European Car Seats vs. American Car Seats: Is One Better?

Fashion.  Currencies.  Road signs.  Wines.  Cars.  The metric system.  There are many differences between Europe and the United States.  Including car seats.

As with wines and cars, many caregivers think European car seat brands are better or safer than their United States counterparts. However, just as wines and cars are actually pretty equal, so are car seats.  Here’s a look at a few of the key differences.


Testing Speed


Rear facing versus forward facing sled test, thanks to UMTRI.

Car seats that are designed for the European market are subject to a different type of testing than seats sold in the United States market. This can be a little confusing for caregivers who are searching for the “safest” seat for their Little. One source of confusion is the speed of the test — at first glance it seems that European testing is done at 50 mph, rather than the United States’ 30 mph.

However, that’s not quite the case. European testing requires (ECE R44 and ECE R129) a sled test done at 50 kilometers per hour (km/h) not 50 miles per hour (mph). Conversely, United States testing (FMVSS213) requires a sled test at 48 km/h. To translate both test speeds into miles per hour: European testing is done at 31 mph, and United States testing is done at 30 mph.

In a sled test, the car seat is installed on a representative back seat and then accelerated (some go forward, some go back), followed by a simulated crash.

Side Impact Testing

Europe has side impact standards for their car seats and boosters.The United States has proposed standards (, but currently has no required side impact testing. What does that mean for car seats labeled with “Side Impact Tested”?

Some car seat manufacturers test to their own standards, others test to the proposed standards (which may change before they ever become final). Because of these differences between companies, there’s really no way to tell what side impact testing in the United States means, since we may be comparing apples to oranges. In Europe, though, standardized side impact testing for car seats is required. These standards were adopted fairly recently with the 2013 i-Size regulation changes.

Whether you buy an American, European, Asian, or other brand of seat, all seats sold to the United States market are tested to United States standards. There is no benefit to buying a RECARO (German-based company), for instance, over a Graco (American-based company) when it comes to testing. All seats sold in the United States are tested to United States standards for use in the United States market.

Other Differences


A Little in a European car seat by Audi (note the lack of chest clip).

European standards require that seats allow a parent to release the harness in a single motion. That means that their harnesses do not have a chest clip (please note: this does not mean they are three point harnesses, the five points of a harness are both shoulders, both hips, and a crotch strap).  Again, as with the testing standards, this difference in design doesn’t mean one is better than another, just that they’re slightly different.  An American seat uses the chest clip to keep the straps properly placed on the shoulders: if the chest clip is too low the straps can be too wide on the shoulders.  If it’s too high, it can be in the way of the child’s throat.  In Europe, they use a more angled set of straps and often grippy shoulder strap covers to keep the straps on a child’s shoulders.  Both harnesses restrain the child during the crash properly, just in different ways.

Clek Rigid LATCH

Rigid lower anchors, also called ISOFIX in Europe. They reduce head excursion on harnessed seats in a similar way to a top tether.

Only since 2013 have European car seats come equipped with top tethers, and since the 2014 model year European cars have come with tether anchors.  This is a new regulation with the i-Size requirements of ECE R129.  European car seats had previously used rigid lower anchors, ISOFIX, to reduce head excursion.  Car seats in the United States have used a top tether for that reason since September 1999.  These are simply different ways to reduce head excursion.  Some European car seats also have used load legs, even with forward facing car seats, to reduce forward movement and head excursion.

maxi cosi tobi collage

The Maxi Cosi Tobi, showing the instructions for installation using a serpentine belt path and lockoffs. Then shown properly installed.

Because cars in the European market are not required to have seat belts that lock before a crash, European seats tend to have a serpentine routing, lockoffs, or both so they can lock the belt.  Again, this doesn’t mean if you buy a Mercedes in the United States it won’t have locking belts; it will because it’s being made for the US market, even though it’s a German car.

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.02.55 PM

Joie Stages manual showing the car seat can be installed only with a lap and shoulder belt, not a lap belt, and there is no ISOFIX.

American seats can be installed with a lap belt only, lap and shoulder belt only, seatbelt and top tether, or lower anchors and top tether.  It’s not always easy, but all American harnessed seats can be installed in those four ways.  European seats, though, may be very specific as to how they can be installed.  Some may be ISOFIX only, others are a lap and shoulder belt only.  Many do not allow an install with a lap belt only (which means they cannot be used on a plane like nearly all American harnessed seats can).

