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Car Seat Guide

Welcome

Buying a car seat can be a complicated endeavor. But it doesn't have to be! Our easy-to-read car seat guide will assist you with purchasing the one piece of baby gear all families have to buy.

According to U.S. federal government regulations, all children must be secured in a car seat while riding in a vehicle. Each state has its own laws governing how long children need to sit in a car seat. The Governors Highway Safety Association publishes up-to-date material regarding your local state laws.

All child restraints have an expiration date. On average, most seats expire six years from the date of manufacture, although this can vary by manufacturer. Always follow the manufacturer instructions.

It is important to know there is not a single car seat that is the best car seat on the market. The best car seat is the one that appropriately fits your child while being correctly and safely installed in your vehicle.

Did You Know?

All Right Start store managers are certified Child Safety Passenger Technicians!

Choose Your Car Seat

Infant Car Seats

Infant car seats are typically the first car seat that parents purchase for their newborn.

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Convertible Car Seats

By accommodating both infants and toddlers, parents usually purchase this as their first car seat or after their child has grown out of the infant car seat.

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Combination Car Seats

Combination car seats combine convertible car seats and booster car seats into one convenient package and are for toddlers and young children.

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Booster Car Seats

Even though older children may not need a "baby" car seat, some states require kids to sit in a car seat until 12 years of age.

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Infant Car Seats

Many parents prefer an infant car seat as their first car seat because of its portability. Simply snap the infant car seat out of its base and you and baby are on your way. Plus, purchasing an additional infant car seat base for your second car offers extra convenience.

  • For newborns and babies.†
  • Baby weighs less than 22 to 35 pounds.†
  • Standing height is 32 inches or less.†
  • Rear-facing only.
  • Harness rests below shoulders.
  • Seat rests at 30 to 45 degree angle while vehicle is in motion.

Right Start Tip

Make sure the handle of your infant car seat is comfortable; you'll be carrying your infant car seat everywhere you go.

Height matters most at this stage of car seat shopping. Most babies will outgrow car seats due to height rather than weight. As your child grows, weight becomes a bigger factor.

Pros +

  • Portability is a blessing when baby is sleeping.
  • By using an adapter, infant car seats can be combined with a stroller to create a travel system, which allows for even more portability.

Cons -

  • With portability comes the weight of carrying around a car seat in addition to the weight of your growing baby.

Right Start Stars

Graco SnugRide 35

Graco SnugRide 35

Our top-selling infant car seat provides exceptional value with side impact protection, energy-absorbing EPS foam and a removable infant head support.

  • Safe and easy installation with a one-handed dial adjustment
  • Compatible with Graco strollers

Chicco Keyfit 30

Chicco Keyfit 30

The thick cushioning of this infant car seat offers superior comfort with exceptionally easy-to-use installation features including two precision bubble indicators and more.

  • Spring-assisted level foot
  • Compatible with Chicco Cortina and Chicco Together strollers

Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP

Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP 30/30

This fashionable infant car seat exceeds the most-stringent safety standards in the world and includes comfort-dry microfiber fabrics and an adjustable carry handle.

  • Ultra-safe side protection wings
  • Compatible with all Peg Perego strollers

Britax B-SAFE

Britax B-SAFE

Extremely lightweight, this infant car seat incorporates the utmost in side impact protection technology and a rebound control for supreme safety.

  • Ergonomically designed carry handle
  • Compatible with all Britax strollers

Maxi-Cosi Mico AP

Maxi-Cosi Mico AP

Offers exceptional protection around baby's head, is extremely lightweight for easy transporting and has a contoured handle for easy carrying.

  • Advanced Air Protect Side Impact Technology
  • Compatible with Quinny strollers

Convertible Car Seats

Convertible car seats' claim to fame is convenience. A convertible car seat is a two-in-one infant and toddler car seat. Toddler car seats are not portable but are full-sized, offering more padding and more amenities to keep your little one safe and secure.

  • For babies and children up to about 4 years old.†
  • Child weighs 5 to 70 pounds.†
  • Rear-facing up to 2 years old or as long as possible.
  • Forward-facing for older children.
  • Harness rests below shoulders when rear-facing and at or above the shoulders when forward-facing.

Right Start Tip

When purchasing a convertible car seat, check to see if a removable infant insert is included to ensure a snug fit for your newborn.

Pros +

  • Convertible car seats do not need to be reinstalled for each use, and they also save you time and money when shopping for a car seat because of their longer life span.

Cons -

  • Since most convertible car seats are not portable, you'll have to take your child out of the car seat each and every time you get out of the car, even if he or she is sleeping.

