How To Choose A Car Seat For Your Child | Our Car Seat Buying Guide & Recommendations

The purchase of a car seat for your child will be one of the most important decisions you will make as a parent. Thousands of children each year are killed on the road in the United States and around the world. 

It’s a gentle reminder to ensure you pick the safest car seat. However, there are so many makes and models available on the market –  so how can you be assured that you’re choosing the best car seat for your family? 

To make this easier for you, we’ve created a car seat buying guide.

If you don’t have enough time to read the entire article, don’t worry – we’ve made a quick overview of this buying guide below.

Quick Summary

  1. There are four types of car seat: Rear-Facing, Forward-Facing, Booster car seats, and Seat Belts
  2. Convertible seats are perfect for your child moving from rear-facing to forward-facing stage, as are All-in-One car seats
  3. Be aware of the respective age groups for each type of seat, measured with height and weight limitations
  4. Don’t let your child ride in the front until they’re over the age of 13 – their safety is paramount
  5. The ‘most expensive’ car seat is not always the best – it’s what best fits your child
Car seat recommendations

Car Seats And Your Child’s Age: What Is Right?

The table below is a quick guide to the different age groups and types of car seats that can be used in each category.

Age Group Type Of Car Seat
Infants & Toddlers Rear-Facing Only, Convertible, Rear-Facing All-in-One
Toddlers & Preschoolers Forward-Facing Only, Convertible, All-in-One, Combination
School-Aged Children High Back Booster, Backless Booster
Older Children Seat Belt

It’s time to establish the kind of car seat you should purchase for your child. It greatly depends upon the age and weight of your child.

Below are the different age groups and types of car seats that should be purchased, along with the general guidelines.

Infants & Toddlers (Rear-Facing)

For your newborns and toddlers, the seats that are suitable for this age (up to 2 years old or older) group are rear-facing only seats, and convertible seats in the rear-facing only position.

Toddlers and infants should be placed in this position these rear-facing seats until they reach the maximum weight or height limit – which is governed by the car seat manufacturer, so it’s best to do your research beforehand.

Toddlers & Preschoolers (Forward-Facing)

Toddlers who have become too big for their rear-facing car seats, usually at the age of 2 or older (although it may vary with your child – keep this in mind), will be ready for forward-facing car seats.

This is best used with the provided harness, and they can be seated in this car seat until the age of 7, or until a child reaches the maximum limit of weight and/or height that the manufacturer of the car seat allows.

All-in-One and convertible car seats that are forward-facing car seats, as well as forward-facing only car seats, are the best for these age groups.

School-Aged Children (Booster)

Once your children have reached the exceeded weight or height limits for the forward-facing car seats, they’re ready for booster seats. Typically, children will be between 8-12 years old, and have reached 4’9” in height to be ready for booster seats.

You may opt for either a backless booster or high back booster car seat, pending on your preference.

Older Children (Seat Belt)

If your child has ticked off the three key points that we discuss later in the article, they’re ready for seat belts. If your child is younger than 13 years old, they should be riding in the back seat, regardless of how much they’d like to sit in the front.

This is due to the airbags deployed during an accident that are located in both the passenger and drivers’ side of the car.

Types Of Car Seats & What Age, Height And Weight Suit Them

There are many different types of car seats, so we’ve organized them into categories. We’ll discuss the different types available from birth, to approximately 13 years old.  

The categories are as follows:

  1. Rear-Facing (infants and toddlers)
  2. Forward-Facing (toddlers and preschoolers)
  3. Booster Seat (school-aged children)
  4. Seat Belt (older children)

Rear-Facing Car Seat

Rear-facing seats are those that you’ll already be familiar with, especially if you already have a young child in the family.

These types of car seats are standard for babies, infants and toddlers up to two years old. Below, we’ll look into the three rear type of car seats that are best for your family.

Rear-Facing Car Seat

Like the forward-facing only car seat, the rear-facing only car seat has only one locked position – facing the rear. These are perfect for newborns you’ve welcomed into the family, and are commonly called, ‘infant seats’. 

Rear-facing only car seats are also quite convenient for your family, as many of these seats manufactured include a base which can be separated and used as a baby carrier – which is an added bonus.

Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat

Rear-facing only car seats have a weight maximum of 40 lbs, as well as a height limit – and as a rule of thumb, if the top of the rear-facing only car seat is less than an inch to your baby’s head, it’s a warning that you’ll be needing to upgrade the car seat.

Convertible Car Seat

A convertible car seat is a car seat that does exactly what it sounds – converts between two forms, a rear-facing and forward-facing car seat. You should be using rear-facing car seats for your children, up to the age of 2 or 40lbs – which they’re now getting ready for a seat conversion to the forward-facing car seat (depending upon product specifications). 

The convertible car seat is placed in positions that are completely dependent on the age and size of your child. 

Britax Marathon ClickTight Convertible Car Seat

Once your child has reached the limit for weight or height when rear-facing, these seats can be converted to forward-facing.

These can save you a lot of money, and also offer a sense of familiarity for your child, which is also quite important.

The drawback with convertible car seats is that they can be quite heavy and don’t offer much when it comes to portability. If you have a child that has outgrown his infant-only seat, this is perfect as they still offer rear-facing which is crucial for the safety of your child at this age.

All-In-One Car Seat

All-in-One car seats are a combination of all the seat types in one convenient car seat. These seats are incredibly durable, and can cover a majority of the years that see your child grow, and adapt to each different stage in their life.

Many of these can last for a maximum of 10 years, which is the safe option to have them replaced (you should always be checking for damage).

Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 Car Seat

All-in-One car seats have the option of converting to a rear and forward-facing car seat, each with a 5 point harness, and a booster seat.

These car seats, due to their versatility, can often be a little more expensive than alternative car seats – however, will service your family throughout the majority of your child’s early life, providing they fit within the height and weight limits of the car seat itself.

Forward-Facing Car Seat

Forward-facing car seats are car seats that will last a long duration of your child’s life.

As there is a lot of growth within this timeframe, a forward-facing car seat is important, including both a top tether and harness that allows your child to grow. There are four types of forward-facing car seats, which we’ll discuss below.

Forward-Facing Only Car Seat

Forward-facing only car seats are those that are only intended to be used in this position, and this position only. Like the convertible car seat, this is used once a child has outgrown their rear-facing car seat, and is ready to move into the forward-facing car seat position.

Unlike the convertible car seat, these cannot be modified with two positions, so it may not be the most economical thing to do, especially if you have a large family and are looking after your finances.

Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat

Convertible Car Seat

The convertible car seat is the same in both forward-facing and rear-facing forms, so we won’t go into further detail here. 

However, we will reinforce that it’s imperative to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat position until the age of 2; or at least until they have reached the maximum weight limit, which is 40 lbs.

If you’re wanting to keep your child in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible, you can opt for a convertible seat. 

Britax Boulevard ClickTight Convertible Car Seat 7

As they generally have a higher maximum weight limit. Some reach up to 50 lbs.

All-in-One Car Seat

We’ve discussed the All-in-One car seats at length in the rear-facing section, so we won’t go over this again.

These seats are perfect for the family that are looking for an economical option across a long period of time in your child’s life, as they cover three separate positions, providing safety for the most important ages of your little ones.

These can be expensive when first purchased – however, will provide your family with years of reliability.

Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat

They’re incredibly safe, which is exactly what you’re after for in the purchase of a car seat for your most precious family members.

Combination Car Seat

A combination car seat is a mix of both a forward-facing only car seat, and a booster seat. Sometimes, these can be called booster high back seats – and it’s easy to understand why.

The combination car seat is first used with both a top tether and a five-point harness, which is perfect for your smaller children over the age of 2 years, pending that they fit the adequate weight and height limits.

Britax Pioneer Combination Harness-2-Booster Car Seat

Once your child reaches these limits, these seats have a handy feature – with the ability to be converted to a belt-positioning booster seat, with a high back for your kids that are growing up ever so quickly. Some even including no back boosters, which is what we’ll be getting into below in more detail.

Booster Car Seat

Booster car seats are the final type of car seats that your child will use before moving onto the regular car seat and seat belt, where they should be seated in the back until the age of 13 years old.

