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How to choose a car seat for your child

A car seat is one of the most important big-ticket items you will buy when you have a child – you will need to have one to leave the hospital in most cases! You may already know why it's crucial to find a good, high-quality car seat, but how do you choose one that will best suit your needs. This post provides you with guidelines on how to do that precisely.

Types of car seats

1. Rear-facing seats – for infants and toddlers

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all babies ride while facing the rear end of the car, from their very first ride home from the hospitals. All toddlers and infants should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the maximum height or weight allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Most convertible car seats have limits that allow kids to ride facing the rear for 2 years or more.

There are three types of rear-facing seats available:

  • Rear-facing only seats

These are used for infants who weigh 22 to 35 pounds and measure 26 to 35 inches in height, depending on the car seat model. Rear-facing seats are typically small and feature carrying handles. Most designs come with a base that can be left in the car. The seat simply clicks into and out of this base so that you don’t have to endure the hassle of installing the car seat each time you need to use it.

  • Convertible seats

These can initially be used as rear facing, and later be converted to forward facing when kids outgrow either the length limit or weight limit for the former. This means that a convertible seat is ideal for long-term use. Convertible seats are generally bulkier than rear-facing seats, and they typically don’t come equipped with separate bases or carrying handles and are designed to remain in the car.

Many convertible car seats have higher height and weight limits than rear-facing ones, which makes them a great option if you have a bigger baby or toddler. They also have a 5-point harness that attaches between the legs, at the hips, and the shoulders.

  • All-in-one seats

All-in-one car seats can be used as forward facing, rear facing, or even as a bet-positioning booster. This means that they can grow with your child. Many of them are bigger than your average car seat, so make sure you confirm that they fit in your car while they're rear facing.

Installation and safety tips

  • Make sure you read the car safety seat manual as well as the vehicle owner’s manual before installing the seat.
  • Always install the seat tightly in your car with either a locked seat belt or lower anchors.
  • Avoid placing a rear-facing car seat in the front seat of a car that features an active front passenger airbag.
  • If you’re unable to install your car seat, seek the help of a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST)

2. Forward-facing seats – for toddlers and preschoolers

When your child outgrows the height and weight limit for his/her, you should transition into using a forward-facing seat. There are four main types:

  • Convertible seats

Seats that can be converted from rear facing to forward facing.

  • Combination seats with a harness

These can be used forward facing with a harness for kids who weigh anywhere from 40 to 65 pounds or without a harness as a booster seat for kids who weigh between 100-120 pounds.

  • Integrated seats 

Some cars come installed with ready-to-use forward-facing seats. Height and weight limits tend to vary. Avoid using a built-in car seat until your little one reaches the maximum height or weight allowed for a rear-facing convertible car seat.

  • Travel vests

Travels are made for kids who weigh anywhere from 22 to 168 pounds and can serve as an alternative to conventional forward-facing car seats. They are ideal for cars that have lap-only seat belts in the rear, for kids whose weight exceeds that allowed for standard car seats, and for kids with specific special needs.  Travel belts usually require you to use a top tether. 

Installation and safety tips

  • Always read the car seat manual as well as the vehicle owner’s manual before installation.
  • Make sure the harness fits your child snugly.

3. Booster seats – school-aged children

These are designed for older kids who have outgrown forward-facing seats. All children whose height and weight exceed the limit for their forward-facing car seat should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt can fit them properly.

Most kids will not fit in most standard car seat belts without a booster until they’re about 10 to 12 years old. There are two types of booster car seats: high-back and backless. Both of them do not feature a harness, instead used with shoulder and lap seat belts in your car.

They are designed to boost a child up so that these seat belts fit properly over the child’s body. Many booster seat models aren’t attached to the vehicle seat with the seat belt or lower anchors and tether; they are held in place once you fasten the seat belt over your child.

Additional tips

  • Is stroller compatibility important?

If you’re constantly on the move, you may want to go for a car seat that can easily snap onto a stroller, or better still, a stroller that comes with a car seat

  • Do you need your car seat to be portable?

If you plan to move your car seat quite a bit, you may want to choose a model that features an ergonomically designed handler and a smaller, lightweight footprint so that you have an easier time carrying it from place to place.

  • How much space do you have in your car?

If you drive a smaller car, some car seats may not fit properly. It’s important to measure your space (keeping other passengers in mind) before you make a purchase, so you know what size of the car seat to go for.

Final thoughts

With so many different car seat options available on the market, finding the right car seat can be a stressful and overwhelming experience. To choose the best one for you, it’s paramount to do a lot of research before making a purchase.

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