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Tips on Choosing the Perfect Car Seat

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Ready for a RideAre you looking for a car seat and feeling overwhelmed at all of the options? Then this article is for you. When looking for a car seat, it is very important to keep in mind that the best seat is one that fits your child, fits your vehicle and one that you will use properly every time.

Here are our tips to help you navigate through the hundreds of choices. 
 
1. Ease of Use: While all car seats have basic features and functions, some are easier to use than others. When you are looking for a car seat, it’s best if you can test it out before purchasing. Look for the following:
  • How do you tighten and loosen the harness straps? Most car seats allow for the harness straps to be adjusted by pulling a strap in the front of the seat while others must be adjusted by tightening the straps on the back of the seat. Look for a car seat that has a front harness adjuster since this is easier to use that one that adjusts from the back.
  • How easy is it to adjust the harness strap to accommodate a growing child? Many car seats require you to unhook the strap from the clip, feed the strap through the current harness slot, move the strap to the needed slot height, re-feed the strap through the new harness slot and then hook the strap to the metal clip. This process needs to be done with both straps individually. Some car seats now use a lever or knob that allows for easy harness adjusting without rethreading.
  • For an infant car seat or convertible seat, what kind of angle indicator does the seat have? Some feature a red line which needs to be level with the ground to ensure a proper angle while others use a bubble or color indicator. While the basic line indicator is effective, it is not as easy as a bubble or color indicators to ensure a proper recline.
  • A seat that offers an adjustable base makes getting the right angle a breeze. No need for folded towels or pool noodles.
     Check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Ease of Use Ratings system here
 
2. Longevity: How long will it last? Can you use it for your next child? 
  • Height & Weight Limits: When choosing a car seat, look at specific features such as height and weight limits in rear-facing and forward-facing positions. Look for car seats that support higher weight limits. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends for children to be rear-facing until at least two years of age. Compare height and weight limits for infant car seats here and convertible seats here. Special Note: Premature babies and small infants may require a car seat with smaller weight limits. Most seats start at 5 pounds, however, there are seats available for infants 4 pounds and up. 
  • Expiration Date: Did you know that car seats have an expiration date? If you didn't, you’re not alone…many parents are unaware of this important fact. Most car seats expire between 5-10 years from the date of manufacturing. Before you purchase a seat, look at both the manufactured date and the expiration date (this information can be found on the box and on the seat itself). You don’t want to purchase a seat that’s already a year old, right?
  • A 5-point harness provides your child maximum protection. In fact, most car seats now only have this type of harness. Look for car seats that support higher weight limits for the 5 point harness system.
3. Will it fit in your car? This is an important feature that many do not think about. Some car seats (especially those with higher weight limits) may not fit properly in smaller vehicles. Ask the store that you are purchasing your car seat from if you can test the seat’s fit in your car. If the store does not allow for this or you are purchasing the seat online, be sure to inquire about the store’s return policy and keep the receipt. According to Consumer Reports, “Experts recommend that parents measure the width of their car and the forward to back space between the front passenger and driver seats and the back seat before choosing a car seat…Most manufacturers give measurements on their websites to help determine if a car seat will fit your model of car.”
 
4. The Extras: 
  • Do you want your baby’s seat to have a head rest, harness cover or extra padding? If so, look for car seats that already come with these desired items. Most car seat manufacturers do not support the use of head rests, harness covers, padding and other extras that did not come with the seat. These items are called non-regulated products and can interfere with the safety and functionality of the car seat.
  • For infant car seats, a stroller system can be very handy. Look for one that is (1) easy to open with one hand, (2) easy to secure the car seat to, (3) easy to maneuver and (4) one that is multi-functional, meaning that it can also be used a stroller without the car seat.
  • Do you live in a warm or hot climate? If so, think about the fabric color of your child’s car seat. While dark colored fabric is good to cover stains, it can get very hot when left in the car. Be sure to check the fabric temperature before sitting your child in the seat and utilize a blanket to cover the seat’s fabric when not in use.
5. Safety Extras:
  • Built in lock-offs are devices that allow for a secure installation when using the seat belt to secure the car seat. These devices are a nice safety feature which helps to ensure a secure fit.
  • Top tethers, a strap that anchors the car seat and helps to minimize forward movement, is a feature found on forward-facing car seats and only on a few rear-facing car seats. 
  • An adjustable crotch strap allows for a snug fit as your child grows.
  • Side Impact Protection utilizes energy-absorbing foam to protect your child in the event of side impact.
  • Does your car seat off-gas hazardous chemicals? In 2011, a report by the Ecology Center discovered that approximately 60% of car seats contain hazardous chemicals such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), brominated flame retardants (BFR) and heavy metals.  Learn more here...
 
6. Cost: Car seats vary in price and some can carry a hefty price tag. If you’re looking to save money, look to purchase a seat that can be used for many years. For example, there are 3-in1 combination seats that accommodate an infant 5 pounds and up rear-facing, forward-facing as the child grows and then converts to a booster seat when height and weight limits are reached. Another option is to purchase a convertible car seat in place of an infant car seat since convertible seats can be used for infants 5 pounds and up and then can be turned forward-facing once height and weight limits have been reached.
 
Be sure to do your research and read safety and product reviews before purchasing.
 
     
 
 
 
 
 

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