Newborns can sit in two kinds of car seats: rear facing infant car seat or a convertible car seat. With so many different car seats available on the market, it might seem intimidating, but you can narrow it down if you have an idea of what you’re looking for. This guide will help you to understand what to look for when purchasing a car seat so that you can decide on the best car seat for your baby.
What to Look For When Buying a Car Seat
Below are features to look for when buying an infant or convertible car seat:
- Good safety ratings – Every car seat on the market has to meet the minimum safety standards, but you will want the safest car seat you can find, especially if you have an older car. There are also a lot of ratings that can help you decide how far beyond the basic requirements a car seat manufacture has gone, such as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s five-star rating system. The more stars a car seat has, the easier it is to install the seat and the more secure your child is in it.
- Five-point harness – This includes two shoulder straps, two waist straps, and one strap between the legs. These straps secure your child in place for maximum security.
- Easy installation – Cars and car seats made in 2002 or later include the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system, which is a configuration of straps that secure your safety seat at three different points, required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The LATCH system is a way to fasten the car seat tightly to the sturdy upper and lower anchors that are built into your car, which is a faster and safer alternative to using seat belts. If you have a car with the LATCH system, you’ll want a car seat with LATCH. If your car was manufactured before 1999, a seat belt must be used to secure the car seat. Unless you plan on switching cars, the LATCH system feature will be less important.
- Level indicator – Some car seats have a level indicator, which lets you know whether or not the car seat is properly reclined and installed. Rear-facing car seats should be reclined between 30 to 45 degrees depending on the car seat manufacturer’s instructions. Be careful not to over-recline any seat past 45 degrees.
- Front harness adjusters – When you put your baby in the car, you need to adjust the harness so it is helpful to adjust it from the front as opposed to the back.
- Head support – Since your newborn won’t be able to hold his head up, find a seat with an insert to support his head.
- Energy-absorbing foam – This helps keep the baby safe and protect him from impact during an accident.
- Side protection – A car seat with side-impact protection will have deep side walls that will protect the baby if there’s a side-impact accident.
- Adjustable sun canopy – This protects your child from the sun’s glare.
- Removable/washable fabric and pads – Your car seat will probably get dirty and you may want removable pads so that you can wash it.
Ideally, you also want to find a car seat with a no re-thread harness. This will allow you to easily adjust the straps of the car seat without having to rethread them. Many brands now have adjustment buttons or a pull cord between the baby’s legs to raise and lower the harness height so that it sits at the right place – at or below the baby’s shoulders for rear-facing, and at or above baby’s shoulders for forward-facing. As your baby grows, you will need to adjust the harness to fit the baby properly.
Premium car seats priced above $200 usually have additional features, such as an anti-rebound bar at the foot of the seat that limits the amount of movement during a crash.
Tips on Buying a Car Seat For an Infant
- Do not base your purchase solely on price. Find a seat that will provide your child with the maximum protection. Your primary consideration should be the car seat’s safety ratings. Then you can consider price, ease of use and other features to make your final decision.
- Expensive car seats are not necessarily better. Many mid-priced or cheap car seats work just as well or even better than pricier ones. It’s important to read their features and other customer’s reviews.
- Not all car seats fit in all cars. Make sure the car seat you plan on buying will fit in your car! If you are not sure, check the store’s return policy. Stores like Babies ‘R Us, Target, and Walmart usually offer a limited range of products in their retail stores with a wider selection available online. Online retailers such as Buy Buy Baby, Amazon, and Diapers.com offer even larger selections of seat brands and models. If a car seat doesn’t fit in your car perfectly or it is difficult to fasten in place, don’t use it. Some seats work better in some models of cars than others.
- Parents who own two cars might want to consider purchasing a second car seat base for their infant car seat. This makes it convenient to switch vehicles without having to remove the base each time. If this is the case, make sure you select a car seat that allows you to purchase a second base. For example, you can purchase an additional Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat Base separately on Amazon.
Another option is that instead of buying another infant car seat base, you can purchase an infant convertible car seat for use in the second car. You can install the infant seat in the primary car your child will travel in and install the convertible seat in the second car that is not used as often. This may allow you to save money since you will need to eventually buy a convertible car seat.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Car Seat
1) Infant car seat or convertible car seat
Buying a convertible car seat is cheaper since it lasts through toddlerhood but it is less convenient. With an infant car seat, you can easily take out the seat from the car, which is especially useful when your baby is sleeping. This is something you should consider because convertible car seats are not easily portable. For many parents, the ability to move a sleeping baby in an infant car seat is worth the price, even if the baby fits in the seat for only a year. You can read more about the differences between an infant car seat and convertible car seat so that you can decide on the better choice for you.
If you want to buy an infant car seat but need to save money, consider buying a travel system where the infant car seat and stroller are sold together at a discount. An example is the Graco LiteRider Click Connect Travel System, which is currently selling for $162.37 with free shipping on Amazon. This travel system includes the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 22 Infant Car Seat and LiteRider Click Connect Stroller. Amazon has other car seat and stroller combos on sale.
2) Used car seats
Be very careful about buying or accepting a used car seat. Not every car seat on the market has been tested and approved for the current safety standards. Since safety technology improves frequently, secondhand car seats may not be up to date.
Although it is not recommended, if you must use a secondhand car seat, buy or accept one from someone you know and trust. Ask the individual about the car seat’s history and whether it has been used in a car crash. Check for any defects, such as cracks in the plastic, and make sure the car seat’s expiration date has not passed.
Do not accept a car seat that has been in an accident, over five years old, or is missing parts. Plastic gets brittle over the years, so a seat that’s too old can break in a crash.
Some car seats are recalled due to faulty design. Look up the model of the car seat and make sure it is not one of the car seats that had been recalled. There might be updated parts that the manufacturer will need to send you to replace.
Ensure the car seat is installed and used properly in accordance to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can request instructions directly from the company. You want to make sure that the car seat has not been damaged in any way.
If you need help deciding on which car seat to buy, check out the 2017 best car seats.
Once you purchase your car seat, register it so that you’ll be notified of any recalls or product updates. Next, you will need to learn how to install the car seat properly.