Becoming a parent comes with a lot of decisions. From what to name your child to what car seat to buy, the decisions seem to never end. After you purchase your first car seat, the fun doesn’t stop either. You then have to install it and keep up to date with new car seats as your child grows. Don’t drive yourself too crazy here. Although this process can seem daunting, once you find the car seat that works, you likely won’t be installing and uninstalling it too often so you can rest easy for a while knowing your child is safe and protected. This guide will give you a quick rundown of some key considerations as well as tips for installation and safety.

Key considerations

While buying the most expensive car seat on the market may seem like the easy way to ensure it’s the best, there are a few things to consider. The most important things to keep in mind while car seat shopping is your baby’s age, their weight, and height, as well as if the car seat has met all of the safety standards. The biggest safety feature to be mindful of is your child’s size as well as their position.

From birth up until age two: Infant bucket seat or convertible car seat

Your child should always be rear-facing. Even if your child seems scrunched or like they need more room, chances are they don’t. Remember that they have never faced forward. They aren’t missing out on anything. Keep them rear-facing. It’s a lot safer and not worth the risk to turn them around sooner than two. Use the size limits on your particular seat to gauge when they have outgrown it. Convertible car seats can also be turned forward and they can remain in them longer depending on the weight. Most of these also allow you to keep children facing backward longer.

Ages two to six: Convertible car seat or harness seat

Your child can likely remain in the same convertible seat until they are school-aged. Check your particular seat but most can fit kids up to 65 pounds or more. Between two and three you can turn your child forward-facing and they can remain in this type of seat until they have outgrown it.

Ages six to twelve: Booster seat

After your child has grown out of their convertible seat, they can move to a booster seat. A belt-positioning booster seat is to be used until your child is 4 feet 9 inches and are at least eight to twelve years old. Once those criteria are met your older child can ride in the car just using a seat belt. Some kids will reach the size requirements sooner than others. This usually happens somewhere between eight and twelve depending on their size.

Older children: Seat belt

Older kids can transition to using a seat belt without a safety seat once the height and weight requirements are met. They should always sit in the back seat however as an extra percussion. Airbags can be dangerous for children in the front seat. After the age of 13 kids should be tall enough to reduce the risks of being injured by an airbag.

Safety points to look out for

Car seats save lives. These are a mandatory and essential piece of equipment that will keep your precious cargo safe. According to the CDC, your child has a 71%-82% lower risk of death from an auto accident if they are secured in a car seat. There are a few other considerations to be mindful of when choosing a car seat. First, make sure your seat meets or exceeds the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 and has a rating of four or five stars. Next, you’ll want to choose a seat with a five-point harness. These are a lot safer than a three-point harness. Lastly, unless you know a car seat you’re getting used from a friend or family member hasn’t been in an accident and isn’t more than a couple of years old, you should buy a new one. Car seats expire, they get recalled and if they have been in an accident, they are often compromised.

Installation

The first installation of a car seat can be stressful but after the first couple of times, you’ll be a pro. In addition to the manual, you can also search online for installation videos of your specific seats to help you. For a rear-facing seat, you want to start by not only reading the instruction manual that comes with your seat but also your car’s owners manual. This will help you with the seat belts and LATCH system in your car. Remember to only install the seat in the back seat and rear-facing. Follow the instructions exactly as you put the seatbelts through. Push and press down firmly to make sure the seat is installed properly. You should not be able to move the seat more than an inch from side to side, forward or backward. Check that the seat is reclined properly as well. You can find this information in the manufacturer’s instructions. There is usually a level on the side of your seat as well.

Lastly, you, of course, want to ensure your little one is properly strapped into the car seat. The harness straps should always be at or below their shoulders. The straps should also always be flat. These tend to twist mysteriously so make sure they are untwisted and flat on their body. You’ll know the straps are tight enough when you can’t pinch any extra material up by their shoulders. Slide their chest clip up to their armpit level and you’re good to go. If you ever have any questions, there are NHTSA car seat inspection stations near you. These are often at fire stations and someone can always take a second look and make sure your seat and child are secured in properly. Safe travels and enjoy the ride with your new co-pilot.