No, Canadians can not legally use an American (or European) car seat or booster seat in Canada. We know they’re often much cheaper south of the border but there are significant structural and usage differences on seats that may appear to be the same. Visitors to Canada may be exempt in certain circumstances – check provincial or territorial law for specifics.
Car seat and booster seat manufacturers produce seats specifically for the Canadian market according to Transport Canada‘s strict requirements. You will know that a seat has been made for our market when you see the National Safety Mark on it: a circular sticker with a maple leaf (numbers and letters will vary by seat).
More info: Transport Canada Consumer Information Notice.
The BEST car seat is one that fits your child, fits your car, and fits your budget, and that you will use properly every single time.
All car seats pass the same set of Transport Canada crash test standards. There is a wide range of prices, and a big variety in value for money. Certain seats tend to suit different builds of children, and there are some seats that are incompatible in certain vehicles. Higher priced seats are often more expensive because of ease of use features, premium options or fabrics, or a brand name.
When shopping for a seat consider its long term use, how long before it expires (there’s a range there too – about 6-9 years depending on the seat), and whether you will have additional children to pass it down to.
Ideally you will try a seat in your car before you buy it, and try your child in the seat. If this is not possible, we can try to help you narrow it down, but please understand that we can not guarantee you’ll like the fit.
Rear-facing children are far safer than they are forward facing – and that’s true at any age, but particularly so for younger toddlers. For a more extensive explanation of rear facing and how to do it with ease, read here.
Frontal or frontal offset collisions account for the majority of all crashes where the occupants are injured. While other types of crashes do happen, car seats are designed and engineered to most protect in a frontal crash. They are also very protective in a side-impact as the child tends to stay cocooned within the shell of the seat.
When a vehicle crashes, everything inside keeps moving towards the point of impact, until something stops it. If your child is properly restrained in a rear-facing car seat, their head, neck, and spine are supported and protected by the shell of the car seat, and the crash forces are spread out over a large area. A forward-facing child has no such cushioning; as a result there is a tremendous amount of strain on the neck.
The younger a child is the larger their head is in proportion to the rest of their body. Combine a large, heavy head with weaker neck muscles and an infant or young child is at a serious risk for head injury and spinal cord separation (internal decapitation) if forward faced too soon. Joel’s Journey is one grandfather’s story about his 18 month old grandson in a forward facing car seat. Content warning though – it’s hard to read.
People often worry about what their child will do with their legs while rear facing. Kids are flexible and bendy – they sit with their legs crossed, dangling over the sides, or straight up against the back of the seat. And they’re comfortable doing it! Leg injuries while rear facing are not a concern, and it’s much more important to protect the head, neck, and spine.
Many car seats are now available to rear face even the tallest or heaviest children to at least age 2 – and often much older. When shopping for a seat, choose one with high weight and height limits. Look at your child’s growth pattern, your vehicle, and your budget, and choose something to keep them comfortably rear facing well beyond the legal bare minimum. We discuss our favourite convertible seats here.
Read more: Top Ten Tips: Rear Facing
To safely use a booster seat, a child must be over 40 lbs (18 kg) and mature enough to remain seated properly at all times. That means having the impulse control to not lean over to grab a toy, and not putting the belt behind their shoulder or under the arm. It also means they are able to remain in position even when sleeping.
Moving to a booster does not have to be an all or nothing event. A child might learn to sit properly for shorter trips around town, but use a harness on longer road trips where they might get tired or bored.
Some children are mature enough for a booster by age five, many by six, and the majority by age seven. The booster seat must also provide a proper belt fit, meaning the lap belt is low across the thighs and the shoulder belt is centered across the child’s shoulder.
Read more: Top Ten Booster Seat Tips
A child may safely use the adult seat belt when they properly fit the adult seat belt. This starts to happen when they are 4’9″ (145cm) tall. Legal minimums vary by province/territory.
If the adult seat belt doesn’t properly fit the child, it can’t properly protect them. A child might fit the adult seat belt in one car, but not another. It’s possibly they may need to use a booster seat for longer in vehicles with larger seats.
How do you know if the adult belt actually fits? Do a Five Step Test. If the answer is NO to any one of these questions, your child still needs a booster seat to be safely protected by the seat belt.
- Does the child sit all the way back in the vehicle seat?
- Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
- Does the shoulder belt lay across the collarbone, not riding up on the neck or slipping off the shoulder?
- Does the lap belt sit low and flat across the tops of the thighs, not riding up onto the belly?
- Can the child remain seated like that the whole trip, even when sleeping?
Teach kids to self-assess and have confidence in their safety no matter who they’re riding with.
Read more: Stage 4: Seat belt
Once a child is 13 years old they may be able to safely ride in the front seat. Ensure the seat belt fits properly and the child stays seated; no leaning, slumping, or feet on the dash.
