Finding the right car seat
by Kristen Butikofer
Babies grow out of things so fast: clothes, diapers, shoes. You probably feel like your constantly buying your little one new things. There's one more change, however, you might not have figured into the budget-a new car seat when your little one isn't so little anymore and outgrows their infant carrier. This can happen as early as 5 or 6 months for the adorably chubby baby, or not until a year if your little tyke is on the petite side. Regardless of when it happens, it brings with it a lot of questions about how you can keep your baby safe and comfy in the car.
Most likely your baby will be young enough they still need to be rear-facing (and experts recommend keeping baby facing backward until they reach the weight limit of the car seat, and also at least one year old), so you'll probably need a convertible seat. Convertible seats are called that because they can be used rear-facing as well as forward facing, which extends the amount of time your child will fit in them.
When purchasing a seat you might think that spending more money means getting a better car seat. This isn't always true. All car seats are rated for safety and the right car seat is the one that fits your child, fits your car, and is easy to install and use. The most effective car seat is the one that is installed and used correctly.
There are, however, some features that make certain car seats more appealing than others. Our favorite car seat features are wide straps that won't twist, built in locking clips (which secure the car seat without having to use a separate clip that can be easily lost), head impact protection, and higher weight limits which means the seat will fit your child longer.
In researching the best seats out there, we came across a number of seats which were recommended over and over. Below is a rundown of these seats, and why they merit the high praise.
Britax Marathon, Boulevard, and Decathalon: Though these seats are on the higher end of the price spectrum, they have amenities that make it worthwhile for many parents. They each have built in lock-offs, wide straps, and a weight limit of 65 pounds and a top harness height of 17 inches, meaning it will will probably last until your child needs a booster. Parents we talked to said they loved the ease of securing the car seat into their vehicles and their child into the car seat. A couple of parents mentioned that the seat seems a little narrow for their older children with broad shoulders.
Evenflo Triumph Advance: This seat has a weight limit of 50 pounds and a top harness strap that is 17 inches high. It also has an infinite harness adjuster so you don't have to re-thread the harness to adjust the height. It also has safety foam inserts and a tension knob to get a good fit with the harness. Parents say they like the comfy pillows and the flip-out cup holder. The drawback was that the harness is not removable for cleaning and replacement.
Sunshine Kids Radian 65 and 80: These seats have high harness slots at 18 inches, and a maximum weight of 65 pounds and 80 pounds respectively. They have safety foam inserts and steel frames that make them less bulky then plastic frames. They can also be tethered while in a rearfacing position. Parents love that they fold flat, and have an 8 year lifespan (most seats on have a 6 year year lifespan), The major drawback we found is that it has trouble being secured properly in some cars, so we suggest finding a store that will let you try it out before you buy it.
Cosco Scenera: As we mentioned earlier, higher price doesn't always mean better seat. And at around $40 this seat proves we we're right. With a rear-facing weight limit of 40 pounds and 15 inch harness slots it won't last as long as some other seats, but for the price, it beats out many other seats with smaller weight limits and lower top slot heights. Of course, parents love this seat for the price, but getting a good fit in your car can require some work.
As much as we like these seats, all car seats have their pros and cons, and you have to decide what is right for your child. Getting a good fit is most important in creating a safe traveling environment for your child so we recommend you have your seat installed professionally by a car Seat Safety Technician. Trained techs in you area can be found by going to www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cps/cpsfitting/index.c om and entering your zip code. Many fire stations and police stations will offer to help install car seats, but it's important they have a trained technician on site so you can get the best information on car seat safety. If you're worried about not being able to get a good fit in your car, and don't want to buy a seat that just won't work for you, try going to www.CarSeatData.org. You can plug in your car information and it will help you find a seat that fits nicely in your car.
Always remember that the safest car seat is one that is installed and used correctly!