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Picking a car seat for your kid is about more than just style and ease-of-use. You want something that’s going to be safe, and fits both your car and your kid properly. There are weight limits, height restrictions, and positions where your child should never ever be. This post will provide an overview on different car seat designs so you can shop for exactly what you need.

To reduce the complexity of the task, and to reduce the risk of you selecting the wrong seat for your child, Car Bibles’ certified parents are here to help you pick the right car seat for your child.

Ed. Note: This post was updated with new information and text on 6/22/2021.

What Is a Child’s Car Seat?

A child’s car seat is a self-contained kid-pod that is installed on top of a car’s normal seats. There are different sizes and types depending on the size of the child; some are large nest-like contraptions for infants and others are more like little boosters for taller kids who can get in and out of cars on their own.

Three car seats in the back of a Volvo XC90 from the point of view of the rear passenger's side door.
How many kids you have can determine how your seats are oriented. – Image: Jonathon Klein

How Does a Child’s Car Seat Work?

Child seat design has become fairly standard, with the child sitting in a rear- or front-facing car seat in the rear of the car for added safety. The child is strapped into the highly bolstered car seat with a five-point harness strapped around their shoulders, thighs, and crotch. The car seat attaches to the car either through the car’s seat belt restraint or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system which connects directly to the car’s chassis. 

What’s the Difference Between a Child’s Car Seat and a Race Seat?

Not much, in fact! Most child car seats can trace their design back to race car seats. From the head restraint to the bolsters, five-point harnesses, and even their construction. Put a racing seat next to a child’s car seat, and you’ll see what we mean. 

How To Pick the Right Type of Car Seats for Your Child

Each car seat has a specific height and weight requirements. Below, we detail which car seat is best for your child. Know the difference.

Front-Facing

Front-facing child car seats are designed for infants too small toddlers up to 40 pounds and 57 inches tall.

Rear-Facing

Rear-facing child car seats are designed for toddlers heavier than 40 pounds and 57 inches tall up until the point they no longer fit.

Booster Seat

A booster seat is a child car seat designed for children who grow out of their front-facing car seats.

Convertible

A convertible child car seat is designed to grow with the child and will convert from rear-facing to front-facing to a booster seat.

The head rest and bolsters of a child's car seat in the back of a Volvo XC90.
Graco is one of the most popular makers of children’s car seats. – Image: Jonathon Klein

Car Bibles’ Glossary for Car Seats

Welcome to Bible School!

LATCH/Isofix

LATCH/Isofix refers to static points welded into the chassis or the seat backing where latches can connect for increased structural rigidity for the car seat.

Five-Point Harness

A five-point harness is a type of seat belt that features five points of attachment: two over the shoulder, two around the thighs, and one between the crotch.

Weight Limits

Every car seat has a weight limit. Check the car seat’s description to ensure it’s the right one for your child’s size.

Expiration Date

Likewise, car seats expire. Most are between 7-10 years, though they expire immediately in the event of an accident.

Head Restraints

Head restraints or head bolsters, keep the child’s head from moving too greatly from side to side in the event of an accident, thus reducing the possibility of concussion or brain damage.

The buckle of a child's car seat.
Five-point harnesses for the win. – Image: Jonathon Klein

How To Install a Car Seat in the Rear Seat of Your Car

The first thing to do when preparing to install a car seat in your car, crossover, SUV, or truck is read the manuals for both your vehicle and your car seat. Once you’ve learned how your specific models work, then follow these basic steps to getting the seat safe and secure! 

Rear-Facing

With this type of seat, the child faces the rear of the vehicle.

LATCH/Isofix

  1. Place the car seat into the rear of the car with the seat facing the seatback and make sure it’s level. 
  2. Connect the first LATCH clip to the LATCH anchor on the inside of the seat. 
  3. Connect the second LATCH clip to the LATCH anchor on the outside of the seat.
  4. Cinch the LATCH belt tight so that there’s almost no movement when you try to rock the seat side to side. 

Seat Belt

  1. Position the car seat into the rear of the car and make sure it’s level.
  2. Put the car’s seat belt through the car seat base and clip it into the receiver. 
  3. Tug the seat belt tight so that there’s little movement in the seat. 
  4. Lock the seat belt. 

Front-Facing

With this type of seat, the child faces the front of the vehicle.

LATCH/Isofix

  1. Place the car seat into the rear of the car with the seat facing forward and make sure it’s level. 
  2. Connect the first LATCH clip to the LATCH anchor on the inside of the seat. 
  3. Connect the second LATCH clip to the LATCH anchor on the outside of the seat.
  4. Connect the rear LATCH clip to the rear of the seatback. 
  5. Cinch the LATCH belt tight so that there’s almost no movement when you try to rock the seat side to side. 

Seat Belt

  1. Place the car seat into the rear of the car and make sure it’s level.
  2. Put the car’s seat belt through the car seat base and clip it into the receiver. 
  3. Tug the seat belt tight until there’s little movement in the seat. 
  4. Lock the seat belt.

Convertible

Depending on whether the car seat is rear-facing or front-facing, you’ll follow the same instructions as the rear and forward-facing seats. 

LATCH/Isofix

  1. Position the car seat into the rear of the car with the seat facing forward or rear and make sure it’s level. 
  2. Attach the first LATCH clip to the LATCH anchor on the inside of the seat. 
  3. Attach the second LATCH clip to the LATCH anchor on the outside of the seat.
  4. Attach the rear LATCH clip to the rear of the seatback if facing rear.
  5. Cinch the LATCH belt tight until there’s almost no movement when you try to rock the seat side to side. 

Seat Belt

  1. Position the car seat into the rear of the car and make sure it’s level.
  2. Feed the car’s seat belt through the car seat base and clip it into the receiver. 
  3. Tug the seat belt tight until there’s little movement in the seat. 
  4. Lock the seat belt.

Booster Seat

Seat Belt

  1. Position the car seat into the rear of the car and make sure it’s level.
  2. Put the car’s seat belt through the car seat base and clip it into the receiver. 
  3. Tug the seat belt tight until there’s little movement in the seat. 
  4. Lock the seat belt.
The shoulder of a child car safety seat.
Choosing the right car seat will help keep your child safe. – Image: Jonathon Klein

The Questionnaire

Your burning questions answered. 

Q. Can I use a car seat on an airplane?

That depends on your car seat. Some car seats aren’t designed for plane use, so you’ll have to see if your specific car seat says it’s ok to use.

Q. What is the safest seat in a car for a child?

The safest spot to put a car seat in a car is in the rear cabin right in the middle. That way, you have the most metal between the child and the crash structure.

Q. Can you put two car seats next to each other?

You can, though some car seats are larger than others and it may become difficult to strap them to the car next to one another.

Learn More from this Video about Car Seats

Car Bibles’ editors understand that not everyone is a text-based learner. For those kinesthetic people out there, we have your back with a video showing you exactly what a car seat is and how they work. We pulled it from one of our favorite, and most trusted, sources and it’s a great additional resource.

You can buy car seat products at almost every auto parts and baby store. As well as online stores like Amazon. You have a sea of options to select from. We picked two selections we think you’d benefit from, the best infant car seats and convertible car seats. These are some of the best, reasonably priced, and safe car seats around.

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