Travel Abroad

For Americans traveling abroad, your car seat can be used in a foreign car, but you may need a locking clip since most seats in the United States don’t have a serpentine routing or lockoff.  However, many seats in the United States without lockoffs are not being sold with locking clips anymore.  This is to save money and weight by the manufacturers since most cars in the United States have belts that lock before a crash and lower anchors; locking clips are very rarely necessary for use in the United States. If your brand new car seat did not come with a locking clip and you need one, please contact your manufacturer; they will still provide one.  For information on the legalities of traveling internationally with a car seat, please read our Traveling Internationally with Littles article.

With any car seat, the important thing to keep your child safe is to use a car seat that is the best for your child’s size, for your car’s size/shape, that fits in your budget the best, and that you can use properly 100% of the time.

If you live in Europe, your child will use a European car seat.  If you live in the United States, your child will use an American car seat.  If you live in Canada, your child will use a Canadian car seat.  And you’ll know that despite design differences those seats have all passed very very strict testing and are safe to use.

Car Seat Basics

Whether you’re a brand new parent or have a minivan full of Littles, it can never hurt to review the basics of car seat safety. Take a few moments to check all of these in regards to your child’s car seat – it might just save their life.


harness height

Harness should be at or above for forward facing and at or below for rear facing

Are the straps at the correct height?

When using a 5 point harness, the straps should be positioned at or below the child’s shoulders for rear facing; at or above the child’s shoulders for forward facing.








Chest Clip

Chest clip needs to be positioned over the child’s sternum


Is the chest clip positioned properly?

The chest clip is designed to keep the straps in position over the torso before a crash happens. It must be placed on child’s sternum, at his nipple or armpit level.






pinch test

Harness must always pass the pinch test


Are the straps tight enough?

Do the pinch test: pinch the straps vertically at the collar bone. If you can grab excess slack between your fingers and pinch it, the straps are too loose.






belt path

Check for less than 1 inch of movement side to side at the belt path

Is the seat installed tightly?

Your car seat should be installed so that there is less than 1″ movement side to side, and front to back when grasping at the belt path. That means where the seat belt or lower anchor connector strap feeds through the car seat. That is the only place you need to test for movement, not the top of the car seat.







Tether should be used for all forward facing car seats

Is the tether attached?

When installing a forward facing harnessed car seat, always use a tether if one is available. The tether reduces forward movement for  the child’s head and neck up to 6″ in a crash; so reconfigure seats if necessary so all forward facing kids are in a vehicle seat with a tether anchor.







Is your child in the right stage of seat?

Is your child in the right stage for their age?

Kids should ride rear facing until a minimum of age 2, ideally 3-4 years old; forward facing in a 5 point harness until 5+ years old, and in a booster seat until 10-12 years old.








All seats have expiration dates anywhere from 4-12 years after they were manufactured

Have you checked the date?

Car seats expire anywhere from 4-12 years from the time they were manufactured. This time frame varies depending on the manufacturer, but plastics break down over time and an expired car seat may not protect your child adequately in a crash. Read more about car seat expiration here.








Nothing bulky should go under the harness, even in winter


Have you removed coats before buckling?

Bulky coats put extra space between the child and the harness which will compress immediately in a crash and mean more distance the child’s body moves before coming to a stop. Remove coats before buckling up, they can be worn backwards over the harness, or use blankets in the car instead. Read more about safe winter options for the car here. 






Many seats should be replaced after a crash, even a minor one

Have you been in a crash?

Chances are, even if the crash was minor, and even if the children were not in the car, the car seat(s) may need replacing. Check your car seat manual to determine the rules for your seat. You can find more information about accidents and replacing your seat(s) here. 







Reading the manual for your car seat is a very important step

Have you read the manual?

We know, we know. The manual is long, it’s boring, it’s full of warnings…. but we promise, this manual is one you must read. Your car seat’s manual holds the keys to making sure your child is as safe as they can be in your vehicle. It’s worth the read. If you have misplaced your manual, contact the car seat manufacturer for a replacement right away.




These are just a few important items to note when selecting and installing the correct seat and harnessing your child in that seat. CSFTL always recommends reading the car seat and vehicle manual prior to using any seat, and visiting a CPST in person whenever your child is moving to a new seat, a new vehicle, or the next stage.


Originally written by Emma Douglas. Edits maintained by CSFTL.


Read the Car Seat Manual!

Read your car seat manual!

Read your car seat manual!

Everything you purchase comes with a manual, whether it is a lawn mower or a DVD player. When you are preparing for a child, multiply that by a bouncer, a high chair, a stroller and a swing.  Chances are, you read them to know how to put them together and their basic function.


After the initial assembly, the manual is likely to get thrown in the trash or lost in the dark abyss of a junk drawer, never to be seen or heard from again. There are two manuals that should be saved from the dark abyss and should be accessible at your fingertips. Those two vitally important manuals are your car seat manual and your vehicle manual.


