Shopping for a car seat can make your head feel like your inside a pinball machine. There’s so much to choose from. Option overload is one of latest trends I mention in Top Trends in Child Car Seats, a piece I wrote recently for Edmunds.com. Check it out. It can help you sort through the seats and get the gist of what’s going on in the car-seat world. Meanwhile, I’ve also come up with these basic car-seat shopping guidelines to help you narrow the field.
1. You should buy an infant car seat if possible. I know 3-in-one and 4-in-one car seats are a trend and they’re tempting. One and done! They save money too. Still, starting with an infant seat first is the safety gold standard. That’s because an infant car seat offers the snuggest fit for newborns. It’s more cocoon-like, which may offer more protection in a crash. In my Edmunds piece, I also talk about infant car seats with a load/stability leg, which is a new feature that can help narrow the field. Love load legs! That’s a definite feature to consider when you’re buying an infant car seat. If you buy an infant car seat, don’t set it on the counter or any elevated surface with your baby in it.
2. Some car seats are a cut above. All car seats sold in the U.S. must meet safety standard 213, which is designed to protect a child in the event of a head-on collision. That means that all U.S. car seats have this baseline of safety. Some seats go beyond the government’s safety standard and offer side-impact protection too. Side-impact seats aren’t the cheapest out there, but they’re worth the premium price, IMHO. Put these brands on your contender list:
3. The seat you choose should be relatively easy to use and install. If you’re torn between two or more contender car seats, NHTSA’s Ease of Use ratings can help you decide. Look for those with five stars for overall ease of use. And just know this list is by no means inclusive. There are lots of great easy-to-use seats out there that aren’t on this list.
4. You will be tempted to just choose a car seat based on looks. Car seat manufacturers know this. That’s why they make car seats with bold colors, such as orange with gray or chartreuse or they make car seats that are designed to blend in with a car’s interior (there are two basic style camps). Do you want to go bold or blend in? That’s a fun question—and not something you should base your car-seat buying decision on. Better style questions to ask: Does this seat fit my lifestyle? Does it fit the design of my car’s interior?
5. Whatever car seat you buy, there’s going to be an installation learning curve. Car seats, even the ones with 5 star NHSTA ratings, aren’t intuitive. So once you get your seat home, do you homework. Check out Safercar.gov for starters on installation how-tos.