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John Brooks
John Brooks

Which Car Seat Should I Buy

A growing body of research proves riding rear-facing is safer for babies and children than riding in a forward-facing car seat. If possible, always choose a convertible seat that has a high rear-facing weight limit so you can extend the opportunity to rear-face for as long as possible.

which car seat should i buy

While many convertible car seats will work for your little one from birth, most parents decide to start with an infant car seat first. (Eighty percent of Babylist parents register for an infant seat.) But why?

A five-point harness: This type of harness consists of two shoulder straps, two waist straps and a between-the-legs strap that all meet in a middle buckle. Five-point harnesses are safer than three-point harnesses because they spread the force from a crash over more areas of the body. They also hold your baby in place, preventing them from wiggling into an unsafe position.

Higher rear-facing weight limit: As we mentioned above, riding rear-facing is safer for your little one than forward-facing. Choose a seat with a high rear-facing weight limit for extended use.

Car seat covers can be great for giving baby a quiet, cocooned environment to sleep in or help them to stay warm in the winter. New multi-use car seat covers double as nursing covers or triple as grocery cart covers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is another helpful source to learn about car seat safety. The AAP recommends that infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible.

When reviewing car seats for Baby Gear Essentials, we always use the NHTSA crash test scores as part of our overall rating. The best performing car seats in terms of safety in our tests are the Chicco KeyFit 30 and the UPPAbaby MESA.

Did you know that infant car seats have an expiration date? Because materials stretch and deteriorate over time, most car seats will expire within five to seven years. Always check the expiration date of a car seat before purchasing.

The second most important thing to keep in mind when choosing an infant car seat is the height and weight limit. This is especially important if your baby is premature or below 6.5 lbs at birth. You need to make sure that the seat comes with a newborn insert to keep your baby snug and tight.A car seat of the right size is essential to keep your baby secure. The Center for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) estimates that the risk of dying in a car accident goes down by 71% for children who are properly secured in a car seat (source).

When buying a car seat for a newborn, you have the option to choose between an infant car seat and a convertible baby seat. Those are two very different models that come with their advantages and disadvantages.

You might be surprised to see some of the features that infant car seats come with. Some features are essential, while others are nice to have. And then some are just fancy marketing buzzwords to make you spend more.Here are the features we think are really important to have in an infant car seat:

We used several authoritative sources to help us write this guide. We recommend that you read them if you want to learn more about car seat safety in general. These are also great resources if you want to understand a particular aspect of child safety or want to stay up-to-date with the latest research.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Child Passenger Safety Board have excellent in-depth resources on car safety for children. We recommend you start there:

Car seats and boosters provide protection for infants and children in a crash, yet car crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13. That's why it's so important to choose and use the right car seat correctly every time your child is in the car. Follow these important steps to choose the right seat, install it correctly and keep your child safe.

In addition to registering your car seat to receive recalls and safety notices from your car seat manufacturer, you can sign up to receive e-mail alerts from NHTSA about car seat and booster seat recalls to make sure your child remains safe.

Over the course of researching this guide, we spoke with more than 20 industry experts, including current and former employees of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency responsible for vehicle and car seat safety. We consulted multiple certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs), engineers, and physicians, and we conducted interviews with representatives from seven leading car seat manufacturers.

We also talked to scores of caregivers about their car seat experiences, scanned hundreds of online owner reviews, and read dozens of articles and reviews from reputable sources, such as BabyGearLab and Car Seats for the Littles.

Several qualities distinguish dedicated infant car seats from larger convertible and all-in-one car seats, many of which have been designed to accommodate a wide range of weights and heights (from newborns on up). For starters, while convertible and all-in-one seats start out in a rear-facing position for younger passengers and then eventually get turned around (we have tips on when to make the switch), an infant seat is designed to be used rear-facing only. And with good reason: This position is the safest, and it provides the most protection for small children.

