It might seem totally wild that your child is already too big for their infant car seat. They grow up SO fast! Well, when the infant car seat gets put away, it’s time to purchase a convertible seat. These types of car seats often fit kids the longest, covering rear facing and forward facing stages!
If you’ve been hanging out with us for a while, you know that not all car seats are made equal. Of course, they’ll all keep your kiddos safe when they’re used properly, but each seat provides a different user experience. Much like other baby products, there is no one-size-fits-all. If there was, I promise I would’ve told you by now! Your favorite convertible car seats will most likely be different from your friends and neighbors!
We know the process of buying a car seat for your infant or toddler can be super overwhelming and confusing. There are so many types of car seats out there! So, today, we’re walking you through all the factors that will impact your convertible car seat decision. Let’s get right to it!
How to Choose a Convertible Car Seat
Convertible car seats are car seats that can be front-facing or rear-facing. They usually fit your child from infancy all the way up to the early elementary years, depending on the seat and on the child’s growth. This means your kiddo will be in this seat the longest. After this stage, all they’ll need is a booster seat to complete their journey. But, for now, let’s talk convertible seats!
Here are the key factors to consider when purchasing your convertible car seat:
First up, safety! Obviously, this is the #1 reason we put our kids in car seats. In 2019, over 500 kids were injured in traffic crashes per day. Of course we want our children to be protected in the event of one of these scary collisions.
Before hitting the market, all car seats go through strict crash testing to meet the government’s federal safety standard. And as more safety data becomes available, car seat manufacturers are incorporating this information to advance forward the field of child passenger safety!
There are a few above-and-beyond safety features on the market that are growing in popularity amongst manufacturers. Here at Safe in the Seat, we LOVE when we see car seat manufacturers making their seats even safer for consumers! Here are some of the features you can prioritize when browsing car seats.
Energy Absorbing Features:
More and more car seats are designed not only to contain protect your little one during a crash, but to actively absorb crash energy that would otherwise transfer to your kiddo! You’ll find this concept, similar to the “crumple zone” in your vehicle, in a variety of car seat brands, each brand with its own name for its version of the concept. The Clek Foonf is just one example!
In this sample lesson from our Infant Course, you will learn why car seats and their proper use are so critical to keeping kids safe. Want to learn how to keep your child safe on every ride? Check out our Infant Course or Convertible Course on the how-tos of installation, harnessing, and troubleshooting.
Extended Rear Facing:
Studies have proven that children in rear-facing car seats experience fewer and less severe injuries in crashes. So, despite state laws that allow one- or two-year-olds to flip forward, many parents want their kids to stay comfortably rear-facing as long as possible. Car seats like Graco’s Extend2Fit allow kids to stay rear facing up to 50 lbs!
Extra side impact protection:
Some car seats out there provide additional protection from side impact crashes using deep side wings or added external protection. The Nuna Exec All-in-One has special pods that help absorb any force produced during a collision that impacts the side of the vehicle.
Unique install systems:
You know from past posts that the safety of a car seat starts with proper installation! Knowing this, several companies focus on designing car seats that are super easy for caregivers to install correctly. Seats like the Chicco NextFit Max Zip Air have a special latch system that ensures the car seat’s install is super secure, while the Britax Boulevard Clicktight is engineered to offer an easy and rock-solid seatbelt install!
Anti-rebound bars or panels are used during the rear-facing stage. The anti-rebound feature reduces some potential movement that occurs in the moments right after a crash. A few car seats have an optional rebound bar attachment available for purchase. While others come with this sought-after safety technology!
Much like an anti-rebound bar, a load leg further prevents movement and absorbs intense crash forces in a collision. The Cybex Sirona S is a rotating seat that has this cool feature!
Materials and Chemicals
If you’re worried about chemicals or your child’s sensitive skin, consider the materials used to make the car seat. If you’re nervous about toxic dyes and inks, flame retardants, phthalates, PVC, formaldehyde, or PFAS, finding a seat that’s very mindful of its components should be one of your highest priorities! A seat like the luxurious Nuna Exec All-in-One meets all federal standards without using added flame retardant chemicals, thanks to padding made of beautiful, naturally-flame resistant Merino wool!
