How to Choose a Car Seat

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This day and age safety is very important. If you own a car, your little one will need a car seat. By the time they’re 2 they’ll probably be in their second car seat and their first car seat for toddlers.

After driving around with my own toddler, I’ll go over how to choose a car seat, what’s important to look for and features and accessories that are included.

What to look for when buying car seats for toddlers

  • Weight Range
    Most car seats for toddlers have multiple weight ranges. The average for the full 5 point harness is 20-60lbs. Some manufacturers may have slightly higher or lower ratings.
  • Booster Seat options
    Kids grow up fast! Car seats for toddlers should have the option to transition to a booster seat either with the back included, or without the back included. Often both are options on car seats for toddlers, each offering safety for kids of higher weight.
  • Booster seat weight range and transform-ability
    It makes sense to buy a car seat that will grow with your child. Looking closely at the different weight ranges and transform-ability options is always a good idea. It’ll cut down on the need to buy a booster seat after your toddler gets too heavy for the initial weight range of the car seat. Future proofing is always worth a few more dollars.
  • Shoulder Harness positioning
    Safety standards are such that all car seats for toddlers must have a 5 point harness. This is standard. Booster seats have different safety standards (no 5 point harness) – Look into what type of harness the booster seat offers as well – this is important information to extend the life of your car seat.
  • Cushioning
    We all want our kids to be comfortable. The amount of cushioning on a car seat can sometimes be overlooked by companies because the safety standards are so high. Your child will spend a lot of time in their car seat, it’s best to buy one that is somewhat comfortable.
  • Orientation
    Car seats for toddlers should only be forward facing. At this point in your toddlers development they should be too tall to be in a rear facing seat.
  • Easy to switch out?
    How easy is the car seat to move? If you need to switch your car seat between cars it’s a good idea to look at the total weight of the car seat and how it attaches to your vehicle. Some car seats for toddlers are easier than others to move in and out of the car.
  • My kid is big enough for a booster, should I just get a booster?
    Children that are less than 5-6 can be seriously injured if riding in any kind of booster seat. They need to be in a five point harness still. Their skeletons are not mature enough and too fragile for an adult seatbelt- a five point harness spreads crash forces over a larger, stronger portions of the body (shoulders, hips, crotch- where there are strong bones) and should be used until the skeleton matures (5-6 years old at least).

 

From carseat.gov here is a handy chart about the age of your child and what type of car seat they should be in. These ages are just a guideline. You need to take into account weight and height of the child to properly fit them into a car seat.

age-size-top

Features and accessories

  • Cup holder
    Some car seats have 2 cup holders. I found this to be a little bit much, but my wife suggested using one as a snack holder. Seems to work, but isn’t all that important to me.
  • Storage Compartment
    I don’t know if my car seat has this option. I don’t think it’s something that is important when looking at car seats for toddlers.
  • Smart LATCH-equipped
    A stay-in-car base for one-time install in both rear- and forward-facing modes. This system was helpful when we had a baby seat. We bought multiple bases and just one seat and moved this between vehicles. Helpful to cut down on costs but extra bases cost around $100 – about half the price of the car seat. This is a Graco branded feature but other car seats for toddlers also have this feature. I’ll indicate whether the car seat is equipped with this in the write up of each seat.
  • Machine-washable cover
    I have had my daughter throw up all over herself and her car seat. It was not fun to clean up – but the cover was machine washable, so that made things better. Kids throw up. Be prepared.
  • Cloud Comfort Memory Foam
  • Adjustable head rest
    As your child grows, you need to ensure proper head protection. Some car seats have a “one hand height adjustable headrest” that makes it easy to ensure proper headrest positioning.
  • Higher weight rating for 5 point harness
    5 point harness are very important for car seats for toddlers. As mentioned above, your child’s skeleton doesn’t mature for a little while yet, so spreading the impact of a crash over more surface area and ensuring that the impact is spread over the strongest part of your toddler is very important. Keeping your toddler in a 5 point harness as long as possible keeps them more safe.

 

Conclusion

Choosing a car seat for your child is important.  Figure out what is important for you and your family and choose the car seat that meets all those needs.  Head over to best car seats for toddlers to see the top car seats for older kids.

Mark P

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