Car Seat – Guide for Choosing The Best Seat For Your Baby

Most hospitals in the US and UK won’t let you leave your newborn baby unless you have a car seat to get them home in. So before you bring home the newest member of the family, it’s best to prepare in advance and get the right car seat for your baby. “Winging it” isn’t one of your options at this stage. You will need some idea of what you are investing in as soon-to-be parents.

At a Glance

  • In the US, child passenger restraint laws require children to travel in size and age-appropriate car seats or booster seats. Using the right car seat for your child reduces the potential risks of fatal injuries, especially for babies and toddlers.
  • Keep in mind that ︎there are 3 important things you should consider in choosing the best car seat for your baby:
    • Size of your child including the height and weight
    • Age of your child
    • Compatibility of the child seat model to your vehicle.
  • In choosing a car seat, parents should also consider factors like the ease of use and installation to ensure the safety and protection of your growing child. They should also consider purchase criteria like mounting options, breathability, and convertibility.
  • A rear-facing car seat installed in the backseat is suitable for newborns up to 3 years old. A forward-facing car seat is suitable for kids between 1 to 7 years old so long as they meet the height or weight requirement as specified by the manufacturer. A booster seat is suitable for kids between 4 and 12 years old. Wearing a seat belt is acceptable for kids who are 8 to 12 years old.
  • In recent years, car seat manufacturers have to comply with flammability standards without using flame retardants, ensuring the overall health and safety of the child.

According to statistics, a lot of parents would actually allow their children to travel in vehicles without using an appropriate safety seat, placing their lives in danger. It’s also very frustrating to know that nearly 80 percent of car seats are installed incorrectly making babies vulnerable to accidents.

What is a car seat?

Car seats or child safety seats are the best way to protect your kids when traveling by vehicle. They are made of inexpensive but durable materials like polyester, to withstand prolonged use. In the US, infants or small children have to be restrained to prevent unintentional injuries caused by automobile crashes. Using the right seat for your child reduces the potential risks of fatal injuries, especially for babies and toddlers. Just buying the most expensive child or baby seat will no longer be enough to completely protect your child. Similar to when you’re buying other gears (e.g., baby helmet, baby stroller, etc.) for your little one, there are general guidelines you need to understand correctly to ensure your child’s optimal safety.

Portrait of preschool kid boy sitting in car

What are the legal provisions for car seats in the US?

There is a car seat legislation you need to consider, especially at this stage of your child’s development. In the US, child passenger restraint laws require children to travel in size and age-appropriate car seats or booster seats. This law entails that they can only start using seatbelts once they are big enough to fit in them.

According to CDC, 12 states in the US require car seats or booster seats for children of age 5 and below. 36 states including District of Columbia require car seat use until the age of 6 or 7 years while two states require car seat use through the age of 8 years. Today, some state would need a car seat for every child until they reach the height of 135cm or when they reach the age of 12.

Your child’s weight and height are important factors when selecting a car seat. When the car seat is not appropriate for your child’s size, the seat may not adequately protect them in case of an accident.

What car seat types exist?

1. Rear-Facing Car Seat 

  • Infant Car Seat – Designed for newborns and small babies and is strictly used in a backward-facing position only.
  • Convertible Seat –  Can be adjusted based on your child’s size and can be converted to forward-facing seat with a harness.
  • All-in-one Seat – Can be converted and adjusted from a backward-facing seat to a forward-facing seat to a booster seat.

2. Forward-Facing Car Seat

  • Convertible Seat – Can be adjusted based on your child’s size and can be converted to forward-facing seat with a harness.
  • Combination Seat – This seat transitions from a forward-facing seat with a harness and tether into a booster.
  • All-in-One Seat – Can be converted and adjusted from a backward-facing seat to a forward-facing seat to a booster seat.

3. Booster Seat

  • Booster Seat With High Back – Designed to boost the child’s height, so the seat belt fits properly while giving support to the head and neck. This is ideal for vehicles with no headrests or high seat backs.
  • Backless Booster Seat – Ideal for vehicles with headrests and designed to boost the child’s height to keep the seat belt to fit properly.
  • Combination Seat – This seat transitions from a forward-facing seat with a harness and tether into a booster.
  • All-in-One Seat – Can be converted and adjusted from a backward-facing seat to a forward-facing seat to a booster seat.

