When determining which car seat is best for your child, there are a couple of things to consider before you even start looking. Number one, what are the current car seat laws in your state. Number two, what are the current car seat recommendations put out by IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). Each state is different when it comes to car seat laws, some states are a bit more relaxed than others. Regardless of what the laws are in your state, I highly recommend following IIHS’s car seat recommendations. It basically tells you the safest way to transport your child, depending on their age and weight. Check out this article for more information – Car Seat Laws and Recommendations.
Once you have a decent understanding of what the recommendations and laws are, it’s time to get started. There are three main categories of car seats, infant car seats, convertible car seats, and booster seats.
Infant Car Seats
Weight: 5 pounds to 35 pounds
Infant car seats are designed to ride rear facing only. Most come with two parts, the seat and the base. The base installs into the vehicle either by using a LATCH system, available in vehicles made after 2003, or with the seat belts. Infant car seats are perhaps the most convenient, mainly because the base stays in the car and the seat removes easily, with the lift of the handle, giving you the ability to carry the whole seat into the store verses having to un-harness and re-harness your baby at every stop. Most infant car seats come with an adjustable 5-point child safety harness, removable infant inserts for when baby is really small, and removable head support as well. Most infant car seats offer a maximum weight recommendation of at least 20 pounds, but some will accommodate your baby all the way up to 35 pounds. Most states require the use of a rear-facing car seat until at least the age of 1 and 20 pounds, but the IIHS recommends that your child ride rear facing until at least 40 pounds.
Convertible Car Seats
Weight: 5 pounds to 70/100 pounds
Most convertible car seats can be used rear facing up until around 35 or 40 pounds, which meets IIHS’s new car seat safety recommendations. Once through the infancy stage, a convertible car seat can then be turned around and used as a forward-facing car seat with a harness up until at least 40 pounds. Some of the higher end convertible car seats, like Britax, offer max harness weights of 70 pounds, which is closer to IIHS’s harness recommendation of 80 pounds. Some convertible car seats will even convert to belt-positioning booster seats once the harness weight has been reached. Like the infant car seats, convertible car seats can also be installed using both the LATCH system and seat belts. The only difference is that if you’re using a convertible car seat as your infant car seat, you won’t be able to detach the seat from the base and carry it with you. That is the only drawback to using a convertible car seat through infancy.
Weight: Anywhere from 25 pounds up to 120 pounds
Booster seats are designed to be used during that period when the child has outgrown the harness, but is still too small for the vehicles seat belts. They are intended to boost the child up, putting them in the right position so that the vehicles seat belts fit properly over the child’s body. There are a couple different types of booster seats, belt-positioning booster seats or high-back booster seats, and backless booster seats. Belt-positioning boosters ,or high-back boosters, allow you to position the seat belts correctly over the child, whereas backless booster seats rely solely on the vehicles belt positioning, which can sometimes be a bit off if the child is still small. It’s important to understand that belt-positioning plays a key role in keeping your child safe in the event of a crash. The lap belt must fit snugly over the child’s upper thighs, not their stomach, and the shoulder belt must fit snugly over the child’s shoulder and chest, not their neck or face. Some booster seats also offer a harness mode so that they can be used earlier. The IIHS recommends using a harness for as long as possible, up to 80 pounds. Booster seats like the Britax Frontier 85 offer a harness that will accommodate a child from 25 pounds up to 85 pounds. Once the child has outgrown the harness, it can then be used as a belt-positioning booster seat from 40 to 120 pounds.