How Do Convertible Car Seats Work? Read Our Guide

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How Do Convertible Car Seats Work Read Our Guide

There’s a lot to think about when you’re a new mom or dad. Not only do you have to make sure you do everything you can to keep your baby safe, but you also have to stick to a budget and figure out how to adjust to your new normal as a parent.

Something you learn pretty quickly is that everyone has an opinion about what’s best – the best bottle, the best crib, the best stroller, and, yes, the best car seat.

One of the things you should consider for your baby is a convertible car seat. While they may not be for everyone, some parents swear by them. We’re going to take a close look at convertible car seats to help you figure out if they’re the right choice for you.

What Is a Convertible Car Seat?

Simply put, a convertible car seat is one that grows with your child from day one. That means that it’s designed to be used rear-facing when your child is an infant and forward-facing as they move into toddlerhood and beyond.

Rear Facing

Studies show that children should sit rear-facing for as long as possible. As far as how to safely install your convertible car seat so it’s rear-facing, each model comes with its own set of instructions to follow. Generally, though, you use the LATCH system.

LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. It’s a system that makes it easy to secure the car seat properly and easily. For rear-facing installation, you have to anchor the car seat appropriately which means you have to locate the anchors. Anchors are located in the backseat inside the small crevice between the seat and the seatback. They might be visible but a lot of carmakers tuck them away out of sight. Sometimes, placement is marked with a small plastic dot on the seat back but, other times, they might be a little hard to find.

To find the anchors, slide your hand into the crevice and feel around. You’re feeling for a thin, rectangular-shaped anchor sticking out from the seat frame. If you have a hard time locating it, check your owner’s manual.

Your convertible seat comes with a strap that has a durable, strong metal clip on each end. Feed this through the bottom of the car seat then clip each end onto one of the anchors. Convertible car seats typically have two channels where you can feed this strip. One is for rearfacing, the other forwardfacing. They’re usually clearly marked but you should check the manual to make sure you’re using the correct one.

When your child is rear-facing, the seat must be reclined at the right angle to keep the baby’s head from flopping forward. This is usually clearly marked on the seat with indicators or adjusters to help you get it positioned just right.

Forward Facing

One of the biggest questions that parents with a convertible car seat have is, when can I turn my child front-facing? As mentioned, rear-facing for as long as possible is safest for your baby. That said, there will come a time when your child reaches the weight limit to be forward-facing according to the manufacturer’s specifications. You should never turn your child to forward-facing before age two.

Forward Facing


When it’s time, remove the car seat from its current position and turn it around. Pull out the strap from the rear-facing channel and insert it into the one designated for front-facing. Adjust the angle of the seat, too, as it will not recline as far as it did when rear-facing. Then, attach the clips from the strap to the anchors again and tighten.

All forward-facing and some rear-facing car seats use a tether. This is another spot where the car seat is attached to the car. This is done by attaching another strap to another point in the car. This time, the strap is likely attached to the top of the car seat, behind where the baby’s head would be. The tether attachment point is often located on the car’s rear seat or the shelf behind the rear seat. Some vehicles have the tether on the ceiling or floor. Again, this information should be in your owner’s manual. Tethers are usually clearly marked and should be easy to find because they’re not hidden like the anchoring system.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Convertible Car Seat

One of the best ways to make sure you can use your convertible car seat for a long time is to check the weight limit. The higher the weight limit, the longer you can use it. Since you’re supposed to keep babies rear-facing for as long as possible or at least until age two, a high rear-facing weight limit allows you to keep your child in the safest position for the longest amount of time.

Another thing you should do is check the expiration date. If you’re buying a new car seat, this shouldn’t be a problem as they are generally made to last as least as long as they are made to be used.

And if you have kids in car seats, you may be interested in our guides to Car Interior Restoration, and Eliminating Vomit Smell in Seats


Do I have to use the LATCH system?

No, most car seats allow you to secure them into the backseat using only the vehicle’s seat belt. Make sure you read the instructions that came with your convertible car seat to make sure and follow directions very carefully.

Are convertible car seats safe?

Yes. Convertible car seats have to meet the same child safety seat standards as any other car seat. They are perfectly safe as long as they are installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions and your child is within the correct range for the height and weight.

What happens if I’m in a fender bender?

If you’re in a small accident, you might not think twice about continuing to use the same convertible seat, but the truth is that a car seat that’s in an accident, no matter how big or small, must be replaced.

Can I buy a used convertible car seat?

Buying a used car seat is generally not recommended. Remember, car seats have an expiration date so you won’t be able to use a second-hand car seat as long as you would a new one. Also, you never know if a used car seat has been in an accident and is no longer safe.

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