Car Seats: Buying
See also Car Seats: Overview and Car Seats: Installing
When selecting an infant car seat, check Consumer Reports for the most recent safety ratings and definitely go to Babies “R” Us or somewhere that carries a range of them and try lifting and carrying the one you like. Some of them are heavy, which you should avoid, and some are very wide, so carrying it down by your side is a strain.
We opted for the Chicco Keyfit. It had the highest safety rating from Consumer Reports plus is a couple pounds lighter than the competition and is narrow, so it’s also easier to carry. As an added bonus, the Keyfit comes with great infant head padding (removable when she gets bigger), so there was no need to buy the infant head pads that are normally recommended. (With a lot of seats, the head area is too big and her little no-neck-control self will bounce around like crazy when you’re walking.) The Keyfit weight capacity is also a couple pounds lower than other seats (30 lbs vs. 32 or 35, if memory serves) but honestly, your baby will be too long for the seat before s/he is too heavy for it anyway. (The regular Keyfit might work for you too: it’s capacity is only 22 lbs. but our daughter outgrew her Keyfit 30 by the time she was about 20 lbs so those extra eight pounds of capacity weren’t needed in the end.)
Some things to remember or consider in your buying process:
- All infant car seats come with a base included. There’s no need to buy one separately.
- The car seat base is for convenience, not safety: all modern infant seats can be strapped into any car by threading the seatbelt through the car seat’s “hooks.” (See your manual.)
- You may want to purchase a second base. If dad occasionally collects Junior from daycare, he doesn’t necessarily need a base for his car – he can just do the threading thing with his backseat seatbelt. It’s a pain in the ass though if you’re doing that every day and taking the car seat in and out for evening errands to boot, so if that’s going to happen a lot, invest in the second base.
- You can buy car seats used. Like bike helmets, if they’ve been in an accident, they are considered unsafe. I could not personally get next to buying ours used because of the stakes, but if you are 100% sure that the one you’re considering used has never, ever, not once been in an accident and that it meets current safety standards, be my guest.
- Many infant seats come with a sunshade built in or a hood that covers the seat completely, which is a fantastic option in and out of the car when little Juniorette is snoozing and it’s a sunny day. Idiot note for Keyfit buyers – well, I was an idiot anyway: there is a built-in sunshade that folds backwards under the hood. It took me six months and some help to figure this out. Draping a light blanket over the carrying bar worked very well, thank you very much (and still did when the hood didn’t come down far enough). Read your manual, kids!
- Head and body padding is often removable in infant seats. Again, read the manual. Half the moms in my mom’s group (myself included – do you sense s a trend?) were considering bumping up to a toddler seat several months early because they didn’t realize they just had to remove accessory padding in their infant seats to give baby more space.
- Stroller compatibility. I won’t go into too much detail here – see my upcoming entry on stroller options and systems – but you may want to make these decisions together. Some car seats fit into some stroller frames but not all car seats fit into all frames. So if you already have your heart set on a specific stroller/frame, or – lucky you! – are inheriting one for free, check out compatibility on the brand’s web site before you settle on an infant seat.
- Do register your infant seat with the manufacturer: baby products are recalled all the time and, if you’re on their list, you’ll know if something comes up.