If you thought shopping for a stroller was stressful, wait till you start looking at a car seat for your new
bundle of joy. And while there are a lot of travel system sets available, the final decision will often come
down to the choice of car seat more than the stroller.
Tip for Finding the Perfect Car Seat: Try Them Out
No, I don’t mean sit in them yourself! And I’m pretty sure you’ll be searching for said car seat long
before baby is ready to test it out him/herself, as well; so what I mean is try it out in your car. This might
seem like a silly notion, because they are car seats so they are meant for cars, right? Well, just as not all
car seats are the same, neither are car back seats.
Take my car, for example. At the time, I had a 2005 Subaru WRX. Great car. Not so great for fitting a
baby seat in the back. You have to remember that in the beginning, and potentially for up to 4 years or a
bit longer (depending on your feeling about rear-facing vs. front-facing car seats – which we can address
at a later date in another blog!) that seat is going to be rear facing, and that means it takes up a great
deal more real estate in the back.
Now, my WRX was equipped with Recaro racing front seats. What does that mean? Well, it means they
were extremely large front seats that actually ate into the rear seat space more than we realized. So,
when a rear-facing seat was placed back there, if it was a larger model (and there are large vs small
options) that meant the front passenger seat had to be so far forward that even my knees (and I’m just
5’2”) were up against the glovebox. Not so safe or comfortable.
Also, I quickly learned that if I placed a high-bolstered convertible baby seat (like the Britax Advocate)
that would mean I had to squeeze my baby out of a very tight opening between the steeply slopping
rear door and the high seat bolster.
By asking the store clerk to allow us to take the car seat samples out to our vehicle to test each one on
the back seat, it really helped us make the final decision.
Tip for Finding the Perfect Car Seat: They Are All Safe
As my baby grew and I went back to work as a full-time automotive journalist, I was lucky enough to be
able to test various baby seats over the years as they were given to me for product reviews. From Britax
to Graco to Evenflo and everything in between, I had a plethora of seats to test out, and in a different
back seat every week. It gave me a great overview of the car seats available and how they worked with
all kinds of vehicles from coupes to station wagons to minivans and SUVs.
And you know what? They all worked, and they were all safe.
That was one of the most common questions I was asked: Which seat is the safest?
Guess what? They all are. They wouldn’t be on the market today if they weren’t. It doesn’t matter if you
pay $50 or $500 for your child’s car seat, if it’s installed correctly and the 5-point harness is also properly
installed on your child when he/she is in the seat, that’s what really counts.
Convertibles are Great
Nope, sadly not talking about a drop-top car, but instead about convertible baby seats for the car. These
seats tend to be a bit more expensive, but they will last for years. Essentially, they can be used from the
time your baby hits the 6-month mark (or approximately 30lbs whichever comes first) to the time they
reach the 55-50” height mark or are over the age of four.
So, considering your child will likely grow out of their bucket seat (the one that attaches to the stroller
travel system) within a 6-8 month period (just like my big boy did), investing in a good quality
convertible seat will mean you have a solid, reliable seat for your wee one for the next 4-ish years.
Different Countries Have Different Safety Ratings
Going back to my uber impractical Subaru WRX; one of the recommended convertible car seats for that
particular car was a seat from Recaro (the same company that made the front seats). Those baby seats
were designed to fit the WRX like a glove. However, I could only find them for sale in the US.
So, I thought: Great! I’ll order it online and bob’s your uncle.
Well, I thought wrong.
Turns out, there’s a reason they’re only sold in the USA. They aren’t FDA approved in Canada, which
means if (and God forbid it should ever happen) I got into an accident with the Recaro baby seat while
my son was in it and he was gravely injured or killed, I would be held legally responsible for his injuries
because the car seat is not approved in this country.
That’s a rather big deal.
So, keep in mind when shopping for car seats that, yes, there are a lot of models available around the
globe, but please buy from your country of origin and where you will be using the seat to avoid any
potential trouble down the road.
Finding the perfect car seat doesn’t have to be hard. Treat it like you did the stroller purchase, and keep
within your budget. There are lots of extra car seat accessories you can purchase afterwards (cup
holders, backseat activity sleeves, window covers) that can really make your child’s car seat the ultimate
seat to be in on any drive.