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Everything you never wanted to know about car seats

There are many things we do in private that we hope others never see. Installing a car seat is up there for me. Having just moved from New York City, where I rarely drove anywhere, to the country, where I rarely walk anywhere, car seats have suddenly become part of my daily life, and even though I know they may one day save my son’s life, I do not get along with them. When I’m fighting to install one into my car by myself, the process invariably involves instruction manuals (for my car seat and my car), YouTube installation videos (necessary since my manuals seem to be written in Pirahã), ample cursing, and me punching the car seat. Whoever said violence is never justified clearly never owned a Britax.

Most parents will agree car seats are a pain to install; worse, the stats suggest that three out of four times, we’re doing it wrong. But the angst surrounding car seats does not end with installation — pretty much everything about them is ridiculously confusing. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently changed its recommendations on when to use which types of seats, but chances are, your state law disagrees. Rumor has it that next year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will tell parents to stop using the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children system (LATCH) to secure car seats once the combined weight of your car seat and your child exceeds 65 pounds, which begs the question — do you know how much your car seat weighs? I don’t even know how much my kid weighs. Then there is the “Freakonomics” claim that car seats are in fact useless, the Consumer Reports debacle in which the organization apparently had to recall some reviews after screwing up its safety tests, and, oh yeah, the fact that some car seats simply do not fit in some cars. But hey, guess what? Your kid should be in a car seat until she’s 8 years old and don’t even think about letting her ride in the front seat until she’s 13. K?

Car seat 101: Everything you should know from birth to age 12

According to NHTSA, three out of four car seats aren’t installed and used correctly. As a Child Child Passenger Safety Technician at Stan’s Automotive in Lafayette, I work with parents every day helping them choose the right seat for their child, and install it properly.

So how DO you know which car seat to choose? The answer is simple: the very best car seat for your child is the one that fits your child, fits your vehicle, and is easy to use correctly every single time. Getting to that particular seat can be a little more challenging, though!

From birth until about age 12, kids go through these four stages in the vehicle: