Car Seat Buying Guide & Glossary for Beginners

An Infant/Child Car Seat Buying Guide & Glossary for Beginners

By Kimberlee Mitchell, Child Safety Expert

Child Safety Expert, Kimberlee Mitchell


Whether shopping for an infant seat while expecting or making the switch from convertible to booster, the options are endless when it comes to car seats, also known as child restraints.  A car seat is a critical safety product that can save your child’s life, so it is extremely important to know the options that are available before you reach the store aisle.  The car seat buying process can be overwhelming, so I’ve consolidated some important points and tips to make your experience a little easier.

What to Look For:

Easy Installation: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as many as 85% of car seats on the road today are installed incorrectly.  I always recommend going to a certified child passenger safety technician (call your local hospital, police station, or Safe Kids Chapter to locate one near you).  However, it shouldn’t take an engineering degree to install a car seat.  Look for ease of use features that leverage the LATCH system to make it as easy as possible for you to install the seat.

LATCH: What exactly is LATCH, you ask?  The acronym stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, a system with which all child safety seats and vehicles must be compatible.  With LATCH, car seats are attached directly to the vehicle, rather than a seat belt, making installation easier and safer.  Look for features such as a “One Click LATCH installation system,” that allow for faster and easier installation when moving between vehicles.

Height and Weight Requirements: There are three types of car seats — Infant, Convertible, and Booster, and it is critical to realize which type fits your child’s needs.  Below is a brief run-down to help you determine which seat is best for your child.

-Infant car seats must be installed rear-facing.  Children are required to sit rear-facing until they reach 12 months or 20 pounds; however, the longer you keep them rear-facing, the safer they will be.  It is highly recommended to keep children rear-facing until they reach 40 pounds.

-Convertible car seats can be installed rear and forward-facing to accommodate infants and toddlers.  It is important to pay attention to the specific height and weight requirements on a convertible seat, as this can vary between brands and models.

-Booster car seats are the final stage in the car seat lifecycle.  They accept a child generally up to 80 pounds and in some cases up to 100 pounds.  Combination booster seats are a great buy; they feature a forward-facing internal harness, plus the ability to be used as a belt-positioning booster with the vehicle seat belt.  It is critical to keep your child in a harness for as long as possible.  Remember — we should not be rushing our children out of safety seats in the car!

Side Impact Protection: Car accidents, particularly side impact crashes, are one of my greatest fears.  In fact, one in three crash fatalities involving children are side impact, nearly all of which involve head trauma.  Car seat manufacturers understand this need and are investing resources into new technologies to protect children in the event of a crash.

Shopping for a car seat is one of the most important duties you are tasked with as a parent, so it is important to ensure that you are fluent in the various jargon, features and offerings.  Remember — don’t go it alone!  There are a number of resources that are chock-full of detailed information to help you throughout the shopping and installation process.  My favorites resource websites include:




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