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How To Pick The Best Car Seat For Your Unique Situation

This page will help you find the best car seat available for your particular needs. You will find a car seat that is safe, meets your size requirements, and has all the features you want.

Only a small percentage of parents actually install their car seats correctly. So when you are looking for a car seat for your child you should choose the car seat that is easiest to install properly.

Don’t get too caught up in trying to find the “safest” car seat. Each car seat has to pass rigorous testing before it is allowed to be sold on the open market. Less than a quarter of all car seats are installed properly.

It only is against the law to install a car seat incorrectly when the installation becomes particularly egregious. Like when one woman balanced a car seat on the armrest in between the two front seats and the child died in a crash.

Even if you aren’t a complete idiot installing a car seat correctly can be fairly difficult. That is why your first concern should be finding a car seat that is fairly easy to install.

What Type Of Car Seat Are You Looking For?

Infant Car Seat
Convertible Car Seats
Booster Seat
Lightweight
Forward Facing

Are You Buying On A Budget?

If you are budget-conscious you should consider just how long you will use the car seat and how long it will last. A cheap car seat might not be what’s best in the long run. You can get a cheap car seat now and have to replace it in a few years because a child has either outgrown it or it has become a complete mess.

Many parents will tell you that one factor that retires car seats the fastest is the stains and crust that gets stuck on it. If a car seat isn’t easy to clean, it won’t last long. It’s always best to look for car seats with removable and washable parts.

Safety Factors

Many car seats exceed the high safety standards of the NHTSA, but that matters little if you don’t install the car seat properly or use it incorrectly.

When choosing a car seat it is important to take into consideration your child’s age, height, and weight.  Only certain types of car seats are recommended for newborn babies. Newborns should always travel in the rear facing position.

Make sure you don’t graduate your child to a booster seat too early.

You also should make sure that your car seat fits into the car tightly. There shouldn’t be too much wiggle room or movement.

You need to ensure that the harness straps fit tightly and are positioned correctly (at or below the baby’s shoulders). You should make sure that the baby is reclined in the seat so that her head doesn’t fall forward.

Recently it has come to the attention of many child experts that puffy winter coats change the way the safety harnesses fit in an unsafe way.

Features You Should Look For

You should always look for a 5-point harness. They are actually much safer for your baby than the 3 point harness car seats. And often overlooked safety feature of a 5-point harness is that it keeps your baby from wiggling into an unsafe position.

You should also make sure that the harness is easy to adjust. When the harness fits your child perfectly, it is much safer.

Always pick a car seat that advertises side impact protection for your child. Side impact protection is not as heavily regulated as other features so look for a car seat that particularly advertises side impact protection.

Types Of Car Seats To Consider

There are some things you should take into consideration before buying your car seat. You should think about the size of the car you will put the car seat in. How much will you be carrying the car seat? Will it be a strain on your back to carry a heavier seat? Do you want to save money in the long run with a convertible or do you want the safest ride for your newborn with an infant only seat?

Lightweight Car Seat

For some people having to do with a heavy car seat and can be difficult on your back. Even for those people who need not take the car seat out of the car often even adjusting a heavy car seat can be difficult. Especially if you are a small person or you have a bad back.

Infant Car Seat

You might wonder why you would want to buy an infant car seat if the child is just going to outgrow it fairly soon. Many people look to save money with a convertible car seat instead. Reason many new parents choose an infant car seat is because it can be much more convenient than a convertible car seat.

If you buy a full travel system, you can use your infant car seat with your stroller. You can’t use a stroller without some infant carrier until the baby can hold up its head on its own. That means you would have to go 6-months without being able to use your stroller.

The infant car seat also allows you to take the baby out of the car without having to unfasten the baby. This means you can take the baby out of the car without waking her up. An infant car seat is also much more flexible. You can carry the infant car seat with you or easily use it safely with a seat belt if you happen to be riding in a friend’s car, for example.

Convertible Seat

Many expectant parents looking to save money in the long run will pick up a convertible car seat. Some convertible car seats will accommodate infants. So they could last a good while if you can keep them clean.

Booster Seat

After your child reaches 40 pounds and 4 years old, you can move them to a booster seat, but many experts recommend that you postpone that graduation of sorts.  Some convertible car seats can accommodate children weighing up to 75 pounds.

Toddler Booster

These are forward facing only seats you can convert that into a full booster seat once your child reaches a certain age and weight. They aren’t as expensive as convertible seats and they are safer for children that aren’t big enough for a booster seat.

How Much Will It Cost?

I know you’re probably cringing right now but I can safely say you don’t have to get the most expensive car seat to keep your baby safe. Many of the crash reports will tell you that some mid-level car seats perform just as well on safety test as the more expensive models. So you can get a good car seat for around $200-$400.

Which Car Seats Are Easiest To Install?

Anytime you’re looking for a car seat you should always look for one that has a bubble level.  To install the car seat properly, make sure it is level. There is a little feature on some car seats that will tell you whether the car seat is safely aligned.

The car seats don’t have the bubble level are much more difficult to install properly.  So if one car seat is less expensive but doesn’t have bubble level do not get it. It is not worth the hassle.

If you’re trying to squeeze in a few more kids in the back seat, then you want a car seat that is relatively narrow.

A car seat that is smaller from front to back is necessary when you have a small car.  If you have a small car, then you should definitely check the dimensions of any car seat you buy before buying it. Or at least read a good review on a small car seat.

Things You Should Know When Looking For A Car Seat

There are a few things you should know about when it comes to buying a new car seat. Some simple terms and overall concepts about how a car seat works.

Latch Connectors

It became a requirement in the early 2000s that all car seats have latch connectors. They come as hook on, push on, or lower anchor latch connectors. Each car seat has a weight limit for using the latch connectors. If your child and the car seat combined exceed a certain weight, then you must use the seat belt to connect the car seat instead of the latch connectors.

Top Tether Straps

These are straps that anchor to the vehicle seat when the car seat is in the forward facing position. These tethers reduce the chance of your child experiencing a head injury from a crash dramatically.

Harness System

The harness system is what will keep your baby strapped in if you were to have an accident. The 5-point harness system is safer for children that the 3 point harness system. The harness system will have to be adjusted again and again as your child grows and grows.

Recline Indicator

This tells you if the car seat is in the correct reclining position for child safety. Different car seats have different ways of showing whether the car seat is level.

Some have a bubble line or a ball that tells you whether the seat is in the right position.

Others just have a simple line you have to look at to determine whether the line looks straight to you. The bubble or ball level is much easier to use to determine the right position for the seat.

Accessories

There are car seats that come with different accessories like covers to keep the sun out of the child’s eyes or cup holders etc. If possible, you want to get accessories the car seat manufacturer has approved for use with your specific model of car seat.

If you want to buy an accessory, do a simple search to make sure that the accessory is safe for use with your car seat.

For example, if you buy a poncho or a tray for the car seat it could snap off and go flying in a crash.

Reading Your Owner’s Manual Might Save You A Headache

Before buying a car seat you should make sure you know where the latches are in your vehicle. Some car seats have no latches in the middle which is the safest place to put the car seat.

If you end up taking your car seat to a child safety technician, they will want to see your car’s manual to make sure they haven’t missed anything important.

When Can My Child Stop Using A Car Seat?

Despite what many people think children should stay in car seats until they reach the age of 12. A child should use a booster seat until she is taller than 5’6 and at least 8 years old.

Don’t let peer pressure cause you to make a decision that might put your child in danger. If your child doesn’t meet the requirements for using a seat belt, then use a booster seat.

9 years old is actually the earliest that you should consider graduating your child to the seat belt.