If you are about to be a new parent then buying a baby/infant car seat should be on your to do list. A car seat will be required to bring your new baby home from the hospital and then for any other time that your precious one takes a car trip.
Every state requires that children up to 4 years old are securely strapped in a car seat while riding in a car. In addition, most states require that older children ride in a booster seat.
Baby car seats come with many different features; some for safety and some for convenience. And, some are just plain frills. Here are some features that you should consider before you buy:
Some of the convertible car seats come with as many as 5 reclining positions. When your child naps in the car and is forward facing then the multiple adjustments can keep smaller children correctly inclined. When rear-facing the seat should be adjusted to a proper angle in order to keep your baby’s airway clear.
Basic: A single “foot”. A car seat with the simplest of recline feature allows a rear-facing seat to be adjusted to a single angle and is usually used to just change the seat between rear and forward-facing orientations.
Better: A car seat with multiple recline adjustments help you to get the correct rear-facing angle and can be used to make your child more comfortable when forward-facing.
Reclining Level Indicators
If you want the best then chose one where the indicator is easy to read and appears on both sides of the car seat. The indicators show you when the seat is sufficiently reclined while in a rear-facing position. Getting this angle correct is so important because it allows an infant’s airway to be open. In addition, it keeps a sleeping child’s head from falling forward while traveling. Of course, when using these indicators you need to be sure that your car is parked on level ground.
Basic: A basic recline indicator is a line or other indicator on the car seat that is positioned level to the ground which indicates the seat is in the correct recline position. This type indicator may not be that precise.
Better: A better type indicator is a ball or bubble-type indicator. This type indicator provides an easier-to-read indication of when the seat is properly reclined. Even better is when you can get the indicators on both sides of the seat.
With harnesses you have the three point harness which has two shoulder straps that come together at a buckle in the shell or a crotch strap. Your other choice is the five-point harness systems which has two straps over the shoulders, two for the thighs and a crotch strap. The five point harness system is more secure than a three-point system because the extra straps spread the forces of a crash more evenly across your child’s body. The additional thigh and crotch straps help prevent the child from sliding out of the harness when a crash occurs.
Basic: Some seats have the basic harness slots which allow adjusting of the height of the harness by re-threading the harness through different slots in the fabric and seat shell. The seats with these type harness slots are a bit more cumbersome to adjust than those with the external harness adjustment. Even if you get a baby car seat with harness slots you need to look for one that has the most slots and a greater range of weight capacity. A seat can accommodate a child’s growth or children of different sizes when the seat has more slots.
Better: Those seats with an external harness adjustment feature will allow adjustment of the harness height as needed without having to remove the seat from the car or to re-thread or remove the harness straps through slots in the seat’s shell. The better versions of these car seats have a slide or knob that moves the harness up or down more easily and with continuous, rather than pre-set positions.
LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children)
Beginning Sept 1, 2002, nearly all passenger vehicles sold in the United States and all car seats with a built-in harness have included equipment designed for simpler and easier child seat installations. This system is known as the LATCH system. The LATCH system consists of child car seat connections that attach to anchor points in the vehicle. If you have an older car that lacks the LATCH anchors you can still use the vehicle’s safety belts to install a LATCH equipped child car seat.
There are some problems though. Anchors in many models of cars are hard to reach. And a large percentage of vehicles have LATCH anchors only on the outboard positions of the rear seat, rather than in the center. Even so, LATCH installations are generally better than the use of the vehicle safety belts to install your child’s car seat.
Basic: The “hook” style LATCH connectors are harder to remove than attach. A twist is required to remove them from the anchors and the location of the anchors may keep that from being very easy.
Better: The “Push-on” style LATCH connectors are easier to use than the “hook” style LATCH connectors. This is especially true in cars where the LATCH anchors are recessed or hard to reach. Since the push-on style connectors don’t require a twist they are easier to remove than the hook style LATCH connectors.
Fabric, Covers, Padding and Cushions
Fabric on baby car seats come in all flavors now a days: your football teams logo, plaids, plain colors, animal motifs, camouflage and patriotic red, white and blue. Finding a washable fabric is a real plus. Some fabrics require hand-washing and line drying. In addition, removing of some of the covers is a real challenge. Leather may look good and be easy to wipe clean, but it can become hot in the sun and cold in the winter, just like leather on your vehicle’s car seat.
Add on covers, padding and cushions can make a seat more comfortable for your baby or toddler. Some options are add-on seat covers, adjustable head-support cushions and thicker padding. Some of these accommodate children over a certain range of sizes and ages. Chose add-ons that were made for your specific brand of car seat and those that have been government crash tested with the seat.