How To Pick the Perfect Convertible Car Seat
Convertible car seats get their name from their ability to be installed rear or forward-facing. These seats have higher weight and height limits than infant car seats, so they’ll accommodate your baby as he or she grows into a toddler.
Unlike an infant seat, a convertible car seat does not have a base. The seat itself is strapped into your car using either the regular seat belt, or a LATCH system on the car seat. This means that carrying your sleeping baby in her car seat into a store or clicking it right into the stroller is no longer possible. Usually, however, by the time your child has outgrown her infant car seat, she’s not so easy to lug around in a car seat anyway.
Like an infant seat, convertible car seats should still have a 5-point harness system built into the seat. Children should be in a 5-point harness until they are 4 years old and at least 40 pounds, or if they have grown too tall for their convertible car seat. (When their shoulders are higher than the top harness strap slots in the car seat’s back.) That 5-point harness has two buckles--one on the chest and one between the legs. Both should always be buckled and tightened correctly.
A convertible car seat will typically be used for three years or more, and thankfully many seats are now being made to accommodate your growing child. From multiple seat recline positions and adjustable head supports to dual positions for the buckle between the legs, these seats are made to make your child as comfortable and safe as possible.
WHY AND WHEN TO UPGRADE
You just bought a perfectly good car seat no more than a year ago, so why should you spend another chunk of money on the same baby gear product again? Simply put, the height and weight limits for car seats aren’t just loose guidelines -- they are there to protect your baby. They have been researched and tested over and over again. Car crashes are the leading cause of injury and death among children, so following the set car seat guidelines exactly is the best way to keep that little one safe as can be in the car.
So how do you know when to upgrade? As soon as your baby outgrows either the height or weight limit on his or her infant car seat, it is time to upgrade. The height and weight limits will be listed in the user’s manual and can always be found through the manufacturer of the car seat. Remember: it is a common mistake to refer only to the weight of the child and forget the height all together, but the height is often the limit reached first and is equally important!
Some reports urge parents to move their child to a convertible car seat at age one, even if he or she hasn’t reached the height and weight limit of the infant carrier. This recommendation is not necessarily recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, who still say you should abide by the car seat’s height and weight limit as your guide. However, if you choose to move your little one into a convertible car seat at one year old or before, that is perfectly acceptable as long as he or she is within the correct height and weight ranges of your new convertible car seat.
CAN I JUST START WITH A CONVERTIBLE CAR SEAT?There are a lot of convertible car seats on the market today that are made to accommodate infants from birth perfectly safe and legally. There is nothing wrong with bypassing the infant car seat and going straight to the convertible as long as that seat is suitable for your baby’s size. Here are some things to consider about this route:
Convertible car seats don't leave the car. Unlike an infant seat which you can unsnap from a base and use as a carrier with baby undisturbed inside once you’ve parked and gone on your way, the convertible seat stays in the car. So if your baby falls asleep while driving, you risk waking her up when you remove her from her car seat to go inside.
Convertible car seats don't attach to a stroller as part of a travel system. Do you have a new stroller in mind like the Baby Jogger City Select 2? These seats will not click into your stroller. If you want the convenience of a travel system with your infant, a convertible car seat isn’t for you right now.
HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT SEAT FOR YOU
Here are some things to consider as you decide which convertible car seat is right for you and your baby:
Will it fit your lifestyle? Do you live in an urban area where you use taxis and ride shares often? Do you need a seat you can easily travel with? Or will you have to transfer your seat between multiple family vehicles often? The weight of the car seat is something to consider if you will be moving it frequently. Will you and your baby be spending long amounts of time in the car? In that case, a comfortable seat may take priority over a lightweight one? How much does cleanliness matter to you? Some models have removable covers that can be washed, while others don’t. Remember that a seat that works wonderfully for your sister across the country may not fit your lifestyle, so think carefully about what you do and don’t need in a car seat.
How long do you want to use it? Do you want a seat that will grow with your child throughout his or her entire childhood? A seat that transitions from infant seat to booster seat may be for you. Or perhaps you already have an infant seat, and your convertible seat will be good for a couple years until your child grows out of it, and then you can use it for a younger child. Thinking about how long you plan to use the seat can help you decide how much of an investment you want it to be so you definitely get the most for your money.
Will it fit in your car? Car seats are not one standard size. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from bulky to petite. Make sure the seat you choose fits comfortably in your car. If you are in Utah, you can come to The Baby Cubby and try out our model seats in your car to see how they fit. If you're not local, we highly recommend that you find a store in your area that will allow you to do this.
