Choose the Right Direction: Rear- or Forward-Facing
- For the best protection, keep your baby in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible – until at least 2 years old. You can find the exact height and weight limit of your car seat on the side or back label. Kids who ride in rear-facing seats have the best protection for the head, neck and spine. It is especially important for rear-facing children to ride in a back seat away from the airbag.
- When your children outgrow a rear-facing seat around age 2, move them to a forward-facing car seat. Keep the seat in the back and make sure to attach the top tether after you tighten and lock the seat belt or lower attachments (LATCH). Many car seat labels will tell you exactly how much your child can weigh and still use the lower attachments and top tether. Unhook the lower attachments and use the seat belt once your child reaches the lower attachment weight limit. Check both your child restraint and vehicle manuals to see if there is a weight limit for the top tether. If they both agree to a higher weight, it is fine to follow their directions.
- Some forward-facing car seats have harnesses for larger children. Check labels to find the exact height and weight limits for your seat. Discontinue use of the lower attachments or top tether when your child reaches the limits set by your car seat and car manufacturers. You must read both manuals to know about those limits. Not to worry: Once your child meets the lower attachment weight limits, you will switch to a seat belt. Seat belts are made to protect very heavy adults as well as children in car seats and booster seats.
Check the Label
- Look at the label on your car seat to make sure it’s appropriate for your child’s age, weight and height and development.
- Your car seat has an expiration date – usually around six years. Find the label and double check to make sure it’s still safe. Discard a seat that is expired in a dark trash bag so that it cannot be pulled from the trash and reused.
Know Your Car Seat's History
- Buy a used car seat only if you know its full crash history. That means you must buy it from someone you know, not from a thrift store or over the internet. Once a car seat has been in a crash or is expired or broken, it needs to be replaced.
Make Sure Your Car Seat is Installed Correctly
- Inch Test. Once your car seat is installed, give it a good tug at the base where the seat belt goes through it. Can you move it more than an inch side to side or front to back? A properly installed seat will not move more than an inch.
- Pinch Test. Make sure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots (check your car seat manual). With the chest clip placed at armpit level, pinch the strap at your child’s shoulder. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing, you’re good to go.
- For both rear- and forward-facing child safety seats, use either the car’s seat belt or the lower attachments and for forward-facing seats, remember to add the top tether to lock the car seat in place. Don’t use both the lower attachments and seat belt at the same time. They are equally safe- so pick the one that gives you the best fit.
- If you are having even the slightest trouble, questions or concerns, certified child passenger safety technicians are able to help or even double check your work. A certified technician can confirm your car seat is properly installed. Find a technician or car seat checkup event near you at www.safekids.org or www.nhtsa.gov.
Check Your Car Seat
- Seventy-three percent of car seats are not used or installed correctly, so before you hit the road, check your car seat. Here’s a quick car seat checklist to help you out. It takes only 15 minutes.
- Learn how to install your car seat for free. Safe Kids hosts car seat inspection events across the country where certified technicians can help make sure your car seat is properly installed. They also serve in fixed locations called inspection stations during specific days and times in some communities. You may find an inspection station with certified technicians at a GM dealership, a hospital or even a fire house. They will teach you so that you can always be sure your car seat is used correctly.
- Find a Safe Kids car seat checkup event where we use only certified technicians near you.
Is it Time for a Booster Seat?
Take the next step to a booster seat when you answer “yes” to any of these questions:
- Does your child exceed the car seat’s height or weight limits?
- Are your child’s shoulders above the car seat’s top harness slots?
- Are the tops of your child’s ears above the top of the car seat?
If the car seat with a harness still fits and your child is within the weight and height limits, continue to use it until it is outgrown. It provides more protection than a booster seat or seat belt for a small child.
Be Wary of Toys
- Toys can injure your child in a crash, so be extra careful to choose ones that are soft and will not hurt your child. A small, loose toy can be dangerous and injure your baby in a crash. Secure loose objects and toys to protect everyone in the car.
- We know that when adults wear seat belts, kids wear seat belts. So set a good example and buckle up for every ride. Be sure everyone in the vehicle buckles up, too.
- Buckling up the right way on every ride is the single most important thing a family can do to stay safe in the car.
- Never leave your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. While it may be tempting to dash out for a quick errand while your babies are sleeping peacefully in their car seats, the temperature inside your car can rise quickly and cause heatstroke in the time it takes for you to run in and out of the store.
- Leaving a child alone in a car is against the law in many states.