It’s information we find ourselves repeating for good reason: To really maximize your car seat’s safety, you’ll want to double down on a proper installation and prolong the rear-facing position as long as possible. But test results from Consumer Reports suggest a third tactic for keeping baby safe in transit: Move your backseat passenger to a convertible car seat by their first birthday.
A quick point of clarification— Consumer Reports says that convertible car seats should still be installed rear-facing at the one-year mark, aligning with the American Academy of Pediatric guidelines to keep baby rear-facing through age 2. But as Gloria Del Castillo, child passenger safety expert at Cincinnati Children’s and Buckle Up for Life, tells The Bump , "many children outgrow their infant car seats by height before they outgrown them by weight." Because of that, a convertible car seat allows for better head protection for growing toddlers. The proof is in the crash test data.
During crash testing, Consumer Reports found that a 12-month-old child dummy was protected from striking its head in 24 of 25 convertible car seats. Comparatively, that dummy’s head did make contact with the car’s front seatback in 16 out of 30 infant seats.
A convertible car seat can be used right from birth, eliminating this suggested transition altogether. The biggest drawback, according to car seat technician Kelly Murphy, CPST-I, is a lack of portability. "Most caregivers chose an infant car seat because of convenience. Or they think they’re supposed to. Or people think it looks way too big for a tiny baby," she tells The Bump. "But there are many convertible car seats that are rated from 5 pounds and up."
Like Del Castillo, Murphy attests to the importance of making sure baby's not too tall for a seat. "I have yet to see a child outgrow a rear-facing infant seat because of weight before height," she says.
Whether you're currently using an infant or convertible seat, there's an easy way to determine if it's a good fit for baby. "With any rear-facing seat, the harness straps should fit at or below the shoulders," Murphy says. She explains numerical restrictions can be unhelpful because manufacturers set a height limit based on baby's standing height. But if your baby has a particularly long or short torso, he or she could be a poor match for that particular seat.
Del Castillo offers another benchmark for assessing fit: "Your baby’s head must fit beneath the top rim of the seat, with an inch to spare."
Want to brush up on your car seat safety even more? Take a look at the eight car seat mistakes most parents are making.