Ease of Installation
Installation can be one of the toughest parts of using a car seat. So, finding a seat that is easy to install is important to a lot of people. This is especially true if you’ll be moving the car seat semi-frequently from car to car or place to place!
Luckily, you totally don’t have to do this part all by yourself. Of course, you can look for “easy install” features, like the ones we mentioned earlier. But, you still need to get your car seat checked by a child passenger safety technician before taking off with your little one. (At least, we HIGHLY recommend it!) If you don’t have one in your area or if you’re looking for a super easy consult option, check out our car seat consulting packages!
Length of Use
Another important factor to consider when purchasing a seat is the length of time it will be useful for you! Your kiddo might be transitioning from an infant seat, currently in a convertible seat you’re unhappy with, or maybe your child hasn’t even been born yet. The point is, you should always consider how the height and weight limits will suit your child. This will help you consider what car seat model will be best.
For a little one moving into a convertible car seat for the first time, consider the usage needs you’ll prioritize in their seat. How long do you want to keep your child rear facing? Where does your baby tend to land on the growth charts at each checkup? Or is this seat going to be used by a brand new addition? If that’s the case, you’ll want to make sure your choice fits newborns well!
Convertible seats tend to last the longest out of all the car seat stages. But if your big kid is already forward-facing, you might opt for a combination car seat that is both a harnessed seat and a booster seat. A forward-facing child doesn’t need a car seat with rear-facing capabilities. So look ahead with their next stage in mind when selecting their next ride!
Take some time to consider the next season of your car seat journey. Then, select the type of car seat you want from there. You’ll have tons of options. But at least you’ll know exactly the kind of car seat that would be best for your family.
When you’re purchasing a car seat, it’s easy to fall in love with the priciest option with the most add-ons and features. But, remember that all car seats must meet strict safety standards. And when any seat is installed right and your child is buckled correctly, it will keep your kiddo safe. So don’t get mom guilt over choosing a budget-friendly option!
Here at Safe in the Seat, we do not discriminate against cheaper car seats. We love the Safety 1st Jive and the COSCO SCENERA NEXT which both cost less than $100. And these two seats are great for so many situations! Both offer some key features you might be looking for, like three-across friendliness, side impact protection, a lightweight and portable shell, cup holders, and rear facing capabilities up to 40 pounds.
So, before you get overwhelmed by all the pricey car seat choices, set your price limit! This way, you’ll be able to stay within that price range, prioritize your desired features, and, most importantly, keep your kiddo safe! No buyer’s remorse here!
Believe it or not, car seats aren’t one-size-fits-all. This goes for children AND for your vehicle. When purchasing a car seat, you’ll need to assess your overall situation. And read your vehicle’s owner’s manual for any potential restrictions.
For example, if your car has headrests that angle forward and aren’t removable, proper installation of certain forward facing seats will be impossible. And if you have a compact car, achieving the proper recline for your rear-facing toddler could be difficult if a front seat passenger rides too far back.
Additionally, if the vehicle’s seats are narrow, bulkier car seats might not fit correctly, especially if you’re needing to squeeze three in a single row. And, finally, if you have a larger vehicle, but you need to put your child in a third row, the height, angle, and direction should all be considered before making your car seat purchase.
Remember, not all seats are made the same. So, if you need a narrower seat to fit three kids in a single row, try the Graco Slimfit3 LX. Or if you’re worried about front-to-back footprint, focus on a seat with lots of recline options, like the NUNA RAVA, which can be very compact when it’s installed in a more upright setting. All in all, be sure to factor in these considerations before you risk purchasing a seat that you can’t fit in your family vehicle.
Keeping it Clean
It’s no secret that car seats get messy! Everything our kiddos touch gets messy. Even if your child is not prone to blow-outs and car sickness, car seats inevitably get covered in all kinds of mysterious grime. Yuck! Because of the certainty of your car seat getting soiled, definitely think about your expectations of car seat cleaning.