Can I put other seats next to it? Do you have other children that are in car seats or booster seats as well? If so, you will want to make sure you take those seats and the arrangement in your vehicle into consideration. Clek car seats are great for a multi car seat situation due to their slender bases.
How easy is it to install correctly? A shocking 95% of all car seats are installed incorrectly. Find out how the car seat you want to purchase is installed into your vehicle, and how easily and effectively you can do it on your own. Even with the LATCH systems, which are supposed to help eliminate user installation error, more seats are installed incorrectly than correctly. The Britax Click Tight Marathon, Boulevard and Advocate were designed to help you install that seat quickly and without error. Check out the technology of it here!
How does it perform in crash tests? All new car seats being sold from reliable sources are tested to meet all the guidelines to be deemed legal and safe to carry your precious cargo. There are, however, car seat brands whose ratings go above and beyond the necessary minimums. Those are the seats that get our vote.
CAN I BORROW OR BUY A USED ONE?
Whether you purchased a car seat from a garage sale or got one as a hand-me-down from a friend or family member, a used car seat actually poses multiple safety concerns:
A used seat is likely to not have the manufacturer's instruction booklet. This is necessary in order to install and use your car seat correctly.
The seat could be expired, and not up to current safety standards.
Could have possibly been recalled within the time that you did not own the seat.
Could be missing important parts (internally, or externally.)
The seat could have been involved in an accident, which would likely compromise the integrity of the seat.
Plastic gets brittle over time. Even if the seat looks perfectly fine, if involved in an accident, the plastic could shatter. Those sharp shards can easily cause baby more harm than the accident. (Yes, those expiration dates are legit. Definitely not just a ploy to get you to spend more money.)
If your only option is to use a seat that isn't brand new, you should follow these guidelines:
Contact your manufacturer: check for recalls, expiration date, and request an instruction manual if you didn’t get the original one.
Ask the previous owner the right questions (has the seat been involved in accidents, has anything fallen off, have you experienced issues that were not resolved with the manufacturer.)
Check the expiration date before purchase. This should be stamped somewhere on the seat, or you can contact the manufacturers.
GUIDELINES FOR REAR-FACING MODE
The AAP states that a child should stay in rear-facing position until they are two years old or 20 pounds, whichever one comes last. Many parents are eager to turn baby forward as soon as they hit the “correct” weight because it seems that forward-facing is so much more comfortable and enjoyable for baby.
But, the American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to keep children rear-facing until two years of age, no matter their height or weight. They have even suggested that you keep your child rear-facing until they have reached the maximum height and weight limit of their convertible seat (if that comes after their second birthday). Average limits on the market today for rear-facing capability are 40-50 pounds.
We know it may seem uncomfortable for your child to stay rear-facing as their legs grow longer, and that staring at the seat seems so dull compared to looking out the front window, but, both of those things are minor issues compared to your child’s safety.
And remember, your child hasn’t ridden facing forward before, so they are used to facing backwards. Don’t introduce them to forward-facing position until they actually get to stay that way. Even just trying it out for a day could create stress when you try to turn them back around.
GUIDELINES FOR FORWARD-FACING MODE
Most convertible car seats have a forward-facing weight limit starting at 20 pounds, but remember the AAP advises against turning the baby to forward-facing position anytime prior to their 2nd birthday.
Another factor to think about is how well your child can control his or her head. If your little one struggles to hold their head up on their own, they should definitely stay rear-facing as long as the car seat allows. Certain car seats such as the RAVA and the Chicco NextFit Zip have multiple options of safe recline (up to 9) while forward facing to accommodate growth and development. There is a guide right on the seat to tell you which positions can be used when.
(Convertible car seats generally all have a similar height and weight limits, but please refer to manufacturer specifications for your specific car seat.)
A good car seat is one of the most important investments you can make in your child’s safety! All of us at The Baby Cubby want every child to be as safe as possible when they are out and about, and we don’t want any parent to feel overwhelmed at the prospect of choosing the right seat.
If you have questions or would like some direction on correctly installing your car seat, call or drop into our Utah store to visit with one of our resident CPSTs (Child Passenger Safety Technicians). They are very passionate about car seat safety! If you are not local, you can almost always have your seat installed or checked at your local Health Department. Good luck on your car seat quest!