The first step in choosing the right car seat is determining which type of car seat your child will need. The important factors to consider are:
- Developmental Level
Height and weight limitations are described by the manufacturer. New parents might consider purchasing a car seat with the highest rear-facing weight and height limits, as this is the safest position for a child. You might check NHTSA guidelines to determine which type of seat will best suit your child.
After determining the type of car seat you need, you should keep a few considerations in mind when seeking the best car seat for your child and budget.
Even the top-rated car seat is only safe if installed properly. Make sure you fully understand every feature of the car seat you buy. Read the instruction booklet before installation.
After installing a car seat, you should have a child passenger safety technician inspect your installation. Find the nearest inspection location using the NHTSA locator.
Convertible car seats are bigger than infant car seats. Keep this in mind if you have a sedan or sports car. Bucket seats can also affect the ability to install two car seats side by side. If you or your partner are tall, your legroom may be limited by a bulky rear-facing car seat in the back. Another consideration is your car’s upholstery material. A 30.0-pound car seat with a 40.0-pound toddler might mark up leather seats. If you have leather seats, you might want to invest in seat protectors.
Do you intend to leave your car seat attached, or will it often move between vehicles (or from car to airplane)? If you plan to lug around your car seat, it’s better to purchase one that’s lightweight and easy to install and detach.
Ease Of Use
Babies grow quickly. In addition to installing your car seat, you’ll also need to continually adjust it so that your child is properly secured. Some car seats have features that make them easier to install and adjust. There are also car seat travel systems that make it easy to transition your child from the car to a stroller.
Many car seats advertise the inclusion of a no-rethread harness. A no-rethread harness does not need to be rethreaded when you adjust the shoulder straps. Car seats that don’t have a no-rethread harness typically must be removed from the vehicle entirely and then reinstalled after the shoulder straps have been adjusted.
Rear-facing car seats are easier to install than forward-facing seats, so for infant car seats, a no-rethread harness is less of an advantage, but nonetheless a convenient feature.
Car seat stroller combos are increasingly popular and very convenient for parents on the go. Most infant car seats are designed as carriers that attach to a base you keep installed in your vehicle. Many seats come with stroller compatibility, transforming your car seat from road to sidewalk use.
Better materials can mean an easier installation process and a more comfortable ride for your child. Look for car seats with machine-washable padding that’s plush and well-stitched. Beyond that, the most comfortable car seat is different for every child.
Weather can play a part in car seat comfort, with some materials working well in the cold, but proving too hot and scratchy in hot climates. The only way to know how your infant feels about a car seat, however, is to monitor their behavior when they use it.
Car Seat Terminology
As with many products, certain terms are frequently used to describe car seats and it isn’t always obvious what these words mean in practical terms. Many manufacturers also use proprietary, brand-specific terms to describe their products. The list below defines several that appear in this article:
- EPS Foam: Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam is essentially Styrofoam™. EPS foam is excellent at dissipating the force of high-speed impacts and so is a standard material for crash safety devices like helmets and car seats.
- Five-point harness: A five-point harness is a seatbelt design that is secured at five points (over both shoulders, at each hip, and between the legs). This strap system provides increased safety over a three-point strap system typical in passenger automobiles.
- No-rethread harness: As your child grows, you will need to reposition the shoulder straps in your car seat. With a rethread harness, straps must be removed and rerouted through different slots in the car seat. A no-rethread harness only has one slot for shoulder straps, and strap height is adjusted by raising and lowering the headrest.
- Click Connect™ (Graco): Click Connect is the name of the connection system Graco uses for its detachable car seats. Graco car seats that feature Click Connect can be detached from the car seat base and connected to a compatible stroller. When a Click Connect carrier is attached, it produces an audible clicking noise so that the user can be certain it is properly connected.
- ClickTight® (Britax): ClickTight is Britax’s system for securing a car seat to your vehicle. Rather than connecting via lower seat anchors, the ClickTight system is a series of guides through which the car seatbelt is threaded. The result is a self-tensioning system that doesn’t require adjustment or guesswork from the parent.
- SmartSecure® (UppaBaby): The SmartSecure system is designed to ensure proper car seat installation. It consists of a set of lights that change from red to green to indicate that certain parts of the car seat are properly adjusted, such as the anchor latches, stabilizing leg, and incline position.
- SuperCinch® (Chicco): The SuperCinch system is a specialized pulley that Chicco attaches to the anchor straps that connect the car seat to your vehicle. This pulley makes it easier to tighten the anchor straps by requiring less force on the user’s part.
- QuickFit (Maxi-Cosi): The QuickFit system is what Maxi-Cosi calls its proprietary no-rethread harness design. The shoulder straps and headrest are raised together without rethreading required.
See the links below for several helpful doctor and government resources that help parents find the right infant car seat: