Rear-facing infant car seats are safest for young tots
Infant car seats are designed for newborns that weigh
less than 30 to 35 pounds or stand less than 32 inches tall. These car seats
are placed in cars in the rear-facing position. They come in two parts: the
seat and the base unit (which stays in the car). The car seat can snap out of
the base and double as a carrier, so you don't have to wake your sleeping
In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released
recommendations saying that children should ride in rear-facing car seats until
2 years of age. According to the AAP, kids are five times safer when riding
facing backwards than they are riding facing forward. Still, some parents opt
to switch to a convertible car seat (which can be installed both front- and
rear-facing), because infant carriers become quite
heavy to tote around after a baby nears the maximum weight limit.
say the following about choosing a car seat:
- Don't buy a used seat. You won't know if it's been in an
accident and, because the product isn't registered in your name, you won't
receive recall notices. Also, car seats have an "expiration date"
from the manufacturer. That's because over time (experts say about six years),
plastic can dry out and degrade, making seats more prone to cracks.
- Consider a new car
seat if you've been in a crash. Experts say you should not use a car seat
after you've been in a crash -- that's because car seats are made to withstand
only one serious accident. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (NHTSA) has recently revised its guidelines with respect to
minor fender benders, and experts now say that if your vehicle was able to
drive away, the airbags did not deploy and the door nearest the child's car
seat was not damaged, it's generally safe to keep using your existing car seat.
- Although experts say that three-point harness systems are
safe, look for an infant car seat with a five-point harness, which has straps
for the shoulders and waist and between the legs. Reviewers say both
are safe; the three-point harness is easier to use, but a five-point belt is
- Consider buying an extra stay-in-the-car base. It makes it more
convenient for transferring the car seat into another parent's or caregiver's
vehicle. Extra base units usually cost between $30 and $60.
- Consider the car seat's weight. The average infant
seat ranges from 6 pounds to 11 pounds in weight. While this may not sound very
heavy, it makes a big difference when a 22-pound baby is nestled inside. One
way to find the right seat is to go to the store and test them. Lift the
display seat and note if it is too awkward to move, too heavy or simply not
what you had in mind.
- Try adjusting the handle before you buy. We found a number of
complaints related to hard-to-adjust handles or handles that squeak, which can
wake a sleeping baby.
- When purchasing a car seat for infants, avoid seats that
come with a shield in front of the harness. NHTSA says this can block an infant's
face and make proper harnessing difficult.
- Whichever seat you end up purchasing, check the return
policy and keep the receipt until you're sure the seat is compatible with your
vehicle. Not all seats fit perfectly in all cars. Generally, higher-capacity car seats
are a tighter fit in two-door vehicles and those with smaller rear seats.
Car seat safety
to NHTSA, most injuries sustained in accidents involving car seats stem from
improper use and installation. ConsumerReports.org urges parents to follow
weight guidelines, even if it means buying three different car seats as your
child grows; if your infant is less than 1 year old (or 2 years, as recommended
by the American Academy of Pediatrics) but has exceeded the maximum rear-facing
infant seat weight (usually either 22 or 30 pounds), a convertible car seat
should be used.
seats allow a heavier baby to ride facing rearward until after the age of 2,
when the seat can then convert to a front-facing model. See our separate report
on convertible car seats for more information. Although few parents like
the idea of cycling through three different car seats during a child's early
years, experts say that keeping your baby in a properly sized seat is essential