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Your Most Common Car Seat Questions, Answered
Updated on
October 24, 2023

Your Most Common Car Seat Questions, Answered

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Your Most Common Car Seat Questions, Answered.
Your Most Common Car Seat Questions, Answered

Babylist Registry Consultants are our team of real parents and gear/safety experts whose job it is to help Babylist registrants make gear choices for their growing families.

Have you come up with a question or two (or, 12) as you’re creating your baby registry and getting ready for your little one’s arrival?

Car seat questions from parents-to-be are some of the most common out of all the many questions our Babylist Registry Consultants tackle on a daily basis, and we’re not surprised at all. Figuring out what’s safe, what’s not and which seat is the best choice for your baby can be pretty confusing.

We’ve rounded up the most popular car seat questions our Consultants get asked—and their answers, of course!—so you can feel informed and empowered as you navigate the world of car seats for your growing family.

Car Seat Questions in this Article

What is the safest car seat?

This is probably the most common question our Registry Consultants get asked on a daily basis, and the (simple) answer may surprise you.

All car seats in the United States pass the same minimum standard testing. And while more expensive car seats may include features that go above and beyond what’s required, when it comes to car seats + safety, it all comes down to fit and installation, says Babylist Registry Consultant and Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) Rebekah Kimminau. The safest car seat is the one that fits your child, fits your vehicle and can be installed correctly by you every time.

What is the easiest car seat to install?

We wish there was an easy answer to this often-asked question!

While there are car seats on the market that boast certain features that make them easier to install than others, it’s not quite that simple. Getting the best, safest installation on a car seat depends on the car you’re using it in and who’s doing the installing. We think it’s best to focus less on what’s deemed the “easiest” and more around ensuring that parents and caregivers have the resources and the confidence they need to learn how to correctly install a car seat.

Safe Kids is the best resource for learning about car seat safety, Kimminau says. It’s also the place to go to find a permanent location that offers car seat installations and information on local car seat check events, or to book a personal appointment with a CPST. (CPSTs have been trained in how to install all types of car seats and are required to keep their certification up-to-date). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is another great site to check out for all things car seat safety. And of course don’t forget all of Babylist’s (many) car seat guides!

What’s the difference between an infant car seat and a convertible seat?

Infant seats versus convertible options is a popular topic our Consultants routinely tackle for Babylist registrants.

An infant car seat, also sometimes called a bucket seat, is a seat made specifically for infants. Infant seats are always used rear-facing and are generally fairly portable.

A convertible car seat, however, can be used either rear-facing or forward-facing. Most can be used from birth or when your baby outgrows their infant seat—but they’re generally a lot heavier than infant car seats and a lot less convenient to move around.

Should I register for both an infant car seat and a convertible seat?

The answer to this common question can be a bit complicated and often depends on your family’s budget and lifestyle, says our team of Consultants.

An infant car seat has many benefits. It’s easier to install than a convertible seat, much more portable and can be used with a stroller. Because of this, more than 80% of Babylist parents register for an infant seat.

It is possible to register only for a convertible car seat and make it work, though. Check out our How to Choose a Car Seat guide to learn more about both infant and convertible seats and how to determine what’s right for you and your family.

When is my baby too big for an infant car seat?

According to Kimminau, your child can stay in their infant car seat until they outgrow the seat by either the height or weight restrictions. The “or” is the thing to remember here. It means that even if your little one meets the seat’s weight requirement but is over the height requirement, it’s time to make the switch, and vice versa.

There is one thing to keep in mind, though. While many infant seats are being marketed to hold children up to two years because of higher weight limits (35 pounds and over), says Kimminau, most children will outgrow their infant seats by height long before they reach the weight limit. It’s best to consult your car seat manual to know the exact height limits for your seat, but a good rule of thumb is that if the top of a child’s head is within one inch of the top of the shell of the seat, it’s time to transition. (The easiest way to check this is to find a board book that is one inch thick and place it on top of your child’s head while they are properly secured in the seat.)

Check out Babylist’s When Do I Switch to a Convertible Car Seat guide for more information.

Does my infant car seat come with a base?

Ninety-nine percent of the time, yes.

Virtually all infant car seats within the US are sold as a package with one base included. (Separate bases can be purchased for additional cars.) There is one exception: Nuna’s PIPA urbn. This infant car seat, which is currently sold only as part of a travel system, is the first (and at the moment, the only) baseless infant car seat. Instead of using a base, there’s a latch system built right into the seat itself that attaches to your car’s lower anchors in seconds. It’s incredibly convenient and may be an innovation we see a lot more of over the next few years.

Can I use my infant car seat without a base?

Families who travel frequently or regularly rely on taxis or ride share services (like urban families who often don’t own a car, for example) are especially curious about the answer to this question, and it’s easy to see why. While a base makes installing your infant seat quick and easy in your own car, the idea of lugging around your baby, your car seat and a heavy car seat base while you’re travelling or out and about is pretty daunting.

The good news is that almost all infant seats can be installed without a base. (The only exception is the Nuna Pipa Lite R Infant Car Seat with RELX Base, which always requires a base for installation.) Although it may take a bit of practice, it’s possible to use your car’s seat belt to install your infant seat safely and securely. Be sure to consult your seat’s manual for specific installation instructions and try to practice a few times to get the hang of it before you need to do it on the fly.

When can a baby face forward in a car seat?

Knowing when to switch your little one from rear-facing to forward-facing is something worth learning a bit about.

There’s a growing body of research proving that riding rear-facing is safer for babies and children than riding in a forward-facing seat. Organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission and many other top scientists, researchers and physicians agree that you should keep your child rear-facing as long as possible.

If you’re registering or shopping for a convertible car seat, choose one with a high rear-facing limit. Keep your child rear-facing until they max out either the height or weight requirement allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer.

Is a convertible car seat compatible with strollers?

Unfortunately the answer to this one is no, there aren’t any convertible car seats currently on the market that are compatible with strollers. This question is especially popular among city-dwelling parents, according to our team. There are a few lightweight convertible seats that aren’t too terrible to take on the go (the Cosco Scenera Next is a popular option that weighs in at only about 10 pounds, for example), but the inconvenient reality is that once your little one outgrows their infant seat you’ll lose the ability to easily transfer their seat from the car directly onto your stroller.

Do car seats expire?

Here’s something you may not have known: all car seats expire.

“Yes, all car seats certified within the United States and Canada have an expiration date,” explains Kimminau. This includes all types of seats: infant car seats (and their bases), convertible car seats, all-in-one seats and boosters.

Car seat expiration dates vary by manufacturer and model, but most seats last between about six and 10 years. In general, manufacturers aim to set a car seat’s expiration date roughly to match the seat’s designed length of use.

How do I know what to do with an expired car seat?

Wondering what to do with your expired seat? There are two things to keep in mind, according to Kimminau: make the car seat unusable and dispose of it properly. This includes:

  • Cutting the straps.
  • Removing any soft goods or fabrics.
  • Writing “expired do not use” somewhere on the shell of the seat.

Car seat recycling programs are also an option for disposing of an expired car seat. Stores like Target and Walmart offer these types of trade-in programs several times each year that allow you to trade in your old car seat for a store coupon.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.