How to Find the Best Car Seats: A Trusted Guide to Safety
If you are planning to go anywhere with your child, you will want to make sure that you keep your child safe. The safest place for a child under the age of 8 is in a car seat in the back seat of the vehicle. There numerous types, makes, and models of car seats. It can be overwhelming trying to research to find the best seat. The main types of car seat styles are infant car seat, convertible car seat, high back booster, and low booster.
Car seats made and sold in the United States must meet strict guidelines. Car seat manufacturers will claim they have the best products so it is up to you to do the main research. The claims are based on people who have made the reviews, but you want to trust people who have put them under testing.
I find myself finding it increasingly difficult to find a car seat that lives up to all of the claims made. I have decided to do my own research and present this research in a form that is easy to understand.
How to Choose the Best Car Seats?
When you are purchasing a car seat, you will first need to decide what type of car seat you need. Infants smaller than 29” should be in an infant bucket seat, or in a convertible seat that starts with infants. Once your child is too tall for an infant seat, you should switch to a convertible car seat.
Look at your child’s height and weight to start the research. Infant car seats are ideal for infants that are between four pounds and 35 pounds. You will want a seat that has proper support and is easy to put in and out of the vehicle. A child can fit in a convertible seat until they are close to 80 pounds. They are called convertible because they can convert from an infant seat to a booster seat. These seats should be selected based on how long you plan to use them.
Some accessories car seats have are LATCH systems, bases, and cup holders. The LATCH system is design of anchors and tethers that keep the seat secure in the vehicle. LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. It is important that if you have a LATCH system, you make sure you know the weight limits. Children weigh more than they did when the system was first released, so it should not be used after the weight limits have been exceeded. Other accessories to consider are removable covers that you can wash and put back on to ease the cleaning, and cup holders for older children.
Another consideration you should make is if you want a travel system. Infant bucket seats are designed to snap into strollers, as well as bases that remain in the vehicle. This makes traveling with the infant convenient, especially when the child is asleep. You do not have to disturb the child when moving him/her from the vehicle to the home, or to the stroller for shopping.
When you are looking at anything for a child, you will want to look at how long you can use it. Baby items are not inexpensive, so getting three to five years out of a product will make your money stretch longer than having to buy something new after six to nine months. For example, while the infant bucket seat will allow you to transfer the child in and out of the car without waking the child, you will only be able to use it until the child is 29” tall and/or 30 pounds. The convertible car seats that have infant attachments can be used from birth (4 to 5 pounds) to 50 to 80 pounds. They are not as easy to transfer in vehicles, nor as fast if the weather is bad, however, your $200 (or more) is able to last up to the time the child no longer needs to be in a booster seat.
Finally, you will want to consider the safety reviews on a car seat. Your child needs to be protected as much as possible, since their bones are much more fragile than adults are. They also lack the muscle strength to brace themselves for an impact. Car seats are tested for crashes and many come with added padding for protection. Make sure that when you purchase the car seat, you look at the expiration date on the seat so you know how many years you can use it before you need to purchase a new one.
Car Seat Categories:
When it comes to purchasing a car seat, you will have three categories to choose from. There are infant car seats, convertible car seats, and then two types of booster seats. In order to purchase the correct category, you should know a little more about them.
Infant Car Seats:
The infant booster seats are known as bucket seats. That is because they hold your infant in a bucket style. They are idea for infants from five pounds to 25 pounds and they are only to be used rear facing. There is a handle to make carrying easier, and they often come with a base attachment. The base will remain in the vehicle so you can snap the car seat into place and remove it without having to mess with the tightening of the seat belts after every use. You can also purchase multiple bases to have one in every car the child is usually in.
Infant car seats will protect the child’s neck with added protection on either side of the head. When infants are born, they cannot control their head because they do not have sufficient neck muscles. When you are looking at car seats, you will want one that considers that without having to purchase additional pieces.
As long as your child is under the restrictions set on the car seat, you can use the infant bucket seat rear facing. Purchasing a bucket seat with the maximum growth possible will allow you to use the seat until the child is two (the recommended age for turning forward facing).
