Babies who weigh less than 22 lb. (10 kg) should always ride in a rear-facing seat designed for infants. Most seats accommodate little ones as small as four or five pounds and come with removable padding to help secure them safely.
Infant seats for newborns must be tilted back as far as the seat allows (approximately 45 degrees—use the seat’s levelling guide for reference) and installed in the back seat, ideally in the centre position if it installs well there, says Jen Shapka, an instructor-trainer with the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada, but see how your family uses the vehicle. “A properly installed seat on the side is safe, and if you have more than one child, the centre position often isn’t practical or possible.” Make sure the chest clip is at armpit level and the harness is snug on her shoulders, so no excess strap can be pinched horizontally at the collarbone. See the manufacturer’s instructions for the approved positioning of the car seat handle.
Laws vary, requiring babies to be at least 20 lb. (9 kg) and, in some places, also a year old and walking unassisted, before switching to forward facing. But don’t rush the transition. Experts recommend keeping kids rear facing as long as possible; this position distributes the impact in case of a collision, better protecting the head, neck and spine. Once she hits the height or weight limit of her infant seat, upgrade to a rear-facing toddler seat (that converts to forward facing) with higher height and weight restrictions. Some go up to 50 lb. (22.6 kg).
There’s more than one safe way to install a car seat. You can use the universal anchorage system (UAS), if your car has it, or a seat belt (with the addition of a locking clip if your belts don’t have a locking feature). Consult your car’s manual and the child-seat user manual to figure out which method is best. The ideal spot for a child seat is in the middle of the back seat. Once you have positioned the seat, place your knee in the middle of the seat and use your body weight to fully tighten the straps. When you’re finished, it shouldn’t budge more than an inch in any direction at the belt path.
Crash test According to Transport Canada, your child’s car seat should be replaced if it is in a vehicle that has been in a collision—it’s even an insurance requirement for some companies.
FYI Accessories that didn’t come with your seat (such as liners, trays and comfort strap covers) might not be safe to use. Check with the car seat manufacturer first.
A version of this article appeared in our August 2014 issue with the headline “Car seat cheat sheet,” p. 24-5.