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Choosing the Best Car Seat

Katlyn Joy | 4, October 2012


Perhaps no other baby product carries as much importance in terms of child safety than the carseat. Since car accidents are the leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 12, the decision on which seat to buy is a crucial one. What factors are most important in picking a carseat?

Since safety has to be the first criteria, consider ease of installation and use as primary issues. An improperly installed or utilized carseat will not protect a child in a crash. Approximately 80 percent of parents and caregivers improperly use a carseat that requires a harness according to Consumer Reports.

Next, comfort and durability are factors as well in making the best choice for your child's transportation needs. If your child is uncomfortable and hates the carseat you've made the wrong choice.

Know the differences between carseats and which are recommended for your child. For newborns to one-year olds the rear facing carseat is the only choice, and the infant seat is recommended over the convertible seat for safety sake. The American Academy of Pediatrics goes further, recommending that the rear facing seat be used until age two. Once a child has outgrown the rear facing seat, the next level is the forward-facing carseat with harness. A child should remain in this type of seat until he or she has grown beyond the weight and height guidelines for the carseat. Then it's time for a booster seat until the child has grown to sit in the car with a seatbelt that fits properly. Typically this means a child is between 8 and 12 years old and has reached a height of 4' 9".

It's probably best to avoid used carseats since you usually won't know the seat's history and whether it's been involved in a car accident. Carseats must be replaced once in a crash. Also, safety standards can change fairly often and recalls may have occurred.

Learn which carseats are considered most user-friendly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a website at which provides information on how they rated carseats on criteria such as understandable instructions, vehicle installation features, clarity of labeling, and the ease of securing the child in the seat. The NHTSA gives carseats a rating of 1 to 5 stars based on the above criteria.

Look for the label that states that the seat meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213. This is the minimum of safety standards for carseats. Some seats will also exceed these standards.

Know each seat's weight, height and age guideline. Don't try to scrimp or fudge the numbers. A child should never use a seat that is meant for bigger kids with better head support and control, or use a seat that he or she has clearly outgrown.

Don't rely on online descriptions or reviews alone. You may choose to purchase the seat online but you need to actually see the seat in person and try it out. How easy would it be to use in the vehicle you'd install it into? How simple is it to place a baby in the restraint?

Consult your car's manual to see how the LATCH system works in the model of car you drive. It's important to read this as well as instruction manual for the carseat. Yes, we know it's not fun reading but don't assume you know what you are doing. Studies by the NHTSA have shown that while newbies are the most likely to make carseat use or installation mistakes, even veterans who are confident in their skill are still likely to make mistakes.

Go to an inspection station to ensure you have mastered the installation and use techniques for your particular carseat. You can find a list of locations for them here:

Make sure you know your state's specific guidelines for child safety seats and how long you can expect your child to be in a carseat. There are not uniform carseat guidelines from state to state.

Never allow a child to sit up front where an air bag can deploy whether the child is 8 and big-boned, or in a rear facing carseat. Airbags, which are meant to save lives can cost a child his since airbags are designed with adults, not children in mind. Airbags open with up to 200 pounds of force which is needed for protection of an average 165 pound male. This force would be deadly for a small child and dangerous for even older children.

Related Articles

How to Secure Your Baby In the Car Seat?

Is Your Baby Safe With the New Car Seat Guidelines?

10 Car Seat Mistakes Most Parents Make

4 Million Bumbo Seats Voluntarily Recalled


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