When it comes to installing your child’s car seat, these are two very necessary items to ensure that it is done correctly. The top 5 questions that parents ask technicians about any specific seat would be the following:

  1. How do I install it?
  2. What are the limits of the seat?
  3. How do I wash the cover?
  4. When does it expire?
  5. Should I use LATCH or seat belt?

One thing that is important to remember is that the knowledge of a tech is not a replacement for the information that is given in your manual.  Some technicians may remember the specifics of certain seats and be able to help you with that, however, our main goal is to educate.  We want to educate and empower you to know how to find that information themselves, feel confident in your ability to install a seat properly, and how to choose a seat
that fits your child correctly. All of the questions above can be found easily within the manual that came with your seat.


Car seat manual Table of Contents

Car seat manual Table of Contents

So lets look at question one.  How do I install it?  Since there are a variety of installation methods, this will be found in a variety of places throughout the manual, depending on which installation method and position you will be using your seat in.  The picture below was taken from an Evenflo Maestro Manual.  It lists the different types of installations and which pages those installation guides can be found on.


Car seat manuals will always have the weight, height, and age guidelines for the seat

Car seat manuals will always have the weight, height, and age guidelines for the seat

Second question up on the block: what are the limits of this seat?  This is generally located in the beginning of the manual with an overview over the entire seat, and then again within the
section for that feature of the seat.
The manual may even include visual pictures of how the seat should fit the child while in the seat.


Question number three brings us to washing, or caring for the seat.  This is a very important topic, because each seat may require different care.

Car seat manuals also contain cleaning information for the seat

Car seat manuals also contain cleaning information for the seat


For one seat the cover may be machine washable, but another may be spot clean only.


Question four steers us into discussing the expiration on your seat.   Learning that your seat expires may be new information for some parents. However, every seat on the market does expire.  The dates may vary from 5-10 years and some seats that are combination seats might have different expiration dates on the harness and the booster portion.  The date of manufacture will likely not be in your manual, that will be found on your seat, but an explanation of how long the seat is good for will be within the pages of your manual.


Car seat manual has information on the lower anchor limits as well

Car seat manual has information on the lower anchor limits as well


Look for warnings about lower anchors in the car seat manual

Look for warnings about lower anchors in the car seat manual

When LATCH, or lower anchors and tethers for children was introduced in the early 00’s, it was supposed to make installing child restraints easier, however, that is not always the case.  There are weight limits that go along with the use of lower anchors.  In early 2014, new regulations were introduced limiting the use of lower anchors to 65 pounds when the child’s weight and the car seat’s weight are combined.  All of the changes to LATCH are explained in our LATCH change post, found here.


That covers the top five questions that caregivers ask. The manual that comes with your car seat contains much more than that though.  Traveling?  You’ll need to know whether or not you can use your seat on the plane.  That can be found in the manual too!

Look in the car seat manual for FAA approval and installation instructions for airplanes

Look in the car seat manual for FAA approval and installation instructions for airplanes


Going out in the cold? The manual addresses that as well. Telling caregivers to forgo the thick and bulky coats is not something that we make up to make life more difficult.

Car seat manuals include information on bulky clothing and harnesses

Car seat manuals include information on bulky clothing and harnesses


Worried that your child doesn’t have head support or covers on the harness straps? Again, telling parents to forgo these items isn’t something technicians say for fun.  These directions come directly from the manufacturers.

Lost a part? The contact information for the maker of the seat is located within the manual as well!

Car seat manuals include warnings and contact information in case of lost or broken pieces

Car seat manuals include warnings and contact information in case of lost or broken pieces


Technicians are here to help and to educate parents.  Car seats can be confusing and the manufacturers understand that.  They may even include information about finding a technician near you for assistance!

Car seat manuals can help you find a local CPST

Car seat manuals can help you find a local CPST



What about your vehicle manual? The one that you got with your new car and has sat in your glove box collecting dust? That can also be full of useful information about installing car seats!

Not sure what to do with your car seat when you don’t have it secured or have a child in it? The manual will tell you.

Car seats manuals can give information on what to do with unoccupied seats

Car seats manuals can give information on what to do with unoccupied seats



Not sure how to lock the belt in your car? The manual will address that as well.

Lock your seat belt per your vehicle manual

Lock your seat belt per your vehicle manual



Don’t be afraid to employ your most powerful arsenal when installing your child’s seat. The manual is a wonderful thing!  If you find yourself miss your manual, don’t panic!  Most manuals can either be found online or can be obtained by calling the manufacturer.   Once you are in possession of this precious book of information, keep it in a place that is easily accessible, such as your vehicle glove compartment.






