The basics of keeping your child safe

Buying a Safe Car Seat

by Debra Karplus

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According to, in 2011, 650 children under age 12 were killed in car accidents, and of those, 33% were not properly restrained. In the 1930s, a few car seat models were developed but rarely purchased. It wasn't until 1979 that the first car seat laws for children were signed into law in Tennessee. By 1985, all other states had followed suit. In most states, kids under 13 years old must ride in the back seat.

If you've shopped for a car seat recently, you probably found the number of choices overwhelming. So how do you buy a child car seat that is safe, practical, and affordable?

There are several different types of car seats based on age of child and types of features, according to Car Seats for The Littles. Take note that it is the weight and height of the child rather than their actual age that determines what type of seat you might need. The back seat of an average compact car can easily accommodate two car seats if you have more than one child. Larger minivans with more seats can handle more.

Seats for infants typically are rear facing and have a slight angle tilting back.

Rear facing seats are known to be safer than front facing. Infant seats often have a base that stays in the car; place baby in the seat with handle while in the house, carry to the car, then snap the seat into the base. It is very convenient! Infant seats range in price from about $40 to several hundreds.

For parents who want the popular infant travel systems, expect to pay between $100 and $300. These are infant car seats that snap into a stroller as well as into a car.

Buying a Safe Car Seat

Children ages one to about six need a front facing seat.

Once your child reaches their first birthday, they will be more interested in facing front to look out the windows and interact with others in the car. These seats have a five point harness to safely fasten in your child and are used for kids to about age 5 or 6. Expect to pay about $50 to $150 for a front facing seat.

Booster car seats are appropriate for children up to about 12 years old.

Depending on the size and weight of your child, a booster car seat, high back or backless, is used for school age and preteen kids. Expect to pay $12 to $40. They are lightweight and easy to move from car to car.

Take a look at some of the many convertible, multimode, and combination child car seats.

These car seats may be more versatile, but they are also more expensive. However, in the long run, they might be right for you. When shopping for a child car seat, look at all the options and consider your specific needs and if you need to take the car seat in and out of different cars. A seat that is best for your cousin's kids may not be best for your family.

Don't use a car seat that's more than 6 years old!

Buying used items and using hand-me-downs within your own family is a smart idea, but when it comes to car seats, you should be super careful. You probably do not want to buy a car seat at a garage sale or thrift store, despite the great price. Car seats should never be used after a moderate or severe crash. Something many people don't know is that a car seat comes with a label stating its manufactured date. Six years beyond that, the seat must be replaced. This is definitely not a ploy from the car seat manufacturer to promote their sales. It is a serious safety issue.

Child car seats can be purchased in numerous places. Be careful of buying online if you have not actually seen the car seat you want. Ideally, you can check the fit of your child with the specific seat you plan to buy. Places like Walmart, Target, and Toys "R" Us are a few of the many places that typically sell a wide variety of child car seats appropriate for your child's size and the expected use.

Buying the right child car seat is a much more important decision than you might imagine because what you end up purchasing has serious implications for your child's safety in the unfortunate possibility that your car has an accident with you and your children in it. Take your time, ask lots of questions, study online customer reviews, and assess how you plan to use the seat.

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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