Which Type of Car Seat Should Your Baby, Toddler, and Big Kid Be In?

Image via Flickr/ Joe Shlabotnik

Consumer Reports recently issued new guidelines saying that children should be placed in rear-facing convertible car seats “sooner rather than later.” According to Consumer Reports, children should be moved from their infant seats to rear-facing convertible car seats starting at age 1.

car seat
Image via Flickr/ Bitterjug

According to Britax, maker of top-rated car seats and boosters, “It is important to note that the new testing methodology has not been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or Transport Canada and was initiated by Consumer Reports.”

Britax further notes that “Consumer Reports test protocol is unique to that independent non-government organization and is not a determining factor in CRS (child restraint systems) manufacturing, nor is it required by any set of laws or regulations.”



car seat
Image via Flickr/ Bradley Gordon

What does this mean for you? If you are like a lot of moms, it means a lot of confusion.

It is important to keep in mind that the new recommendations are solely those of Consumer Reports and are not official government recommendations, so don't panic if you love your infant seat and your baby still fits in it safely.

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winter car seat baby
Image via iStock

So when should you change your child to a rear-facing convertible seat? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it doesn't matter if a child is an infant seat or a convertible seat at age 1 — as long as they are rear facing and have not yet reached the top height and weight limit for the infant seat. Your child's first birthday is a good time to check your infant's seat's limits for height and weight and make a change to a convertible car seat if your child exceeds those limits.


fluffy socks
Image via Flickr/ John Drake Flickr

There is absolutely no harm in putting your child in a rear-facing convertible car seat from birth, as long as the child meets the car seat's height and weight requirements. This means that it if you wish to follow the new recommendation from Consumer Reports to put children over 1-year-old in a rear-facing convertible car seat it is perfectly safe to do so — even though there is no official government recommendation or research showing this is the safest course of action.

If you believe, based on Consumer Reports' testing, that it may be safer to switch your child, go ahead and do it. If you love the convenience of an infant seat and it still fits your child, go ahead and leave her in there for a little while longer.

car seat
Image via Flickr/ Joe Shlabotnik

So where to start if you have decided it's time to change your child to a convertible car seat? The most important aspect of a convertible car seat is that it is able to be installed rear facing. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, children should be in rear-facing car seats as long as possible, which can be up to age three, or even beyond.

sleeping baby
Image via Flickr/ MIKI Yoshihito (´・ω・)

Different types of car seats are described here. Convertible and all-in-one car seats are a good choice because they allow children to stay rear-facing longer. Instructions about how to install a convertible car seat rear-facing can be found here.

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It is essential that any car seat is installed correctly to provide the maximum protection for your child. Because of this, I am a huge fan of Britax's line of ClickTight car seats, which have won five-star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for ease of use. Instructions for how to install ClickTight car seats are here.

car seat
Image via Flickr/ bradleygee

It is just as important to know when to move your child into a booster seat since a child too big for his car seat won't be fully protected in a crash. Children should be kept in car seats as long as possible but may be moved into a booster as early as age four if they reach their convertible car seat's weight and height requirements. Finding a convertible seat with higher height and weight limits is ideal for this reason.

sleepy girl in car seat
Image via Sara McTigue

Like car seats, there are different models of boosters, with both backless and highback boosters available. Some boosters function as both types if they have a back that can be removed.

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booster seats
Image via Flickr/ &koia&

The Institute for Insurance for Highway Safety ranks boosters and several models of Britax highback boosters are at the top of the list of Best Bets.

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As a mom, I want a booster with maximum protection, not just a seat that puts my big kid a little higher.


in the car
Image via Flickr/ Liz Henry

In my search for the safest booster, I picked the Britax Parkway SGL because it has several safety features, such as side-impact protection that is not found on backless boosters, a latch system that ensures the booster stays in place when not in use so the booster will not be a projectile during a crash, and a clip that ensures the lap belt is positioned properly.

sleeping in the car
Image via Flickr/ Ryan Dickey

Whichever car seat or booster you choose for your child, be sure that you are up on the latest recommendations from the NHTSA, that you keep your child rear-facing as long as possible, that your child's car seat is installed properly, and that your child is under his car seat's height and weight requirements.

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Color choice is completely up to you!


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Which Type of Car Seat Should Your Baby, Toddler, and Big Kid Be In?

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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