Orbit Baby G2 Review

In the market for a very unique and interesting rear facing only car seat?  The Orbit Baby fits this category to a ‘T’.

Orbit featured imageCSFTL Quick Stats

  • Weight range: 4-30 lbs
  • Height range: 19-32″
  • Shell height: 19″
  • Lowest harness position: 9″
  • Weight (carrier only): 10 lbs
  • Expiration date: 7 years
  • Handle position: At the shell


  • Rotating car seat base for easy docking at any angle into the car
  • Car seat base that fits both the infant car seat and toddler seat rear facing
  • Car seat hub that also locks into the stroller frame and rocker
  • Full coverage UV sunshade with Paparazzi Shield™ extension
  • Fabrics certified safe by Oeko-Tex® Standard 100
  • Meets all applicable flame retardancy standards without the potentially harmful chemicals, like PBBs and PBDEs
  • Secure installation in only 60 seconds just by turning the StrongArm™ knob
  • Soft carrier handle
  • Lower Birth Weight Fit Kit available separately


Fit to Child

If using this seat with newborns, it is highly recommended to use the lower birth weight fit kit.  It wasn’t available when this Little was born and I found the seat to be a bit big for her.

Orbit infant fit collageThe model on the left  was 2 days old, about 7.5 lbs and 21 inches long.  She just barely came to the bottom harness slot and had to use a rolled receiving blanket behind the crotch buckle to take up the extra room.  I found after using it for about a week that the infant head support that came with it actually caused her head to drop down to her chest, so I stopped using it and put rolled receiving blankets in its place.
Orbit harness comfort pads



I also found the harness comfort pads to be way too thick on her little body, so avoided using those as well.


Orbit low weight kit collage


The lower birth weight fit kit became available when she was about 2 months old, and 10 lbs.  It includes an under upholstery foam insert to raise the infant up, 2 side bolsters to take up the extra room on either side of the infant, and a smaller chest clip.  The bolsters and foam from the lower birth weight fit kit is designed for infants weighing 4-11 lbs.  The chest can be used as long as needed.  I found the fit to be pretty awkward with my 2 month old, but it might have worked better for a smaller infant.



Orbit older infantThe infant fit in the seat was great as this Little grew.  She’s a peanut, so it took a bit for her to fit well in it.  Here she is at 8 months, 15 lbs, and 27 inches.    I kept the smaller chest clip on the rest of the time we used the seat due to her narrow shoulders.  Orbit baby allows the use of each of the lower birth weight fit kit pieces individually as needed.  She still had several inches above her head.  It was a little more difficult to use the Paparazzi Shield at this point due to her feet going past the end of the car seat though.


Orbit seat features collage


The Orbit has several unique car seat features including a nice big canopy with a Paparazzi Shield that stores rolled up in the canopy and attaches to the bottom of the seat with elastic.  I loved this feature in the rain, snow, and wind.  The soft carry handle was helpful when carrying the heavy seat on your arm.  The seat also has an easily removable cover as well that can be removed without needing to take the harness out.




Installation was very simple with and without the base.  I installed it in a 2007 Kia Rondo with no issues at all.

Orbit StrongArm collage

The StrongArm technology consists of a knob at the front of the car seat that when it’s turned, it pushes a bar/arm into the seat back to tighten the base up against the vehicle seat.  Requires much less force than tightening manually.  The StrongArm can be used with both  lower anchor and seat belt installs.

**Important note about the StrongArm – There is a recall on the base due to the StrongArm detaching or failing to tighten.  To find out more please check our recall notice.**

Orbit lock off collage


The base also has a seat belt lock off so you don’t have to lock the seat belt.  The lock off works well and is very easy to use.


Orbit rotating hub collage


The most unique feature of this car seat is the rotating hub on the base and seat.  You can dock the seat in any position then turn it into the rear facing position.  I found this feature nice when keeping the seat in the car and just taking the baby out of the seat.  It can rotate 180 degree on the base so it’s not possible to turn it into a forward facing position. There is a window on the base that shows red when it isn’t clicked into the correct rear facing position and green when it is.

One big downfall to the base is the weight of it; the base itself weighs 15 lbs.  The seat is also heavy at 10 lbs, but the soft handle and narrowness of the seat helps with easier carrying.


