Guide to Buying a Car Seat

a baby asleep in a car seat

There’s plenty to buy before a newborn arrives, but one thing that should top your list? A car seat. Next to a crib and a stroller, your baby will be spending a lot of time in a car seat. After all, your little one has to safely get home from the hospital some way.

When it comes to buying a car seat, there are plenty of features to keep in mind: quality, safety, etc. Of course, you’re going to want to do as much research as you can before purchasing one, so here are some tips for choosing the safest and best possible car seat for your little one:

Rear-facing vs. convertible car seats

There are essentially two separate kinds of car seats you can choose from: rear-facing or convertible (one that can be rotated to face the front of the vehicle, as well). Rear-facing seats are a must for infants.

Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat and Base
Chicco Infant Car Seat and Base

 They should typically be used for the entire first year of your infant’s life. It comes down to a safety issue: While some newborns can fit into a convertible car seat, experts agree that babies who weigh under 20 pounds should be fastened into an infant seat. These are made to give the support and security that an infant needs in a moving vehicle.

Graco My Ride 65 LX Convertible Car Seat
Graco Convertible Car Seat

These seats usually have a handle for carrying so you can move your baby from the car to the house without waking him or her. The downside is that once your baby outgrows it (usually after a year), you’ll have to buy a convertible seat. However, these are steps that need to be taken to ensure your little one’s safety.

What to look for

No matter which kind of seat you’re buying, there are certain characteristics to note. Here are some aspects that you should look out for when buying a car seat:

Ease of use

The last thing you want is to spend minutes trying to buckle your baby in or get him or her out every time you use a car. In addition, you might want something that you can quickly take out of one vehicle and move to another. For families who live in cities and may be taking cabs, this is essential. Luckily, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has a five-star rating system. However, accessibility isn’t the only characteristic that’s taken into account. Other aspects, like the installation process and how secure your child is in the seat, are also taken into consideration with this rating system. These labels are usually on the back or bottom of a car seat box for all to see.

Safety harnesses

It’s crucial to take note of the kind of harness your potential seat has. There should be a strap for each shoulder, one for each thigh and one that goes in between your baby’s legs. Anything less can be dangerous to your child.

Graco 4ever All-in-One Car Seat, Studio
Graco 4ever All-in-One Car Seat, Studio

Adjustments

Some older designs don’t have much give when it comes to straps. Although this may seem safe, it is actually the opposite. If the straps can’t be easily altered as your child grows, the harness is going to be too tight, and you will have to buy a new seat. You need a seat that easily adjusts to various heights, weights and sizes.

Easy cleaning

Your car seat is inevitably going to get dirty. Between spilled bottles, snacks and spit-ups, things are bound to get a little messy. And yet some car seat covers cannot be removed. It’s in your best interest to get one that’s easily removable so you can throw it in the washer and dryer whenever it needs a little cleaning.

Comfort

Odds are your baby will be spending a great deal of time in the car seat. So, it’s necessary to make sure it’s comfortable for your little one. Make sure the fabric has enough padding to cushion the seat and the top has plenty of head and neck support for your newborn. You’ll be grateful you sprung for something extra cozy for your newborn when he or she falls asleep during the drive.

Disney APT Convertible Car Seat, Mouseketeer Minnie
Disney Convertible Car Seat

After all, a happy baby is a happy parent! Note: Some car seats have shock-resistant barriers for the head and neck, which are meant to protect the baby if you are ever in an accident. Be sure to check out the car seat manufacturer’s website for more information about side-impact protection.

Expiration date

Believe or not, car seats can have expiration dates. After about six years, plastic can become brittle and unsafe. Be sure to double check the date on the seat before buying it to see if it’s in your best interest. Never buy a seat without the date of manufacture and other important information included. In the same vein, getting an outdated hand-me-down car seat from a friend or family member is not recommended for safety issues, and neither is buying one from a secondhand store.


The installation process

Once you’ve bought your car seat, now is the time to put it in your vehicle. Be sure to follow all the directions precisely. Parents often make the mistake of not installing the seat tightly enough. Double check the manual to be sure everything is in its right place. In addition, have a professional check it out, as well. Your local fire department or police station should have a car seat safety expert that will look at it for you to make sure it’s good to use.

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