Does your child really need a car seat? It depends on age and weight, but most likely yes! All 50 states and the District of Columbia have child-restraint laws, so check the laws in your state. If it says something like, “Must be in child restraint if 5 years and younger or less than 60 pounds,” this means any child 5 or under, no matter what his/her weight, must be in a car seat AND any child weighing less than 60 pounds, no matter what his/her age, must be in a car seat. Some states also specify which ages require a rear-facing seat.

But let’s back up a sec. First you have to buy one, right?

Buying a car seat

The biggest rule is never buy used. And replace the one you own if it’s ever been in an accident, even a fender-bender (the replacement seat is likely covered by your insurance policy). It’s also time to replace if: it’s more than 10 years old (some say 5), the expiration date on the plastic base has expired, or it’s been recalled.

Look for the following big safety features when you shop for a new seat:

  • 5-point harness with a 2-piece chest clip
  • top tether restraint
  • LATCH system
  • At least 4 shoulder-strap slots and 2-3 crotch-strap positions
  • Tilt indicator on the side of the seat

You can check Consumer Reports for the top-rated models, but keep in mind that the best seat is the one that fits your child’s size, is correctly installed, fits well in your vehicle, and is used properly every time you drive.

Installing a car seat

In a standard car, the safest place to put a car seat is in the middle of the rear seat. This places it in the very middle of your car’s crumple zone for maximum protection. The seat should be firmly installed and not wiggle or budge when you push it.

A neat trick to accomplish this is to put a thickly folded towel under the body of the seat before installing, and use the full weight of your body to weigh it down as you strap it in. Most important, read the seat’s instruction manual! If it’s missing, contact the manufacturer or download it online.

Never put a car seat in a seat with an active airbag — these can deploy at speeds of over 180 miles per hour and can be fatal to children.

Once you’re done installing your seat, check your work by going to a Child Safety Seat Inspection Station…just to be on the safe side.

Find out what experts consider the safest seat in the car.

Insuring a car seat

If the car seat’s occupied during an accident, Esurance will replace the seat automatically since its safety has been compromised. If the car seat’s unoccupied at the time of an accident, however, we handle it on a case-by-case basis, but usually err on the side of caution by paying for a new seat.

If your car seat’s stolen, it should be covered under your homeowners or renters policy. Since the seat isn’t permanently attached, it’s considered personal property, but policies vary, so read yours carefully to make sure.

There you have it. Not as complicated as you thought, eh? With a little research, a pass through the instruction manual, and maybe some help from the experts, even something as important as child restraints can be a snap!

Additional resources:

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Safe and smart


about Kate

With more than 15 years' communication experience, Kate's a 10-year Esurance veteran, who’s spent the last 4 years as Internal Communications Manager. A transplanted New Yorker and one-time waitress, Kate was drawn to the Bay Area’s restaurant scene (where she likes to over-tip).