Every parent knows their child needs a car seat when riding in a vehicle. However, it’s not as simple as picking a seat, installing it, and driving off. For car seats to be effective, they must be used properly based on your child’s age, size, and build! Even your vehicle plays a role in car seat safety! 

That may seem like a lot to digest, but all of this information is essential to protect your child all the way through their car seat years. This is why we created Safe in the Seat to be a trusted source of car seat safety information for parents! One of the biggest car seat safety misconceptions that inspired our brand is the idea that you should switch your child from rear-facing to forward-facing at the age of one. 

Yes, that’s a MYTH. That is the legal minimum in some places, but it’s not the safest choice. (Here’s why rear-facing is safest.) The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that you keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible. This is because the whiplash from the crash in a forward-facing seat can cause significant injury to the spinal cord, head, and neck. However, that movement can be significantly reduced in a rear-facing seat, decreasing your child’s risk of injury or death in a collision! 

All that being said, there is a safe time to turn front-facing, but when is it? The answer to that question isn’t defined by an age, but instead a few key factors. That’s what we’ll discuss today! Here’s when it’s time to make that move from a rear-facing position to a front-facing position! 

When to Switch from Rear-Facing to Forward-Facing

When they reach the weight limits. 

The car seat manufacturer has the maximum weight limitations right there in your manual. Read that to determine the highest weight your child can be before safely turning forward-facing. Usually, these limits are between 40-50 lbs! If your child hits this limit, it’s time to turn the seat around (even if they haven’t reached the height max yet.) 

OR

When they reach the height limits. 

The manual will also note the height limits, which are usually between 40-50 inches. Just like the weight maximums, if they reach the height limit, but not the weight limit, it’s still time to turn around. 

OR

When their head is less than one inch from the top of the seat. 

Proportions are a big deal when it comes to car seat fit. A child can be below the 40-50 inch height limit but still be too tall for rear-facing. How? They have a long torso and shorter legs. If your child has a lot of height in their torso and there is less than 1 inch of clearance from the top of the car seat, it’s time to switch to a front-facing position. Again, this is true even if they haven’t reached the height and weight limits in the manual! Not every seat has the one-inch rule, so double-check your manual, but this is the case with most rear-facing seats in the US and Canadian markets.

OR

When there is no car seat on the market that suits their measurements.

Not all car seats have the same height and weight limitations. So, if your child reaches the maximums on your seat, you may be able to move to another convertible car seat with more room for your child to grow. However, if your child is over 50 lbs or taller than 49 inches, there won’t be any convertible seats to support rear-facing at that size. When that time comes, it’s okay to turn around. 

How to Transition to Forward-Facing

Step 1: Uninstall the car seat. 

When you know it’s safe to turn the seat forward-facing, the first thing you need to do is uninstall the seat completely. (Unless you have a swivel seat that allows you to spin it around and make just a few adjustments.) This is a good time to safely clean your car seats and your vehicle seats, too! 

Step 2: Check the fit with the headrests adjust if necessary. 

If your vehicle has headrests that push the car seat forward, you may need to adjust them or remove them. If you can’t, you’ll need to move it to a different spot in your car or consider a different car seat

Step 3: Install using the seatbelt and the top tether. 

Now, reinstall the car seat using the belt path. (If your child has reached the rear-facing car seat’s maximum height and weight limits, they’re probably big for the lower anchor system.) Make sure the seat belt is tight and locked. 

Remember that you’ll also need to attach the top tether, which was likely not used during the rear-facing mode. It’s important for this position, so check your vehicle manual to find where the top tether anchors are in your vehicle and attach and tighten the tether accordingly. 

Step 4: Determine the correct recline. 

The recline of many car seats changes as your child grows. Check the manual and use the indicators on the car seat to determine the right recline based on your child’s weight and height. If you’re worried about installing your seat correctly on your own, book a car seat consultation, and one of our CPSTs will help you out! 

Step 5: Fit your child and change the strap placement. 

Once your seat is installed correctly, fit your child! Place them in the car seat and adjust the strap placement. When a child rides rear-facing, the shoulder straps are supposed to be at or just below the shoulders. Now, for front-facing, the straps should be at or just above the shoulders. 

Best Car Seats for Extended Rear-Facing

Now that you know that it’s safest to keep your kids rear-facing as long as possible, we’re going to share the car seats that allow extended rear-facing. These convertible car seats are safe for rear-facing use for children up to 50 pounds and 50 inches. 

Clek Foonf
  • Max rear-facing weight: 50 lbs
  • Max rear-facing height: 43 in
  • Key feature: fits 3-across, flame-retardant-free options, anti-rebound bar, rear-facing tether option, infant-friendly 

Clek Fllo
  • Max rear-facing weight: 50 lbs
  • Max rear-facing height: 43 in
  • Key feature: fits 3-across, flame-retardant-free options, anti-rebound bar, rear-facing tether option, infant-friendly 

Evenflo Revolve360 Extend 
  • Max rear-facing weight: 50 lbs
  • Max rear-facing height: 48 in
  • Key feature: 360 swivel, easy to install, flame-retardant free, anti-rebound bar

Britax One4Life
  • Max rear-facing weight: 50 lbs
  • Max rear-facing height: 49 in
  • Key feature: easy to install, flame-retardant free, washable fabric, anti-rebound bar

Graco Extend2Fit 2-in-1 or Graco Extend2Fit 3-in-1
  • Max rear-facing weight: 50 lbs
  • Max rear-facing height: 49 in
  • Key feature: leg panel for extended rear-facing, anti-rebound bar option

Nuna RAVA
  • Max rear-facing weight: 50 lbs
  • Max rear-facing height: 49 in
  • Key feature: flame-retardant free, breathable fabric 

Know when the time is right to move your child front-facing. 

Safety is everything when your child is in a vehicle. It’s not enough to just have a car seat you need to know how to use it. For all the essential safety information, car seat recommendations, and traveling tips, head to the Safe in the Seat blog! We have the information you need to keep your family safe in their seats every ride. 

Here are other posts you may find useful on this topic:

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