When to Switch Car Seats

Have you noticed your child’s head protruding above their car seat? It’s happening, mama. It’s probably time to start looking for a new car seat.

Your child’s inevitable growth isn’t the only reason for an upgrade. Car accidents, expiration dates, and other things can mean it’s time to go shopping as well.

So, when is the right time to switch your child’s car seat? We’re going to answer just that for you along with all of your other burning questions about switching car seats.

Outgrowing Restrictions

Chances are high that you’re here because your child never seems to stop growing. This is by no means a bad thing. But it can come as quite a surprise when you find they don’t fit in their car seat anymore.

A properly fitting car seat will not only be more comfortable for your child, but it keeps them safer, too. Not to mention there are laws in place that require children to be in age-specific seating.

For example, in Ohio, children under 4 years are required to be seated in a child restraint system, or five-point harness. Between the ages of 4 and 8, your child will most likely use a booster seat. From ages 8 to 15, children are required to be in a child restraint or seat belt depending on their height and weight (source).

When exactly do you switch your child due to height/weight limits? It actually varies depending on the car seat. A general rule is that once your child reaches 4 feet 9 inches, they’re ready for a booster seat (source).

However, many manufacturers are designing their seats to last longer, with some being convertible seats (infant seat to booster). Keep in mind your child’s age, height, and weight when choosing the right seat.

Infant Seat Restrictions

Most infant seats will accommodate your child up to around 22 to 35 pounds (source). This may seem like you can use the seat for longer (my 3-year-old has just now hit the 34-pound mark) but be aware that height comes into play, too.

There isn’t one set height limit for a seat because it depends on the height of the particular infant seat back. A good sign you need to switch is if there’s no longer an inch of space between the top of your child’s head and their seat.

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Convertible Seat Restrictions

When it comes to convertible car seats, the weight and height restrictions will vary greatly. While many convertible car seats will accommodate up to 65 pounds, some will go even further as they’re considered “all-in-one” seats (source).

I went poking around various websites and found some all-in-one seats that could be used all the way up until your child reaches 100+ pounds.

Convertible seats are meant to last much longer than infant seats, so your child may hit the weight limit before the height limit. You’ll find that a lot of car seat manufacturers make convertible seats with higher backs to accommodate your child for longer.

Booster Seat Restrictions

Booster seats are good for your child once they reach at least 40 pounds. You’ll find that there are a few different styles of booster seats. Some are backless, some high-back, and some that still use a five-point harness.

The NHTSA recommends children use a five-point harness up until they turn 7 years old (source). A five-point harness is the safest option for your child because it keeps them restrained across different areas of the body. This would potentially spread out the impact in case of an accident.

Many booster seats are made now to accommodate children upwards of 100 pounds. The main point of booster seats is to position your child so the seatbelt falls correctly across their body.

A seatbelt should lie firmly on the middle of your child’s shoulder and the lap belt should sit low on their thighs (source). The belt should be pulled tight to ensure proper fit. Most booster seats also come with belt paths to help you get the correct fit too.

Expired Car Seats

If you happened to glance at the mysterious date printed on the side of your child’s car seat and it’s passed, you need a new seat. What many people don’t realize is that car seats do expire and their expiration dates need to be paid attention to.

Car seats expire for a few different reasons (source):

  • Materials break down over time: Car seats are mostly plastic. Over time, the constant temperature changes will cause the plastic to deteriorate as it’s constantly expanding and contracting. The metal of the car seat frame can also rust over time.
  • Wear and tear: Car seats go through a lot on a day-to-day basis. They’re constantly being taken out and reinstalled and they’re subject to plenty of messes, both solid and liquid, speeding up its deterioration over time.
  • Replacement parts stop being produced: After so many years, car seat manufacturers stop making replacement parts for certain seats.
  • Safety standards change: Safety standards are constantly evolving to ensure your child’s safety. With these changing standards, certain car seats may no longer meet all of the safety guidelines.

Car Accidents

You’ll also want to consider switching car seats if you get into an accident. If you have been involved in a car crash which was moderate or severe, your child’s seat will need to be changed (source).

There are, however, instances where the seat is still usable even after a crash, and this would be the case for “minor” accidents. A minor car accident can be classified as:

  • Any accident where the driver was able to drive away from the crash site.
  • The door nearest the car seat was not hit or damaged.
  • No passengers sustained any injuries.
  • Air bags were not deployed.
  • There is no visible damage to the car seat.

If all of the above statements are true about your car accident, it would be identified as “minor”. If you have any doubt, play it safe and contact a CPST (Child Passenger Safety Technician) nearest you. They should be able to help draw a conclusion for you.

How to Properly Dispose of the Old Car Seat

So what do you do with the old car seat when you get a new one? Some big-box stores, like Target, normally have a few “trade-in” events throughout the year. This is where you bring your old seat to be recycled and they give you a discount on new gear.

If you don’t take advantage of a trade-in event, you can recycle or dispose of the seat yourself. However, there are specific steps to follow to do it correctly (source).

  • Locate your nearest recycling center: This may not be necessary if you’re able to set it out with your other recycling.
  • Check if they accept plastic from car seats: If you don’t have regular recycling pick up, call the center and ask their specific guidelines for car seats. Some may want you to just bring the naked frame and others may want it completely broken down first.
  • Remove the cover and any foam padding: These aren’t recyclable so they can go right in the garbage.
  • Cut the harness straps and remove them: This will also need to be thrown away.
  • Separate the metal from the plastic: Depending on your recycling center’s guidelines, you may not have to do this. If you do, you’ll probably need a screwdriver to take it apart.

If the seat can’t be recycled, it should still be broken down to the bare base and have “UNSAFE” or “EXPIRED” written clearly on it. This will deter anybody from picking it up from the garbage.

It’s Time to Make the Switch

Whether it’s a car accident, expiration date, or simply your child growing faster than you can keep up, switching to new car seats is part of the parenting journey. It can sometimes be hard to tell when to switch, though.

Hopefully, we were able to equip you with the information you need to sort out this little milestone. Exciting but scary, we know. Now take that confidence and be prepared when the time comes to switch seats.

Did you learn anything new from us? Did we miss anything you’re still curious about? Let us know in the comments.

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