Overall Thoughts

Overall this seat is very well suited for larger/older babies.  The rotating hub is a nice feature, especially if you don’t always take the seat out of the car with the infant in it.  Due to its decently tall shell, the seat is a long-lasting rear facing only seat.  The upholstery is soft and easy to clean. A few of the downfalls are the newborn fit and the weight of the seat.  Due to the hub on the bottom of the car seat, it can also make it a bit awkward to carry.  We typically kept it in the car most of the time and just took her out.  If we were going to be out for a while, we used the stroller frame with it and that was a nice addition and much easier to deal with than lugging the heavy seat around.

Orbit G3The Orbit Baby G2 rear facing only seat has been replaced by the G3 with a few changes to the look and feel of the upholstery.  They have the same specs though. You can find the Orbit Baby G3 on

Orbit Baby didn’t endorse or provide the seat for this review.  As always, opinions are all our own. Originally written by Angela Tastad. Edits maintained by CSFTL.

The Four Steps of Car Seat Safety

As parents we witness many milestones in our children’s lives. Some are wonderful, some just happen, and some we are naturally apprehensive about. When it comes to child passenger safety, four steps will take a child through their entire time from birth until they can begin to use the front seat after their 13th birthday. No step should be rushed: in child passenger safety it’s best practice to put off those milestones by using your safety seats to their maximums.

Rear Facing

Rear facing is the best protection for a child’s developing spine. Rear face to a minimum of age 2, ideally age 4.


Infants can rear face in a rear facing only car seat or convertible car seat

Infants can rear face in a rear facing only car seat or convertible car seat

  • Position harness straps at or below child’s shoulders.
  • Position chest clip at armpit level
  • Seat is installed at the correct angle
  • If using an infant seat, ensure handle is locked in a travel position per the manual.
  • Child is within the weight and height limits and has 1″ (unless otherwise specified) of shell above their head.
  • Rear face to the limits! Don’t worry about the child’s legs, they are safe and comfortable with legs crossed, propped up, or hanging to the side.
Older children can generally use rear facing convertible car seats for the first 3-4 years of their life

Older children can generally use rear facing convertible car seats for the first 3-4 years of their life


This Graco Nautilus can be used for children ages 2 years old and older

This Graco Nautilus can be used for children ages 2 years and older

Forward Facing

When a child has outgrown their rear facing convertible (not infant!) seat and is at least 2 years old, move to a forward facing seat with a 5 point harness.

  • Straps are at or above shoulders
  • Chest clip is at armpit level
  • Ears are below the top of the shell
  • Top tether is attached








Belt Positioning Booster

When a child has outgrown their five point harness, is at least 5 years old and is mature enough to sit properly, move to a belt positioning booster.

Children who have outgrown their harnessed seats, and are least 5 years old, can move to a belt positioning booster until 10-12 years old

Children who have outgrown their harnessed seats, and are least 5 years old, can move to a belt positioning booster until they fit the seat belt at 10-12 years old

  • Shoulder belt fits evenly across and flush with the torso, not cutting into the neck, slipping off the shoulder, or held out in front of the chest.
  • Lap belt sits low on the hips, touching the tops of the thighs.
  • Child is mature enough to stay seated without leaning out of the seat belt or unbuckling for the entire ride, even while asleep.
  • Shoulder belt threaded through the guide and positioned at or above the child’s shoulders.
  • When using a backless booster, the child should have head support from a vehicle headrest at least to the tips of their ears.
  • When the child is not in the vehicle, always secure the booster using a seat belt (or lower anchors, if provided) to keep it from becoming a projectile.
High Back Booster

Children who have outgrown their harnessed seats, and are least 5 years old, can move to a belt positioning booster until they fit the seat belt at 10-12 years old


Once a child is at least 10 years old and is tall enough to pass the five step, he may move out of a booster into just a seat belt, still in the rear of the vehicle

Once a child is at least 10 years old and is tall enough to pass the five step, he may move out of a booster into just a seat belt, still in the rear of the vehicle

Seat Belt Alone

When a child is at least 10 years old and can pass the five step test, they are ready for an adult seat belt alone.

  • Child sits all the way back in the vehicle seat with knees bent at the edge.
  • Shoulder belt fits evenly across the torso, not cutting into the neck or face.
  • Lap belt is low on the hips, touching the tops of the thighs.
  • Feet are on the floor.
  • Child can stay seated comfortably this way for the entire ride.


A chest clip goes… on the chest!

chest clip, retainer clip, armpit, best practice, Safety 1st, Guide 65

Proper Chest Clip Placement


Or more precisely, in the middle of the sternum. The retainer clip is designed to keep the straps parallel over the torso in a crash. Too low and the child could be ejected from the seat in a crash; too high and the child could suffer a neck injury. Line it up with the top of the child’s armpits, and it’ll be just right every time!