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Looking for a Car Seat? Here are Some Tips to Get You Moving

Updated on July 22, 2014

Can You Imagine a World Without Car Seats?

It's hard to imagine that we started using car seats only a few decades ago. Back in the day, parents had to rig creative ways to keep the little ones semi-secure in the back seat of the Chevy Nova. A friend once told me about a laundry basket her mother used to keep her stable.

"Just strapped it in with a seat belt and propped me up with blankets," she said.

Times have changed, and now we have safer alternatives to plastic baskets and blankets. It's number one on the list of baby gear must-haves, right next to the diapers and onesies.

Since virtually everyone needs a car seat for the baby, there are many to choose from in a variety of different sizes, brands, and prices. For those who are new on the baby scene, this can be confusing. You might be wondering:

  • Do I need an infant car seat?
  • What is a travel system?
  • Should I just start with a convertible seat?
  • How much should I spend on a car seat?
  • When should I switch to a booster seat?

Let's try to clear this up so you can get on with picking out fun stuff, like nursery furniture and tiny outfits.

Please Watch This 5-Minute Video on Car Seat Safety!

This Chicco infant car seat doubles as a carrier fitting into a base that stays fastened in the car, or can be placed into the corresponding stroller as part of a travel system
This Chicco infant car seat doubles as a carrier fitting into a base that stays fastened in the car, or can be placed into the corresponding stroller as part of a travel system | Source

Infant Car Seats and Travel Systems

I bought the Chicco travel system when I was pregnant with my older daughter. A travel system is an infant car seat along with a stroller it fits into (either a regular stroller or jogger).

I found the stroller new-in-box at a consignment store and bought the infant seat online at a discount. The entire system cost $300 at the time. You can find a Graco travel system at Walmart or on Amazon for about $130 at the time of this writing, and they're fine, too.

Travel systems are great. If the baby falls asleep on a trip to the store, you don't have to wake her up to put her in a stroller or carrier. The umbrella tops unfold to cover the baby so she's not disturbed.

Infant seats include a base that can stay in the car. The seat clicks into the base, so all you need to do is push a release button and it pulls out of the base like a carrier. Pull out the handle, and you can carry the seat like a piece of luggage. A heavy, cumbersome piece of luggage. Always tuck the handle away when you put the seat back in the car.

Infant car seats are significantly smaller than convertible car seats, so it won't be long before you will need to upgrade. Keep in mind that although the seat says it fits up to 30 pounds, your child will likely outgrow it size-wise way before he hits that weight. They swim in these seats as newborns, but by the end of their first year it's a tight fit.

They say the infant seat is safer for newborns because it is small enough to keep them snug. If you're concerned about cost, remember you can always get some of your money back by selling it to a consignment shop when you're done. If you get the travel system, the stroller is plenty big, so you can use it for as long as you need to.

How to Install an Infant Car Seat

The LATCH System

The LATCH system was introduced in the early 2000s and is now in virtually every new car on the road. These metal loops attached to the car's chassis keep a car seat more stable. You will know a car has the LATCH system by the logos on the back seat cushions. Reach back between the cushions at the spot of the LATCH logo, like you're looking for spare change in the couch. Feel for the metal loops, then clip your car seat's LATCH hooks to them. It's not the easiest process in the world, but worth the extra effort.

LATCH logo
LATCH logo | Source

The Convertible Car Seat

A convertible car seat is a bit bigger than the infant seat. They're the perfect size for toddlers, although they do come with inserts to keep a newborn secure. Keep in mind you can buy aftermarket infant inserts that keep a newborn's head and body stable. These inserts tend to have more support and padding.

Like most first-time moms, I had first-baby syndrome with my older daughter. I felt guilty that I couldn't afford one of the more expensive car seats, like a Britax or Peg Perego. Instead, I settled for a Graco My Ride 65, which has worked out perfectly fine.

The only problem I have is that our Graco has a black, corduroy-like fabric that is super-hot here in Florida. If I don't pass it onto the baby, I will probably get a Cosco (not to be confused with Costco), a low-cost car seat available on The seat has a lot of great reviews and works well in spite of its low price. Most of the complaints are due to a lack of cushion in the seat, so it's not as comfortable as the high-end brands. But this isn't a deal-breaker if you don't spend huge chunks of time on the road.

After safety, the most important part of a car seat is the cup holder. It should have at least one if you don't want sippy cups to end up on the floor. Out-of-reach beverages are proven to make kids unbearably thirsty.

The Graco My Ride 65 is one of the models that was recalled recently. There have been some issues with the buckle sticking closed. I have used this seat for the better part of four years and didn't have any trouble with the buckle until I let my daughter have ice cream on a ride home. It dripped into the buckle assembly, and although I cleaned it off, it started to get sticky. The remedy? A quick squirt of WD40. It doesn't stick at all now.

A convertible car seat is something your child uses often over the course of several years. There is a small chance that you will have to trust it to save her life. So take a few moments every so often to make sure the buckles are clean and working properly, that the straps aren't twisted, and that the seat is secure in your vehicle.

It never hurts to review the proper way to use a car seat. The video at the beginning of this article taught me a few things, so I encourage you to watch it if you haven't already.

Booster Seats

By the time you get to this point, you'll be thankful to spend less money. Booster seats are generally a bit less expensive than the infant or convertible seats.

We drive a Honda CRV, and it's getting a bit tight in there with two car seats in the back. The four-year-old is getting cramped in her convertible car seat since there isn't much room for her feet to fit comfortably. I ordered a booster seat so that she can sit with her feet facing the floor like a regular seat, rather than in a reclining position of a car seat.

There are two basic types of booster seat: backless or with a back piece. The seats that have no back support are for children 40 pounds and up; the seats with backs are good for kids starting at 30 pounds. My (bigger) little one is about 33 pounds, so I got the seat with a back.

I picked the Graco Highback TurboBooster because it sounds really fast. No, not really. This seat has a back that can be removed in the future. I was able to find one that's not black (not so easy in the car seat world), and has cup holders.

A car seat in the house can double as a mini-throne
A car seat in the house can double as a mini-throne | Source

Get Cruising!

With so many car seats on the market, it can be tough to choose which one is right for your family. Now that you know the basics, do some further research to find which models work best with your car.

You'll notice car models mentioned often in car seat reviews on Amazon or other online shopping sites. But don't worry, whether you have hundreds of dollars or a limited budget, this is a highly regulated industry. Your little one will be safe as can be with any of the popular car seat brands.

Do you have any pre-car seat era stories?

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    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 3 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Hahah Mel, those days weren't so long ago. That's true for so many industries today, isn't it? I don't know how much good a booster seat does--it has a bit more restraint for the head and, other than some extra plastic, that's about it. It gives us an illusion of safety, but that's a whole other issue. Thanks, Mel!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Considering that Grandpa used to toss us into the bed of the pickup truck with no seat belts when we were kids, I think things have gone overboard just a little bit when 60 pound kids need a booster seat. I understand the need for safety but the car seat industry seems to be writing the laws now. Great hub!

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 3 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Billy, you were going to say you have no use for the article, but my kids are cute.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm debating whether to have some smart quip like you usually leave on my articles, or to play this straight. Hmmm, which way to go....well, I'll let you know what I decide later. :)