3 Things to Consider When Searching for the Right Car Seat

Car seat research and recommendations from a mom who has done her homework.

All car seats are required to meet federal safety standards, but choosing the right car seat (like many other purchasing choices) can feel daunting due to the sheer number of options.

Through my own research for a car seat for my daughter, I hope to take some of the guess work out of it for you and make some helpful recommendations.

Here are some tips to consider as you shop:

1. Consider the type of car seat that you need
The table below gives general guidelines for transitioning to the next type of car seat. Of course you need to take into consideration your child’s weight and height and follow the specific recommendations of the car seat you choose.

Infant car seat – This is a rear facing only option that typically maxes out at around 20-30 pounds. They are a popular choice due to their portability.

Recommendation: Consumer Reports Best Buy (based on balance of performance and price) Chicco KeyFit 

Convertible – The most common next step from an infant car seat; this type converts from rear facing to forward facing and allows for a child to be rear facing for longer. The minimum recommended age for forward facing is two years old, but safety experts advise leaving a child rear facing as long as possible or up to the weight or height limit.

Recommendations: Consumer Reports Top 5 Convertibles
- Chicco Nextfit  
- Britax Marathon ClickTight 
- Evenflo SureRide/Titan 65
- Cosco Scenera NEXT
- Graco Contender 65 

All in one – This is intended to take your child from birth to seat belt. This is a good option with two obvious drawbacks: the lack of portability like that of an infant car seat and it may not accommodate very small infants.

Recommendation: Graco 4Ever. You can read a very thorough review of this car seat here

2. Consider ease of use

The National Highway Safety Administration rates car seats in four basic categories:

- An instruction manual that is easy to understand
- Ease of vehicle installation
- Labels that are easy to understand
- Ease of securing a child correctly

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Two of Consumer Report’s Top Convertible car seats scored 4 or 5 out of 5 in each of the above categories and 5/5 on overall use ratings.

- Chicco Nextfit
- Britax Marathon ClickTight

3. Consider vehicle fit 

Not all cars fit multiple car seats well. This article from the Car Seat Lady is from 2015, but it offers a really thorough explanation on what to look for when buying a car.

A good, narrow footprint convertible option is the Diono Radian RXT. Another great option is the Graco Smart Seat All-in-One car seat base. This article offers other recommendations as well.

Bottom Line: All three websites linked in this article offer a plethora of research and knowledge if you thrive off information. But if you are like me and tend to get overwhelmed, here’s what we did (based on the recommendation of a friend who is a car seat expert):

We used the Chicco Keyfit infant car seat until my daughter was a year old, at which point she reached the 20 pound weight limit. We then purchased the Chicco Nextfit that allows her to be rear facing until 40 pounds (which she hasn’t quite reached yet at three and half). At that time, we’ll convert it to forward facing where she’ll stay until she reaches the weight limit at 65 pounds. (We’ll buy the appropriate booster seat when the time comes, but that will be years down the road.)

Of course the best car seat is nothing without proper installation and use. This article offers tips to ensure your children are traveling as safely as possible in the car.

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Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.

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