How to Choose the Best Car Seat – Quick Guide
Having a child usually means preparing a gazillion things before they are born but, if there is only one thing that you could prioritize for now, it should be investing in the best and safest car seat there is.
But, with so many brands in the market, we are often faced with the very difficult task of finding the best among all top rated car seats available. We know that these seats do not come cheap so we have come up with a quick and easy guide that will make planning and purchasing much easier for every parent.
Why Should You Buy a Car Seat for Kids?
Having a car seat is very important that parents are not allowed to take their babies home from the hospital without one. Kids are also required by law to sit in one until they are big enough to fit in adult seat belts, which usually happens at around eight years or older.
Even with the huge price tag attached to it, parents can definitely say that car seats are a worthwhile investment in that it ensures the child’s safety and it can be used for many years.
Car Seat Comparison
Before anything else, it is important for parents to get acquainted with the many types of car seats. Even the most expensive and so-called best car seats for toddlers and babies are pointless if one is not able to properly install it in their car. Improper installation and use of a car seat can leave a child vulnerable in a car accident.
So, to give you a clearer idea on the type of seat that you need, let us first look into the models available:
• Infant Car Seat
Otherwise called a rear facing car seat, this model is the first seat that most new parents would purchase. Infant seats are characterized by their separate bases and detachable seats which will allow parents to conveniently leave the base attached to the car while still being able to enjoy the freedom to remove the carrier out with the baby in it.
Most infant seats also come with a canopy to help block out the sun. They are perfect for use inside the car, when attached to a stroller or when they are simply being carried outside.
The best car seats for infants are especially designed for babies from birth until they are around two years of age. This usually translates to a weight of around 4lbs to 40lbs, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions.
• Toddler Car Seat
Meanwhile, the front facing car seat is designed for kids from around two to six years or a weight of 20 to 65lbs. As its name implies, this seat is made to face the front and is used for kids who already outgrows the maximum height requirement for rear facing seats.
As the child grows taller and heavier and reaches the limits of the forward facing seat, it may be time to transition into a booster seat which already uses a car’s own seat belt.
• Convertible Car Seat
Oftentimes, parents would prefer to get this model as it will allow them to convert from a rear facing to a forward facing seat without having to buy separate equipment. While this might be a very tempting thing to do, some parents would recommend not skipping the infant car seat. Even the safest convertible car seat is sometimes too big to accommodate a small baby and therefore not be able to provide maximum protection inside the car.
Convertible seats do not come with canopies unlike the infant seats and it is not recommended to create toddler car seat covers on your own, for safety reasons.
Additionally, these seats are equipped with a 5 point harness system to ensure safety so putting little babies in and out of these contraptions every single time can be a big hassle for parents. They can usually accommodate children from 5lbs and up to 40 to 40 lbs, depending on the model.
• 3-in-1 Car Seat
Yet another model to choose is the all-in-one car seat that is perfect for money-saving parents. The only unfortunate disadvantage to this type of seat is that because it tries to do everything, it does not perform quite well on a single task, at least compared to the specially-designed models.
Because it was created to transform as a child grows, 3-in-1 car seats are heavier and bulkier and are, therefore, not very compatible with small babies and smaller cars. These seats can be used rear facing for kids 5 to 45lbs; forward facing for kids 20 to 65lbs; and in booster mode for kids 30 to 120lbs.
How to Choose the Right Car Seat
Now that you know the basics of kids’ car seats, it is time to answer a few things before you make a purchase. Having a clear idea on the following questions will help you make the best decision.
Price is not the only factor to consider because even the mid-priced models can be a better choice compared to the most expensive ones as long as it is able to answer to all your needs.
Exactly what do you need to know before choosing a car seat? Here are some points to remember:
• How old/heavy/tall is your child?
Although car seat recommendations are determined by age, it is important that parents consider the height and weight before anything else.It can be a little mind-boggling and confusing to make a choice when you are presented with different weight and height limits but just think of it this way. The usual maximum height limit of most car seats is at 32 inches, a mark that the average baby boy reaches at 18 months and the baby girl at 19 months. By that time, your kid will have already started transitioning into a convertible front facing seat.
If your child does happen to grow taller than the average kid then that would simply mean that the transition to best forward facing car seat will happen sooner than the others.
How do parents know when to switch from car seat to booster? Toddlers not weighing more than 40lbs should go for forward facing seats. Meanwhile, kids around 4 to 8 years old or are less than 4 feet and 9 inches tall can transition to booster seats. You might also want to look at various state laws before making the transition.
Kids should be able to use seat belts without booster seats as long as the lap belt can be positioned on their upper thighs and not their stomach and the shoulder belt placed across the chest and not the neck.
• Where will the car seat be installed?
Parents who live in major cities know how difficult it can be to use even the most comfortable car seats. Although we would like for our kids to stay comfortable in their seats, we also know that ease of use can be a major factor. After all, research shows that more than 80 percent of child seats are not installed properly so we have to take this part very seriously.
For urban parents, it may be a wiser choice to go for a child seat that can be easily installed without its base and instead uses the cab’s seat belt. Doing this type of installation is a bit of a challenge so make sure to have that demonstrated at the store before purchase.
However, if you use your own car for driving around town with the baby, seats that come with a base are preferred as they much easier to install.
• Is it compatible with strollers?
Aside from considering car seat requirements, another factor that you might want to look into is an infant seat’s compatibility with strollers. This feature, however, should only be a secondary consideration and should not compromise your child’s safety.
Families who spend a lot of time outdoors may also look into using a car seat stroller combo. Those who constantly travel, on the other hand, can either decide to go for strollers or use a baby carrier instead.
• How long are car seats good for?
An often overlooked factor to consider when looking for the perfect infant seat is its expiry date. Yes, you read that right – this equipment does expire since the foam used to protect the baby and absorb the crash impact has a shelf life.
If you ever consider accepting a used car seat from family or friends, make sure that it has not expired and that it can still be used in the next 9 to 12 months that you will be using it. If the car seat has gone through a car crash or accident previously, it would be a wiser choice to discard the product and prevent anyone from using it instead of risking the life of the kid using it.
• What is your budget?
There is no denying it. While we all want to get the safest car seats for toddlers and babies, which often translate to expensive costs, not all of us have the budget to afford it.
Don’t worry, an expensive price tag does not entirely mean that it is the safest and best choice for you. Compare prices and features – and find out which ones you really need and cannot be negotiated – and make your decision from there.
Do not go for the latest Chicco car seat, the most expensive Baby Trend car seat or the coolest looking Britax car seat just because it is currently in trend. Regardless of the brand, go for one that you trust and does not burn a hole in your pocket.
Important Things to Remember
- Most parents get their car seat installation done wrong, even if they do their best to follow instructions step by step. To make sure that you never put your kid’s safety at risk, have your car seat inspected by checking www.seatcheck.org or www.nhtsa.dot.gov for more details. In case the inspector says that the car seat does not fit your vehicle, immediately return it to the store or have it exchanged for another model or for a refund.
- Always make sure to buckle up and see to it that the straps of the harness, regardless if they have 5 points or 3 points, fit snugly around your kid and are in the right position. Avoid bundling up your child under their harnesses as this can affect how properly it is fitted.
- After purchasing your chosen car seat, have the registration card filled and mailed out. This is very important as you it will become easier to contact you in case of a recall.
- Age, height and weight limits stated above apply as a general rule but laws may vary from state to state. Be sure to check what state laws say before making any transition.