The best car seat buying guide for moms

Buying a new car seat- whether it's for your newborn baby or when your baby is getting bigger- is a huge undertaking. Parents want to find the best and safest car seat for their little ones. And this guide will show you exactly how to do it.

Chances are your child will spend quite a bit of time in their car seat. Even if you opt for a more eco-friendly option like walking or biking to various locations, most people in the United States have vehicles. You spend your days driving to the grocery store, school, work, and extracurricular activities. And all that time spent in the car means that you need a seat that is both safe and comfortable for your child.

Different types of car seats

There are several different types of car seats. All of them are based on your child's weight and height. The way your child fits in their car seat, or the direction they face, should never be determined by their age. It should only be determined by their height and weight.

Infant car seat- These are the traditional seats you see many newborns and infants using both in and out of vehicles. This is the only type of car seat that is able to be used in the car and can be easily carried with a child in it. It is always reverse facing and is generally made for children up to 30 lbs although some may be able to carry higher weights, and some may have lower weights. Many infant car seats come with additional support if your child is born prematurely. The starting weight for most infant car seats is 5 lbs.

Related: Best infant car seats for your precious cargo

Many parents like the option of an infant car seat because they can take it out without taking the baby out. This is very beneficial when your baby falls asleep in the car and you are running errands.

*PLEASE NOTE: You should never leave your baby unattended in their car seat when they are out of the car. A baby who does not have proper neck function can suffocate when left sleeping in a car seat when the car seat is not in the vehicle. The car seat base allows the car seat to sit further back, in a more reclined position, than when taken out of the car and placed on the floor, so your child will be safe if they fall asleep in the car.

Convertible car seat- Convertible car seats have become increasingly popular because of their longevity in use. Convertible car seats can often be used from infancy through toddlerhood, up to 40 to 65 lbs. The seats can face backward or forwards depending on your child's weight and height.

In the case of transitioning your baby forward from reverse facing in their convertible car seat, you must first check with your state laws. Many states now require that children remain rear-facing until they are 2 years old at a minimum. However, many car seat experts recommend keeping your child rear-facing until they are at least 40 lbs, and that's often not until they're closer to 4- or 5-years old even. Don't be worried about peer pressure; it's all about safety.

Once your child has reached the age limit for your state or has reached the size limit for being rear-facing, you can forward face them in a convertible car seat if you choose. If you believe you'll be rear-facing for extended periods of time, choose a seat that has higher rear-facing weight limits. The nice thing about convertible car seats is that they are five-point harness seats which are always much safer for younger children than using the seat belt.

Related: Best Convertible Car Seats for Babies to Big Kids

High-back booster seat- A high-back booster seat is used for children 40 lbs up to 120 lbs. High-back boosters are the safest option when it comes to boosters because many of them have 5-point harnesses. Your child will have to move to a traditional booster seat once they reach the height limit of the high back booster. This usually happens before they are able to reach 100-120 lbs.

Booster seats- Booster seats should be used for children who have outgrown their highback booster seats and should be continued to be used until your child is 4'8'', 100 lbs, or at least 13 years old. As with other seats, your child's age should not determine the use of the seat. They should continue to use the booster even if they are "too old" for it if they have not reached the height and weight limits. Again, this is all about safety, not 'cool' points.

Safety features for car seats

Most high back boosters and booster seats do not have a large number of safety features because their main purpose is for your child to be high enough that the seat belt works correctly on them. However, infant seats and convertible car seats have varying safety features that are important for parents to research.

Some of those features include:
  • Side impact rating
  • LATCH system
  • 5-point harness
  • Roll-over rating
You can often find this information in the product description portion of a website for the car seat in which you are researching.

You can also visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website to see the rating of the car seat in which you are researching.

It depends on how you use it though

You can have the safest car seat ever made, but if you use it wrong it won't be safe for your child. Some things that will help your child be as safe as possible in their car seat include:
  • Using the correct size car seat for your child's height and weight
  • Keeping your child rear-facing for as long as possible which can be up to 4 years old or 40 lbs depending on the accompanying weight of your child's car seat limits
  • Install the car seat correctly- you can even get your car seat inspected by your local fire station to ensure that it is installed correctly
  • Put your baby in the car seat correctly- make sure the chest clip is between the armpits and that the straps are snug. Never keep a heavy jacket on your child while they are in the car seat.
  • Always buckle up- Even if you are going around the block, buckle up your child. The majority of accidents occur less than one mile from a person's home.
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