We know the car seat is one of the most important pieces of baby gear, but how do we know what car seat we need when? Well, generally speaking there are three types of car seats – infant car seats, convertible car seats and booster seats. It is hard to know when you need which and what features are worth consider before purchasing or registering for a seat. There is a TON of information (and opinions) out there about car seats and while we’ve certainly been thorough with this Buying Guide we have tried to keep it brief so you can easily digest the information. Down the line, we’ll add more specific information about each car seat type.
With all types of car seats it is important to consider the following:
– Ease of use – from installation to strapping your little one in make sure the seat is easy to use. Check the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s five-star rating system – the more stars the easier it is use.
– Lifestyle – consider your lifestyle and choose not only the type of seat but brand of seat accordingly.
– Safety – Be sure the seat has adequate side impact protection as well as the LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system. As of 2002 all car seats and vehicles, have the LATCH system which allows the car seat to attach directly to the vehicle. However, always follow manufacturers instruction for installation.
– Adjustability – With all seats make sure the harness and seat is easily adjustable so it can grow with your child. Look for models that allow you to adjust from the front instead of the back.
Infant Car Seats:
Pictured: Chicco Keyfit 30
Theoretically speaking there are two types infant car seats – a bucket/”pumpkin” seat OR a convertible seat. We’ll discuss convertible seats in greater detail below. Infant car seats are rear facing, generally can be used up to 35 pounds and 32 inches – depending on the type of seat you have. All infant car seats have five point harnesses.
You may be asking, if a convertible seat functions as an infant seat than why spend the money on an infant seat? For a few reasons…
1) Safety – most experts agree that infants, especially those under 20 pounds are safer in a smaller, more compact infant seat.
2) Convenience – Infant seats make it easy to move your little one from place to place and almost all models have the ability to snap into a stroller for even easier transport. It is also possible to buy a separate base (usually less than $50) for use in a second vehicle.
The downside? When your child outgrows the seat you have to buy a convertible seat. Some of your other gear like a Snap N Go Stroller may also become obsolete and you’ll have to purchase another stroller if you don’t already have one.
Additional features to consider:
– Compatibility: if you plan to use the infant seat with a stroller be sure you are happy with which types of strollers your chosen infant seat is compatible with.
– Weight of seat: because this seat can be used as a carrier and is constantly in/out of a car make sure the weight of the seat is manageable.
– Size: be sure the seat and base fits in your car.
– Comfort: make sure the seat has ample head and body support as well as decent canopy size.
Convertible Car Seats:
Pictured: Britax Boulevard CS
As we mentioned, convertible car seats can also be used for infants. In fact, most fit babies as small as five pounds! A few things to keep in mind before you cross the infant car seat off the registry list:
1) Convertible seats snap in to cars and do not snap into strollers and are not made for transporting your little one in and out of the car. Further, they do not strap into strollers.
2) Convertible seats do not have additional bases meaning you have to either buy two seats or switch the seat from vehicle to vehicle.
Most convertible seats fit children up to at least 40 pounds and many newer models accommodate children up to 65, 70 or 80 pounds. These seats can move from rear facing to forward facing when the time is right (experts suggest after two years of age but always check with your pediatrician). Like infant seats, Convertible seats have a five point harness.
Additional features to consider:
– Size: some Convertible seats are HUGE so be sure the model you choose fits in your car.
– Comfort: again, make sure the seat has ample head and and body support as well as comfortable and breathable fabric.
Pictured: Graco Nautilus
Booster seats are the last stop in the car seat world. Children need booster seats when they outgrow their convertible seats which for most children happens around ages three to five. It is recommended that booster seats be used until a child is up to 80 pounds an 4’9″ but double check with your pediatrician and your state laws.
A Booster seat straps directly into the car and most are designed to not use the LATCH system. The vehicles seat belt (in most cases – see below for exceptions) is what restrains the child. The seat belt should fasten across a child’s hip bones – not waist or belly.
There are several different types of Booster seats:
– High back boosters: a booster seat that resembles a captain’s chair of sorts and have body and head support.
– Backless boosters: have all the same safety features of the high back booster but without the back. Many parents like that the child’s back is directly against the car’s seat. These are often best for older kids.
– Combo seats: These booster seats usually have a five point harness system which is a great feature if your child hasn’t quite grown into a booster but no longer fits in the convertible seat. When the child is enough, the harness is removable for use in the “booster mode”.
Not one of the above is better than an other the important take away is choosing the one that best meets the needs of your little one!
There you have it – a high level but comprehensive car seat buying guide. What are your tips for purchasing the right car seat?