Your child needs a car seat, of course. It’s one of the true must-have items on every parent-to-be’s pre-baby checklist. In fact, in many places, you can’t leave the hospital with your newborn without showing that you have a safe car seat for your baby. Unfortunately, beyond the basic instruction to purchase a car seat, there isn’t a whole lot of guidance out there to help new parents navigate this important step in baby prep.

Take Me to the List:

1. Infant Car Seat

2. Convertible Car Seat

3. All-in-One Car Seat

4. Combination Car Seat

5. Booster Seat

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With so many options and so little direction, even the most safety-conscious parent can end up making some big blunders – whether that’s purchasing the wrong car seat, using their car seat incorrectly, or not using car seats long enough. Automobile seats are designed for adults, so most children need some type of child safety seat in the car until they’re 10-12 years old. And, even once they fit the adult seatbelt safely without a booster, remember that your child is safest in the back seat of your car!  That’s a long road of car seats!

Let’s talk numbers for a second. According to the NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), a whopping 95% of families believe their child is restrained properly! However, the same number of car seats – 95% – are actually installed or used incorrectly. Yikes! A truly frightening statistic when you consider how dangerous cars are. Traffic-related fatalities are a leading cause of death in children under the age of fourteen. And the right car seat installed and fitted correctly could save your child’s life. Last year the NHTSA reported that proper car seat use saved the lives of 325 children who were involved in serious car crashes. So yes, the car seat you choose is a really important decision – and knowing how to correctly use it matters too!

In this sample lesson from our Infant Course, you will learn why car seats and their proper use are so critical to keeping kids safe. Want to learn how to keep your child safe on every ride? Check out our Infant Course or Convertible Course on the how-tos of installation, harnessing, and troubleshooting.

5 Different Types of Car Seats

As parents, we obviously want to find a car seat that fits properly, will protect our little ones, and meet our lifestyle needs, all at the same time. But how do you know where to start? There are so many different types of car seats! So the options seem endless and the information overload is seriously real. From safety to usability, to functionality, aesthetics, and so much more – the first step to finding the perfect car seat for your family is understanding the basic types to consider. There are height and weight limits, different car seat manufacturers, and tons of extra lifestyle features to consider as your child grows. Does my child need a seat with a harness? If so, when?

So today, we’re going to break down the basic types of car seats to help you focus your search.

There are many different types of car seats and each one holds a specific purpose. You’re probably familiar with most of these and maybe even know some of the specifications, but we’ll be diving deep into the attributes of each choice.

Infant Car Seat

An infant car seat is meant to be used for children typically under the age of twelve months. Moreover, it’s designed to only be used in the rear-facing position, which is the safest way for an infant to ride! Many come with inserts to help the seat adapt to your fast-growing baby from that first ride home through much of that first year.

Infant seats also offer many benefits for those first weeks and months of parenthood. With a convenient carry handle and, usually, a detachable base, it’s easy to remove the car seat from your vehicle with baby still buckled securely inside. They’re designed to fit even the tiniest of passengers, keeping them cozy and safe. And by purchasing additional bases or using a seat’s baseless installation option, one infant car seat can seamlessly transition from vehicle to vehicle to keep baby safe wherever your adventures may take you!

Features & Benefits:

  • Easy to remove from car and carry with baby strapped in
  • Transitions to other cars with ease, using additional bases or baseless installation
  • Snaps into a stroller with travel system options
  • Safe and comfortable for newborns
  • Portable and lightweight, compared to other types of car seats
  • Designed specifically to fit newborn babies

Downsides:

  • Usually child outgrows within about a year
  • Difficult to get child in and out while the car seat is already in the car
  • Can be heavy and awkward to carry as baby grows

Usage:

Orientation: Rear-facing only
Age: Birth – approximately 12 months
Weight/Height: Up to 35 lbs & 32 in (varies by brand and model)

Looking for a seat to purchase? Here are a few options:

Convertible Car Seat

For most kids, a convertible car seat will offer the longest usage of any stage! These rear-facing and forward-facing seats allow parents to keep their growing babies – and toddlers and preschoolers – safe for several years. While many convertible car seats are usable from birth, most parents opt to start with the convenience of an infant car seat and then upgrade to a convertible car seat when baby is somewhere between 6-12 months old. Then baby can stay in a rear-facing car seat until the child reaches at least age two – preferably longer, since rear-facing is safest! – before outgrowing the rear-facing weight requirement capacity of the seat and turning forward.

Features & Benefits:

  • Allow toddlers and preschoolers to ride rear-facing for as long as possible
  • Transition to forward-facing for years’ worth of use
  • Options for toddler-friendly features like cupholders and easy-clean fabrics
  • Can have a smaller rear-facing footprint than infant car seats
  • Wide price range to accommodate any budget and lifestyle

Downsides:

  • Designed to stay installed in the vehicle, so they aren’t removable for infants
  • Not compatible with strollers
  • Not easily moved from car to car
  • Some models are heavy, wide, or bulky

Usage:

  • Orientation: Forward-facing and Rear-facing
  • Age: Birth- approximately 6 years old
  • Weight/Height: Up to 65 lbs and 49 in (varies by brand and model)

Looking for a seat to purchase? Here are a few options:

Find more of our recommended convertible car seats here.

