The Comprehensive Guide to Choosing a Car Seat

If you’re a parent to young kids, you know that car seat guidelines have changed dramatically in recent years. So much so, in fact, that what you followed for your oldest may be different from what you’re currently doing with your youngest!

Sorting through the laws and recommendations is overwhelming enough, but then there’s confusing, often conflicting, data regarding:

  • Rear-facing versus forward-facing seats
  • Infant versus convertible seats, and
  • Five-point harnesses, booster seats and seat belts.

With so much information out there, it can make you just want to clip your babe in the Ergo, and hoof it everywhere. But you don’t have to do that! Behold: your comprehensive guide to choosing a car seat.

Did you know that September 13th-19th is known across the United States as Child Passenger Safety Week? Daily Mom is a huge advocate for practicing extended rear-facing for as long as possible. Please be sure to refer to our post on Rear-Facing: Just The Facts.

Car Seats: The Law


Are you over 30? If so, did you know that 30 years ago, car seats weren’t required for children? In fact, it’s estimated that in 1984, only half of all children under the age of four were riding in car seats.

The first child safety seats were manufactured in the 1960’s. Up until then, car seats were simply a means of preventing kids from moving around in the car! During the 1970’s, there was a massive educational campaign by the medical community, consumer groups, safety seat manufacturers and insurance companies, to increase public awareness about the importance of child safety seats. Between 1978 and 1985 every state in the U.S. passed laws requiring safety seats for young children; however, in 1984, only half of children under 4 were riding in safety seats.

Thankfully, times have changed. Currently, all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands now require infant seats. After your child has outgrown their infant seat but are still too small to use an adult seat belt safely, 48 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico require convertible/booster seats (the only states lacking booster seat laws are Florida and South Dakota).

For a full breakdown of laws by state, check out the Governors Highway Safety Association’s reference sheet.

AAP Guidelines


The difference between the law and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), is that the AAP is much stricter. Most recently, in 2011, the AAP revised their recommendation on car seat guidelines, urging parents to keep toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age two, or until they exceed the height or weight limit for the car seat (which might not occur until the child’s third or even fourth birthday).

In terms of injuries, studies vary, but findings have revealed that children under age two are 75 percent less likely to be severely or fatally injured in a crash if they are rear-facing. Another study found riding rear-facing to be five times safer than forward-facing. For more on this topic, check out Rear Facing: Just the Facts.

However, after your child’s second birthday, there are still strict safety rules you need to follow. After your child turns 2, the AAP advises continuing to use the rear-facing seat until he or she exceeds the manufacturer’s recommended height and weight limits. When that happens, you can then switch your child’s seat to forward facing.

Once you’ve made the transition, plan on using the forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer. It is best for children to ride in a seat with a harness as long as possible, until at least 4 years of age. If your child outgrows his seat before the age of 4, consider switching to another car seat with a harness approved for higher weight and height, as it’s much safer.

As a general rule, the AAP recommends keeping your child in their car seat for as long as possible, as long as the child fits within the manufacturer’s height and weight requirements.

Transitioning


With so much information out there, it can be confusing knowing what kind of seat you need, and when you need it. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Infant: These seats usually have a base and detachable seat for easy transition in/out of the car. Infant seats are always rear-facing.
  • Convertible or “All-in-One”: Can be both rear- and forward-facing. Convertible car seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time. After your child has exceeded the rear-facing guidelines, switch to forward-facing, five-point harness position until your child reaches the specific forward-facing parameters set in your seat’s manual.
  • Booster: Once your child turns 5 and/or outgrows the upper height/weight limits for the forward-facing harness seat, you can then transition to a belt-positioned booster. As always, you’ll find manufacturer-specific safety guidelines in the owner’s manual that comes with your car seat.
  • Seat belt: Your child will use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, which is typically when they have reached 57 inches (4′ 9″) in height and are between 8 and 12 years of age. Seat belts are made to fit adults — which is why your child must use a booster seat until he reaches the proper size. When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for optimal protection.

As a note: once kids graduate to wearing a seat belt, they are technically big enough to ride in the front seat. However, because of airbags, it’s much safer to continue to have kids ride in the back. In fact, plan on keeping your child in the back until their 12th birthday.

Choosing a Car Seat


If you follow current AAP guidelines, you could be stuck with purchasing three different car seats for your child: an infant, convertible and booster. That’s not only expensive, it’s unnecessary.

Recaro understands that parents want both safety and practicality with their child’s car seat, and they’ve created a line of car seats that balance performance with protection. This company specializes in creating safe seats across a platform of various vehicles: from sporty automotive seats to safe child car seats, lightweight aircraft seats to sturdy seats for trucks. What’s more, all of Recaro’s child seats are German engineered and US assembled, so they’re designed to meet both U.S. and International standards.

