Of all the things you’ll buy for your child, a good car seat is one of the most important. You’ll need one from the moment you take your baby home from the hospital until he or she grows enough to fit into an adult seat belt, typically around the age of 10 or later. What’s scary is that nearly 46 percent of child seats and boosters are installed incorrectly. A poorly installed seat leaves a child vulnerable in a crash.
All car seats are required to meet federal safety standards in a 30-mph crash test. CR has tested seats for more than 30 years, and we go further today with a simulated 35-mph crash that better represents current vehicle environments. We also test for ease of use: How simple it is to follow instructions or manage buckles and straps; and how well the car seat fits into five different vehicles with challenging interiors.
Top 10 Baby Car Seats
- BUILT TO GROW: The 3-in-1 car seat built to GROW for extended use through 3 stages: Rear-facing 5-40 pounds,...
- SIDE IMPACT PROTECTION: The Grow and Go's side impact protection helps keep your child safe
- Side impact tested, Meets or exceeds all applicable federal safety standards and Evenflo's side impact test...
- Designed and tested for structural integrity at energy levels approximately 2X the Federal crash test...
- Give your baby a safe and secure fit for travel with this LATCH-equipped Safety 1st car seat that fits infants...
- Featuring ultra-lightweight construction using next-generation engineering, this easy-to-carry seat includes...
- Stroller designed for children up to 50 lbs and up to 42"
- Dual front wheels for superior maneuverability
- PRODUCT FEATURES & BENEFITS: One simple motion operation - From car seat to stroller in seconds, 5-point...
- COLOR: All Black Patterned Textile Fabric, New Stretch Material Canopy in Nitro Black, New Stretch Material...
- 3-in-1 convertible car seat transforms from a rear-facing infant car seat from 5 - 40 pounds, to a...
- Simply Safe Adjust Harness System adjusts the height of your harness and headrest, in one motion, to ensure...
- Extended use lets kids ride longer: Rear-facing 5-40 pounds and Forward-facing 22-50 pounds
- Side Impact Protection
- FULL FEATURED TRAVEL SYSTEM: This elegant travel system comes complete with Evenflo's Rollover Tested SafeMax...
- DUAL MODES FOR PARENT'S PEACE OF MIND: This full-size luxury travel system features 6 modes of use - a...
- The #1-rated infant car seat in America!
- Easiest to install with Recline Sure levelling foot, Ride Right bubble levels, and Super Cinch LATCH tightened
- Snug Lock Technology features a hassle-free 3-Step installation using vehicle seat belt or LATCH
- Grows with and helps protect rear-facing infants from 4 to 35 lb and up to 32"
Choose the Right Model
As your child grows, you’ll need to transition from one car seat to another. We explain the different types to help you zero in on the right one for your needs. For more information on which cars work best with child seats, see the Driving With Kids, or Child Safety, sections of our vehicle road-test reports.
What to Know Before You Buy
• Know your child: Get used to keeping track of your child’s height and weight, which (along with age) can determine seat size and when its time to move up to the next level. Note: Any behavioral or health issues will also affect your choice.
• Know your stores: Some retailers will let you test-install a seat in your car, which is great because we’ve found that cushion angle or seat belt placement can make a car and child seat incompatible. Also a must: a store that accepts returns. Large department stores such as Target and Walmart offer a limited range of products in stores and a wider selection available online. Online retailers such as Albee Baby, Amazon, Buy Buy Baby, and Diapers.com offer an even larger selection of seat brands and models. Many retailers offer free shipping on car seats. Make online purchases only after you’ve seen the models in real life. You can find higher-end models at specialty stores or boutiques.
• Know your car: Check the child-safety sections of your vehicle owner’s manual, and study up on relevant features such as belts, LATCH, and seats.
If It’s Not Your First Seat…
Even seasoned parents may be fuzzy on the right seat type and when it’s time for a change. Check out our recommendations for the minimum number of seats your child will need before he or she is ready for just the vehicle seat belt by itself.
• Keep your baby rear-facing until at least 2 years old.
• Until your child outgrows the harness height or weight limits, stick with a forward-facing harness.
• Your child needs a booster seat until they are 57 inches tall, between 8 and 12 years old, and fits the vehicle belts correctly.
• You should replace a seat that’s damaged in any way or that has been in a severe accident (use NHTSA’s checklist).
• Even after your child is ready to use just the vehicle belt alone, they should ride in the backseat until age 13.
• Seats that have not been in a crash can be reused, but they do expire. Some have a printed date—usually on the manufacturer’s label or molded into the seat, which always includes a production date. Others will expire in a certain number of years, so it’s up to you to check the child seat manual and do the math.
5 Ways to Make Sure Your Child Is Safe
Studies conducted by NHTSA and in the field indicate that car seat, booster seat, and seat belt misuse rates vary from 74 to 90 percent. Yes, you read that right—the majority of child seats are not installed correctly. Here’s how to do it properly:
Right seat: Check the seat’s height and weight limits (see our timeline above). Age is also an important factor because it is reflective of your child’s skeletal development.
Seat tight: Once installed, the seat shouldn’t move more than 1-inch side to side or front to back. Don’t get discouraged—this can be tricky.
Harness height: In the rear-facing installation, the harness straps are at or below your baby’s shoulders. For forward-facing, harness straps should be at or above a tot’s shoulders. The chest clip should always be at armpit level.
Harness tight: If your child is secured properly, you shouldn’t be able to pinch any fabric on the straps at the child’s shoulders.
Final check: Recline right and tether tight. Check the recline angle for rear-facing seats (most have an indicator) to avoid allowing the child’s head to fall forward and obstruct breathing.
For forward-facing seats installed with either LATCH or seat belt, always attach and tighten the top tether to help prevent forward movement, which could cause a head injury.