There may not be a one-size fits all approach to car seats, but there are some things to consider when you’re looking to purchase a new seat or upgrade to the next one. What are the types of car seats and which is best for you?
Car seats are required by law. While the rules and regulations differ by state or province, experts recommend that all child passengers ride in a safety seat until age 8 (depending on their height and weight). As your child grows, you’re going to see different car seats come and go. So what’s the difference, and how do you know which one you need? Let’s start at the beginning!
Infant Car Seats
An infant car seat is what many parents choose for their child’s very first journey home from the hospital. Often referred to as a “bucket”, its deep design is meant to cradle your child in a crash and absorb most of the forces so they are not exerted on the child. The back supports their delicate spine, head and neck, and the deep sides provide side impact protection. Like other car seats, infant car seats have a 5-point harness but it is specifically designed for new-born and baby passengers. Most have a weight limit of 30-35 lbs as well as a height limit. They typically attach to a base which is installed in the car making them easy to “click” in and out of the car. They can also be compatible with strollers, creating what’s known as a “travel system”.
Infant car seats are rear-facing only, which is the safest way for a child to travel.
Diono Excurze stroller with Nuna PIPA infant car seat to create a travel system
Convertible Car Seats
A convertible car seat is one that “converts” from rear-facing to forward-facing as your child grows. Most can accommodate a new-born and have a rear-facing weight limit of 40-50 lbs. Forward-facing weight limits are usually 65 lbs. Because of the higher rear-facing weight limits they allow your child to travel rear-facing for longer, which means they stay safer longer. Note that convertible seats cannot be used as a booster seat.
What’s in a name? With All-In-One car seats…everything! They can be a little more expensive initially but might actually save you money in the long run because they give you three ways to travel in one seat. Most will fit a new-born so they can be used as a rear-facing infant seat. When your child reaches the rear-facing limits they can be switched to forward-facing. When your child reaches the forward-facing limits of the 5-point harness they can then be used with the vehicle seat belt as a belt-positioning booster seat.
Diono® Radian all-in-one convertible car seat with up to 10 years of use
A common myth about All-In-One car seats is that they’re bulky and difficult to position in your vehicle. Diono Radian® models are just 17” wide and are the original 3-across car seat. You can check them out here.
Because of their innovative design, all-in-one car seats offer great longevity in comparison to infant and convertible car seats.
Combination Car Seats
A combination car seat is only used forward-facing and has a 5-point harness. When the harness weight limit has been reached it can then be used with the vehicle seat belt as a belt-positioning booster seat. Unlike All-In-One and convertible car seats, combination seats are not suitable for new-born or baby passengers because they can’t be used rear-facing.
Did you know it’s a common mistake for parents and caregivers to make the switch to forward-facing too soon? This is usually because they think their child is uncomfortable or needs to see where they’re going. Experts recommend that you keep your child rear-facing as long as possible, to the full weight or height capacity of their seat, because they are five times safer when traveling rear-facing. Check your car seat manual to find the rear-facing limits of your car seat so you’ll know the right time to switch.
As mentioned above, All-In-One and combination car seats can convert to a booster seat once the child reaches the weight limits of the 5-point harness. If your child has outgrown their car seat but does not fit properly in the adult seat belt, then it’s time for a dedicated booster seat. A booster seat’s only job is to position the child so the adult seat belt fits them properly.
Monterey® 5iST FixSafe with seatbelt guide
Most booster seats have a weight range of 40-120 lbs but we can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your child in their harnessed car seat for as long as possible. They’re much safer using the harness and should only switch to a booster seat when they’ve reached the height or weight limits of their car seat.
There are two types of boosters to choose from – high-back and backless. High-back boosters will often provide some side impact protection because they have deep side walls and head supports. Our Monterey
line of boosters are designed to grow with your child by adjusting height and width so they can ride safe for as long as possible. Backless boosters are great for bigger kids who still need a boost because the adult seat belt doesn’t fit them yet. This usually doesn’t happen until they reach a height of 4’9”. Backless boosters require that the child’s head is supported by the vehicle seat back or head support so make sure and check your vehicle manual for safe booster seating locations. Some high-back boosters also require the support of the vehicle head support so make sure and read your manual! Both types of boosters require the use of a lap/shoulder belt because kids need protection over the chest and hips. Never use a booster seat with just a lap belt only. For this reason, booster seats can’t be used on airplanes.
Solana® 2 backless booster gives children a boost to fit the seatbelt properly
The longer you can keep your child in a safety seat, the safer they’ll be when out and about. Remember that every time you graduate up to the next level of car seat, you go down a step in safety.