Every parent would agree that the safety of their baby is their top priority. When it comes to riding in cars, a car seat is fundamental to ensuring your infant is well taken care of. If your baby’s first car ride will be coming home from the hospital after birth; we would suggest not leaving this decision to the last minute. Things get hectic pretty quick!
When choosing the right car seat, you should be informed – it could mean the difference between getting the appropriate car seat, which will do it’s intended job (keep your baby safe) or not. This guide is meant to give you all the information you need during this important selection process. The end goal is helping you find the best product to ensure the safety of your baby.
- 1 Key Facts
- 2 Ranking: The best car seats on the U.S. market
- 3 Shopping guide: Everything you should know about car seats
- 4 Purchase Criteria
- 5 Summary
- Car seats are sorted according to your baby’s weight and size. Some quality products will last through their infancy by adapting to each stage.
- Safety regulations concerning car seats vary from state to state. Still, all states have some sort of requirements for car seats and booster seats. Consider the regulations of your state when shopping. Seeing that these rules are there to ensure the safety of your child.
- If the materials of the car seat wear out, it’s always better to upgrade to a car seat that adapts to your child’s growth, even if the previous car seat was meant to last through their childhood.
Ranking: The best car seats on the U.S. market
In order to give you some perspective and points of comparison, we have gathered the best car seats currently available in the United States. Check out this ranking to better understand the types of characteristics and features you can find in these items.
No. 1: Graco – DLX 4-in-1 Car Seat
This 4 in 1 car seat will provide you with 10 years of safe travel for you and your kids. It seamlessly transforms from rear-facing harness car seat to a forward-facing harness car seat, to a high back belt-positioning booster to a backless belt-positioning booster. Because it has so many forms and settings, it’s a product you can use for years as your child grows. The Graco ProtectPlus engineering will help protect your little one in the rare chances of frontal, side, rear or rollover crashes.
The Simply Safe Adjust Harness System adjusts the height of your harness and headrest to 10 positions in one motion to ensure that your child is always properly secured. The 6 position recline helps keep your growing child comfortable wherever your journeys take you. The Graco exclusive InLatch buckle provides an easy, one-second attachment with an audible click to help ensure proper security. This car seat is machine washable with a quick and easy to remove the cover.
No. 2: Safety 1st – Grow and Go 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat
Built for your growing baby, the 3-in-1 car seat by Safety 1st is built for extended use through 3 different stages: rear-facing 5-40 lbs, forward-facing 22-65 lbs, and belt-positioning booster 40-100 lbs. It has side impact protection that helps keep your child safe during crashes. The harness holders keep the harness in an open position so it’s easy to get your child in and out of the seat. Rear-facing height is 19-40 inches. Forward-facing height is 29-52 inches.
With the QuickFit harness, you can quickly and easily adjust both the headrest and the harness in one simple step. It has machine washable and dryer safe seat pads that allow you to keep the car seat clean and smelling fresh even though your child’s messy spills. The cover easily slips off for easy removal and cleaning. It comes in simple and stylish black and gray tones to match the interior of almost any car.
No. 3: Graco – Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat
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This superiorly designed car seat is Amazon’s Choice for a high-quality car seat that comes at a more affordable price than other, high tech models. This car seat is made for rear-facing infants from 4-50 pounds and forward-facing toddlers from 22-65 pounds. The four-position extension panel adjusts to provide 5” of additional legroom allowing your child to ride safely in the rear-facing position for longer as they grow. It’s been designed with a breathable fabric that will keep your child comfortable even in warmer interior car temperatures.
Engineered by the Graco ProtectPlus team, this car seat has gone through a combination of the most rigorous crash tests that help protect your child in frontal, side, rear, and rollover crash due to its extra supportive design. It incorporates an easy to adjust and comfortable harness, soft side barriers for your child’s head, as well as cup holders on the armrests to keep your child’s drinks in a safe and easy to reach position.
No. 4: Evenflo – Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat
This convertible car seat helps protect rear-facing infants from 5-40 lbs and forward-facing toddlers from 22-40 lbs in the case of an accident. The Tribute LX meets or exceeds all applicable Federal Safety Standards as well as Evenflo’s Side Impact Test Standard for structural integrity. To ensure a proper forward-facing fit, the top of the child’s ears should be at or below the top of the child’s restraint seatback.
The 5-point harness system has 4 different shoulder strap positions that allow that allow this car seat to accommodate growing children for longer. It has a light and compact weight making it an excellent choice for smaller cars, movement between multiple cars or for air travel. It has an easy to remove, machine washable cover for quick and easy cleaning. The plastic and metal parts can be easily wiped down with mild soap and warm water.
No. 5: Graco – Highback Turbo Booster Car Seat
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The simple but efficiently designed car seat by Graco to help safely transport your kid from ages 4-10 years old, holding anywhere from 30-100 pounds and up to 57 inches tall. It’s tall and comfortable design has made it a top-rated car seat by leading consumer magazines and publications. It has gone through rigorous crash testing to meet and exceed US safety standards to reassure safety-conscious parents.
This car seat aligns with the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP)-peak Crash Force and Extreme Car Interior Temperature standards. It’s been tested for structural integrity by applying 44 g NCAP crash pulse to seat test, approximately twice the US FMVSS 213 crash plus. It has side impact barriers to protect your child’s head, fold-down armrests for comfort and two cup holders on each side for your child’s beverages. The backrest conveniently disconnects to provide a booster seat for your child once they’ve outgrown the need for full support.
