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Type “car seat” into any search engine and you’ll end up with more results than you know what to do with.
With a myriad of options for brands, styles, prices and colors, where do you start? And what’s the best one for your child right now? We’re here to help as we break down what you need to know when shopping for your first (or next) car seat. Because we understand what matters most: keeping your little ones safe.
Whether you’re a first-time parent or a seasoned pro, brushing up on your car seat know-how can give you some much-needed peace of mind before you set out on your next drive.
As your child grows, the kind of car seat they need will evolve right along with them. Thankfully, there’s a car seat option to fit every stage of your child’s life.
The kind of seat your child needs is determined by three factors: their age, weight and size. We dive into the four types of seats below, along with the suggested National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) age ranges for each. As you read through this list, keep in mind that each car seat comes with its own maximum height and weight specifications. While the ages suggested by the NHTSA provide an excellent guideline, always refer to the manufacturer’s stated limits.
All infants and younger children should be in a car seat that faces the back of your vehicle. This is the safest possible position.
As the name implies, this car seat faces the front of your vehicle. But rather than using a seat belt, your child will be buckled in using a harness in the seat.
These are designed for older kids, usually around age 5 until 12 years old in some cases. Children riding in booster seats use the standard seat belts in the vehicle, although some are equipped with harnesses for younger riders.
Your child is ready to be a solo seat belt rider when they’ve outgrown the size limits of their booster seat or when the seat belt fits them properly, with the lap belt resting on the upper thighs and the shoulder belt fitting nice and snug across the chest and shoulders.
Regardless of what kind of seat they need, infants and kids should continue to ride in the back seat for as long as possible, at least until they’re 13 years old. Read on to learn more about making the transition.
Once you’ve determined whether your child should be in a rear-facing seat, a forward-facing seat or a booster, it’s time to identify the proper seat style:
These are the carriers that you see sleep-deprived parents ushering into doctors’ offices or hauling through stores. This seat—which is secured in the vehicle via a base—is specifically designed for newborns and infants until they reach the maximum weight and/or size limit (which is usually when they are around one year old). They can be a convenient option because you don’t have to remove your little one from the seat every time you exit your vehicle. Bear in mind, though, that you will probably need to invest in a second base if you live in a two-vehicle household. You’ll also need to purchase another car seat when your child outgrows the infant carrier.
This style of seat changes to fit your growing child. It starts out as a rear-facing seat. Then, it transitions to a forward-facing seat (more on that to come) as your child gets older. Some convertible seats are designed to fit older babies and toddlers. Others are designed to fit newborns. This can be a convenient option if you only want to buy one seat.
As we mentioned earlier, booster seats are designed for older riders (sometimes up to 12 years old, depending on their size and weight). Some designs feature a high back that offers additional head and neck support, which is great for vehicles that have shorter seat backs or no headrests. Backless options are a good fit for vehicles where this isn’t an issue.
These car seats are a combination of a forward-facing seat and a booster. The design starts as a car seat with a harness. As your child gets bigger, the harness can be stowed away, and you can use the seat as a high-backed booster along with a regular seatbelt. In some models, the back can be removed to create a backless booster.
The ultimate chameleon of car seats, the all-in-one is designed to fit every child’s car seat needs. It starts as a rear-facing seat for newborns and infants, transitions to forward-facing and then can be modified to become a booster seat.
While the NHTSA provides overall safety recommendations, each state maintains its own car seat laws. Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly), these laws vary from state to state. Some base their regulations on age while others base them on a combination of age, height and/or weight. Do your homework and find out what’s required in your state to keep your littlest passengers safe—and to avoid fines and penalties.
Depending on the brand and style, car seats can run between $15 for a backless booster from a big-box store to nearly $700 for a high-end all-in-one seat. Remember, all car seats go through basic federal crash test requirements. So do your homework and determine which seat best suits your family, your little one and your wallet.
When it’s time to install your child’s car seat, here’s what to keep in mind.
The short answer is no. Purchasing a used car seat—especially from someone you don’t know—poses some significant risks:
NHTSA recommends replacing a car seat after what it deems a “moderate or severe” car crash. If you’re in a minor crash, however, the organization notes that you may not need to replace your seat right away. They define an accident as “minor” if all of the following conditions are true:
At Erie Insurance, we also understand that security and peace of mind are priorities for every parent. So when an auto insurance customer is in an accident and a car seat is involved, we conduct a thorough review of the seat and vehicle damage.
If your seat is damaged, or if the vehicle damage is moderate or severe, we’ll replace your car seat as part of your insurance claim.
If you have questions about the specifics of your car seat replacement, talk to your ERIE claims representative or call your local ERIE agent.
We’d be lost without our cars. They take us to work, shuttle our kids and take us back home again. At ERIE, we get it—we’re not only insuring your car, we’re protecting your loved ones and how you live your life. Contact your local ERIE agent to talk about your car insurance options and get a no-obligation auto insurance quote today.
Haven’t heard of us? Erie Insurance started with humble beginnings in 1925 with a mission to emphasize customer service above all else. Though we’ve grown to reach the Fortune 500 list, we still haven’t lost the human touch.
Contact Kartsonas Agency, Inc. today to experience the ERIE difference for yourself.