We Asked an Expert Your Car Seat Questions—Here Are Their Responses

Read next

Between finding the right car seat, installing it correctly and making sure it fits, keeping your little one safe on the road is a big task. We teamed up with Nuna, the creators of parent-approved car seats like the Nuna PIPA lite rx, and car seat expert Bob Wall, a leader in the Child Passenger Safety field for over 30 years, to answer your questions.

First up, “How do I pick a car seat?” Here’s what Wall had to say:

The short answer to this question is, read the specifics of the seat you’re looking at and match it to your child’s weight and height and their developmental level. There is a car seat out there to fit all sizes of children, you just need to match the seat to your child.

This sounds easy, but there are several other considerations.

  • How easy is the car seat to use?
  • Does it fit in your vehicle?
  • Does it fit your personal lifestyle and family’s needs?
  • Does it accommodate your child’s needs?

 

Nuna PIPA lite rx has a no-rethread harness that adjusts seamlessly with the headrest so you don’t have to reinstall the harness when your child grows—a win for safety and for comfort. Learn more about PIPA lite rx.

"How Do I Know If My Car Seat Is the Right Size for My Child?"

The different types of car seats are designed to target specific weights, sizes, and ages of children. The primary categories are infant-only, convertible, harness to booster (combination) and booster. Some of these categories have child-size and direction overlaps, and choosing the correct seat could be confusing.

Infant-only seats start at 4 or 5 lbs and are rear-facing only. Convertible seats also start at approximately 4 or 5 lbs and can be forward-facing after the child uses it in the rear-facing mode until its maximum weight and height, and the child is at least two years of age. Harness to booster (combination) seats are forward-facing only seats that can be used right after the rear-facing seat has been maxed out by the child's height or weight. The child would use this seat forward-facing with the harness until the child outgrows the seat and can be placed in a booster. Booster seats vary in size but most start at 40 lbs and an age minimum—typically age four or five). The booster would be used with the vehicle’s seat belt to ensure the child fits the belt correctly.

"At What Age/Weight Should I Change My Child’s Car Seat from Rear-Facing to Front-Facing?"

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommend that infants rear face as long as possible until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat manufacturer. Most convertible car seats have limits that will permit children to ride rear-facing for two years or more. Having your child rear-face as long as possible is the safest way for them to ride. A rear-facing car seat will support the child’s extremely vulnerable head, neck, and spine. When children ride forward-facing, their heads—which are disproportionately larger and heavier for babies and toddlers—can jolt forward, possibly resulting in spine and head injuries.

Remember: When your child has outgrown their rear-facing seat, secure them in a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

Nuna PIPA lite rx has both belt path and base installation options to make it easier to use on the go. Learn more about PIPA lite rx.

"If I Was in a Car Accident, How Do I Know If My Child’s Car Seat Is Still Okay to Use?"

If you have been involved in a minor crash then we recommend you follow the NHTSA guidelines: NHTSA recommends that car seats be replaced following a moderate or severe crash in order to ensure a continued high level of crash protection for child passengers.

Car seats do not automatically need to be replaced following a minor crash.

A minor crash is one in which ALL of the following apply:
• The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site.
• The vehicle door nearest the car seat was not damaged.
• None of the passengers in the vehicle sustained any injuries in the crash.
• If the vehicle has airbags, the airbags did not deploy during the crash; and
• There is no visible damage to the car seat.

NEVER use a car seat that has been involved in a moderate to severe crash. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions.

"What’s the Safest Place to Put the Car Seat? Behind Driver, Middle, behind Passenger?"

All seats in the rear are safe if the child seat is installed correctly and you can install it correctly on every trip. The discernment of “center is safest” originates from the center location being the farthest point from any intrusion into the passenger seating area during a crash. Generally, the safest location in the vehicle is the center rear of the vehicle. However, this is not always the case, the center seat may not be compatible with the seat you are using or there could be a practicality issue depending on your situation. An example would be: If you want the youngest in the center because it's “the safest”, but to get the baby in the center you have to lift the infant carrier over the other seat or child. Or it could be as simple as you are unable to install it as well in the center as you can on the sides. The center seating location is only the safest if you can use it correctly every time the child is in the vehicle. To say the center rear is the “safest” is not saying the other seating positions in the back are not safe—they are.

"What If My Child Is in the Height Range to Switch to a Booster Seat but Not Out of the Weight Range?"

Boosters main job is to ensure the child can sit securely using the lap and shoulder belts in the vehicle by lifting the child up so the belt fits correctly. These are called belt-positioning booster seats, and to ensure your child is meeting the criteria to move to a seat belt, you should follow the 5-Step Seat Belt Fit Test. 

1. Shoulder belt crosses between the neck and shoulder.

  • If the shoulder belt is too close to the neck, kids can be tempted to put it behind their back for comfort. A shoulder belt that sits off the shoulder can slip off during a crash, reducing its ability to protect.

2. Lower back is against the vehicle seat.

  • If the child is sitting with their bottom forward to allow their legs to go over the edge of the seat to feel comfortable, a gap is created between their back and the seat. This will cause the seat belt to ride up out of position onto their belly. It can also introduce slack in the seat belt, allowing the child to move forward more during a crash. Both of these can cause increased injury in a crash.

3. Lap belt stays on the upper thighs across the hip bones.

  • If the lap portion of the belt is across the soft tissue of the abdomen (like will happen if their back isn’t against the vehicle seat), it can damage internal organs in a crash.

4. The knees bend at the end of the seat.

  • Kids will scoot their bottom forward to let their knees bend comfortably, increasing their risk of injury because the seat belt rides up off of their hips and onto the soft part of their belly. They need to be tall enough to have their knees comfortably bend at the edge of the seat.

5. The child can ride like this for the entire ride.

  • We don’t expect the child to be perfectly still while riding in the car. And their movement or readjustment to stay comfortable cannot lead to the seat belt getting out of position. When children get uncomfortable, they tend to slouch, lean to one side or put the shoulder belt behind them. When the seat belt is out of position, it cannot properly protect the child during a crash.

If you have additional questions about car seat safety or want to know if your car seat is installed properly, Nuna is hosting free Virtual Car Seat Checks. Learn more!