One of the most important purchases you’ll make as a parent is your child’s car seat. Since you’ll need various types throughout infancy and childhood, you’ll want the seat to be safe and sturdy enough to last through the years – and maybe more than one child. The good news is that, you can find high quality, safe seats at good price points.
First of all, there are three types of car seats. Rear only facing ones set in a base that’s anchored to the car, convertible seats that can switch from rear to forward facing and booster seats. All car seats must meet federal standards and have recommended age, height and weight guidelines.
It’s recommended that for the first year, infant only, rear facing seats are used. After that point, you can switch to a convertible seat though it’s recommended you keep it in the rear facing position until about 2 years of age. The next step is a booster seat.
Can you get away with one seat for all ages? New guidelines (and state laws) recommend that you keep children up to 2 years old in the rear facing position. Most all in ones have to be turned forward when the child reaches about 22 lbs so you’ll be out of luck with an all in one.
Before you go shopping, check that your car is outfitted with LATCH anchors. Required since 2002, these offer more restraint/protection than using standard seat belts. Also check that back seat headrests are removable. And, measure how much size you have in the back seat. You’ll also want to check out different reclining angles (infants should not be seated fully upright), amount of leg room and padding/baby comfort. But even if you think you have all your requirements down, save the packaging in case things don’t work out.
On with our recommendations!
These are the costliest of all the car seat types in part because they have a base that must be attached to the car. The seat slides in and out of the base. Many of them can be used as general purpose baby carriers or have optional stroller attachments. So even though the price is higher, you will be able to save on purchasing other infant gear.
Consumer reviewers and user both give this one a thumbs up. At about $130, this infant seat offers above basic crash protection and is relatively easy to install and operate. Plus, it has a stroller attachment, which if you buy the seat and attachment together, add up to $160.
These seats are recommended for children up to 20 – 60 lbs (give or take 5-10 lbs). They can be used in the rear facing position up to about 40 lbs. Pricing differences are mainly for ease of use – connecting straps, making adjustments – and padding and other design features.
Excellent crash protection, very good LATCH/belt fit and ease of use for about $50. But it’s not as fully padded (you can buy car seat padding, however), little incline adjustment and no cup holder (who’d have thought?).
Another good performer, this Grayco model is popular with parents, too. Lots of adjustments, padding and a cup holder. Priced at $140, it falls in the middle of the price range for convertible models.
You’ll want a high back to backless version to accommodate older kids. And this is the one category where you don’t have to shell out a lot of cash to get the best.
Great ratings for crash protection and flexible design, parents love this under $30 booster seat which, depending on the child’s height and weight, can be used with or without the back. For kids up to 100 lbs (and it comes with cup holders!)