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The Savvy Mommy: Shopping for a Car Seat

Updated on March 15, 2012

Know the basics for keeping your little one safe on the road

If you're like me, walking around the baby store with that little registry gun was a completely overwhelming experience. Because, if you're like me, a little voice in your pregnant brain told you it wouldn't be that difficult. How many different kinds of car seats can there be? I'm sure I can find one I like! Aren't they all the same?

I learned the answer to that question the hard way.

Shopping for safety items for your child is not the same as shopping for clothes. It's not simply a matter of taste and style: You have to know what you're buying, what it does, what it doesn't do, and what that actually means if the worst happens -- and your baby is in a car accident. I'll give you the lowdown on the basics, which will get you into that baby store with the confidence to make a decision that's right for you and your baby.

The Basics:

  1. The 5-Point Harness: It's never really a debatable point that you want to find a seat with a 5-point harness. Look for a seat with wide, "twist-free" straps. Any article on car seat safety will tell you straps that twist aren't just an inconvenience -- they could cause real damage to your baby if they twist before, or during, an accident. And for your convenience, because saving time is always a plus, be sure to look for a seat that has a way to adjust the belt in the front instead of the back. Trust me, you'll save all kinds of time with that very small difference.
  2. The Big Snap: There are two kinds of chest clips out on the market; the kind that snaps together and the kind that slides-in. I've never used anything that didn't snap, but from what I've read there's a reason why those are more commonly produced. The slide-in chest clips aren't as secure (or baby/kid-proof). So, if you see one of those, you'll want to keep looking.
  3. The LATCH System: This nifty little feature will save you from having to wrestle with the seatbelt in the back of your car. What it does is attach the car seat to your car through "lower anchors" at the bottom and a tether strap at the top. Only cars made after 2003 have this feature, and keep in mind not all LATCH ready cars and car seats make a good fit! For example, the car seat I bought for my first child was brand new off the assembly line, and all ready to roll with the LATCH System. My car was too! But they weren't compatible. At all. No matter what I did, no matter how many people I nagged into helping me, we could NOT get the seat to latch properly into the car. It just didn't fit. With that in mind, be sure to always keep your receipt. While you won't want to buy a new car to accommodate your car seat, if the LATCH system is important to you, you'll definitely want to make sure the seat is compatible with your car. So, if at first you don't succeed...
  4. Consumer Reports: This is very basic. The latest Consumer Reports will tell you everything you need to know about the most recent upgrades, features, and top-rated seats on the market. Traditionally, Britax always wins this one and it has the price tag to prove it. But as an owner of more than one Britax, I can attest to the fact that you DO get your money's worth out of it, and then some. But before I went the Britax route, I used the infant seat by Graco called the Snugride, which is still a big favorite. I swear, I carried that thing everywhere under the sun, and I'll admit it... I cried a little inside when my baby grew too big to use it anymore. Moms who've been there know exactly what I mean. There's nothing like taking a sleeping baby out of the car in an infant seat without having to wake them up. That right there is worth its weight in gold. Top Ten Reviews is also an excellent, very thorough resource.

Now, there are some seats that will grow with baby from birth to college (well, not really but just about), while there are seats with a much more narrow range -- which you'll have to replace far more often. You'll have to decide what's right for you.

I personally went with an infant seat to start, because I put a premium on my ability to tote my little bundle around in the carrier. I also had a corresponding stroller base, which meant this kid was practically living in that seat. That may not be for you. If you're a mom who loves to carry her baby close, in one of those stylishly fabulous slings and/or carriers, a car seat that stays permanently in your car may be the most appealing (and cost efficient) choice. Again, you need to weigh the options and decide what the best thing is for you and your baby. You're creating your own world, and no matter what advice anyone has to give you, at the end of the day the decisions you make are ones you should feel 100% comfortable with. I firmly believe that most moms have great instincts; once you're informed and educated, you'll make the right choice.

Congratulations! Happy shopping!

I'd love to hear from you moms out there about your car seat shopping/buying/using experiences. What worked? What didn't? Do you have any favorite brands? Let's chat -- and be all the wiser for it.

-The Savvy Mommy

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    • ThePracticalMommy profile image

      Marissa 5 years ago from United States

      These are great tips for new moms looking for their first car seat! It would be good to mention though that if they are looking at second-hand seats (as many are doing now to save some money), they should look at the expiration dates at the bottom of the seat. I read an excellent hub about it by leahlefler which explained where to find the date on the seat.

      Welcome to HubPages! Looking forward to more of your hubs. :)

    • TheSavvyMommy profile image
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      TheSavvyMommy 5 years ago

      Thanks so much for commenting! It's a great welcome on my first day out.

      And you're absolutely right. I usually tell my friends to never take a used car seat because of all the issues you can run into with recalls and expiration dates. And, generally, car seats generally seem to be getting safer and safer every year. I'll go check that hub out!

      Nice to meet you! :)

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