Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
 
Safety & Prevention
Text Size

Forward-Facing Car Seats for Toddlers & Preschoolers

Always read the vehicle owner's manual and the car seat manual before installing the seat. Any child who has outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for her convertible seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by her car seat manufacturer. It is best for children to ride in a seat with a harness as long as possible, at least to 4 years of age. If your child outgrows a seat before reaching 4 years of age, consider using a seat with a harness approved for higher weights and heights.

Types of Forward-Facing Car Seat Restraints:

Four types of car safety restraints can be used forward facing:

  • Convertible seats: Seats can convert from rear-facing to forward-facing. These include 3-in-1 seats.
  • Combination seats with harness: Seats can be used forward facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 90 pounds (depending on the model) or without the harness as a booster (up to 80–120 pounds, depending on the model).
  • Built-in seats: Some vehicles come with built-in forward-facing seats. Weight and height limits vary. Do not use built-in seats until your child has reached the highest weight or height allowed for your rear-facing convertible car seat. Read your vehicle owner's manual for details about how to use these seats.
  • Travel vests: Vests can be worn by children between 20 pounds and 168 pounds and can be an option to traditional forward-facing seats. They are useful for when a vehicle has lap-only seat belts in the rear, for children with certain special needs, or for children whose weight has exceeded that allowed by car seats. These vests usually require use of a top tether.

Installation Tips for Forward-Facing Seats:

Always read the vehicle owner's manual and the car seat manual before installing the seat. It is important that the car seat is installed tightly in the vehicle and that the harness fits your child snugly.

To switch a convertible or 3-in-1 seat from rear-facing to forward-facing:
  • Move the shoulder straps to the slots or harness position that is at or just above your child's shoulders. Check the instructions that came with the seat to be sure you are positioning the shoulder straps correctly.
  • You may have to adjust the recline angle of the seat so that it sits more upright in your vehicle. Check the instructions to be sure.
  • If using a seat belt, make sure it runs through the forward-facing belt path (be sure to follow car safety seat instructions) and that the seat belt is locked and tightened.
  • If using the lower anchors, make sure that the weight of your child plus the weight of the seat does not exceed 65 pounds. Most seats now state the maximum child weight to use the anchors in the manual and on the stickers on the side. If the child weighs too much, families must use the seat belt to install.
  • Always use the top tether when you can. A tether is a strap that is attached to the top part of a car safety seat and holds the seat tightly by connecting to an anchor point in your vehicle (often on the seat back or rear shelf; see your vehicle owner's manual to find where tether anchors are in your vehicle). Tethers give important extra protection by keeping the car safety seat and your child's head from moving too far forward in a crash or sudden stop. All new cars, minivans, and light trucks are required to have tether anchors as of September 2000. Forward-facing seats come with tether straps. A tether should always be used as long as your child has not reached the top weight limit for the tether anchor.
  • Check the car safety seat instructions and vehicle owner's manual for information about the top weight limit and locations of tether anchors.

How to Install a Forward-Facing Car Seat - Video: 

This video will guide you through the steps of properly installing a forward-facing car seat in your vehicle. Any child who has outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their car safety seat should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat manufacturer. 

Common Question:

What if I drive more children than can be buckled safely in the back seat?

  • It's best to avoid this, especially if your vehicle has airbags in the front seat. All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat. If absolutely necessary, a child in a forward-facing seat with a harness may be the best choice to ride in front. Just be sure the vehicle seat is moved as far back away from the dashboard (and airbag) as possible.

Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org:

The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.