The safest car seats are the ones installed properly. However, a 2016 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report from 2016 found that more than half of all car seats are installed incorrectly. Making things even trickier for parents, laws vary from state to state regarding what the proper car seat position should be for your baby, based on your baby's stage of growth. You'll need to brush up on the laws for your state, and study up if you're planning a road trip.

Top Signs Your Car Seat Is Installed Incorrectly

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  1. The car seat harness is too loose. Sure, you don't want your little one to be uncomfortable during a long ride, but it's crucial to make sure the harness is in the correct position and not too lose. If you can place more than two fingers between your little one and the harness, it needs to be tightened.
  2. Your baby is forward-facing. Until your baby is age 2 (or meets the top weight indicated by the instructions included with the car seat), your little one should ride rear-facing.
  3. The car seat base isn't secure. Make sure when you initially install the car seat that you push down with all your weight to ensure the base is secure and snug in your backseat. The fix? Loosen up the seatbelt to reset the base into the backseat and tighten the seatbelt again.
  4. The seatbelt looks funky. It's true, correct seatbelt routing is less intuitive than you'd want it to be, but the main thing is to make sure the shoulder belt is secure around the base of the seat and the lap belt is the one positioned closer toward your baby. Pay careful attention to the instructions for your car seat, and keep an eye out for stickers on the seat itself that indicate exactly where the seatbelt should be positioned.

    Choosing a Car Seat 101

    There are popular car seats out there, but are those really the best? It's tempting to rely on word-of-mouth advice when deciding on the right products for your precious baby, but after looking into the specs of different car seat models, you might form your own opinion.

    There are a few different types of car seats: Convertible, infant, rear-facing, or toddler. Depending on your needs, you'll be purchasing a car seat within those categories. When choosing a car seat, first consider safety. Then, when you've narrowed it down to the safest options in each category, you can then have fun with other details, like ease of use, style, price, and the ability to clean and keep the car seat fresh — especially if you're opting for anything other than an infant car seat, because you'll be getting years of use out of it. Luckily, we've done the work for you ...


    Car Seat Types

    Convertible: Some convertibles are designed to safely seat infants, while others are designed to seat babies that have grown out of their infant car seat. Convertible car seats usually have rear-facing capabilities until around 35-4o pounds, depending on the child and car seat model. Once the child grows out of the rear-facing position, the seat can be flipped around and used through the toddler years. Some parents will even get use out of convertible car seats into the preschool years.

    Infant: This is the category in the car seat world where you'll find the model that you'll be taking your baby home from the hospital in. Infant car seats are rear-facing and designed to keep your precious newborn safe. While some parents choose to start with the convertible car seat and use it in infant mode, other parents choose to have an infant car seat first, and then switch to the convertible option when baby grows out of it. The cool thing about an infant car seat is that you can easily take it right out of the car with your sleeping newborn resting inside. There are plenty of stroller and car seat combos (aka travel systems) that make this transition seamless. One more thing: By the time your cute baby hits age 1, the safest thing to do is transition to a convertible car seat.

    Rear-Facing: There's still a strong need for awareness around the safety of babies traveling in the rear-facing position. While it's known that infants are supposed to travel in this position, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children up to age 2 ride in a rear-facing position. Our top picks in this category include those with extended rear-facing capabilities.

    Toddler: It's time for a forward-facing seat! 3-in-1 car seats are also popular in the toddler category, though the models differ. The idea is that the car seat is safe for babies and tots, but it can then transform into a booster. (Sounds pretty "convertible," right?) There are 3-in-1 (or, all-in-one) seats that are perfect for toddlers, but they might also include infant and rear-facing capabilities. However, all 3-in-1 car seats offer a booster option, which is where 3-in-1 seats differ from convertible car seats.

    Ready to shop for car seats now? Buckle up and check out our top choices!

    Learn More About Our Top Five Picks:

    1. Best Overall

    Britax Advocate ClickTight Convertible Car Seat - Check Price

    Britax

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    Pros: Exceptional safety standards, made in America, three layers of side-impact protection, can be used rear-facing up to 40 pounds and forward-facing up to 65 pounds

    Con: Heavier than other car seats

    Bottom Line: This dependable, safe car seat will grow with your infant, so you'll get years of use out of it.

