As a parent, you want to have the safest car seat possible for your precious new baby. Of course, choosing a safe and reliable car seat can sometimes be a confusing experience. There are so many different models on the market, and it’s very important that you choose one that is not only safe and comfortable, but meets all of the specific needs of you and your baby. This is why we’ve taken the time to write a guide to tell you everything you need to know when it comes time to make the most well-informed child safety seat purchase possible.
In America, by law all children under the age of seven must be secured in a safety seat. Some states have further laws that require children to be in safety seats up to a certain age or weight, and you should inform yourself of the laws in your particular state so that you can purchase the most suitable seat for your situation. We hope that this guide helps you find the best car seat for your baby.
Which Type of Car Seat Do I Need?
There are several different types of car seats that serve different purposes. You should be well informed of the differences between the two, as its very important that you select the ideal car seat; the one that’s most appropriate for your new baby. Here are the various types of car seats and what their main purpose is.
Infant Safety Seats
These are, as you would imagine, safety seats that are meant for infants only. This would usually mean from birth to about two years of age, after which they would need to upgrade to a forward-facing car seat. These safety seats are generally designed to be rear-facing while in your vehicle.
Depending on how fast your baby grows, an infant safety seat will generally last you up to 24 months. If your baby grows fast, he or she might need a replacement quicker than that, though.
Most infant safety seats will also double as a carrier for your baby. This can be convenient, as you can use it to carry your baby with you when you’re out and about. Most infant safety seat models either strap directly into the car itself, or attach to a base that you must attach to the car. In most cases, you are able to purchase additional bases for your infant car seat if you have more than one vehicle that you wish to use it in. An infant seat may be the best solution if having a small, portable child safety seat is important.
- Generally the least-expensive type of safety seat
- Portable and many models double as a baby carrier, which is convenient
- You will need to upgrade when your infant outgrows it
Convertible Safety Seats
These seats are designed to be usable by your baby from birth until the point that they no longer need a child safety seat. This can be a great way to save money overall, even though that are often more expensive than standard infant car seats. Depending on the weight, height and age of your child, you can use them in either the rear-facing or forward-facing positions. There are usually no age limitations or parameters on convertible safety seats; they have weight and height limits and parameters.
The main downside to convertible car seats are that they are usually heavier and bulkier than infant car seats, and are generally not portable nor can they be used as a carrier. Some parents find these types of safety seats to be too large and unwieldy, especially for smaller infants. If you can handle these downsides, you’ll likely find that they are the best car seats, and you’ll get a much better investment for your money by choosing a convertible seat.
- Saves you a lot of money by virtue of eliminating the need to upgrade
- Higher weight and height capacity allows you to sit your baby in the safer rear-facing orientation longer
- Generally heavier than infant seats
- Usually not portable nor can they be used as carriers
Booster seats are designed for older children, and are only to be used in the forward-facing position. When your child reaches 40 pounds, they should be using a booster seat which allows them to use the car’s safety belts or restraints. A booster seat should be used until the child is about 80 pounds and around 57 inches tall. For most vehicles, this is the height and weight in which the built-in seat belts can be used properly without a booster seat. Of course, you should check with your local laws to see if they make any special stipulations about how long a child should be using a booster seat.
- Less expensive than convertible seats, on average
- Only useful for older children; a convertible option may be the best car seat for some parents
How Do I Know Which Type of Car Seat My Child Needs?
There are specific guidelines on child safety seats written by the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding how long children should be riding in the specific types of car seats. It is extremely important that you have a suitable car seat for your child’s particular age, size, and weight, and have it installed correctly.
The AAP recommends that all infants should be riding in a rear-facing safety seats starting from their very first ride home from the hospital. All children should ride in a safety seat until they are 2 years old — or until they reach the limitations on the particular seat they are using.
Here are the guidelines regarding the type of safety seat that should be used for each child.