4. Seat Belt

Children can start using the adult seat belt if they meet the following criteria:

1) they are tall enough to sit erect without slouching;

2) they can maintain their back rested against the vehicle seat;

3) they can maintain their knees comfortably bent over the tip of the vehicle seat; and

4) they are able to maintain their feet flat on the vehicle floor.

Material

Most car seat or child safety seats are made of polypropylene, a flexible, tough plastic that doesn’t crack easily. Smaller components such as the buckles, buckle latch plates, harness adjusters, and lock clips, are typical of products from specialty manufacturers.

Manufacturers also select the materials for the cover fabrics based on color, durability, and fashion. The car seat covers and harnesses are usually made of fabrics and vinyl, which should be able to withstand flammability tests. Apart from this, they are also easier to wash. The seats have padding of foam that is flame resistant and meet standards for energy absorption.

Car Seat Size Chart: What size should be used for what age/weight of my child?

Age

  • Rear-Facing Car Seat (Newborns up to 3 years old)

All newborn below the age of one should be in a rear-facing seat installed in the back seat. In the event of a crash, this type of car seat cradles following the movement of the child, thus, reducing impact to the child’s fragile neck and spinal cord.

  • Forward-Facing Car Seat (1-7 years old)

Children can shift to a forward-facing car seat when they meet the maximum height or weight as specified on the manufacturer’s label. During a crash, the harness contacts the child at the strongest parts of the body to distribute the force and impact and keep the child in his seat. The tether that forms part of the seat limits the child’s forward head movement.

  • Booster Seat (4-12 years old)

A child can move to a booster seat once he reaches the top height or weight limits stated by the manufacturer. During a crash, a booster seat positions the seat belt so that it fits properly over the strongest parts of a child’s body, thus, reducing injury.

  • Seat Belt (8-12 years old)

A properly fitted seat belt must strictly lie snugly across the upper thighs, and across the child’s shoulder and chest. In the event of a crash or pressure, the seat belt restrains the strongest parts of the body.

Weight and Height

  • Backward-Facing Car Seat

Can be used by infants up to 22 to 40 pounds, depending on manufacturer’s label. Many convertible seats and All-in-One seats have higher limits in terms of weight and height in backward-facing seats (up to 40–50 pounds) than backward-facing-only seats, which make them ideal for bigger babies and toddlers.

  • Forward-Facing Car Seat

Combination-seats can be used forward facing with a harness for children who weigh up to 40 to 90 pounds depending on the manufacturer’s label or without the harness as a booster (up to 80–120 pounds).

  • Booster Seat

All children whose weight or height exceeds the forward-facing limit for their car seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height. Instruction manual and manufacturer’s label that come with your car seat will tell you the height and weight limits for the seat.

  • Seat Belt

Most children will not fit in a seat belt alone until 10 to 11 years of age. When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for the best protection.

What are the most important purchase criteria for car seats

Mounting options

European and American car seats differ. The former adopts the ISOfix system recommended by the United Nations while the later utilizes the LATCH system or the Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children. US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) focuses on the LATCH system because of the likelihood that the support leg would be misused requiring further action for the parent.

The lower anchor attachment is used to install the car seat in a vehicle with lower anchors while the tether is able to secure a forward-facing car seat and limit forward head movement in the event of a crash.

Breathability/Heat management

Today, car seats for children have heavy padding for better protection from any form of impact. Seats have become deeper as a result. This only means that your baby is now safer to commute, but the downside is dealing with heat entrapment.

For instance, backward-facing car seats are not directly hit by air-conditioning, making your child sweaty or uncomfortable. That is why manufacturers offer premium versions with more breathable fabric to address the issue. So, before making that purchase, take into consideration the materials of the car seat to ensure the comfort of your child during travel.

Convertibility

Convertible car seats start in a backward-facing position for babies. You can switch it to a front-facing position once your children grow bigger. Because of its convenience, a  lot of parents use infant car seats initially and transition to a convertible one after at least two years.

If you start with convertible car seats, take note that these are heavier and bulkier than infant car seats. If you are planning to use it on multiple vehicles, transferring may be a lot more stressful for you.

Health and Safety of Car Seats

What are the Don’ts for buying and installing car seats

1. Don’t miss reading the label. Every car seat is unique to every type of child. To make sure that you are getting the right car seat for your child, read the label and look for the height, weight and age limit the product is intended for.