Shopping guide: Everything you should know about car seats
There are some important aspects to consider in order to get the most appropriate car seat for your child. Things like their weight and size, along with the type of travel and trips you’ll be doing with them, will be key to helping you determine your needs. In this next section, we give you all the information you need to make the best possible purchase for your child.
Are there any regulations for car seats?
Yes! However, in the U.S., the federal government has allowed each state to design its own laws regarding child car seats. Making it difficult to go over all of them in this short section. Nonetheless, all states have some pretty common standards that we will touch upon next.
- Mandatory use: Any child under the age of 8 and weighing less than 60 pounds is required to be in a car seat in the back seat of the vehicle.
- Seat direction: Rear-facing child seat with 5-point harness – required for any child under 2 years old or less than 30 pounds, regardless of age. Forward-facing child seat with a harness restraint – children must be a minimum of 2 years old or between 30 – 40 pounds, regardless of age.
- Booster seat: Children must be a minimum of 5 years old or between 40 – 60 pounds, regardless of age; must be used with a lap and shoulder seat belt system and according to the weight and height limits set by the car seat manufacturer.
- Vehicle’s seat belt system: Children must be a minimum of 8 years old AND must weigh 60 or more pounds.
Keep in mind the above is just generalized guidelines of all the different state’s rules and regulations. It is important to know the specific regulations of your state and the states you visit to avoid any issues with the law.
Is one car seat enough for all of the childhood?
In most cases, no. With most models and qualities, you’ll have to change the seat as your child grows. Even with a car seat that is meant to grow with your child, the materials may sometimes wear out rendering them inefficient.
Car seats are often categorized according to the height or weight of the child:
- Stage 1: Rear-facing car seat – required for children under age 2, unless child reaches maximum height and weight requirements of the seat.
- Stage 2: Forward-facing car seat – required for children under age 4 and under 40 pounds.
- Stage 3: Booster seat – required for children ages 4 to 8 or children under 4 and over 40 pounds.
- Stage 4: all children who have outgrown their booster seats must wear seatbelts.
If you read our ranking from the previous section, you would have noticed that almost all products support all stages. This table shows the different stages in weight:
|Stage 1||Up to 20 lbs|
|Stage 1+||Up to 30 lbs|
|Stage 2||From 20 to 40 lbs|
|Stage 3||From 30 to 60 lbs|
|Stage 4||From 50 – 80 lbs|
Can I buy a second-hand car seat?
Technically, yes, but we would advise against it for a few reasons. For starters, car seats have expiration dates, which are likely to have passed or maybe coming up if the car seat has been previously owned.
Generally, car seats have an expiration date set to 10 years after their manufacturing.
You may be asking, why do car seats expire? Here are the main reasons:
- Wear: All the parts of a car seat will wear down with extended. For instance, the frame in most car seats is made of plastic, a material that degrades over time. Moreover, metal parts can rust with moisture and the harness also wears down with friction and washing.
- New regulations: Car seat regulations are subject to the lawmakers of each state, which means these regulations change from time to time. For this reason, a second-hand car seat may not meet current standards and regulations.
- Keep in mind that even if the car seat appears to be in good condition, it may have suffered damage that will it less effective. Car seats have small parts that are lost with use, transportation, and accidents. Moreover, if we don’t know the origin of the seat, we don’t know if it was involved in an accident. The impact in a collision can crack the seat internally, rendering its safety capabilities practically useless.
How are car seats installed?
Car seat installation used to be overwhelming with the old installation method that used the seat belt. Most models in North America today come with the Isofix system, which considerably reduces the risk of making any mistakes. Simply follow the instructions that come with the car seat and you should have no trouble.
Below is a video that shows how to install one of these car seats:
The safety of your baby should not be taken lightly, for this reason, when buying a car seat, there are a number of criteria you should keep in mind in order to ensure the product you buy will work the way is supposed to and keep your baby safe. In this section, we’ve outlined this criteria:
- Anchorage system
- Age of use
The main and only job of the car seat is keeping your infant safe when they are in the car. Always opt for products that have been tested and meet all the necessary safety standards and regulations.
Even though most current car seat models in North America come with the Isofix system, some still don’t. If your car allows for this type of installation, we strongly suggest that you choose a car seat that includes this anchorage method. Although these items may cost a little more, the investment into your child’s safety will be worth it. Keep in mind that with this system, the risk of mounting the car seat wrong is drastically reduced.
If your child will spend a lot of time in their car seat, it is really important that they are comfortable. Choosing a seat with quality, breathable and soft materials will be a good start. Furthermore, making sure the seat has neck and support, allowing the child to recline their head back to be able to sleep and rest better.
As you may have noticed in our ranking, there are car seats that cover different age ranges. Some cover fewer stages, others more. There are even convertible seats that are appropriate for all weight groups. Allowing you to use them from birth through childhood.
Most of these products, however, often get poor evaluation results, especially when it comes to ensuring the safety of newborns. Keep in mind that car seats wear out over time and their useful life expires. It’s best to invest in several good seats as your child grows.
Choosing a good car seat is investing in the safety of your child. When making your decision it’s worth keeping in mind the rules and regulations for your state or any other state you plan on visiting with your car. In North America, you can find many different options with great features and characteristics.
You should keep in mind that your baby’s first car seat will not be the only one you’ll need. Your child will grow up and the seat will wear out over time. Look for a seat that will adapt to their growth for several years, but be ready to trade up when the seat no longer serves them. Last but not least, comfort should not be neglected, your child deserves to be safe and comfortable!
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(Featured image source: Melpomen: 60979523/123rf.com)