The latest recommendations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Authority state that children should ride in a car seat or booster until they turn 12 or meet specific height and weight requirements, outlined by each state. Ensure your child is securely strapped in for every car ride with the proper car seat.
Data obtained May 2019. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.
Car seat guidelines
All infants, toddlers and children must ride in the proper type of car or booster seat until they reach a certain height and weight. Specific car seat regulations vary by state, so check with your state’s department of motor vehicles or local authorities to find this information. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Authority offers its own age guidelines for children up to age 12.
This table provides a general timeline to help you decide what type of seat your child needs, based on his or her age. The transition periods will vary based on your child’s height and weight and your state’s specific laws.
Types of car seats
Choose the right type of car seat for your child based on the latest age, weight and height guidelines.
Rear-facing only. These car seats are designed to be placed in your vehicle facing backwards and are meant for newborns, up to age two or three.
Convertible seats. These seats can be converted to be rear- and front-facing, based on your child’s needs. This can be a cost-effective way to get more use out of one seat.
Booster seats. Booster seats come in both backless and high-back versions, but the concept is the same: to prop your child up so he or she can properly use a seat belt.
All-in-one seats. While usually more expensive, these models can save money in the long-run, since they convert to every type of seat your child will need.
How long is a car seat good for?
Most car seats expire six years after the date they were manufactured. Look for the expiration date printed on the manufacturer’s label on the side or base of the seat. If you can’t find it, call the manufacturer to be sure.
Car seats expire because the plastic, nylon and other materials used to make them can wear down over time, potentially putting your child at risk in the event of an accident. If buying a used car seat, check the expiration date to see how much use you’ll get out of it before it expires. Your money may be better spent on a new seat, especially if you’re looking into an all-in-one model for long-term use.
How to compare car seats
Consider these important features when shopping for a car seat:
Price. New car seats and boosters range in price from around $30 to $300 or more, depending on the type, brand and model.
Type. Select the proper type of car seat for your child’s age, height and weight. Investing in a more expensive convertible model can be cost-effective in the long run. Otherwise, plan to shop for a new seat again in a few years.
Height and weight limits. Check to make sure the seat you’re buying is rated to safely accommodate your child, based on his or her height and weight.
LATCH connectors. All cars built after 2002 come equipped with LATCH (lower anchor and tethers for children) anchors built into the seat. The LATCH connectors on the car seat attach to these anchors. Make sure your vehicle will be compatible with your car seat’s LATCH system.
Harness system. All car seats, excluding some booster seats, come with an adjustable harness system that you’ll need to adjust as your child grows. The style, design and fit of the harness can vary across models, so compare some options to find your favorite setup.
Covers and cushions. Some models come with removable covers, cushions and pads for improved comfort. Check to see which parts and accessories come with the seat you’re looking at.
Car seat safety check
Before hitting the road, check to make sure your vehicle and car seat are safe and secure for the ride. These are just a few basic safety tips to keep in mind:
Always read the instruction manual that came with your car or booster seat before using and installing.
Make sure you’re using the right car seat type and position for your child’s age, weight and height.
Never place a car seat in front of an airbag.
Avoid placing blankets or heavy winter coats in the car seat with your child, as these items can prevent the safety harness from working properly in a crash.
Always buckle your child in snugly and properly.
Check the expiration date of your car seat, especially if using a hand-me-down.
Don’t reuse a car seat that’s been in a crash.
A properly-installed car seat is one of the most important parts of your car ride with your little one. Compare some of the top options and be sure to purchase the correct type for your child’s age, weight and height.
We conducted online research to compare the price, type, size and overall features of some of the most popular car seats and booster seats currently available. We also factored in our own personal experiences and third-party product reviews.
Frequently asked questions
Some stores like Target and Walmart offer trade-in incentives if you bring in your expired car seat and purchase a new one.
Otherwise, you can recycle your old car seat by removing the fabric and padding and recycling the plastic and metal parts.
Use a sponge or cloth with a small amount of dish soap or other child-safe cleaning product to wipe the straps. Try to avoid getting them soaking wet. Towel or air dry when done.
No. There’s usually a limited number of car seats that will fit in your stroller, and it typically needs to be the same brand. A list of compatible car seats should be available online or in the user’s manual for your stroller.
Gabrielle Pastorek is a staff writer at Finder, helping readers to round up the best deals, coupons, retailers, products and services to make sound financial decisions. She's written more than 800 articles on the site and is a quoted expert in Best Company and DealNews. She earned an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, with essays and short stories published in The Collagist, Blue Monday Review, Blotterature and others. When she’s not writing, Gabrielle can be found out in the barn with her horse, Lucy.
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