A front-facing car seat is secured in the back seat of a vehicle.

As your little one grows, sizing up their car seat and changing from a rear-facing to a forward-facing car seat become necessities. The most important thing at every step is keeping your child safe. It’s essential for any current or expecting parent to have an understanding of car seat safety and regulations.

We’re going in-depth on car seat logistics, safety, and when it’s time to turn your child’s car seat around as they grow. Our team has dedicated time to researching car seat safety essentials and developed this guide to provide you with reliable information on the importance of keeping your child safe and knowing when it’s time to size up your seat.

When Should You Turn Your Baby’s Car Seat Around?

Generally speaking, your child should be in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least two years old. However, it is recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat until age three. Age can help to determine when it’s time to size up, but height and weight should be the main factors to determine when it is time for your child to face forward in their car seat or upgrade to accommodate your growing child.

Height And Weight Limits

You should keep your child in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the maximum weight or height limit that your infant car seat or convertible car seat has listed in the car seat manufacturer details. Generally speaking, most infant car seats have a weight limit of 30.0 to 35.0 pounds, with a height limit of 30.0 to 32.0 inches. Once your child outgrows the height or weight limit of the infant seat – with most children reaching the height limit first – it is time to switch to a convertible seat that is still in a rear-facing position.

Minimum Age: Two Years Old

The past rule for when it’s time to turn a car seat around is when your child is two years old. Today, it should be considered the minimum age, but height and weight should also be taken into account. You should not solely rely on age as the determining factor of when it’s time to upgrade your seat. Instead, you should plan to switch to a forward-facing car seat when your child reaches the maximum rear-facing car seat weight, usually between 40.0 to 50.0 lbs., or a height of at least 40.0 in. tall. Depending on which comes first, height or weight, your child should stay in a rear-facing position until reaching the height and weight requirements for a forward-facing seat.

After your child reaches the rear-facing height or weight limit in a convertible car seat, you can safely turn the seat around into a forward-facing position. Continue using the car seat harness for as long as possible until your child outgrows the maximum height or weight limits that your car seat manual details. 

Forward-Facing And Rear-Facing Car Seats

There are two types of car seats on the market that you should consider when looking into buying your first car seat for your little one. In the event of a crash, both of these styles of car seats are designed to offer some of the best protection for your infant or young child. The decision will depend on if you are looking for a rear-facing only infant seat or a convertible seat that will grow with your child as they size up and move into a forward-facing position.   

Infant Car Seats

Infant car seats are designed specifically for infants in mind, and should only be placed in a rear-facing position. Children often size out of this seat by the time they are around 30.0 to 32.0 in. or 30.0 to 35.0 lbs. A good way to see that it may be time for a new rear-facing seat is if your child’s head is less than an inch away from the top of the seat when buckled in with a five-point harness. You should still check their height and weight before moving to a rear-facing convertible seat.

Convertible Car Seats

The luxury of convertible car seats is they grow with your child from rear-facing to front-facing. However, if you are looking to purchase a convertible car seat, it is important to check the manufacturer’s information to ensure that the child’s rear-facing height and weight minimum are adequate for your infant. 

When it is time to turn into a front-facing position, you can still use your convertible car seat, which is a safe and reliable choice as long as it is installed correctly in your vehicle. Your child should still use the five-point harness and tether attached to the car seat. Not until the age of four to five can your child start using a seat belt in addition to a high-back booster seat, depending on their height and weight. 

An Overview Of Car Seat Safety

Safety is most important when looking for any car seat. Automotive experts are tasked with putting car seats through countless testing stages to approve each car seat before releasing them for purchase online and in stores. Car seat safety is important to stay up to date on, especially when you get behind the wheel with your little one in the car.

