Your child’s car seat is one of the most important and most overwhelming purchases you’ll make as a new parent. There are so many different options to choose from and it’s hard to figure out what is essential and what isn’t. A lot of what you need depends on your child’s age, size, and where they fall in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ car seat guidelines, but beyond that, a lot of your decision has to do with preference.1
To help you narrow down your list of options, here’s a list of the best car seat options on the market right now.
Graco 4Ever DLX 4 in 1 Car Seat, Infant to Toddler Car Seat Graco
Britax One4Life ClickTight All-in-One Car Seat BRITAX Store
Chicco MyFit Harness + Booster Car Seat, Fathom Chicco Store
Britax Grow with You ClickTight Harness-2-Booster Car Seat BRITAX Store
Graco Extend2Fit 3-in-1 Car Seat, Stocklyn , Graco
Safety Features and Recalls
First, and foremost, make sure the car seat you choose hasn’t been recalled and that it meets safety standards.1
It should have features like a five-point harness (unless it’s a booster), a secure LATCH system to attach it to the back seat, and padding and protection that will keep your child safe without smothering them.
Right Age for Each Stage
There are three stages every child will go through until they are able to ride safely with just a seat belt like an adult—a rear-facing car seat, a forward-facing car seat, and then a booster seat.
Dr. Alisa Baer, Pediatrician and Co-Founder of The Car Seat Lady, cautions parents not to rush to the next stage, and instead to keep kids rear-facing well beyond the 2-year minimum required by many state laws, and then in a forward-facing car seat until they are at least 5 years old, or at least 40 pounds—whichever comes first.
According to Dr. Baer, kids should only graduate from their car seats when they’re mature enough to sit properly in a booster.
Properly installing a car seat can be tricky; studies show that 9 out of 10 are not installed correctly.3 At home, fully reading the car seat manual and vehicle manual is a great source of help.
For outside assistance, get a local Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) to teach you how to safely install the car seat. Check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website or other local resources to make an appointment for installation. You’ll leave with the knowledge of how to install your seat with the expertise of CPST guidance and oversight live in person.
When do car seats expire?
Typically, a car seat will expire anywhere from six to 10 years after it was manufactured. You can find out when yours expires by looking for a small sticker on the side or bottom of the seat. Additionally, after a car accident, it is strongly recommended that you dispose of the seat that was in the accident. Even if your child wasn’t in the seat and the damage isn’t visible, your car seat should be replaced. Crashes can alter the seat’s infrastructure, therefore compromising their overall safety.
When can a baby forward face in a car seat?
At a minimum, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children remain back-facing until they are two years old, but say keeping them back-facing until they reach the seat’s height/weight limit is ideal.5They also note that back-facing only seats tend to have a lower height and weight limit, so investing in a seat that can be installed back-facing and converted to front-facing is ideal.