Probably one of the most important purchases you’ll ever make is a car seat. You want to provide the best protection from a car crash for your precious package. But with so many choices and a wide price range, it can drive any parent crazy. Where do you even begin?!
1. Check your car’s owner’s manual!
Yes, you read correctly. Step one, check your owner’s manual. Some owner’s manuals will actually list the car seats they recommend you install in your car. They actually list a few, with a wide range of prices to fit your budget. If your owner’s manual doesn’t list car seats, you can also try Googling your car’s make, model, and year along with the key words “car seat”, and you’ll probably come across your car’s aficionados and parents with their recommendations for car seats.
2. Infant vs. Convertible vs. Booster?
First, you won’t need a booster seat for a very very long time (like 4 or 5 years old). They are also pretty inexpensive in the grand scheme of car seats available, so don’t even bother including them in the registry, especially since most of these things carry an expiration date.
This now leaves you with either the infant or convertible car seat. Some parents skip the infant car seat altogether because they will only use them for a few months to a year (depending on how fast the kid grows). This is especially a good idea if you are trying to be as frugal as possible. And if you aren’t going to be riding in a car as much, it is probably best to skip it because most convertible car seats on the market come with an infant insert and can be seated rear facing. I will caution that some convertible car seats start have high minimum infant weights, so keep an eye out for that when you make your purchase. Another con to the infant car seat is that it gets really heavy when you lug it around with your infant in it. Many parents hate this, and if you are just going to take the babe out of the car seat anyways, why not just start with a convertible one.
The pros to an infant car seat is that they are pretty snug in there. I find an infant is more cozy in an infant car seat and seems more protected. In a convertible car seat, I feel they are far too upright, and with poor neck muscles I personally worry. It’s also nice that you can just pull the entire car seat out and plop it into a stroller or just take it right into your house especially when you have a sleeping infant. You don’t have to wake the baby up just cause you reached your destination.
Most car seats in the USA easily install with the LATCH system. It really does simplify car seat installation (although I still recommend you get your installation checked by a professional at your local fire house, police station, or AAA). Even with LATCH, you still need to make sure that your car seat is leveled. And this is when a lot of seats vary. Some just rely on you to look at a line and eye how level it is. Others actually come with a built in level bubble thing so you can see if your car seat is in fact level.
Other things to keep in mind is if the car seat is FAA approved if you anticipate doing any air travel with your babe. Also if your car seat is compatible with the stroller you want to buy if you plan on using it as a travel system (you’d be surprised how some car seats aren’t compatible at all with other things). Also, you want to check how easy it is to pull the infant car seat in and out of its base.
What does our family use? For our infant car seat we have a Chicco Keyfit 30. It was pretty simple to install, even the police officer who checked our car seat commented that he loved installing these seats cause it was easy. It wasn’t the recommended car seat when we bought our new VW when we moved to SF. But it works, and we are happy with it.
Our convertible car seat is a Britax Roundabout. This was recommended by our VW owner’s manual. It has a pretty small foot print, which is great. It’s really easy to get our toddler in and out. And the installation wasn’t terrible. We also love how Britax has a Youtube channel for installation. So if you are stuck trying to interpret something from the installation manual, you can always visually see what they mean on Youtube!
So many car seat choices, but hopefully you’ll settle on one (or two) that you will love and fits in your budget. And don’t forget to have your car seat professionally checked!!!