Whether it is your first baby on the way, or transitioning into a toddler-sized car seat, there are many important factors to consider. Weight restrictions, convertible options and auto-leveling are just a few to think about.
We’ve put together a comprehensive buying guide to hit on some of the major factors that you should consider when purchasing a car seat for your bundle of joy.
Type of Car Seat
There are a number of type of car seats to choose from, and it’s important to think about longevity in this category. Are you going to want to buy a car seat when the infant is born, then buy a new one when they outgrow it? Or, would you like to buy one that works from day one all the way until they are out of a car seat?
Take a look at these definitions to better understand the different types of car seats.
Infant Car Seat
Infant car seats are rear-facing only. That means, when they are installed correctly they are facing the back window, away from the driver. These car seats are specialized for newborns and smaller babies. They only last, however, until the child is approximately nine months old.
Convertible Car Seat
Convertible car seats were a great idea. Whoever thought of this MUST have been a parent! The convertible car seat grows with the child, starting out as a rear-facing car seat (similar to the infant car seat above) and then can be switched around to a front-facing option when the child meets the appropriate safety requirements to do so.
The bonus of purchasing a convertible car seat is that you are only purchasing one seat throughout the duration of your child needing a car seat and then purchase a booster seat afterwards. They can be a little more expensive, but still saves money in the long run, considering you’re only buying one car seat instead of two.
All-in-One Car Seat
Once again, the person who invented these must have been a parent (probably of multiple children!) The all-in-one car seat option includes all of the above options (convertible and infant) AND adds a booster seat for when the toddler years are over. This is the “one-stop-shop” option for car seats.
The determining factor on which way your car seat faces is the weight restrictions.
**The below are generalized weight restrictions. If you want to know an exact weight that your car seat will handle it is located in either the manual, on the information label on the car seat, or both. **
Infant car seats (not convertible) allow for a child to be between approximately 4 lbs. and 40 lbs.
Convertible car seats in the rear-facing position allow for a child to be between approximately 5 lbs. and 45 lbs. When convertible car seats are in the front-facing position they allow for a child to be between approximately 20 lbs. to 70 lbs. Then, when the child either hits the age of two, or has outgrown the rear-facing weight restrictions, they should be graduated to a front-facing car seat.
Booster Seats are used after a child has reached a certain height to safely use a seat belt (at approximately 57”, or 4’9”. For weight restrictions, this usually appears to be within 30 lbs. to 120 lbs., depending on the child.
Car Seat Terminology
After making sure you understand the weight restrictions for car seats, and where your child is within those restrictions, you can begin to look at other features on the car seats. Here is a list of terms that will help you make an educated decision.
Base: The part of the car seat that connects it to the vehicle, secured by a LATCH or seat belt. The car seat itself is removable from this part.
Harness: The part of the car seat that safely restrains the child into the car seat. These can have various features, such as being a five-point harness or self-adjusting.
Chest Clip: Attached to the harness, it clips the two harness straps together at the child’s chest to act as a device to keep the shoulder straps in place.
Recline level Indicators: Features that assist in the safe and secure installation of the car seat in the vehicle. These indicators can come in a variety of ways, such as a red line or a bubble, similar to a level tool.
LATCH: Acronym for Lower Anchor and Tether for CHildren. This is a strap designed to aid in the installation of the car seat in the vehicle. They connect the car seat to the vehicle anchors, often found within the vehicle back seat.
In addition to looking at weight restrictions, and now understanding what certain terms are, it is important to factor safety features into your decision. Here are some that we recommend you look at closely.
The 5-point harness is now considered a common feature within car seats. It is a harness that has five straps, connected to one clip in the middle. The straps consist of: two shoulder straps and two leg straps on the outside of the legs (these “four” straps are often two long straps, separated by the chest clip), and one strap between the legs. These harnesses are rated high in safety against impact control in vehicle crashes.
Energy absorbing foam is referenced in various terms, depending on the car seat model. For instance, Safety 1st has ProTech EPP energy absorbing foam and Graco has Safety Surround Side Impact Technology. This foam offers an additional layer of impact protection during vehicle collisions.
If you are purchasing a convertible car seat for a newborn, make sure that the car seat includes an infant head rest. This removable headrest gently wraps around a newborn’s head, making sure their head does not move around too much while the vehicle is moving. It also offers a higher level of impact protection against whiplash by providing a more snug fit into the car seat.
Don’t forget About Style!
After all the stress about weight restrictions and safety features, don’t forget to find a model that suits your personality. You will be seen with this car seat every day, and will become a permanent attachment to your arm for at least a year, so you might as well find a color and pattern you enjoy.