Right Start Stars

Britax Marathon 70-G3

Britax Marathon 70-G3

One of our best selling convertible car seats provides side impact protection and a rebound control for superior safety.

  • EZ-Buckle System for safe harnessing
  • Premium lower LATCH connectors with push-button release

Recaro Performance Ride

Recaro Performance RIDE

The revolutionary RECARO Performance RIDE Convertible Car Seat offers the latest innovations in car seat safety

  • Exclusive, twist-resistant HERO system
  • Energy-absorbing EPS memory foam

Diono RadianRXT

Diono RadianRXT

The steel frame of this convertible car seat is very sturdy, plus it has memory foam padding, folds for easy carrying and it conveniently fits three across the back seat.

  • Expandable sides and long seat bottom
  • LATCH for children up to 80 lbs.

Britax Advocate 70-G3

Britax Advocate 70-G3

True side impact protection technology features an extra layer of energy-absorbing EPP foam, which helps to keep baby's head, neck and spine aligned during an accident.

  • HUGS Chest Pads with SafeCell Technology
  • EZ-Buckle System for safe harnessing

Maxi Cosi Pria 70

Maxi Cosi Pria 70

With revolutionary, side impact Air Protect Technology, the Pria immediately reduces the contact of forces through the precise release of air in the event of an accident.

  • Easy-to-use, one-click LATCH system
  • TinyFit and PerfectFit systems provide a snug and cozy fit

Chicco NextFit

Chicco NextFit

This exceptionally easy-to-install car seat includes a five-point safety harness, a removable infant insert, a removable cup holder and more

  • Exceptionally easy-to-install
  • One-handed ReclineSure technology with nine recline positions

Combination Car Seats

Combination car seats are different from convertible car seats. A convertible car seat is both rear-facing and forward-facing; however a combination seat can only be placed in a forward-facing position. Convertible car seats are for newborns, babies and toddlers while combination car seats are for toddlers and young children. Combination car seats can be used with the included safety harness until your child reaches a certain weight, and then the harness straps can be removed so that the seat can be used as a booster for your growing child.

  • For toddlers and children up to 8 years old.†
  • Child weighs up to 120 pounds.†
  • Forward-facing only.
  • Harness mode for toddlers and young children.
  • Booster mode for children over 40 pounds.†
  • Booster mode: Lap belt rests across thighs and shoulder belt rests across shoulders.

Right Start Tip

Having a tall car seat shell and high harness slots will lengthen the life and use of your combination car seat.

Pros +

  • Combination car seats transition into a belt-positioning booster to save you time as your child continues to grow. Most combination car seats convert by removing the safety harness and using your vehicle's seat belts while the car seat is in booster mode.

Cons -

  • Using the safety harness past the maximum weight limit is unsafe and may cause harm to your child and the car seat in the event of an accident. Make sure to consult the specifications of your combination car seat.

Right Start Stars

Britax Frontier 90

Britax Frontier 90

Keep your growing child seated safely and comfortably.

  • EZ-Buckle System with two buckle positions
  • Premium lower LATCH connectors

Recaro Performance SPORT

Recaro Performance SPORT

The revolutionary and extremely safe RECARO Performance SPORT Combination Harness Booster Car Seat is a two-in-one toddler car seat and booster car seat.

  • Exclusive, twist-resistant HERO system
  • Two-in-one car seat: Toddler car seat and booster car seat

Diono RadianGTX

Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 Car Seat

The three-in-one Diono RadianGTX Convertible Car Seat is a safe and versatile combination car seat with a 10-year manufacturer's warranty.

  • Three-in-one car seat accommodates from birth through childhood
  • Easy to place child in or take out of the car seat

Booster Car Seats

Belt-positioning booster car seats elevate your child while utilizing your vehicle's three-point seat belt instead of a safety harness. Booster car seats are either backless or have a back for extra support, and some feature a removable back allowing it to be used in both modes. Make sure the booster seat you choose is as comfortable as can be for your child.

  • For children about 4 years old and up.†
  • Child weighs over 40 pounds.†
  • Forward-facing only.
  • Two types: High-back booster and backless booster
  • Lap belt rests across thighs.
  • Shoulder belt rests across shoulders.

Right Start Tip

Make sure to keep the booster car seat latched onto your vehicle even when your child is not riding in the car. Otherwise, it may become a flying projectile in the event of an accident.

Pros +

  • Booster car seats are fun to personalize and offer cool features, such as cup holders, that engage bigger kids.

Cons -

  • Your child may think he or she is old enough to ride without a car seat. Consult your local state laws for guidance.

Right Start Stars

Britax Parkway SGL 2013

Britax Parkway SGL

Lowers your child's center of gravity in the event of an accident to reduce the forward movements of the car seat for exceptional safety.

