Purchasing a Car Safety Seat
No matter what type of restraint your child is using, there is a lot to consider when shopping for a car seat to keep your child as safe as possible while you’re on the road.
The first rule of child safety seats is to fit the correct seat to your child’s (and family’s) needs. The type of car seat your child needs depends on many factors. No one seat is the "safest" or the "best." The "best" child safety seat for your family is the one that is easy to use, fits in your vehicle's seats, is compatible with the vehicle's seat belts or LATCH system, and is the proper size for your child, based on age, height and weight.
Choosing a child safety seat
- Be sure the seat meets national standards. This information can be found on a sticker on the side of the car seat. The label should say, "This child-restraint system conforms to all applicable U.S. federal motor vehicle safety standards."
- Put your child in the seat to see if it fits your child properly, based on his height and weight.
- Before purchasing, try the seat in your vehicle to make sure it fits. If a store will not allow this, check the return policy.
- After buying a seat, follow the manufacturer's directions on installation.
- If you are unsure how to install the seat, talk to a Certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technician or visit a car seat checkpoint.
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Safety Center offers a variety of low-cost safety products, including car seats, booster seats and other car safety products. Purchase a car seat through the Safety Center »
For more information about specific car seat models currently available, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website.
Special considerations for newborns
Remember, your baby will ride rear-facing until she is 2 years of age or until she reaches the highest weight or height limit allowed by the manufacturer of her child safety seat. Some rear-facing child safety seats accommodate infants up to 35 pounds or more. Please visit Car Seat Safety For Your Baby for a description and types of child safety seats.
Follow this easy-to-use checklist when buying a new child safety seat:
- The seat you have selected can be used rear-facing.
- Your child’s height and weight fits the height and weight limits listed on a label on the side of the car seat.
- The harness is easy for you to adjust each and every time you put your baby in and out of the seat.
- The seat is easy to install in your car.
- If you have more than one car and are buying an infant carrier with a base, you can buy a base for each car.
If you are buying a used child safety seat, you also have to check the following:
- The history of the child safety seat; make sure it was never involved in a crash.
- The seat has not been recalled. Visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for recall information.
- The seat is not too old. Most manufacturers place an expiration date on their child safety seats, which is normally around six years.
If you still have concerns about installing and using the child safety seat properly, you can visit a car seat fitting station nationally or in the greater Philadelphia area. Please visit our Car Seat Checks page to learn more.
Other points to consider
- Infant-only seats (with handles) are portable. Whether placed in a base or buckled directly into a vehicle, they can be easily removed and used as infant carriers.
- Convertible seats can be used both rear- and forward-facing. They have a higher weight limit and can hold heavier, older babies. They can be switched to become a forward-facing seat when your child is 2 years old or when he reaches the maximum weight or height limit of his rear-facing car seat.
- Some convertible child safety seats may not provide the best fit for smaller newborns, especially premature babies (preemies). Learn about car beds - a safer alternative to standard car seats for smaller newborns.
Seating more than one child
The AAP and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommend that all children younger than 13 years be restrained in the back seat of a vehicle.
If you are transporting more children than there are back seat positions available, contact a certified child passenger technician in your area for help. If you are concerned you don't have enough seating positions for all of your children, try to arrange to use a vehicle big enough to keep all the children safe.
Is your child's car seat safe?
You need to check your baby's car seat under certain conditions:
After a crash
Safety experts and many car seat manufacturers recommend replacing your child's safety seat after a crash. NHTSA recommends replacement following a moderate or severe crash. Visit the NHTSA website for a detailed explanation of how to tell if a crash was moderate to severe.
Sometimes a defect shows up after car seats are sold. The manufacturers will then recall the seats. Make sure you fill in the registration card that comes with your new car seat and send it in to the car seat manufacturer so they can notify you if your car seat is recalled. Check the following websites to find out if your child safety seat has been recalled:
New seats are best, but if you must use a second-hand child safety seat, keep the following in mind:
- Check when it was made. Look for the manufacturing or expiration date on a label on the seat. The maximum age for most seats is between 6 and 10 years. If you can’t find the information on the seat, check with the manufacturer to find out the expiration date on your car seat. Seats with obvious cracks, holes, dents, or missing parts are not safe to use.
- Don't use a seat without a manufacturer's label. You need to be able to check for seat recalls and age of the seat.
- If you don't know a seat’s history, don't use it. It may have been in a crash.
- You need the car seat instruction manual. If there isn’t one, you can print a copy from the manufacturer’s website.