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Infant, convertible, booster… oh my! If you are reading this, you are delving into the complex world of car seats for kids. If you are like many mothers, you are probably realizing that it is more complicated than you first thought. Do you want an infant car seat or do you go for a convertible car seat that will grow with your child? When should you get a booster seat? What are the best safety features to look for? Never fear, Mom and Dad. We are here to break things down for you. Here, we will go through each kind of car seat, their pros and cons, and what to look for before you dig out your wallet.
Basics for Infant and Convertible Car Seats
Because infant and convertible car seats emphasize similar safety features, let’s start out by quickly going over a few of the basics.
The Five Point Harness
As you are looking at infant and convertible car seats, be sure to pay particular attention to the harness. A five-point harness has double shoulder straps, double waist straps, and a single strap between the legs. All of these meet at a middle buckle.
Five-point harnesses, unlike three-point harnesses, spread any impact forces more evenly over the body, decreasing the chance of significant harm during a collision. Your baby will also be unable to squirm out of the proper position, which could cause harm to them in the event of a crash, or even a quick stop.
You should consider how easy the straps are to adjust; babies grow like weeds, and you are likely to be making quite a few adjustments over time.
A quality product won’t sacrifice safety for comfort, so be sure to check that the harness material won’t irritate your baby’s skin.
LATCH vs Seatbelt Installation
Because cars and car seats manufactured after September 1, 2002 are LATCH compatible, you are likely to have the choice of these two installation methods. Be sure to read reviews about the ease of your preferred method; some car seats might be very easy to install with LATCH, but more difficult with a seatbelt installation.
All car seats on the market must meet or exceed the federal safety standards. These tests are conducted by simulating a head-on collision at 30 mph and measure the forces exerted on a test dummy’s head and chest.
BabyGearLab not only replicates these federal tests, but also assesses car seats on factors such as installation ease, price, and comfort. They purchase all products they test, so their reviews are neither sponsored nor biased. If you are looking for an in-depth breakdown of how a product fared under their scrutiny, by all means, head over and read their findings.
Ease of Cleaning
We all hate to think about it but, when you have a child, you will have messes. Many, many messes. Make sure that any car seat you buy is easy enough to clean that you won’t be tempted to call an adoption agency the first time your little one gets car sick.
Infant Car Seats
While it is tempting to make a one-and-done purchase whenever possible, many experts don’t recommend this when it comes to babies and car seats. Newborns are especially delicate creatures, and infant car seats (#2) cater to that knowledge. They are designed to deal with issues unique to young babies, such as their inability to hold up their own heads.
Appropriate Infant Weights and Heights
Infant car seats are designed to safely cradle your baby from the time of birth until they are about one year old. Generally speaking, they are suitable for baby weights up to 35 – 40lbs and a height between 32 and 35 inches. Be sure to read the specifications on your product.
Regarding height, when the crown of the head is less than one inch from the top of the carrier’s shell, your little one has grown too big for that infant car seat.
Weight of the Infant Car Seat
Since infant car seats can detach from the base, make sure you consider how much the carrier portion weighs. One of the big benefits of this type of car seat is being able to click it into a compatible stroller or carry it by the handle for easily transporting your baby to and from your car. So, say you are going to be using the carrier portion to frequently move your infant from point A to point B you might favor the CYBEX Aton 2 Infant Car Seat over a heavier model with similar features.
Because the base of an infant carrier will stay installed in your primary vehicle, it can be argued that installation is low on the list of what to look for in a product. Nevertheless, we’d hate to see you lose sleep over a difficult installation process; you’ll lose plenty of that just having a baby in your home. Read reviews written by parents who have installed the infant car seat to gauge how easy or hard it is to place in your vehicle.
If you are looking to transfer your infant car seat directly into a stroller, your best bet is to buy each from the same brand. This way, you are guaranteed that it will fit perfectly and safely. Are you buying the Combi Shuttle Infant Car Seat? Purchase a Combi Fold N’ Go Stroller for a hassle free transfer.
Every car seat on the market must meet specific federal safety guidelines. With that said, it always helps to know about important features. A deep shell, energy absorbing foam, anti-rebound bar, and a back that provides support for your infant’s neck and head will all serve to minimize injury.
