Comprehensive Car Seat Buying Guide

Are you looking at getting a car seat, but are completely overwhelmed by all the options? I have listed the 5 most important things to look for when purchasing the best car seat for your newborn, infant, or toddler!

Having six little kids, we have had to learn a thing or two about purchasing car seats. I remember when we first went to look at them, I was overwhelmed at all the different options. Let me share what I have learned with you to make your car seat purchase much more simple!

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Comprehensive Car Seat Buying Guide

When we had our first baby, we were fortunate enough to be given a stroller system (an infant carrier that attaches to an included stroller). We used that until the baby was too big and purchased a standard car seat that could go rear and forward facing. As our family grew, we balanced the 3 car seats in the back of a compact car act, and now have an 8 passenger van with multiple car seats and booster seats.

With all this background and multiple car seat purchases, I feel like I have learned many things over the years. I have narrowed down my list of things to look for in purchasing a car seat to five easy basic things. Hopefully this list helps you think about all the different scenarios you may not have thought of before!

Comprehensive Car Seat Buying Guide

1. Safety

Safety is usually on the top of every parent’s list when looking for a car seat. The good news is, all car seats have to pass specific requirements. The brand name doesn’t matter as much as you may think. As long as you follow the guidelines in the user’s manual, your child should be safe in any seat.

Things to Consider:

Car Seat Installation

Know how to properly install the car seat whether it has the latch system, a base, or buckles into the car. Check height and weight requirements to see if your child should be forward or rear facing.

Seat Requirements and Limitations

Know if your child is too big or too small for a seat. Check the guidelines to know if your child should be forward facing or rear facing. Don’t move a child into a booster seat or a seat belt unless they meet the required specifications.

Strap Placement

Straps installed above or below child’s shoulders differs whether they are forward or rear facing. Straps should be tight enough that you cannot pinch any excess. Coats and other bulky clothing should not be worn in a car seat. Keep an extra blanket in the car instead.

Comprehensive Car Seat Buying Guide

2. Purpose

There are so many different kinds of car seats on the market now. Infant carriers, stroller systems, convertible car seats, booster seats, etc. Think about all the different ways you would be using your car seat.

Things to Consider:

Infant Carrier or Stroller System

Do you want to be able to carry the baby in the car seat to appointments, shopping, walks, etc. or do you want to remove the baby from the car seat each time?

Is having car seat that clips onto a stroller important to you?

The ease of carrying your infant from one place to another is a great feature of infant carriers and stroller systems. Not having to unbuckle your child to move from place to place only to be buckled into a different stroller or shopping cart is also convenient.

Convertible Car Seats

Do you need your car seat just for the car?

Is cost a major factor?

Convertible car seats can now go from rear facing to forward facing and fit all the way from infant to seat belt. You can spend more money to get a car seat that will last your child’s entire car seat experience rather than putting some money into an infant carrier, then a car seat, then a booster. You do lose the convenience of toting the car seat around with you, which stinks when your kids fall asleep en route.

Comprehensive Car Seat Buying Guide

3. Installation

The most common complaint you will find about any car seat no matter where you are getting it from is how hard they are to install. Car seats are a pain. They are designed to fit snug to keep your child safe in the event of a major impact.

Things to Consider:

If you are going to be moving the car seat from car to car, consider getting a car seat that has a base. You might want to consider buying an extra so you can easily move the car seat back and forth between cars. If you are going to be helping kids buckle and unbuckle, are you able to easily access all your buckled children? Is the installation of the car seat going to be such a pain that you might sacrifice safety for sanity? If that is the case, choose a seat that is easier to install!

The best car seat purchase in my opinion is the one that you can securely fasten and leave it there. You use the car seat buckles to strap your child in, instead of buckling the actual seat in each time.

Comprehensive Car Seat Buying Guide

4. Extra Features

Many car seats these days come with extra features that may or may not be worth the extra money to you. These extras can include extra padding and cushions, cup holders, extra base, Latch system, stroller system, etc. If you are paying more money for an item that you actually will never use, try buying a car seat that is the next step down to save you a few dollars. This will also keep you from trying to figure out what to do with extra car seat parts that you don’t really need.

Things to Consider:

Those easy to remove cup holders sound like a dream. Is it that dreamy if they get thrown around in the car though? Do all of the extra pads and cushions make the car seat harder to clean? Babies tend to have blow outs, spit up, and make messes wherever they go. Even in a car seat.

Avoid buying “after market” add on items. If it does not come with the car seat, it is not considered perfectly safe to use with the car seat. Many of these after market items can actually prevent the car seat from being as safe as it was designed to be!

Comprehensive Car Seat Buying Guide

5. Size

This is our biggest issue when purchasing car seats. We have had 3 kids across in car seats for the past 6 years. Trying to fit little hands down in between booster seats or removing infant carriers so people can enter the car. Neither scenarios are very fun. If you have multiple children in car seats, there are luckily quite a few websites that can help you figure out the best seats for your situation. The BabyCenter Blog has a great post on 47 car seats that can fit 3 across.

Things to Consider:

If you have a smaller car, or interesting situation like ours with 3 across, don’t try to reinvent the wheel! There are so many people who have already done the research and the leg work. Google is your friend! Double check the dimensions of the car seat before you purchase, and make sure you are able to return the car seat if it doesn’t fit in your car.

Also, consider different arrangements. Booster seats need a shoulder strap seat belt, not just a lap belt. Think of the different options that presents in arrangements. Consider which kids you need to have easy access to, and which seats need to stay available.

Comprehensive Car Seat Buying Guide

What Am I Buying?

I’m all about getting the best bang for my buck. I purchased two of the Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seats. We needed two new ones since our old ones were very well used at this point.

I bought this one because it was narrow (17.5″ wide), it had the adjustable head rest which I like, and it goes up to 65 lbs front facing. Also, I was able to buy it at a discounted price, so each seat came to under $100. Woohoo! For seats that will last us through the entire car seat experience for two more kids, I don’t think you can beat that.

What do you look for in a car seat?


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