Can I buy a car seat in the US and use it in Canada? It’s way cheaper!

NSMNo, 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 – 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).

What is the best car seat?

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.

Why should I keep my child rear facing?

Rear facing children are far safer than forward facing – and that’s true at any age, but particularly so for kids under the age of 2.  For a more extensive explanation of rear facing and how to do it with ease, read here.

Frontal or frontal off-set collisions account for the majority of all crashes where the occupants are injured.  While other types of crashes do happen, child restraints 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, his or her 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.

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, but even if they were, you can fix a broken leg. What do you do for a broken neck?

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 him or her comfortably rear facing well beyond the legal bare minimum.  We discuss our favourite infant/child seats here:Infant/Child Seats

Read more: Top Ten Tips: Rear Facing

When can I turn my child forward facing?

Legally in Canada, you must follow the minimum guidelines on your car seat. As of January 2012, that means a child can turn forward facing once they are 22 pounds AND walking unassisted AND at least one year old. That said, children are 500% safer rear facing than they are forward facing, and we highly recommend keeping your child in their rear facing seat until a minimum of two years of age, or until they reach the limits of their seat.

Read more: Stage 2: Forward Facing

When can my child use a booster seat?

The legal minimum to use a booster seat is 40 pounds, though in Canada we also have a proper use clause, which means the child must be mature enough to sit properly in the booster every ride, for the entire ride, even while sleeping. This includes not tantruming in the car, not leaning over to grab a toy, and not putting the belt behind their shoulder. Some children are mature enough by age five, many by six, and the vast 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. 3-in-1 car seats generally do not provide good belt fit and should not be used as booster seats.

Read more: Top Ten Booster Seat Tips

When can my child use only the seat belt?

In British Columbia, a child may use the adult seat belt when s/he is 9 years old OR 4’9″ (145cm) tall.  Rules vary in other provinces and territories.

More important than meeting either of those markers though, is whether the adult seat belt actually fits your child?  If it doesn’t, it can’t properly protect him or her.  It’s important to also note that even if the adult seat belt fits in one seating position in one vehicle, that may not be the case in every vehicle or seating position your child rides in.  It’s possible s/he may still need a booster in one car, but not another.

How do you know if the adult belt actually fits?  Do a 5 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.

  1. Does the child sit all the way back in the vehicle seat?
  2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
  3. Does the shoulder belt lay across the collarbone, not riding up on the neck or slipping off the shoulder?
  4. Does the lap belt sit low and flat across the tops of the thighs, not riding up onto the belly?
  5. Can the child remain seated like that the whole trip, even when sleeping?


Read more: Stage 4: Seat belt

When can a child sit in the front seat?

Transport Canada states that the safest place for children is almost always the back seat until they are at least twelve years old, or ideally until puberty. However, there are situations when sitting in the front may end up being safer (or the only practical solution). Such as if there are no tether anchors in the back in a truck for a forward facing seat (and there are tether anchors for the front seat), if there are only lap belts available for a booster rider in the back, or if there are no head rests in the back for a child in a low-back booster or in a seat belt. 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). For forward-facing children or children in boosters, they should sit as far back from the air bag as possible if it cannot be manually deactivated. Always check your manual, as many booster seats prohibit being installed in front of an air bag.

How do I dispose of a crashed or expired car seat?

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. (The cover and harness are not recyclable, though the cover may be reused on an identical seat. Cut the harness straps and dispose of them.)

In Victoria:

Pacific Mobile Depots will recycle a car seat for a fee of $5. 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.

Syntal Products takes booster and car seats for free, but only the plastic parts and all other parts must be stripped.

Hartland Landfill & Recycling

reFUSE – The Repot will take car seats for $10 per item. Call for details on whether parts must be stripped off.

We currently know of no other places on Vancouver Island that regularly take car seats, but occasionally there are places that will host recycling events.

How do I wash my car seat?

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/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.

Why shouldn’t I check my seat on an airplane?

As soon as your seat leaves your sight, you have no idea how it is going to be treated, and now has an unknown history. A seat can easily be damaged, some of which may be unseen, due to the way the seats are often handled by baggage loaders. 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!

Read more: Flying with your car seat

Should the handle on my infant seat be up or down?

Check the manual! There is no standard across the board for infant seat handles. Pre-2012-compliant models often needed the handles back behind the seat, but newer seats now have reinforced handles and in 2012-compliant models the handles often have to be up. Some seats will show pictures of allowed handle positions on the stickers on the side of the seat as well.

Where is the safest spot to install in my car?

Statistically, the center rear seating position is the safest. However, a solid outboard installation trumps a poor center installation every time.

If you have two children in car seats and have the option of putting one in the middle, usually the least-protected child will go in the middle (so if you have one rear facing and one forward facing, the forward-facing child would go in the middle; if they are both at the same stage, the youngest one would go in the middle).

Why can’t I use both UAS and seat belt at the same time? Wouldn’t it be more secure?

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 any child in a seat using both is acting as a guinea pig.

Should I use UAS or seatbelt? Which is better?

The short answer is, use whichever gives you the best installation. Neither is safer than the other, as long as the car seat installs well, the parent is able to install the seat, and it is used correctly. In some cases, the UAS decreases the misuse since it can be easier, but this isn’t always true. Also, many vehicles and car seats do not allow center borrowing (using UAS in the rear, center position), but if the seat installs well in that position with the seat belt you can still use that position.

Also, most vehicles and car seats have an upper limit on the UAS system. Many vehicles it is when the weight of your child plus the car seat hits 65 pounds. Some of limits of a child weight of 40 or 48 pounds not including the car seat. If your child weighs more than that, you must install the seat with the seat belt.

How tight should the harness be?


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.

Tell me about rear-facing tethering

Rear-facing tethering is mostly being phased out on Canadian seats.

To rear-face tether both the seat AND the vehicle must allow it.

Rear-facing tethering is optional on all but a very few Britax seats manufactured from approximately Dec 2013 to July 2014. On the seats that require rear-facing tethering it’s clearly marked as required. Note that of the two types allowed most (all?) vehicles do not allow the “Swedish” style down and to the floor. That leaves you with the “Australian” type, and most parents don’t want to tether that way because it’s inconvenient. Britax listened to parents and made available an anti-rebound bar to replace the need to rear-face tether – contact them here. When the ARB was first released we filmed it – have a look.

In short: Unless you have one of those Britax seats that REQUIRE rear-facing tethering (and you don’t yet have the ARB to make your life easier) then just don’t. Stow the tether in the designated spot, and save it for when you need it forward-facing.

What are the 2012 standards? Is my seat compliant? Can I still use my old seat?

The new 2012 standards came into effect on January 1, 2012. Non-compliant seats are still safe to use (assuming they have not been crashed, dropped, checked on an airplane, had the harness straps washed, etc), but cannot be sold or given away anymore.

Read more: Summary of 2012 standards