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A child should ride in a car seat from birth until she grows into adult seat belts, typically between the ages of 8 and 12.

View our Ratings and Reviews and browse our Buying Guide to find the best seat for your child.


Why Kids Should Stay Longer in Rear-Facing Car Seats

Aside from the car itself, your child’s car seat is the primary protection in a crash. So it’s important to pick the safest seat for every stage of his or her development.

Consumer Reports recommends that children move through three types of car seats as they grow to ensure they are in the safest car seat for them. Babies should ride in a detachable, rear-facing-only infant seat that snaps in and out of a base that’s anchored to the vehicle.

After that, they should move to a convertible seat that’s first installed facing the rear, then switched to forward-facing as the child gets older.

And last, kids should transition to a booster seat, which raises them up to allow the car’s seat belts to fit safely. (See our car seat timeline.)

Conventional wisdom has been that parents should keep children in an infant seat until they have outgrown it based on height or weight. But our crash-test results, combined with the fact than many babies will outgrow their infant seat by height rather than weight, refine that transition point. Consumer Reports now advises parents to move their children from infant seats to rear-facing convertible seats by their first birthday to prevent potential head injuries. (Learn how Consumer Reports tests car seats.)

All of the child seats marketed in the U.S. must meet federal safety standards. Our crash testing determines whether a seat provides an additional margin of safety beyond the government standard.

We evaluate car seats by testing them on a seat cushion that better represents the dimensions and firmness of the seats in current vehicles rather than the flatter, softer “test bench” equipment required by the government. We also test at a higher crash speed (35 mph) and with the addition of a simulated front seatback surface that resembles the environment of a real vehicle. Government tests are done at 30 mph and don’t include a simulated seatback.

Our rear-facing crash-test results showed that a dummy representing a 12-month-old child was protected from striking its head against the simulated front seatback in 24 of 25 convertible models. In contrast, when using the same-sized dummy in infant seats, 16 of the 30 seats allowed head contact. Research shows that when a child suffers a serious injury in a crash, it’s frequently because of head contact with an interior component, such as the front seatback.

Once your child does transition to a convertible seat, Consumer Reports and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend keeping them rear-facing until he or she is at least 2 years old or has reached the maximum weight or height limit for a rear-facing convertible seat. Why? Because real-world crash data show there’s a reduced rate of head and spine injuries when children ride facing the rear.

Not only is it best to keep your child rear-facing until at least age 2, it’s now the law in some states. Since 2015, California, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania have passed laws requiring children to sit rear-facing until that age. Failure to comply can result in a fine.

Child-seat manufacturers are also getting onboard. Evenflo seats and some Dorel products will begin to be labeled with the recommendation that children be 2 years old before facing forward. Britax has also begun labeling some of its forward-facing seats with a minimum recommended age of 2.

It’s easy to assume that making the transition from an infant seat to a convertible is the right time to also switch to a forward-facing position. But a change in seat type shouldn’t mean a change in orientation. Convertible seats can be installed in both rear- and forward-facing configurations. This will probably be the seat your child sits in for the longest period of time.

You might think that your kid looks uncomfortable riding rear-facing, but research has found that children are just as comfortable, if not more so, riding that way as those who face forward. Children are much more flexible than adults, so even though their folded legs might look awkward, it probably doesn’t feel that way to them.


Car seat Types

Infant Car Seats

Infant Car Seats (32)

Convertible Car Seats

Convertible Car Seats (32)

Booster Seats

Booster Seats (25)

All-in-One Car Seats

All-in-One Car Seats (10)

Toddler Booster Seats

Toddler Booster Seats (17)

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Car seats Buying Guide

Not sure which seat to use and when? Our car seat buying guide will help you find the best car seat for your child and when to make important transitions, as well as tips to help navigate your way around car seat features and installation. Our testing covers how easy seats are to use, how well they fit into challenging vehicles, and how they perform for crash protection in our own specialized testing that challenges seats beyond the federal safety standard.

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