Convertible Car Seats:
If you are looking for something that can be used after your child hits the weight limit for the infant booster seat, or something to be used instead of bucket seats, then you will want a convertible car seat. A convertible car seat can be rear facing from five to 35 pounds and extended height. You may be able to keep the child rear facing until close to three years depending on how much they weigh.
When the weight of your child exceeds the weight restrictions for rear facing, the seat can then be turned forward facing until the weight limit is maximized. There are convertible car seats that can have the harness removed when the child reaches 65 pounds and then be used as a high back booster seat until they are at the limit where a seat is no longer required for the child.
There are several things to look at when purchasing a convertible car seat. The first is to decide how long you want to use the seat. Convertible car seats cannot be used as carriers and are not compatible with stroller systems. However, you can find convertible car seats that have attachments so they can become a stroller, which is great in airports. If you are using it for an infant, you will want to make sure that it has the infant pieces in place. This will cradle your child as they gain the muscles to support themselves.
Again, safety is very important when it comes to the convertible car seat. Read the crash test ratings for side, front, and rear impacts for each seat prior to purchasing. Convertible car seats that are for toddlers do not have as much padding as the infant bucket seat, so they rely on strength of the materials instead.
Booster seats can be found as just the seat or with a high back. Booster seats are designed with a minimum weight of 30 to 40 pounds. They are then able to be used to up to 80 pounds, although, some seats can handle up to 100 pounds. Typically, booster seats line up so the car’s seat belt can be used properly to keep the child safe. However, some booster seats have a harness that can be used.
Children should be in a car seat of some type until they are 4 feet 9 inches, which is usually between 8 and 12 years of age. When using a booster seat, you will want to make sure the seat belt goes across the shoulder and not the neck. The lap belt should fit over the pelvis and hip area on the child and not the abdomen. When shopping for booster seats, you will want to look at the weight limits and whether you need a high back to ensure the shoulder belt lies properly, or a regular seat.
Top 3 Best Rated Car Seats Comparison:
The only way for you to find the best car seat for your needs is to research all of the products. With that research, you will want to look at the advantages and disadvantages of each car seat. You will find that several car seats may have some qualities that are what you want, but to narrow down your choices, you will want to consider the qualities that are deal breakers.
To help you get started on your hunt, I have compared the three car seats that are the highest rated. You can find their specifications, Amazon ratings, and their price below.
Britax Marathon G4 Convertible Car Seat Review:
The Britax Marathon G4 Convertible Car Seat is designed for use from infancy to 65 pounds (roughly 8 years of age). It is built with comfort and safety in mind. The five-point harness is easy to adjust and keeps the child in place. The cover can be removed easily for cleaning, and the base is integrated with steel bars. The tether system is designed to absorb energy.
As far as safety is concerned, the Britax Marathon G4 is one of the highest rated seats because they have SafeCells that lower the center of gravity of your child. Your child is kept way from the front seat, where they would run into otherwise. The steel bars are in the sides of the shell. The Energy-Absorbing Versa-Tether strap can be used in both forward facing and rear facing seats. The tether strap will release a webbing that prevents the seat from moving during the accident.
The child is held in the seat with a five-point harness that can be adjusted without removing the seat from the vehicle. It is advertised to be tangle free, and there are holders that keep the straps out of the way when the child is being placed in the seat. There is additional comfort features, such as foam cushioning, comfort pads, and a positioning pillow for an infant.
It is just under 20 pounds and can accommodate children from birth to 65 pounds. The G4 is the 2014 line from Britax and is a bit large.
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Aspects I Love:
- Cover comes off for easy clean
- Straps are easy to adjust
- Anchors keep it solid in the seat
- Breathable fabric
- Rear-facing until 35 pounds
- Stain-resistant material
Aspects I Can Do Without:
- It is not suited for smaller vehicles
Evenflo SureRide 65 DLX Convertible Car Seat Review:
The Evenflo SureRide 65 DLX Convertible Car Seat is one of the few car seats that have a five-point harness with six height positions. It is designed to be rear facing from birth to 40 pounds or until 40 inches tall. Then, it can be turned forward facing and used from 22 pounds to 65 pounds, or 54-inches tall. The versatility of the seat allows a child to grow comfortably. A head pillow that can be removed and washed in a washing machine is included. There is also a body pillow and a seat pad to keep your child comfortable even on long car rides.
