Baby Car Seat Buying Guide

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Buying a good car seat is probably one of the most important investments you can make for your child. Whether you are taking your little one to the hospital, school, a visit to the park or just any outdoor trip, you will need one to ensure your child travels safely in your car. In most countries, it’s also a requirement that all children should use a car seat until they attain the age of 12 or at least 135 cm tall.

But with so many types, brands, and designs of baby car seats on the market, choosing the right one for your child can prove to be an overwhelming and time-consuming process. If you are buying a baby car seat for the first time, you may be probably wondering what to look for, which one to choose or where to start. Fortunately, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you and created a baby car seat buying guide. Here are the key factors to consider when buying a car seat.

Choose the Right Type

There are four main types of car seats on the market. These are rear-facing or infant car seats, convertible car seats, booster car seats, and all-in-one car seat. Each type of car seat is designed for a specific age group. Also, the different car seats come with different features, as well as weight limitations and restrictions.

  • Infant car seats: Also known as rear-facing car seats, these car seats are specifically designed for infants. They are the safest car seats on the market and should be used for a newborn until the baby attains at least 2 years. Rear-facing car seats should never be positioned in front of an airbag. Also, they should recline at approximately 45 degrees. Once your baby outgrows the car seat or attains the maximum weight and height limit, you should move to another car seat that’s appropriate for their age.
  • Convertible car seat: Convertible car seats are a combination of two seats into one. These seats are usually placed at the rear seat, facing the back of the car. So, when should you use a convertible car seat? You should continue using a convertible car seat until your child is at least 20 pounds or 2 years old. Once your child reaches these thresholds, you can then turn around the seat so that it can face the front of the car. After that, your child can continue using the seat until the age of 5. Once they attain the age of 5, they can then transition to booster seats.
  • Booster seats: Booster seats are designed for children between the ages of 4 to 8. Once your child has outgrown their car seats, they can then start using booster seats. While booster seats come with their own sets of buckles and harnesses, you can still use the seat belt present in the car. In short, they provide more options, compared to the other seats. It’s important to note that different states have different rules and regulations regarding the use of booster seats. Therefore, ensure you check your local safety regulations before buying a booster car seat.
  • All-in-one seats: These are highly versatile seats, which you can use throughout your baby’s childhood. You can use them as infant seats, convertible seats or even booster seats. They offer the best value for money since you don’t have to keep buying a new seat whenever your child reaches a certain height, weight or age. On the other hand, they tend to be more expensive than the other types, owing to their versatility. Also, they are quite bulky and cumbersome for everyday use.

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Whether you are buying a new car seat for a newborn or you upgrading to a different one, it’s important to choose the right one. Also, ensure you check the seat’s manual, as well as your vehicle’s car seat manual to ensure proper installation and use.

Ensure it has Adequate Safety and Comfort Features

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When buying an infant car seat, you should pay attention to the safety and comfort features available. The main features you should look out for are a five-point harness, head support, ample padding and cushioning, as well as side protection.

  • Harness: If your budget can allow, you should avoid re-thread or manually adjusted harness straps. As their name suggests, car seats with a rethread harness straps will require you to rethread the shoulder harness straps manually, to adjust the height. On the other hand, the no-rethread harness straps will allow you to adjust the height of the shoulder straps without rerouting or unhooking them. You simply need to click a button located on the top of the car seat and it will do the rest.
  • Energy-absorbing foam: The best car seat for babies, toddlers, infants and children of all ages, should have adequate shock-absorbing foam. This foam is usually placed at the back, bottom and sides, to minimize the risk of injury to the child, in case of an accident.
  • Side impact protection: As you may probably know, your little one will not be able to hold up their head, for at least a few months. So, when you are buying car seats for infants, you should look for one with some level of head support.
  • FAA approval for air travel: The Federal Aviation Administration or FAA highly recommends parents to secure their children in a child restraint safety system for the entire duration of the flight.  So, if you will be flying with your little one, then it’s highly advisable to go for a car seat that is FAA approved.

Consider Ease of Installation and Maintenance

Whether you are buying a booster seat, an infant seat, an all-in-one seat or a convertible car seat, you should go for one that is easy to use. For instance, your friends or parents may be babysitting for you, when you are not around. And they may want to use the car seat to travel with your baby. If it’s too complex to use, then you will be indirectly limiting their movements. Also, your car seat should be versatile enough, in a way that it can be used in different cars.

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Car Seat Safety Tips

A car seat will only keep your baby safe in the car if it’s installed and used properly. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, a correctly used car seat can reduce the risk of death to the child by as much as 71%. Here are some effective car seat safety tips that you should always follow.

  • Buy an age-appropriate car seat
  • Install the car seat properly. Follow your car’s instructions and the car seat’s manufacturer guidelines.
  • Keep the child rear-facing for as long as possible
  • Remove bulk clothing before buckling. If you have to layer your baby during the cold months, then you should layer them thin.
  • Keep the straps snug

Car Seat FAQs

  1. How long does a car seat need to be rear-facing?

You should keep the car seat rear-facing until your child attains the maximum weight or height for their convertible seat. This is normally at 2 to 5 years old, based on your child’s growth and the seat.

  1. How long does a baby car seat last?

6 years. Most car seats last for approximately 5 to 6 years. After that, they are no longer safe for use, and you should buy a new one. However, exact expiration dates vary from one manufacturer to the other.

  1. Is it safe to buy a used car seat?

No. It’s not safe. You should never buy a used car seat unless you can verify its age, expiration date, original parts, crash history as well as labels and manuals. If you cannot verify this information, then you should not buy it, even if it appears to be in pristine condition.

A car seat is an important and useful travel accessory, for those with children. It will keep your baby secured and comfortable in the car while helping to minimize serious injuries or death, in case of an accident. Regardless of the type, model, or brand that you decide to purchase, make sure it’s approved by the relevant bodies, is age-appropriate, and it’s properly installed.

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