Buying a car seat can be overwhelming. With the variety of car seats available, ensuring you have the perfect seat for your child can be confusing. Having the right seat in the right position depends on a combination of your child’s age, weight, and height. Here’s a guide to choosing and installing the right seat for your child.
What is the Right Seat?
Infant Car Seats
These seats provide more head support than other car seats, so they are intended for babies. Depending on the manufacturer, infant car seats can hold a baby up to 40 lbs (some seats only handle as much as 25 lbs, so its important you read your user’s manual). Your child grows out of these usually in height first rather than weight. If your child’s head is less than an inch from the top of the carrier, it’s time to upgrade to the next level.
These seats transform, saving you from buying multiple car seats. They function as an infant seat in the rear facing position and then can be altered for a toddler in the forward facing position. In Tennessee, the law states you should have your child in the rear-facing position until age 2. At that time, they can be forward facing until age 4.
Booster SeatsTennessee no longer approves the seat-only booster seats. For children ages 4 to 8 (or until your child is 4 feet 9 inches), your child should be a seat positioning booster seat. Boosters help by placing your child at a height where seatbelts can properly restrain them should something happen.
As the name implies, all-in-one car seats can be converted to use at any stage. Though the initial cost is high, usually starting around $250, they can be used the whole time your child needs a restraining seat.
Installing Your Seat: Terms to Know
Car seats today are made with anchor LATCH connectors for installing your seat into your car. They either use push-on, hook-style, or rigid lower anchors that attach to anchors embedded in the creases of the vehicle seat depending on the make and model of your car. All cars built after 2002 build in these anchors. They have a weight limit, so when the combined weight of your child and car seat exceeds 65 lbs., install the seat using the vehicle’s own seat belt. When you install the seat you use either the anchors or the seat belt, never both. You want to make sure the seat doesn’t move more than an inch if pushed against.
Top Tether Strap
Forward-facing harness seats have a strap on the back of the seats called a top tether strap. It anchors to the vehicle seat keeping your child’s car seat secure. This top tether significantly reduces the potential for head injuries.
This refers to your child’s car seat restraints. These should be adjusted so there is some, but not too much give. The chest clip should be armpit level. As your child grows, you need to continually adjust the straps so that they are located correctly. In rear-facing seats, the harness straps should be at or below your child’s shoulders. In forward-facing seats, the straps should be at or above the shoulders. For more give on the straps, there is usually a release just below the lower clip. If the placement of the straps need to be adjusted, you normally have to take the seat out and thread the straps through the back of the seat.
For rear-facing seats, there is a recline indicator on the side of the seat that tells you if it’s at the correct angle. Many seats do this with a ball or bubble indicator while others use a simple line. The recline level usually depends on the age of the child. It’s best to follow the recommendations of the car seat manufacturer on what recline level to have for your child.
Where to go When You’re Unsure
Many states, Tennessee included, offer places to have your car seat checked. For most cases, there is a certified specialist at fire departments that will work with you to get the seat installed properly. You may also be able to visit your local county health department for a car seat check.
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