All-in-One Car Seats

An all-in-one car seat is very similar to a convertible car seat, but – you guessed it – it’s designed to cover even more of your child’s car seat journey! All-in-one seats – which can also be called “multimode” car seats, 3-in-1 car seats, or 4-in-1 car seats – include rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster modes.

This longevity and versatility appeal to many parents, who might hope that this will be the final car seat they ever purchase for their little one. That’s not always true, since most kids will need at least another backless booster before they’re ready to go car-seat-free; still, all-in-one seats are a great option for many families!

Features and Benefits:

  • May last the same child for up to 10 years through all its stages
  • Allow toddlers and preschoolers to ride rear-facing for as long as possible
  • Transition to forward facing and high back booster mode; some also have backless booster mode
  • Options for toddler-friendly features like cupholders and easy-clean fabrics
  • Can have a smaller rear-facing footprint than infant car seats

Downsides:

  • Designed to stay installed in the vehicle, so they aren’t removable for infants
  • Not compatible with strollers
  • Not easily moved from car to car
  • Can be challenging to convert from harness to booster mode
  • May not hold up to ten years’ worth of wear and tear – kids are messy!
  • Booster mode can be bulky and hard for big kids to buckle without help
  • Usually outgrown by fit before the child reaches the limits or can sit safely without a booster
  • Often pricy

Usage:

  • Orientation: Rear-facing, forward-facing, high back booster, backless booster (on some models)
  • Age: Birth through 10-12 years old
  • Weight/Height: Harness up to 65lbs; Booster up to 120lbs (varies by brand and model)
Looking for a seat to purchase? Here are a few options!

Find more of our recommended all-in-one seats here.

Combination/Forward-Facing Only Car Seat

Combination car seats can help bridge the gap for forward-facing big kids who aren’t quite ready for a booster yet! They also offer a forward-facing car seat harness mode combined – ha, ha, see what they did there? – with high back booster mode and, for some seats, backless booster mode as well. Combination seats are usually the next step for preschoolers who need to upgrade from their convertible car seat, either because they’ve outgrown it or because a savvy parent wants to pass down that convertible seat to a younger rear-facing sibling. Many young passengers can go straight from their convertible or all-in-one seat to a booster, but combination seats are an important step for those who need something in between!

Features and Benefits:

  • Forward-facing harness mode and highback booster mode
  • Some combination seats also offer backless booster mode
  • May accommodate taller or bigger children who need to stay in a harness
  • Less expensive than many convertible or all-in-one seats

Downsides:

  • Forward facing only; not appropriate for toddlers under age two
  • Some can be difficult to install in harness mode
  • Booster mode may be large and bulky for some models

Usage:

  • Orientation: Forward-facing, high back booster, backless booster (some models)
  • Age: minimum 2 years old through 8-12 years old
  • Weight/Height: Harness mode up to 65lbs and 54″; booster mode up to 120lbs (varies by brand and model)

Looking for a seat to purchase? Here are a few options:

Find more of our recommended forward-facing/combination car seats here.

Booster Seat

The final stage in your child’s car seat journey will involve a booster seat. There are two types: high-back boosters and backless boosters. High-back boosters offer more comfort and support, so they’re a great choice for smaller, younger, or sleepier booster riders, while backless boosters can be used longer and are easily moved between vehicles. Both types are designed to position the vehicle seatbelt properly on your child’s body so that it can restrain and protect in case the unthinkable happens.

Booster seats are a vital stage of the car seat journey and should never be skipped! Even as kids get to the age where they’re begging to sit in the front seat or go without a car seat, avoid the temptation to let your not-so-little one graduate early. In fact, studies have shown that proper booster seat use saves lives. In a 2016 study, researchers found that kids over 8 were most likely to be improperly buckled in the car. In fact, 48% of children ages 8-12 failed to use a booster seat or, even worse, skipped their seatbelt altogether. You’ve spent so many years keeping your growing child as safe as possible, and booster seats are the last piece of the puzzle.

Features and Benefits:

  • Lightweight
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to install and use
  • Easy to clean
  • Easily moved from vehicle to vehicle
  • Backless and compact options for travel, carpooling, or big kids who don’t want to use a car seat anymore

Downsides:

  • Requires you to purchase other seats for earlier stages

Usage:

  • Orientation: High Back or Backless Booster
  • Age: 5-12 years old
  • Weight/Height: Up to 63″ and 120 lbs (varies by brand and model)

Looking for a seat to purchase? Here are a few options!

Find more of our recommended booster seats here.

What type of car seat are you currently looking for?

As you can see, there are many options to wade through when it comes to car seat types. Hopefully, this guide to different car seat types can help narrow your search a bit. You’ll know whether to focus on infant, convertible/all-in-one, combination, or booster seats!

If you’re looking for a visual, head over to our YouTube Channel to see the long progression of your child from infant seat to rear-facing for years to forward-facing to the booster stage and finally riding with just a seatbelt!

If you’re looking for more guidance on choosing a type of car seat, we highly recommend booking an in-depth car seat consultation or a Car Seat Buying Kit. We’ll help you narrow down your search and provide specific car seat recommendations to suit your needs.

To learn more about your seat being installed correctly, check our courses, The Infant Course, The Convertible Car Seat Course, or Wheels Up: Airplane Travel Course.

Affiliate links are included above. Safe in the Seat earns a small commission when you purchase through these links with no cost to you. We so appreciate your support.

Use Code: TARGET for 15% off Car Seat Buying Kits!

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