So you've got a kid that's 35lbs. It's time to turn him around. Forward facing in a 5 point harness is not as safe as rear facing, but it is so much safer than using a booster, or worse, nothing but the adult seat belt.
Fit- In forward facing mode, the straps should be in the slots at or ABOVE the child's shoulders. That's different than rear-facing. The chest clip should still be in place at armpit level and the straps still tight and untwisted. A child outgrows a forward facing seat by the manufacturer's weight limit or when the tops of their ears are even with the top of the seat, or when their shoulders pass the top harness slot. The exception to this is the Sunshine Kids Radian, which allows the shoulders to go 1" past the top slot. This is why it's so important to shop for the seat that offers the highest weight limits WITH the highest top harness height. A seat with a 80lb weight limit won't do you much good if the top harness height is at only 14". If you get a low weight limit and/or height limit seat, you'll be buying more seats in the long run. I'll make a list at the end of the seats that I like the best.
Installation- In forward-facing mode, most seats require a top tether to keep the seat in place in a crash. If your car does not have anchors for this, you can get them retrofitted, free of charge, by your car's manufacturer. If you've got all the info previously, this part is easy.
Jess's picks for convertible seats (names are links to the seat):
Britax Marathon- this is the gold standard in the car seat world. It has 17.5 top slots, rear-faces to 33lbs, forward to 65lbs and is very plush and comfy. Installation is said to be a breeze and all other seats are compared to the Britax seats when people talk about ease of installation. They come in really cool covers, too. Tony would love the Mossy Oak. The down side is that they retail for around $280. BOO!
Sunshine Kids Radian 65- This is a great seat. You can see a full review that my friend Emily did here. It RF to 35lbs, FF to 65lbs and has 18" top harness slots. It is a very trim seat and it's claim to fame is that you can put 3 across in any car's seat. That can be big for someone with 3 kids and a small vehicle! I'll let you read Em's review for more info, but this is a very good seat! There is also a 80lb version of this seat, but most kids will outgrow this seat by height first anyway, so the extra money is not worth it in most cases since the harness height is the same.
Compass/The First Years, True Fit - This is probably the seat we will soon be purchasing for Gage. Here is a good review of it. It's new on the market, and has had great reviews in the tech world. It's obviously meant to compete with the Marathon. It RF to 35lbs, FF to 65lbs and has slightly lower top harness height than the Marathon. It has a removable headrest for kids up to 22lbs, making the 45degree recline easier to accommodate. After 22lbs it needs to be attached, but at that point it can sit up a little straighter. The harness is adjustable without having to re-thread or even uninstalling the seat. That's a big deal! We've checked this seat out at Target and LOVE it. It's really plush and cushy and Gage looked really comfy in it. It retails for $200, but I plan to buy ours at The Learning Curve for $150 with my 25% off coupon code LCSHOP25.
For a budget seat, the Costco Scenera is a good pick. You can get it at Wal-Mart for $50, less if it's on sale. It RF to 35lbs, FF to 40lbs, so you would have to get higher-harness seat after they outgrow this one. It isn't very padded and cushy, but if money is an issue, this one will keep your kiddo rear-facing as long as the high-dollar seats and may buy you some time so you can get a good FF combo harness/booster like the Graco Nautilus.
Forward Facing only, Booster Seats, and Combo Seats- As before, when you move to a booster, you are again moving down in safety. A child should stay in a 5 point harness as long as possible, then a high-back booster, then a backless booster. I believe the law says a child must be in one until at least 4 years old and 40lbs, but good practice is 6 years old and 60lbs. Boosters should be used at least until your child is 8 years old and 80 lbs. This is because car seat belts are made for adults and kids can not use them correctly and safely until they are pretty big.
Here is a video on YouTube about harnessing vs. using a booster. You can find more info at www.kyledavidmiller.org
Notice how the child on the passenger side is secured and how much less movement there is in the head, upper and lower body compared to the booster seat child on the driver's side.
And the KDM video:
Many parents think that once their child reaches 40 lbs in weight, that they need to move into a Booster seat with an adult seatbelt restraint. There are many options available to keep your child safely restrained using a 5-point harness.
Children under 7-10 years of age should not be placed into a booster seat. This is because the child's iliac crests (hip bones) are not yet developed enough such that they prevent the adult seatbelt from resting on the soft abdomen. Therefore an adult seatbelt provides insufficient protection to the child and could result in internal injuries, possibly resulting in the death of the child.- Source: Tom Bologa, President of Britax USA as quoted on www.kyledavidmiller.org
The granddaddy of FF only car seats is the Britax Regent- this is a HUGE seat! It has 20" top slots and an 80lb weight limit.
Take the 5 Step Test!
The 5-Step Test.
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
[Taken from http://www.carseat.org/Boosters/630.htm]
Here is a video using the adult belt only for a child that's not big enough for one. It's in German (I think), but you still get the picture:
Combo Seats- This is a seat that can convert from a harnessed seat to a booster. Most of them aren't recommended in the tech world because they don't harness long enough and don't make very good boosters. The Graco Nautilus is the exception. It harnesses a child to 65lbs and has 18" top harness slots. It then converts to a high-back booster to 100lbs, and can be a backless booster when the child's ears reach the top of the seat. It retails for $160, but I've seen them for about $145 consistently. That seems like a great deal to me since you can get so much use out of them.
So now I've told you everything I know about child passenger safety. Ask questions if you have them! If I don't know, I can find out! I am a member at www.car-safety.org and the techs there are great!