  • ISOFLEX Flexible Lower LATCH Connection System quickly secures booster with two clicks and a pull.
  • SafeCell Technology reduces forward movement in event of an accident

Clek Olli Booster

Clek Olli Booster

The comfort cube construction of this booster seat includes an additional layer of padding to prevent "numb-bum."

  • Energy-absorbing base
  • Easy to install with any LATCH anchorage system

Peg Perego Viaggio HBB 120

Peg Perego Viaggio HBB 120

The Peg Perego Viaggio HBB 120 provides comfort, style and safety in one booster seat.

  • Adjustable total side impact protection (SIP)
  • Breathable microfiber fabric absorbs moisture

RECARO Performance BOOSTER

RECARO Performance BOOSTER

LATCH connectors prevent car seat from becoming a projectile when child is not in the car.

  • High-back, belt-positioning booster car seat
  • Convenient LATCH connectors secure seat in place

Clek Oobr Booster

Clek Oobr Booster

With a removable back and fun colors and designs, this booster car seat encourages children to ride in style while staying safe with its magnesium back frame.

  • Exclusive Elemental Safety System with front, rear and side impact protection
  • Belt guides for shoulder and hips, plus a rigid LATCH system

Graco AFFIX Backless Booster

Graco AFFIX Backless Booster Seat

The Graco AFFIX Backless Booster Seat with LATCH System safely gives your growing child more independence.

  • One-handed, front-adjusted LATCH attachment
  • Secure connection keeps seat in place

Buying a Car Seat: Top 10 Guide

  • Regardless of what car seat you purchase, having a professional install your car seat is the safest step you can take in order to keep your child protected at all times. Experts agree your car seat should not move more than an inch in any direction. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides free car seat safety checks across the country. Right Start also offers car seat installation events at some of our store locations.
  • Aftermarket accessories, such as car seat liners and neck pillows, may compromise the safety of your car seat. NHTSA warns against adding aftermarket products to car seats due to the lack of federal safety standards for these products.
  • Always install your car seat in the back seat or in the middle row of seats if your vehicle has three seat rows.
  • Take into consideration where your car's airbags are located. The middle seat of the back seat of your car is the safest place for your child to sit in a car seat.
  • Car seats with side impact protection offer a higher amount of protection than without. However, using any car seat is safer than not having one at all.
  • For the comfort and safety of your child, make sure to check if and how the car seat reclines. Refer to the car seat owner's manual for the exact specifications for your car seat.
  • Thicker straps won't twist; making it easier for you to get your child in and out of the car seat.
  • Sunlight can make exposed metal hot to the touch. Look for a car seat with buckle covers so your child does not get burned by the exposed metal.
  • Lightweight, light-colored fabrics ensure your child won't get too hot while sitting in the car seat.
  • A machine washable car seat pad will keep both the car seat and your child clean and germ-free.

Car Seat Use & Guidance: Top 10 Guide

  • After giving birth, the hospital will not allow you and baby to leave without a car seat. Most mothers-to-be purchase a car seat between the sixth and eighth months of pregnancy.
  • Because of the extreme height and weight differences between an infant and an older child, there is not a "one-size-fits-all" car seat.
  • Always read the car seat manual that is included with your car seat.
  • Register your car seat with the manufacturer to ensure you receive notices and updates regarding the car seat, especially if there's been a safety recall for your car seat.
  • Car seat recalls can and do happen. The most important thing to pay attention to is whether any injuries are associated with the car seat. If you think there is a defect with your car seat, file a safety complaint with The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) , a division of the NHTSA .
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics and other experts recommend keeping your child in a rear-facing position until at least 2 years old and longer if possible.
  • Safety harnesses adjust either by tightening or loosening, and also the height may need to be adjusted for the harness to be snug and secure.
  • It is not recommended to put a child in a car seat when wearing oversized winter coats.
  • If you fly at least once or twice a year, you will want to make sure your car seat is certified to be used on an airplane .
  • Consult with a health professional before purchasing a car seat for a special needs child to determine what type of seat will be most accommodating.

Important Terms & Resources

Important Terms

5-Point Harness

A 5-point harness offers protection by keeping your baby secure in the car seat. Two shoulder straps, two pelvis straps and one strap between the legs are buckled together at one point.

Shell

An infant car seat is made up of two major components: a base and a shell. The shell is essentially the seat itself; or rather it's a plastic or metal frame, padding, harness slots and straps, and sometimes a retainer clip or tie. Many infant car seats offer a detachable shell, so parents can leave the base secured in the vehicle while the shell is used as an infant carrier.

