Baby Car Seat Buying Guide
What is Baby Car Seat?
Nowadays, parents and kids are almost constantly on the go with work, school, and extracurricular activities. Sometimes it may feel like you’re living in your vehicle. Because of this on the go lifestyle, car seats are a major consideration when you have a young child. Safety in a vehicle it of utmost importance to all parents and having a car seat that addresses and deals with these safety issues is one of the top concerns parents have when they have a new baby.
There are many different options available when it comes to car seats and all the choices can be a bit overwhelming when it comes to finding the car seat that will fit your family’s needs and still give you peace of mind that your baby is safe. Car seats are probably one of the biggest pieces of baby equipment that shouldn’t be bought used. While there may be some good deals out there, buying new ensures that the car seat you get is up to date on all the recent safety requirements that are necessary to ensure your baby’s safety.
Types of Car Seats
There are six basic types of baby car seat on the market today. They cover everything from the perfect extended seat for a newborn to a booster for an older child. One of the biggest decisions to make initially will be whether you mind buying a couple of different seats as your child gets bigger and older or if you want to have a seat that lasts through all those transitions. The drawback to buying an all-in-one with the intent to last years is that it may not be up to date with the newest trends that come onto the market.
The Infant Car Seat
The infant car seat is not meant to be used beyond the rear facing months and is not for babies over 20 pounds. They have a handle on top that makes them easily carted around from car to house and some are even able to be snapped into a stroller as well. The drawback to these infant car seats is that they are outgrown rather quickly but they definitely provide a lot of safety and comfort for very little ones in their beginning months of life. If you don’t mind purchasing another one when they reach 20 pounds, which would be around 6 or 7 months for the average 6-7 pound at birth baby, the infant car seat is a great way to start off.
Convertible Car Seat
Convertible car seats are probably the most commonly purchased car seat because they can start off as an infant car seat for babies as young as 5 pounds and can go all the way up to 30, 40 and sometimes there are models that go to 100 pounds. They have the name convertible because they can literally be converted from one type of car seat to another. Some even have the capability to be converted several times, from rear facing infant seat, to front facing car seat to high backed booster. It is very possible to have this type of convertible car seat last 8-10 years as long as it is taken care of and there are no accidents it is involved in.
Extended Rear-Facing Car Seat
Rear facing car seats are designed to be safer for the baby than front facing. New guidelines from American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in 2011 that children remain in the rear facing position as long as two years. This is why many manufacturers have started creating the extended rear facing car seat. These can last until the child weighs as much as 45 pounds, it may seem that having bent legs or feet will pose a safety problem or cause discomfort but this is not the case.
Unfortunately, car crashes are the number one cause of death in children under age 14. The younger the child is, the more the danger increases. Rear facing car seats support the neck and head during a crash better than front facing. Studies backed this up that were conducted in 2007 by Injury Prevention journal and showed that children under the age of two who were facing the rear in approved and safe rear facing car seats were 75% less likely to die in potentially fatal car crash. This is a significant finding that definitely inspired manufacturers to create those rear facing car seats that works for weights beyond 20 pounds.
High Back Booster Car Seat
Booster seats for children ages 4 to 8 years old are a fantastic way to improve automobile safety for your child because they fit the child better than a standard sized seat does. Regular vehicle seats are made for average sized adults not children, so the booster seats provide protection and stability that they just can’t get sitting in the seat with no protection at all or with a regular vehicle seat belt alone.
There are some children that feel like they are “babies” because they have to sit in a booster and may even have a few tantrums, but the safety factors far outweigh the fact that they perceive the seat as a baby chair. If you allow them to help you choose the color or high back booster you get, they will love sitting in it, especially when they see that they can see out the windows better!
You are able to use both a lap and a shoulder belt with high back booster seats which provide the children with even more stability and safety. Many include a comfort clip that enables the shoulder strap to be lowered to ensure a proper fit. The shoulder strap crossing across the neck is NOT the proper position and should be anchored with one of those clips.
