There are 4 main types of car seats.
Infant carrier car seat
Use from newborn until about 1 year old
Infant carrier car seats must be installed rear-facing and include a base that remains in the car and a removable infant carrier seat that can be used to carry a sleeping infant from the car to the house, click into many strollers or attach to a shopping cart.
Convertible car seat
Use from newborn until about 3-4 years old
Convertible car seats can be installed either rear-facing or forward-facing. They allow you to use one car seat for a longer period of time, but do not offer the portability convenience of an infant car seat carrier. Some convertible seats are labeled as “3-in-1” meaning that they can be installed rear-facing, forward-facing, or used as a belt-positioning booster.
Forward-facing car seat
Youngest use usually well after 2 years old; up to elementary school
Suitable for children old enough to ride facing forward, these car seats have a built-in 5-point harness system and may convert into a belt-positioning booster.
Belt-positioning booster seat
Booster car seats do not use a built-in 5-point harness and instead “boost” your child up so that he or she is in the corre
ct position to safely and effectively use the car’s seatbelt system. Boosters can be backed or backless.
So how do you decide which seat is the best for you? Here are some important considerations to help you select the best car seat.
Important considerations when choosing a car seat
1. Determine the car seat regulations for your state. Car seat rules vary from state to state so it’s important to figure out the age, height, and weight requirements for where you live. Visit the Governor’s Highway Safety Association listing to find the current regulations for your location.
2. Age of your child. Your babe will start in a rear-facing infant car seat carrier or convertible car seat, eventually move on a forward-facing car seat and end up in a booster. In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a new recommendation that all children remain rear-facing until 2-year-old (up from the previous recommendation of 1 years old.)
3. Weight and size of your child. Kids come in a variety of shapes and sizes. While you will likely purchase an infant car seat before your little bundle is born, keep in mind that some infant car seats are geared for preemies (with extra padding and extra small harness settings) while other seats are wider providing additional girth for bigger babies. If you can wait until baby is born or if you have an inkling your babe might be on the bigger or smaller side, be on the lookout for a car seat that will be a good match for your baby’s size.
4. Style and space of your backseat. The same car seat will fit differently in a Prius than in a Suburban. Hit your back seat with a tape measure and the product dimensions from the manufacturer’s or retailer’s website.
5. Extra safety features.
Remember this – all car seats sold in the United States must pass minimum Federal Safety Standards and crash test performance standards. But some manufacturers do go above and beyond to provide additional safety features like shock-absorbing foam, enhanced side-impact protection, or anti-rebound bars.
6. Ease of installation.
Buying a safe car seat is negated if it’s not installed correctly. According to research highlighted in a 2012 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 70% of car seats have at least one critical installation error. How to prevent this?
– Learn what type of installation system your car allows. Car seats are installed either by using your car’s seatbelt system or through a method called L.A.T.C.H. (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). L.A.T.C.H. should help you get a correct installation more easily, but it is not necessarily better than a car’s seatbelt. More information about L.A.T.C.H.
– Choose a seat that has easy-to-use installation hardware and a manual with pictures and word explanations. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that parents were 19 times as likely to correctly install child seats in vehicles with easy-to-use hardware.
– Read the directions. The NHTSA’s study found 1 in 5 parents aren’t doing it. If the directions are unclear, check the manufacture’s website or YouTube for installation videos.
– Not feeling confident? Use the NHTSA’s listing of child passenger safety seat technicians to find an installation location near you.
7. Ease of adjustment.
As your child gets older, you’ll need to adjust the harness and when possible, the seat back to accommodate your growing child. The NHTSA’s study found that 3 of the 5 most common installation errors are related to the harness position or tightness. Many car seat companies are now trying to make these adjustments easier for parents to do with no-rethreading harnesses, simpler adjustment mechanisms, and devices located on the front of the seat for easier access. Ensuring the correct harness position for your child is important, so check the adjustment method for any seat you’re considering. If you have to disassemble have the car seat to move the shoulder strap up one position, you’re less likely to do it.
The style and cleanability of your car seat pales in comparison to a well-chosen car seat installed correctly. That being said, your car seat is likely to see its fair share of crumbs, spills, blow-outs, dirt and grime, so choosing a seat that is wipeable or washable is a wise idea.
Here is a list of nearly all of the car seats available in the US; along with types, weight limits, and MSRP.