We’ve got a whole article on how to clean your car seat, which you should definitely check out to avoid damaging your expensive baby gear. But did you know that there are car seats that make the clean-up process much easier? The CHICCO NEXTFIT ZIP cover can — you guessed it — zip right off the shell to go in the washing machine, while the CLEK FOONF offers stain-proof and water-resistant fabric selections. Take a look at the features and check car seat manuals online to understand the clean-ability of each seat.
Features for Toddler
There are some features on a car seat that are made just for the comfort of your child. Car seats like the Britax Boulevard ClickTight have a special cool flow mesh that keeps your rider comfortable if they ride hot or if you live in a warm climate.
Lots of seats like the EVENFLO ALL4ONE DLX provide cup holders, snack trays, or storage containers for your child to keep their road trip treats and toys close. And, if those aren’t enough amenities for your traveling tot, you can look for seats with built-in leg room and extra-cozy padding for the comfiest road trip. This way, your kiddos are ready for playing, snacking, and napping – no matter the situation!
Features for Mom and Dad
Of course, as the parent your first priority is the car seat’s safety. But there are more features that might interest car seat seekers like you! First up, magnetic harness straps keepers will keep the buckles out of the way while you’re lowering your kicking kiddo into their car seat. No digging under their legs and bum to find those pesky buckles with this handy feature!
Parents will also enjoy no re-thread straps. As your baby gets bigger, you can adjust the straps without having to take the car seat out, unthread the straps, and then re-thread them through the right setting. Since car seats can be a headache to install and manipulate while in the vehicle, many parents LOVE this feature.
The other features are up to you! If you are concerned about the ease of buckling and unbuckling, take a look at the reviews to see what other caregivers are saying. If you prefer something with less padding and stain-resistant fabric for easier cleaning, check that out! Just make sure you write a list of your most desired features, so you don’t compromise on your biggest car seat wants.
Finally, consider your lifestyle. If you are someone who is on the go a lot and totally dreads taking baby in and out of your vehicle, a rotating car seat like Nuna Revv or the Cybex Sirona S may save you a lot of headaches!
If your family flies often and you need a car seat that won’t be a drag to take out of the car, take with you on the plane, and put into a rental car, you’ll need a compact and lightweight option that is FAA-approved. You can check out our list of the best seats under 20 pounds!
You might also consider whether you plan to have more kids. If you do, you might want to get a convertible seat that will work seamlessly with other backseat passengers, even if those passengers aren’t here yet! You could also keep in mind how a seat could be passed down to younger siblings. Knowing the amount of use you’ll get out of this new seat, you may even consider increasing your budget a little for that perfect long-term seat!
Whatever the case, it’s important to consider your lifestyle before finalizing your car seat purchase. This will ensure you don’t buy a perfectly good seat that simply doesn’t work for your family or your day-to-day life.
You won’t have any buyer’s remorse when you pick the perfect car seat for your lifestyle that fits into your budget and safety standards!
Car seat buying can be stressful with so many options and price points. In light of this, we hope this guide helps you narrow down your car seat selection. If you’re still looking for more direction, we’ve got you covered! Safe in the Seat has car seat buying kits that personalize the entire selection process and makes sure you get the right car seat with a totally stress-free shopping experience. (All of us need less stress, right?)
Once you have that car seat nailed down, check out The Convertible Car Seat Course, a practical, step-by-step course to take you from confused to confident in your longest car seat stage.
You can also check out our blog for more car seat advice. And, feel free to follow us on Instagram or email us at [email protected] to ask us any car seat questions directly. We would love to talk with all of you about convertible seats or anything else car seat related for that matter! But, to make it simple, the best car seat is one that fits your child, fits your vehicle, and is used properly every trip. So, don’t stress. You can do this!
Have you been to our YouTube Channel yet? Baby James is ready to graduate from his infant seat to a rear-facing convertible seat. Kirsten and Evan used our Convertible Car Seat Buying Kit to find the best car seat for their family, and then I put them to the test to unbox, install and use their new seat. Let’s see if they can do it! While you’re there, be sure to subscribe and turn on notifications so you don’t miss a thing, we’re dropping videos weekly!
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