2. Don’t Buy Second-hand Car Seats. Though you can save money by doing so, second-hand car seats do not guarantee 100% safety and protection for your child. Car seats that have been in a crash or accidents should never be recycled because they impose a high risk to you and your child. There could be missing fragments, broken parts, or missing labels.

Forward or Backward – What is safer?

Backward-facing car seats support the head, neck, and spine. They are designed to distribute crash force and impact across the shell of the car seat.

To protect your child, experts recommend keeping them on a backward-facing car seat until the age of two. Babies under this age are not yet strong to withstand intense crash force in the absence of extra protection that a backward-facing car seat provides. Putting them in a forward-facing position may result to head, neck or spinal cord injuries in the event of accidents.

Toxic substances in car seats

Leading manufacturers of car seats in the US ban some of the most damaging toxic chemicals found on car seats.

A 2016 study by The Ecology Center, a non-profit education group, states the discovery of toxic chemicals on 15 car seats from various brands. These chemicals are usually found on seats as flame retardants known to cause cancer, affect hormone functioning and harm the child’s growth and development.

In compliance with federal regulations, car seat manufacturers have to comply with flammability standards without using flame retardants. This move is significant in ensuring the overall health and safety of the child. This alternative significantly affects the cost of car seats.

Pro Tip: Regardless of these chemical hazards, it is still essential to keep your children in properly installed car seats.

Are there any safety certificates for car seats?

To ensure that your child’s car seat is installed correctly, it is essential to connect with a child passenger safety (CPS) technician in your community. They are also responsible for teaching you how to use and install a car seat on your own. In the US, you can find CPS technicians through the National CPS Certification Program. You can simply accomplish an online form and proceed to search by location or special needs training.

Working with a CPS technician is a one-on-one learning experience. At the end of the session (20-30 minutes long), you should be able to know how to properly install the car seat correctly and reinstall it with ease.

Care and Cleaning Tips For Car Seats

The safety of your children is always first so when it comes to cleaning car seats, follow these tips to prolong its use:

  • #1: Be sure not to use harsh chemical products, soaps, and scrubs that may potentially damage any parts of the car seat.
  • #2: As much as possible do not disassemble the seat or wash detachable materials in the washing machine that may cause damage or deterioration. Use a damp cloth on a strap to avoid damage.
  • #3: Mix warm water with a teaspoon of laundry detergent to remove stains.
  • #4: Remove excess soil or particles by using a vacuum or a soft brush.
  • #5: You can lay flat the car seat under the sun for few hours to dry or remove any strange odor.
  • #6: Wipe the plastic portion of the car seat with a damp cloth and a small amount of all-purpose cleaner.
  • #7: Pack a towel or any appropriate protective covering in advance if your child loves to snack, is easily nauseated during travel or has reflux to avoid possible spillage of food on the fabric.
  • #8: Reinstall the car seat based on the manual. But if you are not capable of doing so, always contact a CPS technician to ensure the proper installation of the car seat.

Useful accessories and additional products

More and more families are becoming aware of the importance of investing in a car seat. For this purpose, car seat accessories can’t be too far behind. The items on our list may come in handy when traveling with your baby:

Car seat toys

You can easily clip various play arches to your baby’s seat to keep them entertained while your vehicle is on the move. You can clip play trays on their seat where your child can quickly grab their toys or snacks.

Car seat protectors/covers

Car seat rain covers are convenient, especially when you have to move your child to or from the car during a downpour. Summer covers keep your baby cool and comfortable during the hotter months.

Car seat protectors may seem like a good idea to prevent scratching and damage on your back seat. But in reality, they could potentially compromise the purpose of the car seat. These additional paddings or materials placed between the car seat and its fixing could mean that the car seat doesn’t fit properly. Be sure that the car seat protector you are getting is appropriate for your existing car seat model.

Car seat strap covers

Almost all car seat strap covers are easy to attach with hook and loop. They are made of soft materials, giving an easy comfort solution for irritating straps. They come in different colors and designs to match the car seat of your baby, and their cute designs are also meant to entertain your child while on the move.

Car seat travel bag

Purchasing a car seat travel bag that has thick padding on all sides and wings protect your baby’s car seat from less-gentle baggage handlers or when you are traveling to another city. The car seat travel bags usually have a padded adjustable backpack strap for easy transport. You can also use it to store other important baby items like pacifiers, feeding bottles, diapers, etc.

Popular brands for car seats

You can find top car seat brands online or in stores, giving you a wide array of options to choose from so you can find the best seat for your child.