- Lighter weight
- The carrier is removable for easy transport
- Stroller compatibility
- Provides safety and support directed at babies under one year old
- Your child will outgrow it after about one year
Convertible Car Seats
Regardless of whether you purchased a convertible car seat for your infant, or are purchasing one for your older child, we have some useful tips for you.
Appropriate Child Weights and Heights
Paying attention to the weight and height limits of a convertible car seat becomes particularly important when you are making the conversion from rear-facing to forward-facing. As a general rule, you want your child to remain forward-facing as long as possible, so look at convertible car seats with higher rear-facing height and weight limits.
Like an infant car seat, when the crown of your child’s head is less than one inch from the top of the carrier’s shell, he or she has outgrown that particular car seat.
Also like an infant car seat, you should pay attention to features such as a deep shell, energy absorbing foam, anti-rebound bars, and a back that provides adequate support.
If you are going to use a convertible car seat for your infant, you might find that you need to purchase a neck insert for the necessary stability of your baby’s head. If this is the case, only buy an insert that is the same brand as the car seat. So, if you’ve purchased a Clek Foonf 2017 Convertible Car Seat and need an insert, you will want to be sure to buy their Clek Infant-Thingy Infant Insert (Yes, that is the actual product name, and yes, we love it).
- Can be used longer
- Potential money saver if it’s the only seat purchased
- More difficult to install
- Not always the safest choice for newborns
- Heavier than infant car seats
Ah, at long last, the booster seat! No more complicated installations and constant worry about which baby seat to use when. Not so fast, Mom. There are still a few things to consider once your child is big enough to ditch the car seat. You are right about the installation, though. That gets way easier from here on out.
When to Buy?
When your child has outgrown his or her convertible car seat and/or is at least four years of age, you can make the switch. Be sure to check with your pediatrician, police, or fire department if you are at all unsure if your child is ready for a booster seat.
High Back or No Back?
A high back booster seat may provide a little extra protection in a collision, due to its “shell” shaped back. You will also be able to adjust the seatbelt height with an attachment or integrated guide to ensure the perfect fit.
That’s not to say some backless booster seats don’t provide a seatbelt adjustment attachment. Some do. However, it tends to be misplaced easier, for the simple fact that it’s generally not an integrated feature.
A big perk of the backless booster seat is that anyone looking in the window won’t be able to see that your child is using it. This is great for young kids who don’t want their friends to know they are sitting on a booster seat.
Tethers vs No Tethers
If you can find a booster seat that comes with a tether system, by all means, put it at the top of your consideration list. While many booster seats simply sit on top of your car seat, some can be anchored down. Tying them down prevents them from sliding around while your child climbs in and out of them, and also prevents an empty booster seat from becoming a projectile if you get into a car crash while you are driving with no child in it.
- Easy to install
- Your child must be old enough to ride in one, NO exceptions or early “graduates” allowed
Don’t miss the rest of our ‘Kids in Cars’ series
When it comes to traveling in cars with children, safety always comes first. Only after this, should you consider size, functionality and style. Choosing a car seat is an important decision that can feel overwhelming. We’re here to help with simple guides, quick reviews and top picks.
The other articles in our ‘Kids in Cars’ series:
- Infant Car Seat: Choosing the Right Infant Car Seat
- Convertible Car Seat: Choosing the Right Convertible Car Seat
- Booster Seat: Choosing the Right Booster Seat
Now that you have a better idea of what kind of car seat you should purchase, head over and read our picks for our favorite infant car seats, convertible car seats, and booster seats. Always remember to follow the installation instructions for a safe and proper fit. If you are unsure that your chosen product is installed correctly, contact your local pediatrician, fire department, or police department to have a safety professional double check for you. And while you are at it, be sure to register any car seat you buy. Companies test their products rigorously, but sometimes recalls happen. By registering your car seat, you will receive a notification about any recalls that occur.
Whether you are driving with a brand new addition or a child who has just grown into a booster seat, always remember that you and your cargo are precious. Drive safe and may the journey be kind to you.