Choosing a car seat is extremely important for your little one, probably one of the most important purchases you will make. Installing a car seat that is appropriate for your child’s age and size is crucial.
These tips from the American Automobile Association (AAA) should be followed when making your car seat choice:
1) Read your vehicle owner's manual carefully before going car seat shopping. This is important to know where the car seat should go and how it should be installed. Car seats can be attached using either the seat belt or the LATCH system (which stands for the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children system, and which all new vehicles have). You can decide before buying which one you want to use and then look for a seat based on how you want to install it (belt or LATCH).
2) Make sure you choose the correct seat for your child's age, weight, and height. Each car seat owner's manual details the weight and height specifications for that seat. Here are some general guidelines for types of car seats:
Infant car seat:
This is the first seat for most new parents. It can only be installed rear-facing, and has a convenient, removable carrier that connects to a base installed in the car. This provides the best fit for newborns and smaller babies, and can be used for children from 4 lbs. to 40lbs, depending on the model. Children will probably get too tall before they get too heavy for these seats. A child is too tall when the crown of his head is less than one inch from the top of the carrier shell, or they exceed the height limits of the seat.
Price range: $60 to $300
This is likely the next step after outgrowing an infant seat, to be purchased no later than a child’s first birthday. It can be installed rear- or forward-facing. The harness system is similar to those in infant seats, but these have a higher rear-facing weight limit.
Children can ride rear-facing longer, which both Consumer Reports and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend as the safest option. It must be installed rear-facing for children younger than 1 and weighing less than 20 lbs. These seats can be used rear-facing up to 40-50 lbs, depending on the seat, and recommended to be rear-facing until at least age 2, or the rear-facing limits of the seat.
When your child is ready, the seat can be turned around and used forward-facing until it is time for a booster seat.
Many can hold children as heavy as 65 lbs. Although the minimum weight limit allows for newborns and smaller infants, this type of seat often doesn’t provide the best fit for smaller babies or the convenience of a detachable carrier.
Price range: $100 to $450
When your child outgrows the weight and height limit for a forward-facing seat’s harness, it’s time for a booster that uses a car’s own seat belt.
Boosters raise a child up in the car so that the seat belt fits correctly; over the sternum and the center of the collarbone (not the neck) and low across the upper thighs (rather than the abdomen). They come in two main styles, high-back and backless.
Backless versions are quite portable and easy to install, but we recommend high-back models, which better position the shoulder belt and provide some side impact protection.
Many states have booster laws, some of which require children as old as eight and as heavy as 80 lbs to use a booster.
Price range: $20 to $300
All-In-One Car Seats
These provide great value by taking a child from birth to booster. They’re a tempting money-saver, but tests have found that by trying to do too much they don’t do any single task all that well.
This type of seat accommodates children from 5 to 45 lbs. sitting rear-facing; kids from 20 to 65 lbs. forward-facing in a harness; and kids from 30 to 120 lbs. in booster mode.
All-in-one car seats are often large and heavy, lack the convenience of a detachable carrier, and may not fit smaller babies (or smaller vehicles) well. They could be a good backup seat or for a caregiver who transports a child less often.
Price range: $100 to $330
These can only be used by children who are at the appropriate weight, age, and height limits to sit facing forward.
Designed to be forward-facing only, these have a harness (for use up to a certain height/weight), and then transition to a booster (removing the harness). For children weighing between 20 lbs. and 90 harnessed, and 30 lbs. to 120 in booster mode.
They are a less expensive alternative to convertible seats (if your child meets the forward-facing age and weight requirements) and offer a safe option for an older child not yet ready for a booster or a transition seat.
Price range: $30 to $60
3) It is important to know how much room you have in the back seat. A seat with a large base may not fit in a small car and you may have to opt for one with a narrower base instead.
4) Make use of the instruction booklet (which should always be kept with the seat) and the diagrams on the seat itself. This will help you have the best possible chance of installing the seat correctly. Get the seat installed before it's time to bring baby home from the hospital. The easiest way to ensure correct installation is to have a child passenger safety technician in your area do it for you. Click here to find one in your area.
5) If you are going to install the safety seat with the car's seat belt, you will do so using the safety seat's belt path. This will keep the seat secure. Once the seat belt is in place on the safety seat and properly fastened, there should be no more than 1 inch of side-to-side motion at the belt path. This means that if you grab the seat at the point where the belt enters the belt path, and push the seat side-to-side, you shouldn't be able to move the seat more than 1 inch.
6) Choose a seat with two-piece retainer clips. These clips are more difficult for a child to unfasten. The two-piece clips take some dexterity and ingenuity to unfasten. Without these, toddlers may be able to unbuckle and climb out of their seat by themselves.
