Knowing how to choose a car seat and booster seat for your child can seem like it requires an advanced university degree. In addition to installation concerns and safety ratings, the seat needs to be the right choice for your child’s size and weight. Having the right car seat for your child can reduce the chance of injury during an accident by up to 75%. While we recommend a consultation with a safety consultant (you can find a list on our BestFit page), you can make sure you have the basics covered with our starter set of guidelines. Please note that these guidelines apply to the Province of Ontario.
Step One: Choose the Right Seat
Choosing the right car seat for your child first means looking for the National Safety Mark Label. All seats sold in Canada are required to meet Canadian safety standards and this mark will let you know that the seat passes Canadian testing levels.
Next, make sure you choose a seat that fits the size and weight of your child. There are three options.
Rear-facing infant seats are for newborn babies.
Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act regulates that babies remain in a rear-facing seat until they weigh at least 9 kg (20 lbs). However, it’s best to leave your child in a rear-facing seat as long as possible. Follow the recommendations from the manufacturer for the maximum size and length of your baby for a rear-facing installation, which can range up to 20 kg (44 lbs).
Forward-facing child car seats are for older babies and toddlers.
The Highway Traffic Act dictates that these seats are for children weighing 9 kg to 18 kg (20 lbs to 40 lbs). However, the five-point harness offered by these seats is a safer choice for your child. So, keeping them in a car seat until they reach the manufacturer’s recommended weight and height limit is an excellent safety choice. Many child car seats can be used until your child weighs 30 kg (65 lbs).
Booster seats use regular car seat belts for restraint and are for older children.
According to the Highway Traffic Act, you can move your child to a booster seat once they have reached a minimum weight of 18 kg (40 lbs). Booster seats should be used until:
- Your child is at least eight years of age OR weighs at least 36 kg (80 lbs) OR is at least 145 cm (4 feet 9 inches) tall.
- Your child can comfortably wear a lap and shoulder belt while sitting in a regular seat in your car; belts should be flat and the lap portion should cross their hips, not their waist.
- Your child can sit with their back against the seat and legs folded comfortably over the front.
Remember, it’s always safest to keep your child in a booster seat until they reach the maximum manufacturer recommended size. When you do transition to a regular seat belt, keep children in the rear seat, away from airbags, until at least 13 years old.
Step Two: Correct Installation
Before installing any car seat, read all manufacturer instructions and any instructions for your vehicle first. Make sure you are following all recommended guidelines for installation.
You will want to make sure your installed seat:
- Is at the correct angle and level recommended by the manufacturer, especially for rear-facing seats.
- Uses a tether belt properly, for forward-facing seats.
- Has shoulder straps adjusted to the correct level (at or below shoulders for rear-facing, at or above shoulders for forward-facing).
- Is not able to move more than 2.5 cm (1 inch) where the seat belt or UAS (universal anchorage system) strap attaches to the seat.
- Uses a locking clip on the seat belt to ensure it does not shift in an accident.
- Fits well in your car – at least 80% of the base should be touching the car seat.
- Uses a full lap and shoulder belt, for booster seats.
When buckling your child in, check the seat every time to make sure it is still tightly secured. Ensure infant seats are fully locked into the base by giving them a test pull. Do not use add-on items like bags or trays that alter the flow of the straps as these may affect the safety of the seat.
Step Three: Maintenance
Car seats require ongoing maintenance as well, to make sure they continue to keep your child safe. Be sure to:
- Check for recalls on your make and model on the Government of Canada website.
- Monitor the expiration date of your car seats, and discontinue use after they expire.
- Replace any car seats that have been involved in an accident, no matter how minor.
Choosing the right seat, installing it correctly, and making sure it continues to function properly mean that your child will be as safe as possible in your vehicle. You got this!