There are more than 60 infant car seat models for sale in the United States. To cull the herd, we studied online customer reviews and coverage from other media outlets, including BabyCenter, BabyGearLab, The Car Seat Lady, Fatherly, and Mommyhood101. We interviewed nearly 20 experts on car seat safety, policy, and installation. And we considered the available research data and safety ratings.

Both anti-rebound bases and load legs have the potential to improve the performance of an infant car seat. Of the two features, a load leg may be more effective, since the load leg serves the dual function of reducing movement and absorbing some of the initial impact of the crash without transferring it to the child.

For the initial wave of testing in 2022, I subjected the eight infant car seat finalists to a series of at-home tests that mimicked the real-world infant car seat experience. For each seat, I read and analyzed the instructions. Then I practiced installing each seat (in a 2016 Honda Odyssey minivan) three different ways: with the base using LATCH, with the base using the vehicle seat belt, and without the base using the seat belt only. I adjusted the harness straps, played around with the sun canopy and handle, repeatedly clicked the seat in and out of its base, and carried the seat around by the handle for about 25 feet (from the garage to inside the house).

For the first version of this guide, published in 2018, we elected to perform independent crash testing on the infant car seats that we considered as our top contenders. We commissioned MGA Research, a lab in Burlington, Wisconsin, to conduct the tests, and we factored the results into our final recommendations.

Also, the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is not compatible with as many strollers from various brands as our other picks, including strollers from the popular Uppababy line. If you have your heart set on using an Uppababy stroller with your infant seat, you may be better served by our runner-up pick (Chicco KeyFit 30), upgrade pick (Clek Liing), or also-great pick (Chicco KeyFit 35), all of which are compatible with Uppababy strollers.

This seat works for babies ranging from 4 pounds up to 30 pounds or 30 inches; like our other picks, it can accommodate most preemies who are able to travel in a car seat. (It comes with a two-part newborn insert cushion, which provides additional head and body support for babies weighing 4 to 11 pounds.) The KeyFit 30 lasts six years before it expires (the shortest lifespan of our picks, aside from that of the Chicco KeyFit 35, which is also six years), and it comes with a one-year warranty. This seat performed well in NHTSA crash testing (PDF).

Like our picks from Graco and Chicco, the Liing seat allows you to remove it from its base using one hand (though the release lever is located on the base, rather than on the bucket seat itself). For adjustments, the handle requires that you use two hands (unlike on our pick from Graco), but it moves smoothly and is comfortable to hold. As your baby grows, you have to adjust the harness straps the traditional way, by removing them and rethreading them. (A no-rethread harness, like that found on the Graco seat and the Chicco KeyFit 35, is quicker and easier to manage.)

The sun canopy on the Liing is made from a stretchy material that unzips to expand, providing more coverage than the sunshade on any other infant seat we tested. At the rear of the shade is a peek-a-boo flap that opens to a mesh window, so you can check on your baby through the canopy. Note that in 2021, Clek issued a recall on the Liing concerning a canopy stay that could be forcefully broken and introduce a choking hazard. The company has addressed that design flaw, and the seats it sells today use a different, more flexible stay. If you already own a Clek Liing, you can find out whether your particular seat is affected and request a replacement canopy stay (PDF).

If you want our runner-up Chicco pick but with different fabric options: The Chicco KeyFit 30 ClearTex is the same seat as our runner-up pick, the KeyFit 30, but it is made with ClearTex fabric rather than the standard polyester; the ClearTex fabric has received a Greenguard Gold Certification for lower chemical emissions and is made with no added chemicals. The Chicco KeyFit 30 Zip comes with a quick-remove seat pad for easy cleaning (which multiple Wirecutter staffers have prized highly), a zip-open boot (or partial cover), and a zip-open mesh panel in its sun canopy. The Chicco KeyFit 30 Zip Air, the most expensive model in the line, has the same features as the KeyFit 30 Zip, as well as a mesh-like fabric in the backrest, which Chicco claims improves ventilation and airflow. 041b061a72


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