Walk into any baby store, and you’ll see dozens of different car seats. It can be overwhelming for parents to choose the right one—and install it correctly, too. Around 85 percent of car seats are installed improperly the first time a parent tries to put one in, often because the car seat doesn’t fit the car.
Kerry S. Foligno, MSN, RN, certified child passenger safety technician, shares her tips on choosing the right car seat to keep everyone in the car safe.
Consider the Fit for Your Lifestyle
You can find dozens of different car seats in the market, including infant seats and convertible seats.
- Made for newborns and children under 30 pounds
- Only faces the rear of the car
- Offers added convenience because they easily click into bases that stay in the car or even into strollers
- You can strap your baby in while still at home and carry them in the car seat to your vehicle
- You can just take the whole car seat out and pop them into the stroller
- Made for newborns through four or five-year-olds
- Faces backward or forward
- Can be reclined at different angles
- Stays in the car; they don’t fit in strollers
The first decision for parents to make is whether they want to invest in an infant seat, knowing that their child is going to outgrow that seat and then they will have to buy another one.
Foligno says it may depend on if you have the budget to buy multiple seats as well as if you need the convenience of the infant seat. You should think about your lifestyle and budget to decide which option is best for you. Many parents find it is easier to carry a newborn out to the car for a convertible seat instead of putting them in a 10-pound car seat, too.
If you aren’t sure about what car seat is right for you, learn more about car seats, the different ways to install them, or common mistakes parents make with car seats by taking a car seat safety class through Safe Kids Broward County, led by Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital – Memorial's pediatric facility.
Think About All Your Passengers
Datasource: Car seat FAQs
You also need to think about what seat fits well in your car while leaving appropriate space for other passengers. It can get complicated to install car seats when you have more than one seat that needs to go in.
“When you put a car seat into the car, you have to consider every passenger in that car,” says Foligno. “Make sure everyone in the car will fit safely too.”
Foligno recommends parents keep their receipt for their car seat in case it doesn’t leave enough space for other children or passengers.
Some car seats have a narrower base, so you can get three car seats across a bench, while others are shorter, leaving room for front passenger seats to stay set back from airbags. You’ll only know once you have the whole family in the car together.
Place the Car Seat in the Right Spot
Every infant, no matter what car seat you choose, should be placed in the seat facing the rear.
Datasource: How to install rear-facing car seat
It is safest to keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible within the weight limits of your car seat. Some states require that you keep children rear-facing until age two.
The safest spot for the car seat is the middle seat of the second row. This is the most protected area of the car in case you are hit in the side, front or back.
However, the middle seat may not be an option if you have more than one car seat, or if you have physical limitations that keep you from reaching the middle seat. In that case, you can put the car seat on the driver or passenger side, but it should always remain in the back seat, never in the front seat of the car.
Get a Car Seat Safety Check
Datasource: Safely put infant in car seat
Once you have purchased your car seat, you can try to install it at home and have a professional check your work. The child passenger safety technicians through Safe Kids Broward County can ensure that your car seat is installed properly and review with you how to put your child into the car seat.
- For your car seat safety check, you should come in the car where the seat will be installed.
- You should bring any car seats you need to install, as well as their instruction manuals and your car’s owner’s manual.
- If you are pregnant, you should bring a partner who can help install the car seat.
“Our goal is for them always to leave our event with evidence-based knowledge that has them traveling safer with their children than they were before,” says Foligno.
Safe Kids Broward County offers free car seat checks by certified child passenger safety technicians. You can also call our Car Seat Helpline at 954-276-1236 or email Lisa Bravo at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about car seats or to schedule your check.