One concern when it comes to car seat safety is correct installation. The NHTSA reported that 46 percent of car seats were not correctly installed in vehicles, as noted in a 2020 study. Every 33 seconds, a child under the age of 13 is involved in a car crash according to a 2017 report published by Safe Kids Worldwide. This nonprofit organization, dedicated to preventing injury in children, noted the equivalence of one child per 33 seconds averages to over 2,600 children being involved in a car accident daily.

Resources On Car Seat Safety

There are countless resources that will answer your questions regarding car seat safety. A car seat that fits your child, combined with the testing that companies require for new car seat models, will ensure you’re getting the best car seat for your little one. Below, you’ll find a few resources we recommend that will cover your bases. These include topics on crash testing, flying with a car seat, and important recall information.

An chart from the NHTSA detailing when to use certain car seats.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

The NHTSA is a United States government agency that prioritizes road safety for drivers, families, pedestrians, and road workers. They have countless resources on car seat safety, but one of our favorite sites to reference is the car seat safety issues and recalls which keeps parents up to date on recalls across most car seat models.

The NHTSA also uses test dummies for both crash and car seat testing to provide an honest evaluation of how safe car seats and vehicles are for drivers and children. This is a reliable process, and the NHTSA gives genuine recommendations for the safest car seats to keep your toddler safe.

One of NHTSA’s best resources for car seat owners or prospective parents looking to buy a car seat is the guide to car and booster seats. This page includes information on the different types of car seats available, along with information on how to select and install a car seat. As an added bonus, this site helps you search for nearby locations with certified technicians who can inspect your car seat to ensure it’s installed correctly and meets safety regulations.

As noted, safety is most important, but so is the ease of installation and use to make the entire car seat process run smoothly for you and your child. The NHTSA also provides a function to determine the ease of use ratings for the majority of car seat brands and models that are currently available.

Federal Aviation Administration

The FAA has all the necessary information to eliminate concerns when it comes to air travel with your child who needs a car seat. The FAA has a specific guide on flying with children to provide a safe and efficient way to travel with your little ones on a plane. This guide includes information regarding the age range that requires a car seat, along with how to install a child restraint system (CRS) for children under two years of age.

The FAA recommends that children still sitting in a booster seat when in the car should use this seat on the plane. Having a booster seat can give you peace of mind knowing that turbulence or unexpected runway issues, while rare, will help keep your child safer in the air.

National Child Passenger Safety Certification

A child is fastened into a car seat.

The National Child Passenger Safety Certification Training Program (CPS certification program) is a group of technicians who teach others to become certified technicians and instructors in conjunction with the Safe Kids Worldwide organization. These technicians are responsible for educating, supporting, and guiding parents, and those wanting to take part in the program, on the importance of car seat inspections and safety.

This site also has valuable resources on car seat safety and how to choose the right car seat for your infant or toddler. This organization works toward making car seat safety concepts more understandable for parents while providing information on installing, transitioning, and finding the right fitted car seat for your child.

Our Research

In 2022, our reviews team completed a study designed to determine what parents value while in the market for a car seat. This is what respondents told us they looked for prior to purchasing a new seat:

  • Approximately 89 percent of respondents said that safety is the top priority.
  • Over 46 percent of respondents said the car seat had to be the right size for their child.
  • 42 percent of respondents mentioned functionality as a priority.
  • Over 38 percent of respondents listed they want an easy-to-install car seat.

We also concluded that 73 percent of those who completed the survey rarely uninstall their car seat once it’s installed in their vehicle. About a quarter of respondents shared that they remove their child’s car seat, at most, a handful of times monthly.

When To Turn A Car Seat Around: Bottom Line

An adult male repositions a car seat.

The safety tips and information in this guide are designed to help you know when it’s time to move your child from a rear-facing seat to a front-facing seat, including what kinds of car seats might be the right choice for you. Safety is our top priority, so we have provided all the need-to-know information as your little one grows into a toddler.

When To Turn A Car Seat Around: FAQ

Here are a few frequently asked questions about which way to face your car seat.

*Data accurate at time of publication.