Choosing the right car seat

The best car seat is one that fits a child's height and weight and can be correctly installed in the vehicle being used. Not all car seats fit all vehicle seats well and sometimes parents need to try more than one car seat model.

NOTE: All car seats must be tested to meet government safety standards in order to be sold in Canada. Transport Canada is the government department that sets the safety standards. Buying a car seat in Canada will ensure that it meets Canadian safety standards.

  1. Infant and Rear-facing Seats (birth to seat’s height or weight limits) 
  2. Forward-facing Seat (Use after child grows out of rear-facing seat to at least 18kg/40lbs)
  3. Booster Seat (Use from when a child is a minimum of 18kg/40lb to 4 feet, 9 inches or 145 cm tall
  4. Seatbelt (Use when a child is taller than 4 feet, 9 inches or 145 cm

Infant and Rear-facing Seat - Use from birth to seat height or weight limit                

  • Canadian law requires that newborns and infants use a rear-facing car seat. 
  • Keep your child rear facing for as long as he or she still fits the larger, rear-facing seat. 
  • Your child is safest riding rear facing until 2, 3 or even 4 years old, as long as he or she still fits within the height and weight limits for the seat. 
  • The rear-facing position is safest and many manufacturers are now making car seats that fit heavier and taller children. 
  • Download our tip sheet on infant seats (PDF) and on rear-facing seats (PDF)

Forward-facing Seat - Use after child grows out of rear-facing seat to at least 18kg/40lbs

  • Use a forward-facing car seat until their height or weight exceeds the restrictions for the model they are using. 
  • Then either purchase another forward-facing seat that is designed for larger children, or move to a booster seat. 
  • Forward-facing car seats use a tether strap to prevent the top of the car seat from moving forward too much during a collision.
  • It is best choose a forward-facing car seat that fits a higher range of height and weight, so that a child can use it for longer.
  • Download our tips sheet on forward-facing seats (PDF)

Booster Seat - Use from when a child is a minimum of 18kg/40lb to 4 feet, 9 inches or 145 cm tall

  • The booster seat raises the child up in the vehicle seat, so that the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt are positioned correctly. 
  • The lap belt must rest low across the hips, and the shoulder belt must rest in the middle shoulder region – not touching the neck. Booster seats must be used with both the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt.
  • Children who have outgrown their forward-facing car seats are much better protected in a booster seat then they would be using only a vehicle lap and shoulder belt. 
  • High-back booster seats are the right choice if a vehicle’s back seat does not have adjustable head rests. If a vehicle’s back seat does have adjustable head rests, parents can select either a high-back or no-back booster seat. 
  • Booster seats should be buckled even when they are not being used, otherwise the seat may hit passengers or the driver if there is a sudden stop or collision.
  • Booster seat use is important even in provinces that do not yet have laws for them.
  • Download our tips sheet on booster seats (PDF)

Seatbelt alone – Use when a child is taller than 4 feet, 9 inches or 145 cm.

Do this 5-step test to see if your child is ready to move from a booster seat to a seat belt: 

  • The child can sit all the way back against the back of the vehicle seat.
  • The knees bend comfortably over the edge of the vehicle seat without slouching
  • The lap belt fits snugly across the top of the thighs and doesn't ride up on the stomach
  • The should belt goes across the chest bone and the middle of the shoulder, NOT across the neck and NEVER behind the back. 
  • The child can sit properly for the entire trip. 

A child may pass all five steps (above) to use a seat belt in one car, but still need to use a booster seat in another vehicle.

  • Seatbelts are designed for adult bodies. For this reason, it is important that parents check where the lap and shoulder belt rest on their older child’s body. 
  • The lap belt must rest low across the hips, and the shoulder belt must rest in the middle shoulder region – not touching the neck. 
  • If the lap and shoulder belt do not fit correctly, the child must return to using a booster seat for a little while longer. 
  • If neither the seatbelt alone, nor the current booster seat, position the lap and shoulder belt properly, a different model of booster seat is required until the child has grown a little taller.
  • Download our tips sheet for using seatbelts with a child (PDF)