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A parent’s guide to car seats

Type “car seat” in any search engine and you will get more results than you know what to do with.

With a myriad of options for brands, styles, prices and colors, where do you start? And what is best for your child right now? We are here to help you as we break down what you need to know when shopping for your first (or next) car seat. Because we understand what is most important: to keep your little ones safe.

Whether you are a first-time parent or an experienced professional, you can get some much-needed peace of mind by refreshing your knowledge of your car seat before embarking on your next car journey.

How to choose the right child seat

As your child grows, the type of car seat they need will develop along with them. Thankfully, there is a car seat option that fits all stages of your child̵

7;s life.

The type of seat your child needs is determined by three factors: their age, weight and size. We dive into the four types of seats below, along with the proposed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) age ranges for each. As you read through this list, remember that each car seat comes with its own specifications for maximum height and weight. While the ages suggested by NHTSA provide an excellent guideline, always refer to the manufacturer’s stated limits.

Rear-facing car seats

All infants and young children should sit in a car seat facing the back of your vehicle. This is the safest possible position.

NHTSA recommendations:

  • Newborn to 12 months: Exclusively rear-facing.
  • 1 to 3 years: Use a rear-facing seat until the child reaches the maximum weight or height limit of the child car seat.

Forward-facing car seats

As the name suggests, this child car seat is facing the front of your vehicle. But instead of using a seat belt, your child will be fastened with a harness in the seat.

NHTSA recommendations:

  • 1 to 3 years old: Children should only switch to a forward-facing chair when they reach the maximum weight or height limit for their rear-facing seat.
  • 4 to 7 years old: Children graduate from forward-facing car seats when they reach the maximum height and weight limit.

Belt chairs

These are designed for older children, usually between 5 and 12 years old in some cases. Children who ride in booster seats use the usual seat belts in the vehicle, although some are equipped with harnesses for younger drivers.

NHTSA recommendations:

  • 4 to 7 years old: Children will be ready for a booster seat after growing out of their forward-facing chair. Wait until they reach the maximum weight or height limit before changing.
  • 8 to 12 years: Children should ride in a booster seat until they can fit securely in a seat belt (see below).

Seat belts

Your child is ready to be a lone seatbelt driver when they have grown out of the size limits of the seatbelt or when the seat belt fits them properly, with the hip belt resting on the thighs and the shoulder belt sitting nicely and tightly over. chest and shoulders.

No matter what type of seat they need, infants and children should continue to sit in the back seat for as long as possible, at least until they are 13 years old. Read on to learn more about making the transition.

Different styles of highchairs

Once you have decided whether your child should sit in a rear-facing seat, a forward-facing seat or a booster, it is time to identify the correct seat style:


These are the carriers that you see sleep deprived parents bring to doctor’s surgeries or pull through stores. This seat – which is attached to the vehicle via a base – is specially designed for newborns and infants until they reach the maximum weight and / or size limit (which is usually when they are around one year old). They can be a convenient option because you do not have to remove your little one from the seat every time you leave your vehicle. Keep in mind, however, that you will probably need to invest in a second base if you live in a household with two vehicles. You will also need to buy another car seat when your child grows out of the crib.

  • Position: Rear-facing only.


This chair style is changing to suit your growing child. It starts as a rear-facing seat. Then it moves to a forward-facing seat (more on that later) as your child gets older. Some convertible seats are designed to fit older infants and toddlers. Others are designed to fit newborns. This can be a convenient option if you just want to buy a seat.

  • Positions: Reverse and forward facing.


As we mentioned earlier, booster seats are designed for older riders (sometimes up to 12 years old, depending on their size and weight). Some designs have a high back that provides extra headrests and headrests, which is perfect for vehicles that have shorter backrests or no headrests. Backless options are well suited for vehicles where this is not a problem.

  • Position: Forward-facing only.

Combination (or sometimes called three-in-one)

These child car seats are a combination of a forward-facing seat and a booster. The design starts as a car seat with a harness. When your child grows up, the harness can be stowed away, and you can use the chair as a high-backed booster together with a regular seat belt. On some models, the back can be removed to create a backless booster.

  • Position: Forward-facing only.