Booster car seats are recommended for when children have outgrown their forward-facing seats, and are used until seat belts can be properly fitted to your child – which is a height of 4’9”. In most ages, your child will generally be between 8 to 12 years of age, 

There are two types of booster seats to be aware of for your child, which we describe in a little more detail below.

High Back Booster Car Seat

The high back booster car seat is a version of the booster car seat that doesn’t include a harness, like earlier forms of car seats you may have sat your child in. High back booster seats elevate your child, so the included adult seat belt inside of your car can fit without issue.

These booster seats provide added comfort and protection for your child, with some manufacturers include side protection, a feature that is definitely an added safety bonus for your child’s protection.

Britax Pinnacle ClickTight G1.1 Harness-2-Booster Car Seat

Not only does this form of car seat provide added safety and protection, but they are also quite comfortable for your kids These should be your booster seat of choice if your family are often going on long road trips to see family interstate or when you’ve packed up to go on holiday.

Backless Booster Car Seat

A backless booster car seat is similar to the high back booster car seat, without the back (hence the name, backless). The backless booster car seat will raise your child to an adequate level to be fitted with the adult seat belt provided in your car.

Backless booster seats are great for your kids that are a little more restless and don’t like to be confined.

Graco Backless TurboBooster Car Seat

These are the cheapest type of seats you can purchase, and due to their lightweight – they’re quite portable. Plus, it also gets them ready for riding in the car without a seatbelt; something that is very exciting for them.

Seat Belt

The seat belt is the final stage of different family car seats you’ve selected throughout your child’s early years, so it can be no surprises as to why it can be both a happy and tearful time when your child fits into a seatbelt without the need for the booster.

How do you decide if your child is ready for a seat belt? 

Teenage kids with car seat belt on

Well, they’ll match three conditions, which we’ve listed below.

  1. The shoulder belt fits across the chest and shoulder
  2. Your child’s feet can touch the floor, with their knees bent at the seat’s edge comfortably
  3. The lap belt fits across the body comfortably – across the upper thighs or hips

If your child ticks these three points – they’re ready for the seat belt.

Car Seat Safety: What You Should Know

It’s important to be aware that there are many car seats available for you to buy, marketed at different age groups by different brands. It’s best to use a car seat that matches the size of your child, and fits well with your vehicle. 

If you have a two-seater car or  truck, it should be common sense that these are a big no-no for your children. Make sure you have a car that is safe and has a set of seats at the back to provide added protection for your child. Not doing so can be considered a major breach of the law, and cause other disastrous results for your family (think twice about your decision; you’re putting your child at risk otherwise).

Always inspect your car seats for rips, tears and breaks, and make sure that they’re covered by the federal and also state seating standards. Remember, higher price doesn’t always correlate to a safer car seat – make sure that your child fits the seat comfortably – as this is directly linked to safety.

Car safety is something you can’t take lightly and based on the statistics to our right, it only reinforces the point. Too many lives are unnecessary taken away each year from families; don’t be a statistic.

Car seat recommendations infographic

Final Thoughts

Hopefully you are now well aware of the differences between the majority of car seats available on the market, as well as which age group certain car seats are perfect for after reading our car seat buying guide.

It’s vital to match all car seats you’re thinking of purchasing with the height and weight of your child, as this is what the safety of a car seat is purely based on. Ensure to also pay close attention to manufacturer specifications.

If you have any additional questions or some thoughts you’d like to share with other parents, please leave your comments below; we’d love to hear what you have to say.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I use a car seat that someone has given me?
    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the AAP recommend that children less than 40 pounds be securely fastened in certified child restraints when flying.

  2. Can I use a car seat on an aeroplane?
    We’d definitely recommend you first check the car seat for any issues, and make sure that the necessary harnesses and latches work appropriately – both with and without your child. It’s also important to make sure this fits your child perfectly – which is the most important aspect of them all when considering seats.
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Brenda Williams

Brenda Williams

Hi, I'm the founder of Car Safety Hub, Brenda Williams. I'm a happily married mother and have 2 of the sweetest children you could imagine.

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