How to choose the right car seat for your child

By: Dr. Sahar Burns, Texas Children's Pediatrics Pediatric Partners of Austin & Dr. Leah Matthews, Texas Children's Pediatrics North Shore

Children outgrow a lot of things quickly, from clothing items to toys. It is fairly easy to replace clothes, but replacing safety items like a car seat requires a little more attention. With so many options and regulations, it can be a challenge to keep up with the laws regarding car seats.

It is important to know your state’s laws regarding car seat requirements. In the state of Texas, a child must be in a car or booster seat unless they are 8 years old or taller than 4 feet 9 inches (57 inches). The best car safety seat parents can use is one that fits their car, is easy to use and is appropriate for their child’s height and weight. It’s important to remember the type of safety seat needed will change as a child grows.

Here is a quick guideline:

Infants and toddlers need to be in a rear-facing car seat until the age of 2 or until they reach the rear-facing maximum height and/or weight requirement of their convertible car seat as indicated by the car seat manufacturer.

Toddlers and preschool aged children can be in a forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness until they reach the maximum height and/or weight requirement as indicated by the car seat manufacturer.

School aged children should use a belt-positioning booster seat until they can sit properly in the seat with the lap portion of the seat belt resting on the hips and the shoulder portion coming across the shoulder/clavicle. Typically this is when they reach at least 4 feet 9 inches (57 inches) and are between 8 and 12 years of age.

Children younger than 13 should always remain in the back seat with shoulder and lap belt properly positioned.

Although there are many types of car seats on the market, car seat safety is heavily regulated, so it is important to be diligent with your research to choose the right one for your family. The majority of car seat failures are due to user error, such as improper installation. Below are some common mistakes every parent should avoid.

Common car seat mistakes to avoid:

  • Not properly installing car seats according to your car regulations and the car seat manufacturer instructions
  • Using the wrong car seat for a child’s age, weight or height
  • Advancing to booster seats too fast
  • Children under 13 years old sitting in the front seat
  • Buying used car seats. Make sure to do your research as car seats have an expiration date. Even if it is not expired, make sure the car seat was never involved in a crash or recalled. When in doubt, buy a new one.
  • Not properly positioning the chest clips of the harness. They should be at armpit level.
  • Weight limit for using LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) installation is 48 pounds. (This is not a universal number. It varies, but since February 2014 it is a combined total of 65 lbs. meaning the child’s weight + car seat = 65 lbs. or less.)
  • Having the straps too loose. When pinching the harness at the collarbone, you should not be able to pinch excess webbing.


Have questions about car seats or need to schedule an appointment to get a car seat inspection?