Infant car seats seem intuitive enough to use: Select a model, follow the instructions to install it safely, and hope your child isn't one that screams uncontrollably every time he's placed in it. Too bad that's not the case. If you're expecting, be prepared for constantly-changing regulations, product recalls and safety concerns to plague your mind.
Here are a few things you might not know about your infant car seat:
Car seats have expiration dates. That's right: Your infant car seat, like the foods in your pantry, expires. Why? The materials used to make the seat can begin to deteriorate over time, including the plastic used for the base. The general standard, and the advice offered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is to discontinue using a car seat six years or older. Manufacturers may have varying guidelines, however, and it's important to check the expiration date on your individual model.
Keep your child in the rear-facing position for two years. Recent recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) (which we reported on in detail here) say that children are 75 percent less likely to die in a crash if secured in a rear-facing restraint, so you should keep your child in this position until he reaches the maximum height or weight for your car seat (29 to 35 pounds and 29 to 32 inches--individual models vary), or at least until age two. Manufacturers are now making models with higher capacities, such as the top-rated Chicco KeyFit 30 (*Est. $200) or the budget-priced Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air (*Est. $140) to accommodate these recommendations.
There are also a few key points about infant car seats many parents are already aware of; if you're not, now's the time to familiarize yourself:
Never use a car seat that has been involved in a moderate to severe crash. The NHTSA recently revised its guidelines to clarify that minor fender-benders meeting certain criteria do not necessitate the need to purchase a new car seat. If the door nearest the seat was undamaged, your vehicle could be driven from the crash scene, the air bags did not deploy, no passengers were injured and there is no visible damage to the car seat, it's okay to continue using it. If any one of these criteria are not met, however, you should replace the car seat.
Do not buy a used car seat. It's impossible to know for certain whether a used car seat has been involved in a crash.
Don't use a car seat with missing labels. If your car seat doesn't have a manufacturers' label with manufacture date and model number, you shouldn't use it.
Be sure your car seat is appropriate for your child's height and weight. Both infant and convertible car seats have varying height and weight limits. These limits indicate the heights and weights at which the car seat has been tested for safety. If your child exceeds these limits, he may be at increased risk for injury in a crash.
It's a good idea to have your car seat installation checked out by a professional. NHTSA offers a searchable database of car seat safety inspection stations nationwide.
If you're in need of a new car seat because you were in a collision or you're expecting or your child has outgrown is infant car seat, check out our reviews on infant car seats and convertible car seats for the top-rated models for safety and ease of use in each class.
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