Safe in the Seat

5 Different Types of Child Car Seats

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. 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.

Let’s talk numbers for a second. According to the NHTSA 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!

5 Different Types of Car Seats

As moms, we obviously want to find a car seat that will protect our little ones and meet our lifestyle needs at the same time. But how do you know where to start? 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. 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. It’s designed to only be used rear-facing, 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.

These car seats 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, 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

Downsides:

  • Usually outgrown 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!

For help choosing the perfect infant car seat for your family, we recommend our Infant Car Seat Buying Kit.

Convertible Car Seat

For most kids, a convertible car seat will offer the longest usage out of any stage! These seats are used rear facing and forward facing, allowing 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 rear facing until at least age two – preferably longer, since rear facing is safest! – before outgrowing the rear facing 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 or 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!

Looking for the perfect convertible or all-in-one car seat for your child? We recommend our Convertible Buying Kit.

All-in-One Car Seat

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 investment 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
  • 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!

Looking for the perfect convertible or all-in-one car seat for your child? We recommend our Convertible Buying Kit.

Combination 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 offer a forward-facing 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 10-12 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!

For help choosing the perfect combination car seat for your family, we recommend our Forward Facing/Booster buying kit.

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. 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, carpool, 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!

For help choosing the perfect booster car seat for your family, we recommend our Forward Facing/Booster Car Seat Buying Kit.

What type of car seat are you currently looking for?

As you can see, there are a lot of options to wade through when it comes to car seat types. Hopefully this guide to different types of car seats can help narrow down 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 more guidance on how to choose 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.

Once you have that perfect car seat nailed down, check our courses, The Infant Course, The Convertible Car Seat Course, or Wheels Up: Airplane Travel Course.

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