Some provinces and territories have specific language about passengers in the front seat where there is an airbag; check yours for more information.
A child in a rear-facing seat should never be placed in front of an active air bag (the sensors in the seat are not reliable enough; the air bag needs to be deactivated manually).
Forward-facing seats usually can not be installed in the front passenger seat because there isn’t a tether anchor in that position, however there are exceptions. Check your car seat manual to see if your seat permits this in certain circumstances.
Most booster seats prohibit use in a seating position with a front passenger airbag.
Keep the cover off the seat if you want, for use or for sale for another identical seat, but everything else including the harness should be destroyed or recycled. Sometimes a local car seat technician might like the seat to use for training purposes, and we have exemptions to use seats for this purpose from Health Canada. Some areas have recycling depots that will take old car seats. Otherwise, it will need to be thrown out. Cut the straps and padding, write “Crashed, do not use” on the shell, even take a hammer or a saw to it, and bag it up so it isn’t obvious what it is.
As of this writing, our understanding is that the following places may recycle old car seats, but please call ahead to confirm. In most cases, all the metal, foam, webbing, etc, must be separated, and not all places listed will take all parts.
Pacific Mobile Depots will recycle a car seat for a small fee. The foam and metal bits must be separated from the car seat in advance, but can be recycled as well. The harness webbing and cover must be removed and cannot be recycled.
This varies by manufacturer, so check your manual. As a general rule, the harness straps should only ever be wiped with a damp cloth, never soaked or cleaned with chemicals or detergents of any kind. This is very important for the function of the straps in the event of a crash. Some manufacturers may allow for the cover to be machine washed, others only specify hand washing.
All passengers are safest if buckled up on a flight. Read more here.
As soon as your seat leaves your sight, you have no idea how it is going to be treated. A seat can be damaged, sometimes unseen, due to the way the seats handled. They can also get tossed around or crushed by other luggage while under the plane, or they may not end up at your destination at all!
If you do check your seat as luggage:
- Use a manufacturer-approved travel bag if available. Some have excellent replacement policies if your seat is damaged while transported in their bag.
- Have a back-up plan at your destination for if the seat is damaged and unsafe to use.
- Inspect it carefully upon arrival; remove the cover and look for cracks, dents, missing or damaged parts; check that it operates smoothly and normally.
Read more: Flying with your car seat
Check the manual or stickers on the seat! There is no common rule for infant seat handles. Older models often needed the handles back behind the seat, but newer seats now have reinforced handles and many have to be up or forward by baby’s feet.
The safest place is where you can install and use the seat correctly every single time.
We often hear that the middle is the safest – and in some circumstances that might be true. But a seat sometimes won’t install properly there, so then it’s safer to install it outboard (on the side).
Like crumple zones in modern cars, the webbing on the UAS or seat belt are actually designed to absorb some of the crash forces. They are meant to stretch a certain amount in a crash, and using both could mean neither stretches the way it is meant to.
Nearly every car seat manufacturer in Canada prohibits installation of their seats with both (Clek Foonf and Nuna Pipa installed with rigid UAS are the only exceptions as of this writing), meaning that either they have tested it and it has failed, or they have never tested it and you don’t know what the outcome might be.
If you feel compelled to use both, is it because you are having trouble getting a tight installation with just one? Let us help! There are some simple suggestions that can make a world of difference. Meeting one-on-one with a CPST is a good plan too; find one near you here.
Use whichever gives you the best installation.
Most vehicles and car seats have an upper weight limit on the UAS system. For most, that is when the weight of the child plus the car seat reaches 65 lbs. Once that limit is met, you must install with the seat belt. Make sure you lock it as required by your car seat and vehicle.
The centre of most back seats does not allow for UAS, so use a seat belt there unless you know for sure UAS is permitted by both the car and the car seat.
Pull all slack from the hip area, and tighten the harness with the adjuster strap(s). Attempt to lift and pinch a fold of harness at the collarbone area. If you CAN pinch a fold of harness there it’s too loose – keep tightening. Don’t over tighten. Prefer a video? See it in action here.
To rear-face tether both the seat AND the vehicle must specifically allow it.
Rear-facing tethering was phased out on Canadian seats, but we are starting to see some options return to new models.
There are a few different types.
- Swedish-style has you create a tether anchor point down and toward the front of the car. A small number of car seats allow this, but don’t require it. Vehicles do not typically allow it.
- Australian-style has you use the designated forward-facing tether anchor and bring the tether strap towards the back of the vehicle. This can be done with V-shaped tethers, or with single tethers. Check the car seat and vehicle seat manuals carefully to see how to use this feature and how to route the tether strap relative to the vehicle head rest. This style of tethering, where permitted, may be optional or required, so read carefully.