Posted in Blog, Car seat safety, Caring for your baby, Featured, Gear, Health and safety, Rebecca

Before you buy: choosing the best car seat

A guest post by Sue Emery

Not every child restraint fits every vehicle. There are many resources that parents can tap into when looking for a car seat. Consumer Reports and Baby Bargains are two of the sources parents most frequently site. These sites will offer opinions based on their experience or testing, but what they cannot offer is a recommendation based on your specific need. Don’t pick a car seat based on what worked for your sister, sister in law’s, or friend’s child—pick a child restraint based on what will work for you, your child and your vehicle.

What to look for:


1) The child restraint fits your vehicle

  • The width of the child restraint fits between the buckle and the seat belt webbing.
  • With the driver’s seat positioned comfortably for the driver, the child restraint fits rear facing in the back seat without compromising the child restraint, the driver, or the front passenger. Always, we want to make sure that the driver is positioned without compromise. If those in the front seat are compromised, we’ve done little for the child.
  • The seat belt webbing fits the child restraint. Some smaller vehicles have difficulty accommodating large seats due to routing of the seat belt.
  • How tall is the child restraint? Some of the higher weight harness seats are significantly taller than many of the child restraints that go to 40lbs. Does a taller child restraint really fit your vehicle? When the seat is rear facing what is the correct recline of the seat? Most convertible seats require a 30- 45 degree recline, there is one manufacturer whose seats recline at approximately 50 – 51 degrees. A significant component of the fit is the angle required.
  • On infant seats consider the position of the handle. Different manufacturers require different handle positions in order for the seat to be used correctly. Also, depending on the manufacturer, there are often spacing restrictions requiring “x” amount of space between the child restraint and the front seat.


2) The child restraint fits your child

  • Rear facing the harness MUST come from at or below the child’s shoulders. If when the child is placed in the seat the harness comes from above the child’s shoulders, the harness must be moved to the lowest harness slot. If the harness is already in the lowest slot, you must come to the conclusion that the child doesn’t fit the seat. You want the harness to fit snugly. It should hold and support the child not gouge or indent the child. You may not add padding behind or under the child to make the harness fit at or below the shoulders.
  • The child restraint should fit the newborn child as it comes from the box.


3) Child restraints that are not new from the box (used seats)

Used car seats and booster seats are neither good nor bad, they just are. The reality is not every seat will be from the box new.  With this in mind, let us look at a couple of points.

  • Before you place your child in any child restraint you want to make sure you have all the parts and pieces. This includes the instruction manual.  If you don’t have a manual you can usually download one from the manufacturer’s web site. You need the manual to determine if you have all the parts and pieces.
  • On the seat, can you find the manufacture date? It is a generalization, but six years is considered by many to be the life expectancy of a car seat. Until you check with the manufacturer consider this your base rule.
  • Do you know the car seat’s history? Has it ever been in a crash? If so don’t use this seat. There is no way you can know how it will function in another crash.


4) The child restraint fits your budget and lifestyle.


  • All child restraints sold in this country must meet the same Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. There is no such concept as greater or lesser standards. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards are the standards.
  • There is no such thing as “this is the best or safest seat.”
  • If you fly, often you might want to consider a smaller, light weight seat.
  • Different car seats cost different amounts of money. You should focus on whether the seat fits your child and your vehicle. A properly installed restraint is more important than how much it costs.


To contact Sue Emery, please feel free to call her directly at 206-619-2871. Even if you live outside of the Pacific Northwest, Sue can still advise you on issues and help over the phone so give her a ring! Thanks for your contribution, Sue.


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  1. Informative. Choosing a best car seat is never a easy thing. I have spent many hours on internet and some forums when I finally chose my Britax advocate 70Cs. Luckily, it was good for me and my kids. Budget is important, but sometimes the safe of our kids is on top of our concerns.

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