How To Buy a Child Safety Seat

You want every item you purchase for your child to be safe, especially if its sole purpose is to provide safety. That's why the process of buying a child safety seat goes way beyond just putting the least expensive one in your cart and checking it off the shopping list.

According to Safe Kids USA , the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 19 years old is accidental injury, and motor-vehicle-related accidents are near the top of the list of accidental injuries that lead to death.

While on the road, you can help prevent these tragedies by making sure your child is safely secured in a child safety seat that has been properly installed.

First, make sure that the child safety seat you're evaluating is stamped as being made after January 1, 1981, and labeled as meeting all federal motor vehicle standards. Then, there are several other factors you must consider when buying a child safety seat.

Age Recommendations

The type of child safety seat you need depends on your child's age and weight. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers a detailed chart that explains what type of seat you should use and how you should use it, based on your child's age.

  • Infants from birth to 3 years old should typically be in a rear-facing child safety seat (or a convertible child safety 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 child safety 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. You can use the Car Seat Finder to see what type of car seat is right for your child.

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

Seat Requirements

Once you know what type of child safety seat to buy, look for the following:

  • The model and date-of-manufacture number: You need this information in order to conduct 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 child safety seat comes with an instruction manual, and don't throw it away once you have the seat installed. Also check your vehicle owner's manual for additional instructions on how to install child safety seats in your particular vehicle. To make sure your child safety seat is properly installed, visit or call (877) 366-8154 to schedule an appointment with a Child Passenger Safety Technician.
  • Cracks or missing parts: Child safety seats are like any other product in that they can be damaged during shipping or stocking, and they can lose parts along the way. Check that neither applies to the seat you want to buy.
  • The warranty: Take note of how long the product is under warranty. This is especially important if you're purchasing a used child safety seat. Make sure the warranty is still valid. You may also want to call the manufacturer to ask how long they recommend using the child safety seat before it becomes ineffective.
  • Crash victim: If the used child safety seat you're considering has been involved in a crash, don't buy it.
  • A proper fit: Regardless of your child's age and weight, if he just doesn't fit into the child safety seat for his age and weight requirements, it's not the right seat for him. Try out several different brands. Place your child in the seat, and tinker with the straps and locks. In addition to the requirements, choose what feels right.

The American Academy of Pediatrics keeps track of current state laws. You can check your states progress on their website

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