One rite of passage all new parents have to undergo these days: choosing a car seat. Sometimes it’s a choice that comes when filling out a baby registry; other times, it’s a choice they make when buying one themselves. No matter how they get there, it’s likely the first time those parents have encountered car seats since they occupied one, and they might find themselves a bit confused by the changes that have hit the youth-safety world since then.
After all, safety standards are continuously evolving. Children now require multiple types of car seats as they age. There are a lot of brands, many with confusing Scandinavian- and Italian-sounding names. Price tags can be extravagant, and it can be hard to figure out what all the myriad features do.
To help clear things up, we’ve put together a quick guide to help you navigate the confusing world of child seats. One important thing to note: more expensive does not necessarily mean safer. All seats from reputable providers must meet NHTSA crash test standards. Generally speaking, the more expensive seats simply bring added ease of use and better-quality materials.
Infant Car Seat
Infant car seats are, you guessed it, for infants. They are lightweight and portable, and they face backwards when installed correctly. They tend to be used for children between 4–30 lbs. Unless you have a future NFL lineman on your hands, that seat should last through the first year.
These seats often have a base they click into, and may come with a companion stroller. They have a padded newborn insert that can be removed as the child grows.
Chicco KeyFit 30
The Chicco KeyFit 30 is easy to install, with or without its base. It works with a wide range of strollers and can be removed or tightened with one hand. The shell is lined with EPS energy-absorbing foam to protect against impacts. Crucially, it offers the same performance as some of the top brands for about $80–$100 cheaper.
Nuna Bugaboo Turtle
Another option: the Bugaboo Turtle by Nuna infant car seat. It is designed for maximum portability, with an ergonomic handle and a weight of just 8.8 pounds. There’s a removable and washable insert made from lightweight merino wool. It can be paired with the Bugaboo Fox stroller to create a complete travel system.
Convertible Car Seat
Convertible seats are adjustable for different stages of a child’s life. Most are 3-in-1 models that accommodate infants, younger toddlers who still sit facing backwards and older toddlers who face forwards. They offer a broader range of weight capacities than infant seats — typically around 5–65 pounds. They are heavier and far less portable, however; a convertible seat typically remains in the car.
Britax Advocate ClickTight
The Britax Advocate ClickTight convertible car seat has a steel frame, an impact-absorbing base and three layers of side impact-absorbing technology. It also features an anti-rebound bar that reduces the force of a crash. It offers 14 different harness positions and seven different reclining options to accommodate almost every child.
For a budget option, consider the Graco Extend2Fit convertible seat. It’s easy to install with its “one-second in right LATCH” system. It’s versatile, with 10 different headrest positions, six-position reclining and a four-position extension panel that can add about five inches of legroom. It’s a single seat that can handle your kid from the hospital to preschool.
Clek Foonf Mammoth
If money is no object, consider the Clek Foonf Mammoth. Besides being fun to say, the Mammoth version is flame-retardant free and uses 100 percent merino wool fabric to help your child regulate temperature during all four seasons. The 33-pound car seat describes itself as “built like a tank” with a solid metal substructure, inner and outer energy-absorbing foam layers and aluminum honeycomb crumple technology. Be advised, you will need a Clek Infant Thingy (sold separately) to use the seat for infants.
Children move from a convertible seat to a booster seat when they exceed the height and/or weight restrictions of the former. It boosts the child to a position where the seatbelt lays across their chest as it would on an adult. These can be both high-back or backless. The child uses the booster seat until he or she is 4’9” tall — or until the seatbelt fits normally and their knees bend at the edge of the seat.
Chicco KidFit 2-in-1
The Chicco KidFit 2-in-1 booster seat can be used as both a high-backed or backless booster seat. It has ErgoBoost double foam padding for extra comfort. It’s also easy to clean; the fold-out cupholders are removable and dishwasher-safe, and the seat pad and armrest cushions can be removed and machine-washed.
Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120
For a more upscale option, check out the Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120. It can be adjusted in four different ways and offers five different recline levels for maximum comfort. It has an aluminum-reinforced backrest to protect against whiplash. When not being used, this booster seat folds in on itself for easy storage.
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