Car Seat Guide - When To Switch Car Seats?

Car seat safety can be overwhelming. Is the car seat installed correctly? Are the straps tight enough to secure my child? When is it time to change into a different size car seat?

At Tot Squad we have over ten years of child safety experience and bring that expertise to every family we reach. Tot Squad's team of certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs) can perform a virtual car seat check easily and conveniently at your home, or you can read on for peace of mind.

Some reminders as we dive in to this topic:

*Always refer to your specific car seat manufacturer’s instructions (check height and weight limits) and to see how to install the car seat using the seat belt or lower anchors (LATCH) and a tether, if available.

*Not all car seats fit in all cars. Make sure the car seat you select works in your car. Some stores will let you test before you buy.

*Be very careful about buying used car seats or accepting a hand-me-down. If you must, then I recommend only buying or taking one from an individual that you know and trust. There are a lot of factors that contribute to a safe car seat for your want to be sure that the car seat has not been compromised in any way.

*Keep your child in the back seat at least through age 13.

Infant Seat

This is typically the car seat that your new baby will ride home from the hospital in. Many infant seats attach directly to your stroller or can be easily carried around. It attaches to a base that is latched into your car, so the seat can easily be taken in and out without waking sleeping baby.

Infant seats should always be rear facing. The average age to transition your child from a rear-facing infant seat into a rear-facing convertible/toddler seat is approximately two years, but it is really based on weight and height so you should familiarize yourself with your car seat's specific maximum weight/height guidelines. The longer they stay rear facing, the better.

To give you an idea of average height/weight requirements, I've listed four popular car seats and their weight and height requirements. Please remember to check your owner's manual for accurate details.

  • Graco Snugride 30: 4- 30 pounds, up to 30 inches tall
  • Britax B-Safe: 4-35 pounds, up to 32 inches tall
  • Maxi Cosi Prezi: 4-30 pounds, up to 29 inches tall
  • Chicco Keyfit 30: 4-30 pounds, up to 30 inches tall

Rear-Facing Convertible Seat

Once your baby has outgrown his/her infant car seat, it's time to transition them into a rear-facing convertible seat. These types of seats accommodate larger babies/toddlers, but are not as convenient as infant seats because they are not portable. They are generally heavy and have to be installed directly into the car, as opposed to clicking in and out of a base.

These seats are versatile, however, because it allows for your child to remain rear-facing when they are younger and then "converts" to a forward-facing seat as they grow older. I know first-hand how hard it is to keep your growing toddler in a rear-facing seat, but according to all the experts and the American Academy of Pediatrics, it really is the safest option for them, even if their legs are kicking the back seat

Once they reach the maximum weight and height limits for rear-facing. This generally happens around the age of two, depending on their size. You can use the same seat...just follow the guidelines for forward-facing installation of your particular seat. To give you an example of the weight and height range of convertible car seats, I have listed the requirements below for four popular seats on the market.

  • Diono Radian RXT: 20-80 pounds, up to 57 inches (Note, this car seat works can also work as an infant seat and a booster seat.)
  • Graco My Ride 65: 20-65 pounds, up to 50 inches
  • Britax Marathon: 20-65 pounds, up to 49 inches
  • Maxi Cosi Pria 70: 22-70 pounds, up to 52 inches (Note, this car seat can also work as an infant seat.)

Booster Seats

For me, transitioning my first child to a booster seat was kind of life changing...they are so easy! The idea of a booster is just to raise the child up, so the seat belt restraints are in the right place on their body, but they don’t require latching (some offer the option to help keep the seat in place) and are generally a lot less bulky. Keep in mind a 5-point harness car seat is still the safest option until they have outgrown it in height, weight or both, but once they are big enough AND mature enough to be able to sit in a booster properly (meaning not slumping or slouching, wiggling out of the seat belt strap, leaning forward, etc.) then it’s time to make the transition.

For example, my daughter who is 6 years old, 44 inches and 42 pounds, has a high-back booster that attaches directly into the LATCH system in my car. Her booster has a seat belt guide that positions the strap in place over her shoulder and she buckles herself in.

To understand when it's safe to transition our kids from their forward-facing convertible seat to a booster seat, let's look at the recommended use guidelines for four popular booster seats:

  • Diono Solana Backless Booster: recommended for children ages 4+; 40-120 pounds
  • Clek Olli: recommended for children ages 4 +; 40-120 pounds and 40-57 inches tall
  • Graco Backless Turbo Booster: recommended for children ages 4+; 40-100 pounds and 50-57 inches tall
  • Britax Parkway SG: recommended for children ages 4+; 40-120 pounds and 38-63 inches tall

Also wondering how to safely use Uber or Lyft with car seats? Our friends over at The Mama Zone have some great tips here.

We hope this information was helpful. Our expert CPSTs (Child Passenger Safety Technicians) are standing by for virtual car seat checks and installations, available immediately in your area, giving you peace of mind.

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