I want the Best and Safest Carseat for my child. Before my first child was born, I tried to find information on what the best infant carseat was at the time; this was before Google, so not an easy feat. Then when he outgrew his infant seat, I wanted the best convertible seat for him, which led me on a multi-month search and ultimately to my becoming a child passenger safety technician instructor. We all want the very best for our progeny—it’s human nature. So how do we determine what the best carseat is?
If you’ve been around any carseat forums, you may have heard this timeworn phrase: the best carseat is the one that fits your vehicle, fits your child, and fits your budget. It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? Yet when we get to the store, or look online, we often throw caution to the wind and base our purchase on the appearance of the carseat. “Oh, I love the butterflies on this one,” or, “The red color of this carseat is so nice!” Or even, yes, “This one matches the baby’s nursery.”
Let’s examine each part of the phrase in detail.
Fits Your Vehicle
The carseat should fit in your vehicle moving less than 1” when you tug at the belt path. It will move more if you tug on it further away from the belt path because the only place securing it to the vehicle is at the belt path. If you’re buying a convertible carseat that rear-faces and forward-faces, you want it to fit both rear-facing and forward-facing. You cannot assume that just because it fits rear-facing, it will fit forward-facing too. Install it both ways before you buy it or keep the box and receipt so you can return it if it doesn’t fit when you get it home.
Fits Your Child
Your child *must* fit within the size and age (if any) requirements of the seat before being able to use it. For example, most rear-facing only infant seats require infants’ shoulders to be at or above the bottom slots. If your baby’s shoulders are below those bottom slots, she’s too small to use the seat. Another example is the Britax Frontier 90 combination carseat. Your child must be 25 lbs. AND at least age 2 to use this seat per the instruction manual.
Children also have preferences for carseats. Some kids don’t mind sparsely padded carseats, while others demand luxurious padding. Some children don’t tolerate certain fabrics or need harness shoulder pads. Trying your child out in the carseat in the store helps you determine which seat they may like.
Fits Your Budget
This is the “kind of goes without saying” part of the phrase. There are so many great carseats in so many different prices ranges now that with *any* budget, you can find a carseat to fit your requirements. Back when my son was born, if we wanted a carseat with EPS foam, we had two choices and both were over $150 (one was close to $300, if my poor memory serves me correctly). Parents back then really did go into debt to buy carseats. Now most carseats have some sort of energy management foam or system and you don’t have to promise that firstborn to a cult to get it.
Use It Correctly Each and Every Ride
I’m adding in my own extra ending here. What’s the point of having a carseat that installs well in your car, fits your child well, and didn’t put you into debt if you don’t use it correctly every time? We techs all have seen the most expensive Clek and Britax seats with loose installations and loose harnesses that won’t do a darn thing in a crash for the kids riding in them. If you can’t use that carseat correctly each time, was it really a good deal? Nope.
You really can find a good carseat that meets all of the above criteria. By consulting lists, like our shiny new Comparison Tool, Recommended Carseats List and our Carseat Reviews, and asking questions at our Forum, you’ll find the Best Carseat and learn from our mistakes.