    The ClickTight feature on this car seat model ensures a safe and secure installation every single time, which is so important because so many parents unknowingly install car seats incorrectly. Rest assured knowing that everyone from Dad to Grandma can nail a rock-solid installation, even when you're not around. We love that the car seat features SafeCell Impact Protection, which is a hex-shaped technology designed to absorb extra energy and protect baby beyond federal standards in the case of a serious crash. This car seat also features something that's rare to find in the United States: an anti-rebound bar, which offers extra padded protection in the case of a crash. It's perfect for babies from 5 to 65 pounds.

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    2. Best Infant Car Seat

    UPPAbaby MESA Infant Car Seat - Check Price

    UPPAbaby

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    Pros: Lightweight yet durable, perfect for preemies, breathable and washable fabric

    Con: Canopy is flimsy

    Bottom Line: You won't be disappointed with this infant car seat that includes extra features for safety and ease-of-use.

    The Mesa car seat features a no-rethread harness, which means you won't have to take apart the harness system as your baby grows. What a breeze! This beautiful black car seat is so light and lean, you won't have to worry about lugging a heavy baby and car seat around. If you want to make things even easier on yourself, you can grab the Cruz stroller by UPPAbaby to complete a travel system. Plus, there's also the first-ever smart auto-retracting mini latch, combined with a red-to-green tension indicator, which makes handling the seat a lot easier, and, in turn, safer for baby. This seat will safely sit babies from 4 to 35 pounds.

    Shop More Top-Rated Infant Car Seats

    3. Best Toddler Car Seat

    Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat - Check Price

    Safety 1st

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    Pros: Removable pad for easy washing, extra leg room for parents, rear-facing to booster capabilities

    Con: Straps are sometimes hard to pull for tightening

    Bottom Line: This safe car seat will last you several years, from when your baby is a newborn until 100 pounds.

    Check out this affordable option from Safety 1st. With over 1,300 positive Amazon reviews, this car seat features three removable and reversible infant insert pillows that will snuggle and properly position your newborn on the ts? One day you will be! Just hide the harness, and this combination seat transitions into a belt-positioning booster for kids up to 100 pounds. We love the harness holders that make getting your little one in and out of the seat a seamless process.

    Shop More Top-Rated Toddler Car Seats

    4. Best Rear-Facing Car Seat

    Chicco Fit2 Rear-Facing Car Seat - Check Price

    Chicco

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    Pros: Easy installation, extended leg room for baby, compatible with Chicco strollers

    Con: Heavier than other car seats

    Bottom Line: This car seat is designed for safe rear-facing riding up to the recommended age of two.

    This car seat eliminates any confusion about what the safest position is for your baby, as it's designed for rear-faced riding until the age of 2, or whenever your baby reaches 35 pounds. The car seat is designed to save space in your car, so your kid can enjoy upright, spacious seating with extended leg room, while the passenger in front can sit back comfortably for a smooth ride.

    Bonus: The Chicco Fit2 is notorious for its smart functionality (including the one-hand leveling foot, bubble level indicators, and a one-pull latch tightener) that provides a super simple, easy, and accurate install!

    Want to see more about this pick? Check out our chat below with Daphne Oz!

    Shop More Rear-Facing Car Seats

    5. Best Splurge

    Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 Rachel Zoe Convertible Car Seat - Check Price

    Maxi-Cosi

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    Pros: Stylish, rear-facing capabilities, safe side-impact protection, easy-to-clean cupholders

    Con: White fabric isn't ideal for bigger messes

    Bottom Line: This car seat looks fancy, but it's also super safe.

    This stunner of a car seat by Maxi-Cosi and Rachel Zoe features gorgeous cognac leather accents and gold detailing that make this option seriously stand out from the rest. The incredible news? You're not compromising on safety for added style. The Air Protect technology offers extra support and impact protection around the head. Enjoy the rear-facing functionality up to age 2, and when your toddler weighs more than 40 pounds, just flip that seat around and keep using it until your little one reaches 85 pounds!

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    More of Our Top Picks:

    Looking for other car seats? These picks are worth your consideration as well!

