Car seats are to keep children safe while riding in vehicles, since the seat belts already in vehicles are safely restrain adults. However, using car seats can be overwhelming for some parents because of all of the different types of seats and the rules and restrictions associated with each. It is important to understand the height and weight requirements needed to move to different types of seats and then to stop needing a seat altogether.
Rear facing seats, available as rear-facing only and convertible seats, are to keep your child's head properly supported in the event of a crash. Your child should be rear- facing in her seat until she reaches the limits for the car seat manufacturer and model, which is anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds. HealthyChildren.org, the official website of the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends that your child stay in her rear-facing until seat at least two years of age. If she reaches the weight limit for her infant, rear-only facing seat before two years of age, consider moving her to a convertible seat that allows her to move her rear-facing seat up to a higher weight.
When your child surpasses the weight limit for his particular rear-facing car seat, you can move him to a forward-facing seat. If he has a convertible car seat, you can simply turn it to face the front of the vehicle, but forward-facing only seats are also available. Keep him in the forward-facing seat until he reaches the weight limit for that model, which can be anywhere from 40 to 90 pounds.
KidsHealth.org indicates that you should only move your child to a booster seat when he exceeds the height and weight limitations for his forward-facing seat. Booster seats are available both backless and with high backs, and are designed to seat your child so that he is high enough for the vehicle's seat belt to fit him correctly across his lap and shoulder. You should use the booster seat until the belt sits in the right spot, which occurs when he is about 4 feet, 9 inches. Your child will likely be between the ages of 8 and 12 years when he is tall enough to stop using a booster seat, but his height is more important than his age when it comes to stopping use of the booster seat.
Avoid using car seats that are passed the expiration date, are missing parts, or contain cracks. Once your child is old enough to no longer need a car seat or booster seat, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your child stay sitting in the back seat until he is at least 13 years old, as air bags in the front seat can be dangerous for adolescents.