. This pulley makes it easier to tighten the anchor straps by requiring less force on the user’s part.
- ClickTight® (Britax): ClickTight is Britax’s system for securing a car seat to your vehicle. Rather than connecting via lower seat anchors, the ClickTight system is a series of guides through which the car seatbelt is threaded. The result is a self-tensioning system that doesn’t require adjustment or guesswork from the parent.