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.
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profile picture of Erin Walters
Updated February 12, 2020
mom in car looking at rearview mirror
Image: Jamie Grill / Getty Images

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

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.

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:

Image: Lucy Davey

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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