    6. Best Convertible Car Seat

    Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat - Check Price

    Evenflo

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    Pros: Compact and perfect for any size vehicle, affordable

    Con: Could use more comfort padding

    Bottom Line: This compact, easy-to-handle car seat is lightweight, and it has over 3,000 positive reviews on Amazon.

    This chic car seat is as easy to install as it is to clean. The compact car seat fits perfectly into smaller cars. Plus, not only is it lightweight and ideal for traveling and airplane use, but it's also easy to move between different vehicles. This is the perfect model for caregivers and babysitters to keep on hand. You'll get chills when you read this verified purchase review about how this car seat saved a 2-year-old's life. This seat is perfect for little cutie pies who weigh up to 40 pounds.

    Shop More Top-Rated Convertible Car Seats

    7. Best Infant Car Seat Runner-Up

    Chicco KeyFit Infant Car Seat - Check Price

    Chicco

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    Pros: Easy to install, bubble level-indicators to ensure accuracy of proper angle, infant insert for smaller babies

    Con: Heavier than other car seats

    Bottom Line: This infant car seat features specs that make installing the seat safely a breeze.

    This highly rated infant car seat is easy to install, and it fits securely in the back seat of anything from compact cars to bulky SUVs. The flip-out visor offers great sun protection, and a removable insert for newborns makes this a great choice for bringing a preemie home. We're impressed with the lengths Chicco goes to when it comes to ensuring proper installation: This car seat features ReclineSure (which helps the car seat achieve an accurate fit in any car model), RideRight (a bubble level-indicator for angle accuracy), and SuperCinch (a one-pull tightener to achieve a secure fit with a fraction of the effort). Your newborn can safely ride in this seat until she reaches 30 pounds.

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    8. Best Toddler Car Seat Runner-Up

    Diono Radian R100 Car Seat - Check Price

    Diono

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    Pros: 10-year life from date of purchase, sleek design, versatile, extended rear-facing, best for multiples, folds flat for traveling

    Con: No cupholder

    Bottom Line: If you have tight space in your compact car, you can fit three of these car seats comfortably, so it's great for multiples.

    Need to fit two (or more!) car seats across your backseat? This model is narrow, so it's best suited for those tight, three-across situations, while the low profile makes it easy to load and unload kids. Plus, if you're traveling with kids, this convertible seat also folds flat and is FAA-approved for airplane use. (Good to know!) Once you're on board, the profile is a seamless fit on those cramped airline seats. Because it sits so low, the tray table will be at the right height for your kid to play their travel games. This is the perfect car seat to bring home for a toddler, too, because it'll grow with your kiddo until they hit 100 pounds. Plus, it looks sleek, so your big kid won't mind using it!

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    9. Best Rear-Facing Car Seat Runner-Up

    Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat - Check Price

    Graco

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    Pros: Six-position recline, 10-position headrest, four-position leg extension, easy positioning visuals on the car seat

    Cons: Tightening the straps could be easier

    Bottom Line: If you believe extended rear-facing is best for your baby, this car seat will work up to 50 pounds until it has to turn forward.

    This extended rear-facing car seat makes tots and kid passengers more comfy while riding rear-style! A four-position extension panel provides 5 inches of extra legroom — which means rear-facing infants can sit cozily from 4 to 50 pounds, and forward-facing toddlers can fit from 22 to 65 pounds.

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    How to Clean a Car Seat

    Cleaning a car seat can feel like a chore, but it doesn't have to — if you know how to do it right. Here's our step-by-step guide that works like magic, no matter what kind of car seat you have.

    1. Get rid of the little things first. First, use a handheld vacuum to remove dirt, crumbs, and anything else icky from the car seat.
    2. Spot clean spills. Even perfect tots have spills. Use a carpet cleaning solution to spot clean any stains. For tougher spots, use an inexpensive degreaser and simply pour it on the stain to watch it magically erase it. Then, use a washcloth with water to dab up the degreaser so the chemicals don't sit.
    3. Freshen it up. Dip a cotton towel into a solution of hot water and baby-safe laundry detergent and wash the car seat down. Let it air dry outside. Voilà!

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