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The seat is equipped with the LATCH system and can transfer quickly between vehicles, especially with the seat only weighing 14 pounds. In crash tests, it exceeds the standards by two times. Some of the other accessories including a collapsible cup holder that folds out of the way when you are not using it or you can completely remove it. The seat is easy to clean and the material is breathable.
Aspects I like:
- Children birth to 65 pounds can use one seat
- Six height levels so it can accommodate 19 inches to 54 inches (4’6”)
- Removable parts that can be washed
- Breathable material
- Extra padding for comfort
- Collapsible cup holder
RECARO Performance SPORT Combination Harness to Booster Review:
The RECARO Performance SPORT Combination Harness to Booster is a car seat that has a maximum weight limit of 65 pounds. The harness system is a five-point system that uses the HERO technology by RECARO. It offers a higher level of protection and comfort. The straps have pads on the upper shoulders to prevent it from cutting into the child’s neck. There padded straps are resistant from twisting, making buckling the child in faster. The fabric is breathable with a layer of mesh, and the memory foam adds comfort to the ride. There are mesh cup holders that can be used for other items.
The seat can transition from a harness booster seat to a standard booster when the child is 30 pounds. It will then hold a child up to 120 pounds. The deep side wings are reinforced with metal and offer side impact protection. The seat is still narrow enough to allow several seats to fit in the backseat for multiple children. When the seat is in booster seat mode, the seat belt is guided to assist the child in buckling their seatbelt.
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The seat molds to the shape of your child as it is made with memory foam. The harness also has soft pads for the child’s comfort. In addition to comfort, the harness is easy to adjust with a convenient lever lift system. There is no need to rethread the straps after every adjustment. The LATCH system is built in and has a lower and top tether anchor. To make the use easier, the belts are color coded to secure it properly in your vehicle. You can then recline the seat for more comfort.
Aspects I like:
- Minimum weight of 20 pounds and maximum weight of 120 pounds for full growth
- Minimum height of 27 inches and maximum height of 59 inches (4’9” – the recommended maximum for car seat)
- Memory foam for extreme comfort
- Breathable fabric
- No re-thread harness
- Cup holders
- Suitable for air travel
Aspects I dislike:
- Not suitable for rear facing
- Need a separate infant car seat
Top 10 ideas to choose the best car seats:
Therefore, in conclusion, there are many things to take into consideration. With the massive amount of information available, here are a few tips to help you out when it comes to purchasing a car seat for your child.
Tip #1: You will need an infant car seat
In order to take your child home from the hospital, you will need a seat that can accommodate an infant. This may mean an infant bucket seat or a convertible car seat with infant attachments. The seat will need to be rear facing for the first year (at least) or two (preferred). When you purchase a convertible car seat, you can use it through the toddler years at least. Infant seats are easy to get in and out of the vehicle, but often last only nine to 12 months.
If you are looking to cut costs, you will need to factor in the cost of a travel system that will decrease the cost of the seat. You will also want to look at how long you can use the convertible seat, and if having a child sleep soundly in a bucket seat is important. If you purchase a convertible car seat, you will need to purchase a stroller separate, unless you plan to use a carrier.
Tip #2: Consider the Safety
Safety is very important when it comes to purchasing car seats. All of the car seats have been tested and meet basic safety standards. However, you can find seats that have been tested for front, side, and rear impacts and they will have their safety rating on them. It is important that seats be replaced and not reused after they have been in a wreck, which is why it is better to purchase a new seat instead of a used one.
Tip #3: Expect a Sticker Shock
Car seats start around $80 and can increase well above $200. You will want a seat that has a five-point harness (which is separate shoulder straps, separate waist straps, and one strap that goes between the legs). Things to look at include added protection through the form of foam or air pads on the side of the seat. This shoes that it is protected from side impacts. Finally, make sure it is compatible with the LATCH system until your child outgrows the weight restrictions.
