How To Buy a Child Safety Seat

When it comes to keeping your child safe, there is no such thing as too much research—especially when it comes to driving practices.

According to Safe Kids USA, motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 19 years old

By buying your baby a car seat that you can count on, you’re taking the necessary safety precautions to minimize the chances of a tragic outcome should an accident occur.

Age Recommendations

The type of car seat you will need is going to depend on your child's age and weight—so don’t go buying your baby just any car seat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers a detailed chart explaining what type of car seat or booster seat you should use and how you should use it, based on your child's age.

  • Babies from birth to 3 years old should typically be in a rear-facing infant car seat (or a convertible infant car seat turned to face the rear of the vehicle), installed in the back seat.
  • Children between the ages of 1 and 7 years old can generally be in a forward-facing, forward-facing only, or convertible car seat or a high-back booster or harness, installed in the back seat of the vehicle.
  • Children between the ages of 8 and 12 years old can typically be in a high-back or no-back belt-positioning booster, installed in the back seat of the vehicle.

Be sure to check out the Child Restraint Laws chart, which is organized by state and provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. State law may vary and there may be addition height and weight requirements.

The NHTSA’s Car Seat Finder feature is a helpful resource to use to see what type of infant car seat or booster seat is right for your child.

NOTE: Be sure to comply with the car seat's manufacturer's weight and height recommendations.

Seat Requirements

Now that you know whether or not you will need to buy your baby a car seat or a booster seat, make sure to look out for the following:

  • The car seat is stamped as being made after January 1, 1981. Starting on this date, an updated standard was put into effect by the NHTSA that requires specific MPH crash tests.
  • The model and date-of-manufacture number. This information is important for conducting recall checks. The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) for the NHTSA makes it possible for you to check for recalls online.
  • An instruction manual*. Make sure the infant car seat/booster seat comes with an instruction manual. It’s important that you keep this even after the car seat is installed.
  • Cracks or missing parts. Just like any other manufactured product, damage can occur during shipping or stocking, and parts can get lost along the way. Always double check to be sure there are no broken or missing parts.
  • The warranty. Be aware of how long the car seat or booster seat is under warranty. If you plan to purchase a used one, make sure that the warranty is still valid.
  • Crash victim. If the used infant car seat or booster seat you're considering has been involved in a crash, don't buy it.
  • A proper fit. Even if you bought the suggested car seat for your child’s weight and age, it won’t be effective if it doesn’t fit. Make sure to try out several different brands. Place your child in the seat, and tinker with the straps and locks. Take notice of what feels right.

Stay up to date with your state’s child safety laws by going to the American Academy of Pediatrics website and tracking progress.

*NOTE: Take a look at your vehicle owner's manual for more instructions on how to install car seats in your vehicle. To make sure your car seat is properly installed, call (202) 875-6330 to schedule an appointment with a Child Passenger Safety Technician.

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