This article give a run-down of the different child car seat types on the market that are designed in relation to the progressive growth stages of children. The United Nations standard ECE R44/04 (used in Europe) categorizes these into 4 groups: 0-3:
- Group 0 - Rear Facing Car Seats
- Group 1 & 2 - Forward Facing Car Seats
- Group 3 - Booster Seats
Many car seats combine the larger groups 1, 2 and 3 by being adaptable as your child grows. Whilst considering the different types, you should be aware of the following general pointers:
- The use of the different child car seat types needs to be appropriate for your child’s current size, weight and age. As your child grows, how they sit in your car will change, which may require a change to the type of seat that is used.
- Not all models within a particular child car seat type have the same weight limits.
- Not all child car seats fit in all vehicles. You should check to see if the car seat you plan to buy will be a good fit in your vehicle, testing this out if necessary to be sure.
- Ensure the seat is fitted correctly according to the manufacturer's instructions. Check out our article on how to fit a car seat safely.
- In the US, your child seat should meet the NHTSA’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 213, which provides child restraint performance standards for children up to 80 pounds
- If in Europe, your seat should conform to the United Nations standard, ECE Regulation 44.04 (or R 44.03) or to the new i-size regulation, R129. Look for the 'CE' mark label on the seat.
Rear-Facing Car Seat (Group 0 & 0+)
These seats are for use from the birth of your baby until they are two years old. They are designed to be fitted in your car in the rear facing position. They have a harness and, in a crash, will cradle and move with your child to reduce the stress to their fragile neck and spinal cord. Some of the rear-facing car seats available convert to other seat types.
Rear-Facing Car Seat Types
- Infant Car Seat (Rear-Facing only): suitable for children 4 to 40 lbs: Designed for newborns and small babies, the infant-only car seat is a small seat that can only be used rear-facing. An infant car seat will usually last you six to eight months, sometimes more depending on the growth rate of your baby and the size of the car seat. The seats are either strapped into the car directly using the seat belt or into a base that stays strapped into the car seat. Multiple bases can be purchased for multiple cars. The infant car seat can also double as a carrier, which is useful for moving baby from car to house or the shops without disturbing them if they are asleep. Some models are compatible to be used as an infant car seat stroller combo providing even greater versatility. Check out our review of the Evenflo Embrace LX Infant Car Seat.
- Convertible Car Seat: suitable for children 5-45 lbs. rear-facing / 20-70 lbs forward-facing: As your child grows, this seat can convert from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat with a harness and tether. This means that you will get more life from your investment and also because it can be used with children of various sizes, it allows for children to stay in the rear-facing position longer than an infant car seat. However they are not portable like the infant car seat and cannot be used as an infant carrier.
- All-in-One Car Seat: suitable for children 5-45 lbs rear-facing, 20-65 lbs forward-facing in a harness, 30-120 lbs in booster mode: these seats convert from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat (with a harness and tether) and to a booster seat as your child grows. They also allow for children to stay in the rear-facing position longer than with an infant car seat but are not easily moved from one car to another. Some parents find these bigger seats more difficult to use for smaller infants.
Forward-Facing Car Seat (Groups 1 & 2)
Features a harness and tether that restrains your child's forward movement during a crash. They are to be used from the time child who has outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for his convertible car seat. They are to be used until the child weighs at least 40lb (18kg) and grows past the weight and height allowance of the forward- facing seat.
Forward Facing Car Seat Types
- Forward Facing Car Seat: suitable for children from 20-30 lbs to 60-80 lbs. Standard forward facing seat with a harness and tether.
- Convertible Car Seat: As your child grows, this seat can change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat with a harness and tether. Check out our reviews of the The Best Convertible Car Seats for your Younger Ones or the Best Convertible Car Seats for Long Lasting Usage.
- Combination Car Seat: suitable for children 20-90 lbs. harnessed, 30-120 lbs. in booster mode: As a child grows, this seat transitions from a forward-facing seat with a harness and tether into a booster.
- All-in-One Car 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. Check out our review of the all-in-one Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite Convertible Car Seat.
Booster Seat (Group 3)
Positions the seat belt so that it fits properly over the stronger parts of your child's body.
Booster car seats are to be used for toddlers from 40lbs-80lbs in a forward facing position. They are to be used when your child outgrows his forward facing seat, but is too small for a regular seat belt. The purpose of a booster seat is to offer better protection and lower the risk of injury by raising the child so that the car's seat belt is positioned better. This in turn, will allow the seat belt to pass through the child's more developed and stronger upper area. It stops the seat belt from rubbing against your child's face or neck and allows the shoulder strap to lie across their shoulder and pass through the middle of the chest, whilst placing the lap belt so it crosses low over the hips stopping it from riding up the stomach or abdomen. A booster seat must be used with a lap and shoulder belt.
Booster Car Seat 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 Car Seat: As a child grows, this seat transitions from a forward-facing seat with a harness into a booster. Check out this review, which includes the Graco 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat, a Combination Seat that converts from forward facing to high back booster, to backless booster.
- All-in-One Car 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.
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.
Laws vary depending on your location as to when a seatbelts can start to be used, however it usually relates to one or more of the following criteria being met:
- Turns 8 years old
- Weighs over 80 lb
- Taller than 4 feet-9 inches (145 cm) tall
- The vehicle seat belt fits correctly on the child
Your child should be able to sit all the way back against the seat and comfortably bend their legs over the edge of the seat. All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.