Seats that are over $200 are considered premium seats. They often have additional features including reinforced frames to limit movement during a crash, and more padding. You can find some that have foot space and airline certified as well.
Tip #4: Convenience Factor
When you are shopping for a new car seat, consider the ease of buckling the child in. Look for how easy it is to adjust the straps as the child grows, and how hard it is to tighten the straps. Newer car seats offer a pull cord between the child’s leg and adjustment handles so you no longer have to rethread the straps. However, you will also want to see how easy it is to remove the cover so you can wash it. Children are not clean and if the cover is soiled, you will want to be able to clean it with ease.
Tip #5: Types of Seats
Infant car seats offer the best protection for your infant, especially when placed rear facing. There is a handle to make it easier to carry, and a base to make getting it in and out of the car a breeze. However, infants cannot be turned front facing until age one, and some children exceed the maximum weight and height recommendations on the seat before then. This will require you to purchase a new seat.
Convertible car seats are both rear and forward facing seats. Some convertible car seats can be used from birth to the point your child is roughly 45 pounds when rear facing, which will allow you to keep your child rear facing as long as possible. More convertible car seats are being made that have a maximum weight limit of 80 pounds for forward facing, so that parents can use them until their child is close to 8 years of age.While these seats can be used much longer than an infant seat, they do not offer as much protection for an infant. Many convertible car seats do not accommodate newborns, so you may need a car seat prior to purchasing a convertible car seat. They are not compatible with stroller systems, and you will need to take them in and out of the seat during errands.
Booster seats are forward facing only. They come with a removable five-point harness so you can remove the harness and continue to use the seat as a high back booster seat. If the seat does not come with a harness, it is known only as a high back booster and not a toddler booster. Boosters are great in the ability to be used from the time the child is 30 pounds and last until the child no longer needs a car seat. However, they may not be as comfortable as other types of seats. Whenever possible, keep the child in the harness for increased protection in an accident. High back boosters may be used once the child hits 30 pounds, but he/she will be safer in a toddler booster seat that has a harness. You can tell the difference between a toddler booster seat and a convertible car seat by the ability to be rear facing.
Tip #6: Harnesses
When shopping for car seats, look at the type of harness it has. Five point harnesses are considered safer than three point harnesses. Five point harnesses have two separate shoulder straps and two separate leg straps with a strap that goes between the legs. However, a three-point harness only has the two separate shoulder straps and then the strap between the legs to buckle. It usually has a chest clip that just slips on over the straps. Either way, you want to make sure the chest strap is at the level of the armpits and not on the child’s sternum.
Tip #7: Consider Special Needs
If you have a child that was born premature, you will want a seat that can handle low birth weights. There are special seats that have a minimum weight of four pounds instead of five. For heavier children, you will want to make sure you purchase a car seat that has a high maximum weight limit. You find some seats that have a maximum weight limit of 170 pounds. If your child has a hard time staying still or other mental disorders, you will want to get the car seats that have strong harness system to help keep them restrained.
Tip #8 To 10: Always don’t forget to follow Tip #1 To 3
So in conclusion, the things you want to look for in any type of car seat is the harness type, the comfort, the design, the features available, and the safety of the seat. You will want to think about the ability to have multiple bases to transfer infant car seats quickly and smoothly from one car to another. You can also purchase a travel system that will work with many types of infant car seats.
Some of the different features that make infant bucket seats ideal for birth to a year include a canopy, handle, removable head pillows, built-in toys, and level indicators. However, convertible seats have padded arm rests, pockets, cup holders, and head/neck support. You will want to consider the width of the car and the height of the seat for ease of installation. It will also help you decide which seat to purchase based on size, or what features are best.
No matter what type of seat you decide to go with, always consider the safety test results prior to purchasing. Look at reinforced frames and other support offered in case of an accident. Use customer reviews and crash test results to help you decide which car seat is best for your family.