You can purchase them other places if the high back booster does not come with one. Some high backed boosters can be converted into low back boosters, but not all do this so if that is something you want you will need to ensure that the particular model you choose is able to be converted in this way.
Low Back Booster Car Seat
These car seats are much like the high back boosters but without the high back. They can be used with a lap belt and shoulder belt and should be used with both whenever possible. These seats are the recommended car seat to use for child up to 100 pounds or 4’9” and is the last car seat Your child will need before being able to use a regular car seat. Although an older child may not like using one, the safety factors far outweigh the negatives and the child can easily learn to accept that they are much safer in the car when they use them.
What to Look for in a Great Car Seat
When it comes to choosing the right car seat from the many choices available, it helps to know the basics that you should look at and compare to determine which the best one for your needs is. The list below outlines several factors that you can look at to determine the car seat’s adaptability to what you are looking for.
How Easy is it to Use? – One of the things you want to look for when shopping for car seats is the NHTSA 5 star rating. NHTSA stands for National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. One of the factors they take into account is whether the car seat is easy to install in your car and whether it’s easy to secure your child safely and correctly in the seat as well.
They also look at the information that is contained in the instruction manual and make sure that it is of good quality and covers the necessary points. A car seat that is difficult and complicated to work will only frustrate the parent AND the baby and will make it unsafe because the parent may resort to short cuts just to get the baby in the seat.
The Car Seat Base – A car seat base is what the car seat can attach to. This is something that infant car seats have that convertibles do not. It makes taking the car seat in and out of the car much simpler and easier for the parent. The base goes into the car and is secured and then it stays there.
The car seat portion snaps into the base when you’re riding in the car and then when you reach wherever you’re going, you just unsnap the car seat from the base and take it out. Parents that have two vehicles and both share in the transport of the baby to daycare or home, sometimes buy two bases and put one in each vehicle.
The 5 point Harness – A five-point harness is a secure system for strapping the baby into the car seat securely. It includes the straps that go over each shoulder, over each thigh and between the baby’s legs. The new car seat’s straps are easier to adjust than the older ones were which also make the, safer. It is important that the straps are adjustable easily because you will need to readjust them as the baby grows. Unlike the older car seats, the new ones allow parents to adjust the straps from the front rather than having to turn the seat over and do it that way. There are some more advanced ones that have one-handed belt adjustments that have quick-release buckles too.
LATCH – This stands for lower anchors and tethers for children. It has been around since 2002 when all vehicles and car seats became compatible with the LATCH system. This allows parents to attach the car seat directly to the vehicle rather than using a seat belt which can end up being not as secure. Installation is much easier with the LATCH system.
Easy to Clean – It is inevitable…babies make messes, so having a car seat that is easy to clean is crucial if you want to have it for any length of time. With that being said, it may surprise you how many car seats still have non-removable seat covers. When you can take the car seat cover off and toss it into the washing machine, your car seat will remain in good shape much longer.
How comfortable is it? – Comfort is important even for a baby. Many people think that because they are so tiny, comfort isn’t as important but the opposite is true. The more comfortable your baby is when riding in their car seat, the more they will like riding in it, which makes car trips much more pleasant. You want to look for seats that have plenty of head support for infants while they are learning neck control.
Side Impact Protection – When you start shopping around for car seats you may hear “energy-absorbing foam” which is a special type of foam that helps reduce impact injuries, especially from the sides. Most car seats boast this special foam for side impacts, but there are a few that have it designed to reduce front and rear impact problems as well.
The baby car seat is one of the biggest examples of a product where safety is the primary concern. One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is installing the car seat improperly. In fact, according to the NHTSA 3 out of 4 car seats are installed incorrectly.
A car seat that is not secured properly will post numerous safety hazards to the baby so it is very important that you take the time to ensure the seat is installed properly. There are places you can go to get the car seat checked out, so if you’re not 100% sure you have it installed correctly, you can go to any one of these places and get it inspected for free. Do a search for car seat inspection station locator and you will be able to find any that are close to you.
