Five Types of Car Seat
There are several car seat types on the market, commonly named infant, convertible, combination (or called harness booster), all-in-one, and booster. Some parents may mistake the car seat types and stages, which are two concepts.
Car seat types refer to the functions and to a certain extent be related to the stage, but not 100% the same as the stage definition. Car seat types have a close relation to the car seat’s weight and height limits, and installation positions.
The car seat stages are usually defined by the child’s age, weight, and height, based on the NHTSA’s official rules.
1st Type of Car Seat- Infant Car Seats
Designed for newborns and small babies, the infant car seat can only be installed for rear-facing use. The majority of this car seat type can hold babies that weigh from 4-35 pounds, depending on the model.
This means that the infant car seats can be used for most average babies when they grow up to 8 or 9 months because most infants will reach the car seat maximum height before the maximum weight. The common height limit of this type of car seat is 32-inches, while there may be the same reminder to leave 1-inch space from your baby’s head to the top of the car seat carrier shell.
The 1st type of infant car seat is relatively small and lightweight with a portable design and they can be used as a baby carrier because they can detach from the separate base installed in the car. This is great as you can easily get sleeping babies in and out of the car without disturbing them.
The detachable design of the infant car seats and a separate base is very convenient if you want to have the same infant seat with multiple bases in two or more cars. The car seat manufacturers have considered this point and designed many car seat bases for their own infant car seats so that you don’t need to buy several infant car seats at the same time.
However, the infant car seats can only be used in the rear-facing mode, as your kids grow out of them quickly, you need to upgrade to a convertible or all-in-one car seat for rear-facing if the top of your child’s head is less than one inch from the top of the car seat’s shell.
2nd Type of Car Seat - Convertible Car Seats
After your kids outgrow an infant car seat, you need to purchase a convertible car seat, which can be used in both rear-facing and forward-facing modes. You can use it firstly in the rear-facing mode before your child grows up to 2 years old, then convert to forward-facing.
As the AAP guidelines suggest, it would be better to keep your kid rear-facing for as long as possible. This type of car seat has a higher rear-facing weight limit of up to 50 pounds, which is big enough for a 2-year-old toddler.
When your child reaches up to the rear-facing weight limit, you need to turn the convertible car seat to forward-facing until your child is ready for a booster seat. Generally, the convertible seats have a bigger forward-facing weight limit than rear-facing, about 65 pounds or more, depending on the mode.
Although some convertible car seats stated that they’re also designed for newborns and smaller babies from 4 – 5 pounds, this type of seat often is still too big. That’s why many experts recommend that you’d better start with a rear-facing only infant car seat. Another reason is that convertible car seats are bigger and heavier, and cannot be used as a removable carrier for portable use with the travel system.
But convertible car seats still have their own advantages, they can be used for a longer time. Most convertible car seats support 7-10 years of usage before they’re expired, which means you can save money, especially if you have more than one kid in the family.
3rd Type of Car Seat - All-in-One Car Seats (3-in-1, 4-in-1)
Just from its name, you can know that this type of car seat is multi-functional to save you money because it can be used from your baby’s birth through the booster seat age. This type of car seat can hold babies from 4-50 pounds in the rear-facing mode, take kids from 20-65 pounds in the forward-facing mode, and 30-120 pounds as a booster seat.
As an all-rounder, the all-in-one car seats really save you money to buy three car seats. However, they generally don’t perform in each mode as well as the one-task car seats. Generally, the all-in-one car seats are heavy and large that might take up too much space in the back seat and not fit well into smaller vehicles. You can’t use a big all-in-one car seat to be a carrier as an infant seat.
But you can still use an all-in-one car seat as a backup and install it in the grandparents or people who don’t transport your kid all that often.
4th Type of Car Seat - Combination Seats
Combination car seats, as the name suggests, generally combine harness and belt-position booster modes into one. They can be positioned forward-facing only for big toddlers and last for several years until the child is ready to wear a vehicle’s seat belt.
These seats are sometimes referred to as harnessed boosters, meaning to be used with a 5-point- harness and in belt-positioning boosters. Some advanced combination seats even offer three modes of use: harness, a high-back booster, and a backless booster. Using a car seat with a higher weight rating for use with the internal harness (over 40 pounds) will help delay your child’s transition into a booster seat. Riding with the harness for protection is safer than in a booster.