All-in-one (or sometimes called four-in-one)

The ultimate all-in-one chameleon of car seats is designed to fit all children’s car seat needs. It starts as a rear-facing seat for newborns and infants, transitions to forward-facing and can then be modified to become a booster seat.

  • Positions: Reverse and forward facing.

Laws for child car seats by state

While NHTSA provides comprehensive safety recommendations, each state maintains its own car seat laws. Surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly), these laws vary from state to state. Some base their rules on age while others base them on a combination of age, height and / or weight. Do your homework and find out what is required in your state to keep your youngest passengers safe – and to avoid fines and penalties.

How much does a car seat cost?

Depending on the brand and style, car seats can cost between $ 15 for a backless booster from a department store to almost $ 700 for an exclusive all-in-one seat. Remember that all car seats go through basic federal crash test requirements. So do your homework and decide which chair best suits your family, your little one and your wallet.

How to assemble and install a car seat

When it’s time to install your child’s car seat, here’s what to think about.

  • Read your manuals. Yes, these are manuals (plural). Every car seat and every vehicle is different. Therefore, carefully read the installation instructions that come with your car seat and the section on installing car seats in your vehicle’s instruction manual.
  • Get to know the two installation methods. Car seats are installed with either a seat belt or the seat anchors that are part of a vehicle’s LATCH system (that acronym stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). Find out which method is recommended for your vehicle and seat selection. If you choose the seat belt, make sure it is securely locked (see your vehicle’s instruction manual).
  • Make it safe and secure. You already know that if your child is younger than 13 years old, it should not go ahead. So place the car seat on the back of your vehicle and follow the car seat assembly instructions. Also make sure it is tight. It should not move more than an inch when you move it from side to side or back and forth when you pull it from the seat belt path.
  • Attach the bracket for forward-facing car seats. See the instruction manual for your vehicle and find out if your system has an anchorage. These are usually located behind or in the back of the seat. Once you have found it, attach the car seat anchor strap to the anchor and tighten it.
  • Adjust rear-facing seats at the correct angle of inclination. Find your chair’s tilt indicators or adjusters to ensure you have your child in a safe and comfortable position.
  • Get help. Did you know that your local fire station or police station can provide free car seat checks? If you need some help or just want to make sure you have installed your seat correctly, contact a trained child passenger safety technician and make an appointment. It never hurts to get a second set of eyes!

Is it safe to buy a used car seat?

The short answer is no. Buying a used car seat – especially from someone you do not know – involves some significant risks:

  • Damage: If the child car seat was in a vehicle that was involved in an accident, the seat itself may be damaged, and some of this damage may not be visible.
  • Reminds of: Car seats are subject to recalls, just like all other manufactured items. If you buy a used child car seat, there is no first way to know if it was recalled or if the defect in question was remedied.
  • Last expiration date: Most child car seats come with a label that includes the expiration date, which is usually six years after the date of manufacture. It is necessary to adhere to the date of use to ensure that you use a seat that is safe and not too worn. If for some reason that label is missing, you are not sure if it is safe to use.

Do I have to replace my car seat after a crash?

NHTSA recommends replacing a child car seat with what it considers to be a “moderate or severe” car accident. If you have a minor crash, the organization notes that you may not need to replace your chair right away. They define an accident as “minor” if all of the following conditions are met:

  • The vehicle could be driven away from the scene of the accident.
  • The vehicle door closest to the car seat was not damaged.
  • None of the passengers in the car were injured in the crash.
  • If the vehicle has airbags, the airbags were not triggered during the crash.
  • There is no visible damage to the car seat.

At Erie Insurance, we also understand that security and peace of mind are a priority for every parent. So when a car insurance customer has an accident and a car seat is involved, we do a thorough inspection of the seat and the vehicle damage.

If your seat is damaged, or if the vehicle damage is moderate or serious, we will replace your child car seat as part of your insurance claim.

If you have any questions about the details of your car seat replacement, talk to your ERIE Complaints Representative or call your local ERIE representative.

Designed to live

We would get lost without our cars. They take us to work, drive our children and take us home again. At ERIE, we understand – we not only insure your car, we protect your loved ones and how you live your life. Contact your local ERIE agent to talk about your car insurance options and get a quote on no-obligation car insurance today.

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