Children that have outgrown their forward-facing car seat should then use a booster seat until they can properly use a seat belt. This typically is at a height of 4 feet 9 inches and somewhere between 8 to 12 years of age.
|Age Group||Type of Seat||General Guidelines|
|Infants/Toddlers||Infant seats and rear-facing convertible car seat||All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing infant car seat or convertible car seat until they are 2 years old.|
|Toddlers/Preschoolers||Convertible seat or forward-facing seat with harness||Children over the age of 2 years & those that have outgrown the limitations on their rear-facing seat should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness. This should be used for as long as possible, or until they outgrow their forward-facing seat.|
|School-aged Children||Booster seat||Children that have outgrown their forward-facing car seat should then use a booster seat until they can properly use a seat belt. This typically is at a height of 4 feet 9 inches and somewhere between 8 to 12 years of age.|
Choosing a Car Seat: A Guide For Parents
Now that you understand the differences between the different types of car seats, you should be better equipped to decide on which is the perfect car seat for your particular needs, as well as those of your child. There are some other factors you should consider when it comes to choosing a car seat, and here is a list of things you need to think about.
- Budget — How much do you want to spend on a car seat? There are a few different routes you can take. Going for a convertible car seat can save you a lot of money in the long run, because it can be used for a longer period of time. An infant car seat may be a smaller initial investment, but you will ultimately need to purchase a booster seat for your child when they outgrow it. Of course, just because a car seat is expensive doesn’t mean it’s better than others, so spending a lot of money won’t necessarily mean that you’re getting the best value for your money.
- The type of car seat — This is the most important factor in choosing a car seat. You really have to weigh the pros and cons of each type of car seat to determine which is best for your purposes. While a convertible car seat saves a lot of money, they are often larger than infant car seats and not portable. Conversely, many infant car seats are smaller and can double as a handy carrier. Think about what you would like in a car seat, and then decide whether you want to go with a convenient convertible car seat, or the infant car seat and then booster seat route.
- Safety — Any car seat you find for sale from a reputable manufacturer in the USA will have been tested and is guaranteed to meet or exceed the government safety standards. Having said that, there is no objective way to determine which car seats are safer than the others, but some of them do have extra built-in safety features that should make them safer than those without.
- Comfort — The comfort of any car seat is a very important factor, especially if you will be taking long road trips with your child. Choosing a car seat that is comfortable will make the car ride much more enjoyable for all involved — especially your child. Read for comments specifically regarding the comfort factors, type of material the seat is made with, etc. A car seat that has reclining positions will make it much easier and more comfortable for your child to fall asleep in.
- Overall ease of use — Some car seats are much easier to use than others. If you have a vehicle that is built to be LATCH compatible (this will be most newer vehicles) this is a much easier way to fasten a car seat. However, the seat belt installation method is just as safe if this is not a possibility; it is a little more of a challenge to properly install a car seat this way, though.
- Ease of use in the strap — Be sure to look for information on how the strap is adjusted. Some car seats will require the seat to be completely uninstalled in order to adjust it, as the levers or straps may be located at the back. Conversely, some car seats are designed to make this much easier, and will have a strap that is adjustable from the front, eliminating the need to remove the car seat from your vehicle. When it comes to car seats with front-adjustable straps, there are car seats that require re-threading through slots for each adjustment, while others may work with a simple lever or knob. These convenient car seats will tend to be pricier than those that are harder to use, but if you’re going to be using your car seat a lot — especially with multiple children — this can be a lifesaver.
Buying the Perfect Car Seat: Tips & Advice
When it comes to buying the car seat, you should keep the following tips in mind.
- There is no single “safest” or “best” car seat. The ideal car seat for your child will be the one that best fits his or her specific needs, fits properly in your vehicle, and is installed properly
- Do not buy a used car seat.
- You can never know the seat’s history.
- Car seats have an expiration date — after that, they’re no longer considered safe to use
- Might be missing the manual, and you cannot properly use a safety seat without having the complete manual
- Buying a car seat online can often save you a lot of money. Online retailers like Amazon often have prices far below list price, on top of free shipping and returns.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding finding the best car seat for you and your child, feel free to ask on any of the available comment pages and we would be happy to help.