What to Look for When Picking Out a Car Seat

With the number of options out there, selecting a car seat can be intimidating. Here are the key features to look for.
profile picture of Erin Walters
ByErin Walters
Updated
Feb 2020
mom in car looking at rearview mirror
Photo: Jamie Grill / Getty Images

First, of course, is safety. After that, some other things to consider:

Simplicity
Make sure you find a seat that’s easy to use. You should be absolutely positive that you can easily install the base (or the full seat, if you go the convertible route). An improperly installed seat is dangerous, so stay away from anything with overly complicated instructions or that requires adjustments with each use. And remember, you might not be the only one doing the installation. Get a seat that will be easy for others (like sitters or grandparents) to operate as well.

Comfort
You don’t want your little angel cruising around in an uncomfortable seat! Try to find a seat that gives baby plenty of support and padding for a comfy ride.

Restraints That Fit
The seat’s restraint system needs to keep baby firmly in place. Luckily, most of today’s new seats are sold with your safest option: a 5-point harness. These have straps that fully adjust to secure baby’s upper body and thighs, and are designed to distribute the force of a crash to baby’s strongest parts (the pelvis and shoulders).

Some convertible seats offer the option of a tray shield (or overhead shield), which can be easier to use but doesn’t fit baby as snugly. These have shoulder straps and a plastic bar across the lap, both held in place by a crotch strap. It’s a common misconception that the plastic bar keeps baby more secure—tests have actually shown that they may be more dangerous in the event of a crash, or may cause damage to a child’s head or neck. The one scenario where this sort of seat might be your best bet is if baby will be traveling with a caregiver who is unwilling or unable to properly tighten and untwist the belts of the 5-point harness.

Easy Cleaning
Believe it or not, not all car seats come with removable, machine washable covers. Get one that does. Trust us.

Safety Note
If you plan to buy or borrow a used seat, make sure it meets today’s safety standards, hasn’t been involved in any recalls or previous crashes, and comes with complete labels and instructions.

Plus more from The Bump, Car Seat Safety Tips:

Photo: Lucy Davey
Related Video

Grieving Mother Warns Other Parents About Her Toddler’s Fatal Car Seat Nap

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
11/06/2018

The Not-So-Scary Reason for the Graco Car Seat Recall

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
02/08/2016

The Heartbreaking Reason Babies Shouldn’t Sleep in Car Seats

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
11/03/2015

Recall Alert! Evenflo Transitions 3-in-1 Car Seat

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
02/26/2016

Diono Recalls Over Half a Million Car Seats

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
10/12/2017

Tests Prove Rear-Facing Car Seats Might Be Even Safer Than You Thought

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
04/03/2018

How to Take Advantage of Target's Car Seat Trade-In Event

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
04/19/2018

These Are the Easiest Cars to Install a Car Seat in

Laurie Ulster
Contributing Writer
Published
09/17/2019
Advertisement