Product Recommendation

The Recaro Performance RIDE Convertible Car Seat is a great “first” seat for parents to purchase; it has twist-resistant straps and a 5-Point harness system that safely holds children from 5 to 40 pounds rear-facing or 20 to 65 pounds forward-facing. So you can literally bring your baby home from the hospital in the Performance RIDE, and take him to his first day of preschool in this seat!

The Performance RIDE is a breeze to install — the LATCH connectors click easily into place and the straps are simple to adjust to the correct tightness. You’ll know the seat is properly installed when it cannot be moved more than 1 inch in any direction, and the red level line indicator is level with the ground.

Safety-wise, it doesn’t get much better than the Performance RIDE. The seat’s HERO harness system is a new, innovative safety feature by Recaro which ensures the highest level of protection and comfort by positioning the shoulder pads to appropriately fit the child’s neck, head and shoulders while resisting harness twisting and ensuring proper chest clip positioning.

In fact, RECARO is so committed to proper chest strap placement, the Performance RIDE includes the Safety Stripe System, which is a racing-inspired white stripe that is clearly visible on the outside edge of the 5-point harness. This stripe is designed as an easy alert to parents that a twist could occur, or has begun, thus preventing a safety hazard. As long as you see the stripe, you’ll know your child is safely positioned in their seat!

Other safety features include Side Impact Protection designed to protect five major areas of a child in a side impact collision: their head, neck, face, torso and pelvis.

In addition to stellar safety specs, the Performance RIDE is truly comfortable. There are three rear-facing positions, so you can adjust the recline to suit the needs of younger babies or older toddlers.

Plus, there’s PUR foam in the head restraints, cloud comfort memory foam in the seat, and ventilated sides, ensuring that your child will be safe and comfortable in this car seat.

Features to Love


All in all, the Recaro Performance Ride is a safe, comfortable and economical choice for families looking for a seat their child can grow in!


However, you may prefer to start with an infant car seat (the rear-facing kind with a base and portable seat), meaning you’ll have to purchase another seat once your child exceeds the rear-facing infant seat limits. Oftentimes, parents dropping kids off at childcare prefer the flexibility of the portable infant seat. Or, perhaps you’re counting on being able to get “on-the-go” naps from your child, and want a seat that you can bring inside should that happen.

Whatever your reason — if you choose to purchase an infant seat, you’ll need to purchase a convertible/combination seat once your child exceeds the rear-facing infant seat limits.

Product Recommendation

Recaro’s Performance SPORT Combination Harness to Booster Car Seat is a smart choice once your child graduates to a forward-facing seat.

The Performance SPORT can safely accommodate children 20 to 65 pounds (or 27-49 inches) in harness mode, and 30 to 120 pounds (37-59 inches) in booster mode. In fact, the SPORT’s harness is designed to fit average-sized kids up to 9.5 years old, meaning your child can reap the benefits of extended harness wearing with this seat. In other words, your child can safely ride harnessed in the Performance SPORT until they meet the qualifications to begin wearing a seat belt!

Like the Performance RIDE (and all of RECARO’s car seats, in fact), the SPORT boasts an impressive safety resume, with the HERO harness system, Safety Stripe System and Side-Impact Protection.

Last but not least — the Performance SPORT is also a comfortable car seat your child will actually enjoy riding in, featuring Cloud Comfort Memory Foam, CoolMesh Air Ventilation and Temperature Balancing Fabrics.

Features to Love


So if you’re looking for car seats designed to keep your child safe for the long haul, RECARO has you covered!


The fact of the matter is, choosing, installing and securing your child in a car seat is very, very important. Every time you go anywhere with your child, you have to make sure he is correctly secured in his car seat. If you have any questions on car seats, call or visit:

Whenever you buy a new car, install a new car seat, or switch seats between cars, please double check that everything is safely installed at your local fire station. There, you’ll also be able to address any concerns or questions you may have. It only takes a few minutes to ensure your child’s safety.


At Daily Mom, we’re committed to bringing awareness to car seat safety, laws and guidelines. For more on this important topic, check out: Making the Switch: Infant to Convertible Car Seat, Rear Facing: Just the Facts, 5 Common Car Seat Mistakes and 13 Best Car Seats for Extended Rear Facing.

Sources: 1. Governors Highway Safety Association, Occupant Protection 2. NHSTA, An Evaluation of Child Passenger Safety:The Effectiveness And Benefits of Safety Seats | 3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Child Passenger Safety | 4. healthychildren.org, Car Seats: Information for Families for 2015 | 5. American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP Updates Recommendation on Car Seats | 6. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Car Seat Recommendations for Children.

Photo credits: Sarah M., Janet Lindenmuth, Law library books

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Sarah

Sarah is a yoga practicing, mostly vegan, coffee chugging, Jack White-loving, stay-at-home-mom to three kids 4 and under in Cincinnati, Ohio. In her free time, she does freelance work for Cincinnati Parent, Dayton Parent and Indy's Child, and blogs about her adventures with three kids in the Queen City.

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