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Car Seats and Booster Seats

Car seats and boosters provide protection for infants and children in a crash

Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13. That’s why it’s so important to choose and use the right car seat correctly every time your child is in the car. Follow these important steps to choose the right seat, install it correctly, and keep your child safe.

Find the right car seat

Install your car seat correctly

Keep your child safe in a car seat

Car Seat Types

Learn about the four types of car seats, while keeping in mind the following tips:

Rear-Facing Car Seat

Car seat rear-facing

The best seat for your young child to use. It has a harness and, in a crash, cradles and moves with your child to reduce the stress to the child’s fragile neck and spinal cord.

Types

  • Infant Car Seat (Rear-Facing only): Designed for newborns and small babies, the infant-only car seat is a small, portable seat that can only be used rear-facing. Babies usually outgrow their infant car seats by 8 or 9 months. When that happens, we recommend that parents purchase a convertible or all-in-one car seat and use it rear-facing.
  • Convertible Seat: As a child grows, this seat can change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat with a harness and tether. Because it can be used with children of various sizes, it allows for children to stay in the rear-facing position longer.
  • All-in-One Seat: This seat can change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat (with a harness and tether) and to a booster seat as a child grows. Because it can be used with children of various sizes, it allows for children to stay in the rear-facing position longer.

Forward-Facing Car Seat

Car seat forward-facing

 

Has a harness and tether that limits your child’s forward movement during a crash.

Types

  • Convertible SeatAs a child grows, this seat can change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat with a harness and tether.
  • Combination SeatAs a child grows, this seat transitions from a forward-facing seat with a harness and tether into a booster.
  • All-in-One SeatThis seat can change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat (with a harness and tether) and to a booster seat as a child grows.

Booster Seat

Car seat booster

 

Positions the seat belt so that it fits properly over the stronger parts of your child’s body.

Types

  • Booster Seat With High Back: This type of booster seat is designed to boost the child’s height so the seat belt fits properly. It also provides neck and head support and is ideal for vehicles that don’t have head rests or high seat backs.
  • Backless Booster Seat: A backless booster seat is designed to boost the child’s height so the seat belt fits properly. It does not provide head and neck support. It is ideal for vehicles that have head rests.
  • Combination Seat: As a child grows, this seat transitions from a forward-facing seat with a harness into a booster.
  • All-in-One Seat: This seat can change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat (with a harness and tether) and to a booster seat as a child grows.

Seat Belt

Seat Belt

Should lie across the upper thighs and be snug across the shoulder and chest to restrain your child safely in a crash. It should not rest on the stomach area or across the neck or face.

Car Seat Recommendations

There are many car seat choices on the market. Use the information below to help you choose the type of car seat that best meets your child’s needs or print out NHTSA’s car seat recommendations for children (PDF, 370 KB).

  • Select a car seat based on your child’s age and size, then choose a seat that fits in your vehicle, and use it every time.
  • Always refer to your specific car seat manufacturer’s instructions (check height and weight limits) and read the vehicle owner’s manual on how to install the car seat using the seat belt or lower anchors and a tether, if available.
  • To maximize safety, keep your child in the car seat for as long as possible, as long as the child fits within the manufacturer’s height and weight requirements.
  • Keep your child in the back seat at least through age 12.

Recommended car seats based on your child’s age and size

 

Rear-Facing Car Seat

Car seat rear-facing

Birth-12 Months

Your child under age 1 should always ride in a rear-facing car seat. There are different types of rear-facing car seats:

  • Infant-only seats can only be used rear-facing.
  • Convertible and all-in-one car seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.

1 – 3 Years

Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. It’s the best way to keep him or her safe. Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether.


Forward-Facing Car Seat

Car seat forward-facing

1 – 3 Years

Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. It’s the best way to keep him or her safe. Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether.

4 – 7 Years

Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it’s time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the back seat.


Booster Seat

Car seat booster

4 – 7 Years

Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it’s time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the back seat.

8 – 12 Years

Keep your child in a booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. For a seat belt to fit properly the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face. Remember: your child should still ride in the back seat because it’s safer there.


Seat Belt

Seat Belt

8 – 12 Years

Keep your child in a booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. For a seat belt to fit properly the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face. Remember: your child should still ride in the back seat because it’s safer there.

Find & Compare Seats

EASE-OF-USE RATINGS

The Car Seat Finder is an easy-to-use tool that lets you compare seats and ease-of-use ratings to find the right car seat for your child. Just fill out your child’s age, height and weight below, and you’ll be provided car seat types that fit your child. Before you get started, make sure you’re familiar with the four types of car seats and NHTSA’s recommendations for choosing the right type of seat for your child.

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