7) Look for accessible harness adjusters. All safety seat harnesses adjust, but you want to make sure the adjustments are easy to reach and simple to use. An improper harness adjustment makes the seat less effective in the event of a crash.
8) Choose something easy to clean. Seats made with a smooth fabric will wipe clean more easily.
9) When choosing the correct car seat, be aware of your little one’s posture. If you notice your baby is slouching down or to the side, use blanket rolls on both sides of your infant. A small blanket or towel may be placed between the crotch strap and your infant too. Do not place padding under or behind your infant or use any sort of car seat insert unless it came with the seat or was made by the manufacturer of the seat.
Safety: 5-point harness with straps that are not prone to twisting and can be adjusted with one hand.
Postural Support/Positioning: Comes with a newborn insert that is used for babies who weigh between 4-11 lbs. The insert provides additional support, as well as a secure harness fit for smaller infants. This insert should be removed once the baby weighs more than 11 lbs.
Adaptability: Contains a small, unobtrusive chest clip and a metal buckle for easy use. Very easy to install this car seat. Has a smooth bottom base that won’t damage the leather in the vehicle or upholstery. FAA-approved for airplane use and has a 6 year lifespan from date of manufacture. Easy to attach and detach carrier from base and from compatible Chicco strollers.
Safety: This car seat is for babies 4-35lbs and 32 inches or less. It has a no-rethread harness with 5-position front adjustable headrest. This car seat has 2 crotch strap/buckle positions. It has robust head wings and shell lined with thick energy absorbing EPS foam for enhanced side-impact protection.
Positioning: This car seat has a removable infant insert recommended for infants 4-8lbs. This car seat has recline angle indicators on both sides of the base. The harness is easy to tighten for comfort and protection. The shoulder pads allow for proper positioning and comfort.
Adaptability: This car seat weights around 11.1lbs and has a 7 year lifespan before expiration. The LATCH connectors are stored in compartments and you release them by pushing a button on top of the base. LATCH installation on this seat takes about 10 seconds. The carrier attaches easily to the base.
Safety: The ClickTight Installation System is the safest and simplest technology on the market. All you have to do is open the front of the car seat, buckle the seat belt across and click the seat shut. This car seat also has safecell impact protection which is a safety system that slows and reduces forward movement during a crash. It also has two layers of side impact protection.
Adaptability: All Britax ClickTight Convertibles have the ClickTight Installation System, an impact-absorbing base with 7 recline positions, rip-stitch energy absorbing tether, HUGS harness pads, a steel reinforced frame, EPP foam and other side impact protection features. Here are the main differences in the Britax ClickTight Convertibles:
Britax Marathon ClickTight: This model has a no-rethread harness and standard rubber HUGS pads. The top harness slot height and overall height are about two inches shorter than the Boulevard and Advocate. The price of this car seat is around $329.
Britax Boulevard ClickTight: All the features of the Marathon ClickTight plus safecell HUGS pads and deeper headwings. The price of this car seat is around $369.
Britax Advocate ClickTight: All the features of the Boulevard ClickTight plus external side impact cushions. The price of this car seat is around $419.
Safety: This car seat features a 5 point harness with an adjustable head support and front recline adjusters. Also has a SuperCinch LATCH tightening system, two crotch strap/buckle positions, and a two position chest clip.
Positioning: Contains energy absorbing EPS foam to line the sides and the headwings. This car seat has 9 recline positions and a smooth bottom base with grip material that won't damage vehicle upholstery or slide around on slippery leather seats.
Adaptability: FAA approved for use on airplanes and has an 8 year lifepsna before seat expires.
Safety: Simply safe adjust harness system adjusts the height of your harness and headrest, in one motion, to ensure that your child is always properly secured. This car seat recommends rear facing for 5-40lbs and forward facing with harness for 20-65lbs and 49 inches or less.
Postural Support/Positioning: This car seat has a 4-position recline that keeps your growing child comfortable in rear and forward facing modes. Contains energy absorbing EPS foam for comfort.
Adaptability: Graco’s exclusive InRight LATCH attachment provides an easy, one-second attachment with an audio click cue to help ensure secure installation. This car seat has a 10 year expiration date. Easy installation.
Safety: This booster seat is for older children from 6-120 lbs and up to 60 inches in height. It allows the lap belt to rest low and on top of the thighs and the shoulder belt should lie comfortably across the middle of the chest for safety.
Positioning: This seat prevents slouching and makes it more comfortable for children to ride in the car.
Adaptability: This booster seat is designed to blend into the seat. This is made out of dense foam and is extremely light weight. This booster is more appealing to older kids who may be self-conscious about using a more traditional looking booster.