Choosing the best car seat brand is very crucial in ensuring the comfort and safety of your child. Whether they are too big or too small, they may cause discomfort for babies, toddlers, and small children, not to mention the safety hazard that it brings. Over time, car seats also wear out and you need to replace them to avoid unwanted injury or accidents.

Below are the well-known, recognizable, and safe car seats available in the market today.

Diono Chicco Britax Graco Evenflo Safety 1st Cosco

There are other brands that will suit your vehicle and will perfectly fit the need of your whole family.

Where to buy car seats in the US?

You can purchase car seats online or from your favorite baby shop. The advantage of buying car seats physically is that you can inspect the product and its features. The store personnel can also entertain most of your questions. Though this is the case, a high percentage of parents are buying their baby needs online – including car seats. This is because of the vast array of options that you sometimes cannot see in toy stores or baby shops. CPS technicians can be of help anytime you need them with regards to the installation of your child’s car seat.

We have listed below the popular stores in the US where you can buy your brand of choice.

Walmart Target Amazon Baby Center

Q&A for car seats

How much should a car seat cost?

The most important thing to keep in mind when buying a car seat is that it fits your child’s needs and the vehicle that you are driving. Next to that is the budget.

Infant seats cost $70 to $200 like the car seats from Safety 1st, Graco, and Baby Trend. Car seats from Britax or The First Years may go as far as $200 to $290.

Booster seats from Combi, Britax, and Recaro may cost $70 to $160 while Clek Oobr runs from $275 to $330.

Convertible seats from Evenflo, Britax, Combi, and Recaro cost around $50 to $280.

All-in-One car seats from different brands cost around $200 to $300.

Can I use second-hand car seats?

Never buy second-hand car seats because they pose a great risk to the baby and the whole family. Second-hand car seats are usually outgrown, damaged, or have been retrieved from cars that met a crash or accidents. Never recycle car seats because you can’t spot damage on a certain part or feature with your bare eyes.

How many car seats do I need during my kids’ childhood?

Don’t hurry to change your child’s car seat until he reaches the maximum weight or height limit stated on the label.

Your child can use the backward-facing car seat until the age of 2 years. When your child is beyond two years old and is already too big for the backward-facing car set, you can put him in a forward-facing seat until he reaches the maximum weight or height stated on the label. You can move to a booster seat once he reaches the maximum size limit since your child may tend to climb out the booster seat if moved too soon.

Changing car seats three to four times during your baby’s childhood is a requirement. This decision depends on the development of your child with regards to size, height, and weight. You can also verify this earlier by checking on the product label.

What is the safest way to mount the car seat?

Mounting or installing your child’s car seat may vary from every vehicle but some basics always apply.

  • Always read the instruction on the label thoroughly.
  • Always position the car seat in the back seat of the vehicle.
  • Some vehicles have lower anchors built on the seats where you can attach your child’s car seat. Always refer to the user manual to find what you need.
  • Remember to lock the seat belt once the car seat is in place.
  •  Ensure proper installation of the car seat[/symple_highlight] by keeping it tightly secured. Wiggle it side to side, and it should not move more than 1 inch.
  • For a backward-facing seat, make sure that the base of the car seat is at a level. This will prevent your child’s head from flopping forward. You can check for the seat indicator on the side to help.
  • For forward-facing seats, tighten the tether strap for added safety and to prevent the head movement during a crash.

Our top 3 Recommended Car Seats

Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat (The Budget-Friendly)

Not the fanciest, but it’s not a disappointment if you want a low cost but a quality car seat. It is convertible and close enough to compete with the top of the line counterparts. In addition, it is sturdy, comfortable, and comes with adequate padding. It would also be a perfect fit to your vehicle with its easy harness and belt-positioning modes.

Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat (The Ultimate Choice)

Our top choice is the Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat, a perfect buy for its price. Being convertible, it grows with your child and saves you some bucks for several years. It is easy to install, neat, thickly padded, and made of soft materials that are wipeable for easy cleaning. Kids would fit comfortably and safely on this car seat.

Britax USA Boulevard Clicktight (The Premium Choice)

If you can spare some extra cash on a car seat with patent systems, go with the Britax Boulevard Clicktight. An impact-absorbing base and a steel frame ensure the safety of your child. It has the ClickTight system, the easiest and safest technology available without compromising the easy and rock-solid installation process. Even grandparents can install them easily and quickly.

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