This report covers car seats for newborns up to about 35 pounds and 32 inches tall, in the rear-facing position. This type of car seat comes in two parts: the car seat itself and the base unit, which stays in the car at all times. The car seat then snaps out of the base and doubles as a carrier, so you don't have to wake a sleeping baby.
For those who don't need or want the infant carrier option and would like have just a car seat, we have a separate report on convertible car seats, which can be used rear-facing for newborns or front-facing for older babies up to 40 or 50 or even up to 80 pounds. Also see our report on booster seats for older kids.
In 2011, new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) side- and front-impact standards took effect. According to NHTSA, all car seats meet federal safety requirements before they're approved for public sale. However, many parents still wonder if pricier car seat models are safer than less expensive ones. There are plenty of manufacturer claims that suggest their car seats offer top-notch side-impact protection.
According to an article in The Washington Post, it's difficult to develop a crash test dummy that will accurately assess the safety of a car seat in certain types of crashes, which is why there's currently no federal standard for safety effectiveness in side-impact, rear-impact and rollover collisions. Because of this, Consumer Reports editors warn consumers to take manufacturers' side-impact safety claims with a grain of salt.
Also in 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new recommendations concerning car seats. In addition to keeping toddlers in rear-facing car seats until they are at least 2 years old, the AAP also recommends a booster seat until a child reaches a height of 4 feet 9 inches (usually 8 to 12 years). Safety experts have previously recommended the rear-facing position until a child is a year old or 20 pounds, but new research suggests that it is safer to remain rear-facing as long as possible. In light of these guidelines, many infant car seats have increased their weight limits to accommodate children up to 32 or 35 pounds in the rear-facing position.