Convertible Car Seats: What Parents Need to Know

photo-17.jpg Car seat recommendations seems to change all the time. And, for good reason. Motor vehicle collisions remain one of the leading causes of injury and death in children. To best protect kids, researchers constantly review crash data, travel habits, and available safety features in the cars that we drive. 

This year, how to best install convertible car seats (CCS) is the focus. These seats are typically used as a child’s second car seat, after they outgrow an infant car seat. CCS are able to be installed in cars in both rear-facing (RF) and forward-facing (FF) position. 

Current recommendations include using a CCS after your child has outgrown an infant seat in either length or weight, and installed in the rear-facing position until the age of 2 years. Once a child is at least 2 years old, the CCS can be installed in the forward-facing position, and the child may remain in the FF CCS until at least 40 pounds AND at least 4 years old. However, many children can sit comfortably and safely in a CCS for much, much longer. 

Most families install their CCS using the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system. LATCH allows seats to be installed quickly and easily to anchors in the car frame. However, the LATCH system is only tested to 65 pounds. The possibility of LATCH failure exists, therefore, once more than 65 pounds is attached to the anchor. 

For children in FF CCS for long periods of time (until kindergarten, for example), the 65 pound mark is often exceeded when the weight of the child AND the weight of the CCS are combined. This puts a child at increased risk of injury during collision should the LATCH system fail. 

This is where the 2014 recommendation comes into play. 

If the weight of your child PLUS the weight of the CCS is over 65 pounds, the LATCH system should NOT be used. Instead, the CCS should be correctly installed using the car’s existing seat belt. Regardless of LATCH or seat-belt, the CCS’s top tether should ALWAYS be used. 

Note that this new recommendation does NOT refer to the safety of the CCS itself, nor does it change the current recommendation to keep your child in a CCS until a child’s length or weight exceeds the CCS’s listed maximums. This is simply a new installation recommendation. 

If your child travels in a forward-facing CCS, these new recommendations leave you with 2 options:

  1. Install the FF CCS securely and correctly using the car’s seat belt and top tether. This will secure your child to the maximum height or weight allowed for the seat.
  2. Know the weight of your CCS. Install the seat with the LATCH system and top tether until the weight of your child PLUS the weight of the CCS is more than 65 pounds. Then, re-install the CCS using the car’s seat belt and top tether. Use this crazy-great chart from The Car Seat Lady to see approximately how much your seat weighs. 

Please take a second to determine if you need to make a change in how your child’s CCS is installed. Re-evaluating how your child rides in the car is never wasted time. Safe travels!