Know the Product
Choosing a car seat can be a stressful experience. Not only is it one of the most important purchases you'll make, but it's likely to be one of the most expensive. Here are a few basic starting points to make the search a little easier.
- First, buy a new car seat. Technology is constantly improving, so this is not the time to cut corners and take a hand-me-down. Plus, you can't be sure if a used seat has already been in a crash or has been recalled.
- When shopping for a newborn, look for an infant-only, rear-facing seat. Young babies fit in these best, and because these seats come with carry handles, they make a new parent's life much easier.
- Look for a car seat marked "JPMA-certified." To narrow your search, you might also read real-people reviews on Web sites such as www.babiesrus.com and www.epinions.com. Books like Consumer Reports Best Baby Products (Consumer Reports) are also helpful, and there are car seat "ease of use" ratings at www.nhtsa.gov (though they haven't rated many of the newest seats).
Once you've bought a seat, you're not done -- now you have to install it and make sure it fits well in your particular car.
In case you have to exchange the car seat, here's how to keep hassle to a minimum:
- When you buy a car seat, always keep the receipt and the box.
- Install the seat right away, and take it to a safety inspection as soon as possible.
- If a car seat inspector says that the seat is not fitting your vehicle, return it to the store immediately for an exchange or refund.
5 Great Car Seat Tips
1. Have the Car Seat Inspected
Installing a car seat is hard. Most parents -- various surveys show 70 to 90 percent -- do it wrong. Manufacturers try to help by providing exhaustive step-by-step instruction booklets and sometimes even videos with each car seat. Even so, after you install a seat, you should have an expert look at it to make sure it fits your car and is in correctly (it shouldn't budge more than an inch from side to side).
Call 866-SEAT-CHECK to find an inspection site by zip code, or visit www.seatcheck.org or www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
2. Buckle Up Properly
The harness straps need to fit baby snugly and be in the right position -- read instructions carefully.
3. Seats Keep Getting Better
Not that it helps if you're shopping now, but new latch-finding clips and easier harness adjustments are just two features that companies hope to offer in the next year.
4. Mind the Registration Card
It's important to fill out and mail the registration card that comes with a car seat so you can be contacted if there's a recall.
5. Follow the Law
State laws vary, but most require children to sit in booster seats until they're at least 4 years old, and sometimes as old as 8 or as heavy as 80 pounds. They boost your child up to ensure that the seat belts fit and protect properly.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, March 2005.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.