5th Type of Car Seat - Booster Seats
When your child exceeds the weight or height limit of a forward-facing harness convertible seat, he or she is ready for a booster car seat that uses a car’s own seat belt system without a harness.
The booster car seats can keep your child in the car safely with the seat belt fitting correctly as it would on an adult: over the sternum and through the center of the collarbone (not the neck), then low across the upper thighs (rather than the abdomen). The booster car seats are available in two styles – high-back and backless. Some support both.
Backless boosters are more appealing because they’re cheaper, lighter, more portable, and much easier to install. However, they don’t position the shoulder belt as well as high-back models. Furthermore, the high-back boosters provide some side-impact protection and give your child a place to lay their heads for rest and comfort.
Besides the AAP guidelines’ recommendation of 8-12 years for a booster seat, many states also have laws to require kids to stay in a booster car seat when they are as old as 9 years and as heavy as 80 pounds. So always check your local city or state laws about the booster car seats before you decide to purchase one.
Car Seat Types and Stages
Types of car seats are different from the stages, which are commonly in accordance with the NHTSA’s definition.
Car seat types typically refer to the most seen name in their name given by the manufacturers. For example, you’ll see a convertible car seat in the name and description of Graco Extend2Fit. If you have visited the manufacturers’ official website, you’ll find a truth – they category the website in the car seat types: infant, convertible (sometimes, all-in-one is classified to this category as well), booster (harness booster also belongs to this category). So in the narrow definition, there are three car seat types, but widely you can tell there are five types of the car seat.
The car seat stages are divided by the position and harness based on NHTSA. They’re rear-facing – the car seat installed faces the back seat, forward-facing (5-point harness), booster, and seat belt. As a matter of fact, the rules of dividing the car seat stages into four come from the children’s car seat laws of each state.
What type of car seat do I need?
There are 5 types of car seats for choice and you can always choose one based on your child’s age, weight, and height.
Below is a quick overview of each type of car seat to help you make a fast and accurate decision.
Frequently Asked Questions You May Have about Car Seat Types
Newborns should ride rear-facing and there are three types of car seats that support rear-facing mode: infant, convertible, and all-in-one. You can always check the best car seat options for infants.
From the overview of car seat types above, you’ll know that there are typically five types for riding a child in different stages: Infant, convertible, all-in-one, harness booster, booster.
It’s a common question that people ask about car seat types. They often miss the 4th type of car seat – the harness booster listed above. It’s understandable as few combination seats can be found on the market. It can be easily replaced by a convertible and a booster or an all-in-one car seat.
Infant, convertible, all-in-one, and booster are the classic 4 types of car seats that most parents are familiar with.
Sometimes, parents mistakenly take the 4 stages – rear-facing, forward-facing, booster, and seat belt, as the 4 types of car seats.
That depends on your child’s age, weight, and height. Picking up a car seat for your child can be a mixture combining ease and difficulty.
It’s easy because you can directly choose one based on your child’s age, weight, and height.
It’s difficult because there are a lot of concepts in this field and you need to know them before selecting the best options. Plus, a large number of models on the market are available with different features. That’s a time- and energy-consuming complex challenge for parents, especially for those who have their first baby.
A 4-year-old child can ride in 4 types of car seats: convertible, all-in-one, harness booster, and booster seats. Children at their 4th birthday meet the minimum age requirements to travel with a booster.
However, it’s better and safer to ride with a harness for protection than to use the vehicle’s seat belt for fitting. So the booster seats – the only car seat type that does not come with a 5-point harness should be the last consideration for the sake of the littles’ safety.
There are three types of car seats suitable for a 3-year-old child: convertible, all-in-one, and combination seats. No booster seats are designed for small toddlers in their 3 year age.
Infant, convertible, and all-in-one car seats are good options for a 1 year old child, who is required to ride rear-facing. These three types of car seats allow rear-facing. But some infants may exceed the infant car seats’ weight or height limits at their 1 year old. So the convertible and all-in-one car seats are safer choices to ensure the littles stay rear-facing for a longer period of time.