Insert

Most commonly used for infant car seats, an insert is extra padding that allows for baby to sit comfortably and securely in the car seat. Many infant car seat models include removable inserts to accommodate a growing baby.

Side Impact Protection

The verdict has yet to be established for side impact protection. Currently there are no set standards regarding side impact protection in the U.S., though experts agree having side impact protection will reduce the risk of injury in an accident. NHTSA recommends to always place the car seat in the middle seat of the back seat of your vehicle in order to keep your baby as safe as possible in an accident (make sure to use the appropriate tethers and LATCH in your vehicle). Most manufacturers currently use EPS foam (expanded polystyrene). Some car seat makers use EPP foam (expanded polypropylene), which is a higher-grade foam. Having side impact protection in your child's car seat helps to evenly distribute the force of a crash and assists in keeping the head, neck and spine in alignment to limit injury.

Rebound Control

The rebound control, sometimes referred to as a rebound bar or as an anti-rebound bar, minimizes the rotational forces that may lead to the movement of the car seat during an accident, providing more safety for your child.

Level Indicator

Found in infant car seats, the level indicator helps parents and caregivers to identify that the car seat is installed at the correct angle, which is typically between 30 and 45 degrees. Check with your car seat's owner's manual for the appropriate angle for your car seat.

Travel System

A travel system is comprised of an infant car seat or bassinet, a base, an adapter and a stroller frame. This allows for parents to use compatible products and allows for easier traveling around town or during vacations.

LATCH

LATCH stands for Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children. It features two anchor bars in the lower part of the seatback that a car seat can strap into. Rather than using a seat belt to strap in a car seat, LATCH attempts to universalize the way car seats are secured in vehicles. In 2002, the federal government mandated a safety standard requiring all vehicles and car seats to be LATCH-compatible.
Make sure the LATCH connector is in the same seat as the car seat. It is unsafe to use side LATCH connectors for a car seat positioned in the middle of the back seat. Consult with the owner's manual of your vehicle to better understand where you are able to place the car seat according to your car's specifications.
Right Start Tip:
When purchasing a car seat, look for LATCH connectors that feature a push-button release for added convenience.

Tether

Car seats are anchored to a bolt on the floor or behind the seat using tether straps. This averts any forward movement from the car seat in case there is an accident or if you stomp on the brakes.
Tether straps are most commonly used for convertible car seats and when your child is sitting in a forward-facing position. Only a handful of car seats offer a tether that can be used for both rear-facing and forward-facing positions.
Right Start Tip:
Many tether straps are not labeled. Consult your vehicle's manual to make sure appropriately locate the tether straps and to avoid confusing the tether straps with luggage rings, which is a common mistake many parents make.

Resources

Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA)

GHSA is a nonprofit organization representing the state and territorial highway safety offices that implement programs to address behavioral highway safety issues.
http://www.ghsa.org/

JPMA

JPMA is a national trade organization representing 95% of the prenatal to preschool industry.
http://www.jpma.org/

Safe Kids USA

Safe Kids USA is a nationwide network of organizations working to prevent unintentional childhood injury, the leading cause of death and disability for children ages 1 to 14.
http://www.safekids.org

The Car Seat Lady

The Car Seat Lady is a national advocate of car seat safety and provides accurate, up-to-date information from NHTSA-Certified Child Passenger Safety technicians and instructors about how to keep your most precious cargo safe.
http://www.thecarseatlady.com

Healthy Children

Developed by AAP, Healthy Children is a web resource specifically for parents and families.
http://www.healthychildren.org

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

NHTSA is a federal government regulatory agency that provides a wealth of information about laws regarding car seat safety. NHTSA also sponsors Child Passenger Safety Week every September to raise awareness for child car seat safety.
http://www.nhtsa.gov

NHTSA's Child Seat Ease of Use Ratings display how car seat features differ amongst various models.

SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A.

SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. is a national non-profit organization dedicated to child passenger safety, with a focus on reducing the number of child injuries through the promotion of correct, consistent use of safety seats and safety belts.
http://www.carseat.org

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

The IIHS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries and property damage that result from crashes on the nation's roads.
http://www.iihs.org/default.aspx

IIHS' Booster Seat Evaluations awards Best Bets for various booster seat models.

Office of Defects Investigation (ODI)

ODI conducts defect investigations and administers safety recalls to support the NHTSA's mission to improve safety on the nation's roadways.
https://www.odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/ivoq/index.cfm

Seatcheck.org

SeatCheck.org is a national campaign to help parents properly secure their children in motor vehicles.
http://www.seatcheck.org

†Each car seat will fit each child differently. Factors such as height, weight, age, torso length and more all affect how a car seat will fit your child. Please check with your car seat's specifications for exact age, weight and/or height requirements.

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