How To Select The Best Car Seat

July 22, 2019

Knowing how to select the best car seat is both intimidating and challenging. A few factors to be considered when selecting the best car seat are safety certification, child’s age, and the type of vehicle.  

Even after you have determined the right size car seat and which works best with your vehicle, there are still hundreds of options available. A few more things to help narrow down your search would be considering a multi-use 3 in 1 car seat, the price, and convenience of use.  

Even after you have narrowed down your search, there are still a few more things to evaluate before investing in a car seat. The decision you make is a lifesaving decision and research needs to be thorough. Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? Do not worry, you are not alone; we will help guide you on how to select the best car seat.  

Which Car Seat does Your Child Need Rear Facing, Forward Facing, or Booster Seat?

The weight, age, and height of your child determine the type of car seat your child should ride in.  

  • Rear Facing Car Seats: Are used for children up to 2 years old, the height and weight restrictions vary based upon the car seat itself.  

If your child is over the height and weight restrictions of your rear-facing car seat, but they are not yet two years old, move them to a larger rear-facing car seat.  

Rear-facing car seats are safer than front facing car seats.  Also, in some states, it’s the law that children under the age of 2 must ride in rear-facing car seats.

  • Forward Facing Car Seats: These seats are best for children two years and up. Usually, children use forward-facing car seats until they reach school age. A child’s age is not as crucial as their height and weight. All car seat restrictions take into the height and weight of a child. 

There are no laws regarding the use of forward-facing car seats.  

  • Booster Seat: The restrictions on booster seats vary, but the general rule is that they are for children not yet eight years old, weigh less than 80 pounds, and are shorter than 4’9”.

Though the laws may differ, all states have laws regarding children being restrained in booster seats until a child reaches a specific age, height, and weight.

Keep in mind that every time your child moves to the next level of car seat the car seat’s safety effectiveness decreases. Because of the safety factors and cost, it is recommended to purchase a car seat or booster that has a higher weight and height restrictions.

How Do I Know if the Car Seat has Been Certified Safe?

If you purchase a car seat in the US, it is safety certified for the use in cars.  

If you are looking for an air travel safe car seat look at the label to see if it states, “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”  Most rear and forward facing car seats are safe to use on airplanes, but booster seats are not. Children under 40 pounds should be in an air travel safe car seat while traveling in an airplane.

How Much Should I Spend on a Car Seat?

The amount you spend on a car seat varies. Many elements, important to parents, that impact the price of a car seat, are listed below.

  • Safety features like harness type
  • Conveniences like bases
  • Multi-Use like 3 in 1 car seats
  • Color
  • Ergonomics
  • Weight and Height Restrictions 

The average cost infant car seat costs $177, but the prices range from as low as $89.99 – $499.

The average cost for a forward-facing car seat is $184.37, but the prices range from as low as $102 – $479. 

The average cost for a high back booster seat is $90.05, but the prices range from as little as $38- $279. 

The average cost for a backless booster seat is $26.76, but the prices range from as low as $17.50- $39.99.

Are Used Car Seats Safe?

If you purchase a used car seat, be sure you learn its accident history. A car seat is still safe to use if the car accident it was involved in was considered minor. According to the NHTSA, an accident is minor if:

  • The vehicle was safe to drive away from the accident
  • The door closest to the car seat did not sustain damage
  • No one in the car suffered physical harm
  • If the vehicle has airbags, they did not engage during the accident
  • The car seat was not damaged 

In addition to the car seat’s accident history, make sure to check the expiration date. All car seats have an expiration date which can be found either on the manufacturer label or stamped into the plastic of the car seat. The average expiration date is about six years from when it was made.  

The expiration date of a car seat takes into account the expected damage from daily use and the life span of the parts used to assemble the car seat.  

Finally, the last thing you will want to check before buying any used car seat is the recall history. Go to the NHTSA website to check for all recalls in the previous ten years. The make and model numbers are required to look up recall history of the car seat, both of which are on the manufacturer label.  

What is a 3 in 1 Car Seat and Are They as Safe as Other Car Seats? 

3 in 1 car seats are multi-functional car seats. But the 3 in 1 seat is not the only multi-use car seat on the market, recently 4 in 1 car seats have entered the market.

The 3 in 1 and 4 in 1 car seats transform as your child grows. The car seat starts as a rear-facing car seat, which converts into a front facing car seat, and finally into a booster seat. The 4 in 1 has two booster seat options, the high back, and the backless booster seat.

Pros of a 3/4 in 1 Car Seat:

  • Reduces the number of car seats you need to invest in over time
  • Usually has a higher weight rating
  • The convenience of being familiar with your car seat versus having to learn how a new one works each time your child grows out of a car seat 

Cons of a 3/4 in 1 Car Seat:

  • They are not easy to move in and out of the car. They are heavier and larger than traditional car seats
  • Some believe conventional infant rear-facing car seats are safer than the 3 in 1 car seat
  • Because of their larger size they do not always fit well in smaller cars
  • Children can be hard on things so the car seat may not last as long as advertised

What Other Factors Do I Need to Consider When Selecting a Car Seat?

A few other things to consider:

  • Car seats that are compatible with strollers, not necessary but can make life a lot easier
  • The size of your vehicle, if you have a smaller vehicle make sure the car seat can safely and snuggly fit in the back seat
  • Car seats with or without a base, a base does not necessarily add safety to the car seat, but it does add a significant amount of convenience. The one safety feature a base adds is that you do not need to install the car seat every time you take it out. Car seat installation can be easy, but mistakes in installation can also occur  

With so many different decisions to make when deciding on the best car seat for your family, it is best to write a list of things you want, then prioritize that list. Every parent’s needs vary depending on their situation.  Some parents may put a greater emphasis on a car seat that will be better suited to a larger family, some to a smaller car, some for a more active family, but regardless the one thing that all parents have in common, is finding a safe car seat. 

It is not an understatement to say that car seats save lives. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children younger than 1 year, using car seats decreases mortality by 71%.” Take the time to research to be sure you select the right car seat for your child.  

Keren Simanova is a busy mommy by day and a passionate writer by night. While spending countless hours researching car seats for her children, she created an educational car seat blog, CarSeatsMom.com to educate other mothers about the importance of car seats. Further, along the way, the blog became an invaluable source for research of a variety of car seat brands, unique features, and mommies’ reviews. 

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