How to Buy a Convertible Car Seat

Whether you are making the transition from an infant safety seat or you are buying your first car seat, there are certain features to look for when buying a convertible car seat.

When shopping for any car seat, the safety of the car seat should be your first priority. This guide will help you 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 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.
    • Weight/Height Limits – Different convertible seats have different weight limits for rear-facing and forward-facing. Consider choosing a seat with a high rear-facing weight limit if possible so that you can keep your child in that position for as long as possible. Research has shown that rear-facing is significantly safer than forward-facing and is recommended that children should remain in rear-facing until they are two years of age. A seat with a higher forward-facing limit might also be worth the investment since many kids aren’t ready for a booster seat until at least five years old.
    • Easy installation – Some car seats are easier to install than others. Built-in lockoffs are a useful feature that can help you get a snug installation. Convertible car seats have two different belt paths for installation, one for rear-facing and the other for forward-facing. Make sure you can access the belt path easily.
    • Latch System – 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.
    • 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.
    • Level indicator – Some car seats have a level indicator, which lets you know whether or not the car seat is properly reclined and installed. Check your car seat manufacturer’s instructions to see what angle your car seat should be reclined at for both rear-facing and forward-facing positions.
    • 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.
    • Energy-absorbing foam – This helps keep the baby safe and protect him from impact during an accident.
    • Side impact protection (SIP) – 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 have additional features. For example, the Diono Radian car seats can fold so storing or traveling with the seat is easy. In addition, their car seats are very slim, making it possible to fit 3 car seats in the back in most mid-size vehicles.

Some Britax car seats have a quick adjust harness, where you can adjust the height without having to rethread.

The Orbit Baby G3 Toddler Convertible Car Seat can be installed rear-facing on the Orbit Infant Seat base. Since the base is sold separately, this might be an additional benefit if you already own the Orbit Baby Infant Car seat that came with the base or the Orbit Baby G2 or G3 stroller.

These are conveniences that can make your life easier and are worth considering if you are trying to decide between car seats that already meet your other criteria.

Tips on Buying a Convertible Car Seat

  • 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 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.

Buying a Used Car Seat

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 safety 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.