Car Seat Buying Guide
Choosing the right car seat can be incredibly daunting, but it is a decision every parent has to make. With so many choices on the market, how do you know which seat is best for your child? This guide will help you understand your options and make an informed and confident car seat purchase.
There are three basic types of car seats: infant, convertible, and booster. Infant car seats are rear-facing seats specifically designed to support newborns up to 20 or 22 pounds - or in the case of some newer designs, up to 30 pounds. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants are best protected in rear-facing only seats, rather than those that convert from rear to forward facing, until they are at least 20 pounds and one-year old. Rear-facing only car seats are better suited for a smaller body and allow the baby to travel in a semi-reclined position, relieving pressure on the spine and neck. Infant car seats usually feature a carry handle for easy transport of a seated baby and are often available as part of a travel system, in which the removable car seat doubles as a baby carrier that easily snaps out of a stay-in-car base and into a compatible stroller. Many parents enjoy the convenience of travel systems, which allow the infant car seat to be quickly removed from the vehicle without having to wake a sleeping baby.
When choosing an infant car seat, there are several factors to keep in mind. First, it is important to check both the weight and height limits to make sure your child has ample growing room. Another important feature to look for when shopping for infant car seats is the quality of seat padding and the head support system. Chances are your baby will be spending many hours in his car seat and you want him to be as comfortable and content as possible. Also, choose a seat with a five-point harness, and test out the harness clips and adjusters before purchasing to make sure they are sturdy and secure yet easy to use. If you can't test the seat in person, read plenty of online reviews from parents and consumer advocacy groups.
BabyEarth.com offers a variety of infant car seats, from popular economy models like the Graco Infant SafeSeat to more high-end seats such as the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio. While Graco seats offer great all-round value, the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio employs technologically advanced safety features, including Side Impact Protection, a patented infant head support system that minimizes lateral head movement in the event of a side-impact collision, and a headpad width adjustment feature, which allows easy inflation or deflation of the head support to create a customized fit for your child. For a convenient travel system, many parents choose the Chicco Cortina KeyFit 30 Travel System, which combines the new KeyFit 30 rear-facing infant car seat with the Cortina stroller. The KeyFit 30 infant car seat can support up to 30 pounds, providing months of additional use compared to many other infant car seats on the market. The KeyFit 30 car seat is compatible with the Cortina stroller, a stylish, light-weight stroller that offers a one-hand fold and multi-position/fully reclining seat, among other amenities. The KeyFit 30 car seat is a breeze to snap in and out of the Cortina stroller, and after your baby outgrows the car seat you can continue to use the stroller until your child reaches 50 pounds.
As we already noted, safety experts recommend infants stay in rear-facing car seats at least until the child is one-year old. However, many children reach the maximum weight limit of their infant car seat long before their first birthday. Convertible car seats are a great choice for parents of babies who have outgrown their infant rear-facing only seats but are still too young to move to a forward-facing seat. Convertible car seats can be installed facing rear for newborns and infants and then convert to a forward-facing seat to accommodate older babies. In the rear-facing position, most convertible car seats can support approximately 30 pounds, and in the forward-facing mode they can usually hold toddlers from 20 to 40 pounds.
When shopping for a convertible car seat, be sure you understand the seat's rearward and forward-facing weight and height limits. If your budget is tight and you want to avoid purchasing both an infant seat and a convertible seat, most babies can be comfortably and safely seated in a convertible car seat from birth-but be sure to check the manufacturer's guidelines. Because they are designed for toddler use, convertible car seats often come equipped with convenience options such as cupholders, armrests, and storage compartments that are handy for snacking on the go. And, because accidents are bound to happen, a washable fabric seat cover is a must.
Of the convertible car seats offered by BabyEarth.com, the Britax Marathon, Decathlon, and Boulevard feature one of the highest weight limits. All three seats are able to safely support a child in forward-facing position up to a whopping 65 pounds, extending the seats' use to age 5 for most kids. For extended rear-facing use, the Maxi-Cosi Priori convertible car seat holds babies up to 35 pounds. This extra weight rating could add several months to the time that your little one spends facing rearward, which means enhanced safety for him and more peace of mind for you.
The third and final type of car seat that your child will need is a booster seat, sometimes referred to as a toddler or youth seat. There are a wide variety of seats in this category; some offer their own harness systems while others boost the child up so that the vehicle's lap and shoulder belts are in the correct position to secure the child. According to safety experts, children should not move from a full harness to a true booster seat until they reach the top weight or height allowed by their forward-facing car seat. Because many parents want to keep their child fully restrained as long as possible, five-point harness toddler seats such as the Britax Regent Youth Booster Car Seat are a popular choice. This style of booster looks more like a traditional car seat and offers more comfort if your child tends to fall asleep in the car. For a seat that grows with your child, the RECARO Young Sport Car Seat is a five-point harness seat that converts into a high-back, belt-positioning booster seat with height-adjustability for years of use. For older kids who are ready to use the vehicle's seat belts but just need a little extra help, the Combi Dakota Booster Seat is a backless belt positioner that is lightweight and ideal for carpooling or travel. The options in this category of car seat are truly varied, so start your search by looking at seats that are compatible with your child's age, weight and height, and then narrow the selections by focusing on desired features such as portability or conversion to a different type of booster.
No matter the type of car seat that you are shopping for, there are a few common issues to consider - such as making sure that the model will fit in your vehicle or that your kiddo has plenty of growing room within the manufacturer's height and weight limits. There are also a variety of car seat accessories that add convenience, protection, or comfort. Hot Toddies Car Seat Covers for Infant and Toddler Seats help protect car seat fabric and do not interfere with the seat's harness system. Your little one will appreciate neck supports such as the Baberoo NeckSaver Head Support that eliminate the dreaded car seat head slump. To help protect your vehicle's interior, the Two-Stage Seatsaver by Prince Lionheart includes a bottom tray for rear-facing car seats as well as a back-piece for use with forward-facing seats.
Because car seats save lives, it is important to choose a seat that works well for you and your child and to use it each and every time you're in your vehicle. For more information or help in determining which car seat is best suited for you and your baby, call our customer service at 1-888-TOT-BUYS or consult the comparison guide below.
Car Seat Type Comparison Guide
*Safety experts recommend children remain in rear-facing car seats until at least 1 year old AND 20 pounds, or until the seat's height and weight limits are reached.
**Weight and height limits differ among models. Always check manufacturer's guidelines for specific weight and height restrictions on each car seat you use.