How to Install Your Car Seat
Read the Manual – The first thing you should do when you get your car seat is to read the car seat and vehicle manuals which will help you understand how to install the car seat correctly.
Using the tether system- The LATCH system has been used since 2002 and is available in all cars newer than that year. This system anchors the car seat directly to the vehicle instead of requiring the use of the seat belt to secure it. All baby car seats with the 5 point harness needs to have the lower anchors used and front facing infant seats and toddler seats need both the lower and upper tethers used.
The Forward Facing Seat – The front facing car seat needs to fit against the vehicle’s seat flat, both on the bottom and the back. Also check your instruction manual if you’re going to recline the seat so you know the proper reclining angle. When securing it, use your knee to force all of the air out of the cushion underneath the seat which will give it a more secure and flush fit.
Cars without LATCH – If you don’t have the LATCH system, you will need to ensure that the seat belt is threaded through the correct slots in the car seat and then pull the belt as tight as possible with your knee in the seat pushing it down as far as it will go. You may need two people to help with this initially to make sure one can kneel on the car seat while the other pulls the belt tight. To check the seat’s security, make sure that you can’t move the seat more than an inch in any direction. Once the belt is buckled, make sure it’s fully latched by pulling on it.
If the seat moves you will need to get a locking clip to secure it into place. A locking clip is a small piece of metal that looks like an oversized heavy duty paper clip. The locking clip will fit around the seat belt to hold it in place. It will fit about half an inch above the seat belt buckle.
Keeping Your Baby Car Seat Clean
Babies make all kinds of messes, from food to formula to other less appealing messes. Having your car seat last for years will be contingent upon the kind of shape you keep it in. Never cleaning it will result in a buildup of food particles, milk and other things that can prevent it from being a safe place for your baby to be. For this reason, it is important to clean your baby’s car seat on a regular basis.
Choosing the Right Time to Clean – The best time to clean your baby’s car seat is when it is not going to be used for awhile. That way it can thoroughly dry the way it needs to before using it again. Choose a time you know that you will not be going anywhere for the day and night. That should be plenty of time to get it cleaned correctly.
How to Clean the Car Seat – If you’re cleaning the seat because the baby threw up or had a leaky diaper, use gloves to prevent the spreading of any germs to your baby or yourself. Remove the seat from the car completely when cleaning it. You will be able to do a more thorough job this way and won’t get your vehicle wet. Shake the seat once you have it out of the vehicle to ensure that all the crumbs and debris fall off. Get a vacuum that has a small attachment and vacuum the seat, especially in the crevices and corners where crumbs can fall easily.
Remove the Car Seat Cover – The car seat covers are usually easy to remove if they are machine washable and removable. Some car seats have non-removable seats but these are not good when it comes to keeping them clean. Once the car seat cover is removed, it can be washed in the washer normally. It is just not recommended to dry it in the dryer.
Washing the Rest of the Seat – Once you have the cover off and washing, take a rag and some mild detergent and wipe down the rest of the seat, paying careful attention to stains, crevices, and the buckle and straps too. Scrub any stains on the straps with a toothbrush and mild detergent which should take care of them. Once this is all done, dry the seat and place the seat in a sunny place where the car seat and the straps can dry.
Putting it all Back Together – Once the cover has been washed and dried according to manufacturer’s directions (read these prior to washing/drying the car seat cover to prevent shrinking it) reassemble the car seat cover and straps until it is all back together properly. If you are worried about remembering where everything goes consider taking a picture of the car seat straps front and back so you can reassemble it properly. After it is all put together again, you can re-install it back in the car following the previous instructions.
Baby car seats are a regular part of having a baby. Everyone needs one and getting the right one is important. Using these tips and information contained in this buyer’s guide will help you get the car seat that is going to work for your baby and you will be happy with the purchase as well. With the right information, you don’t need to worry about whether you will like the seat or whether it will serve your needs.