What is the best carseat?
There is no right answer to this. Every carseat fits every child and every vehicle differently. The best carseat for your child is the one that fits your child, fits your car, fits your budget, and will be used properly every time.
Why are some seats so much more expensive? Are they safer?
Seats are more expensive for a variety of reasons. Some have metal in the shell vs. only plastic. Some have rigid LATCH connectors which are easier to use than the tethers. Some have better padding in the seat than others. Some have features designed to make them easier to use. Some have additional side impact protection. It's liking buying a car and selecting the options-a few of these features may offer additional safety benefits, but most of them are purely for comfort and ease of use. It's up to you to decide which ones are worth paying for.
Is a used carseat safe?
Check the chart found here: http://www.cpsafety.com/articles/usedseat.aspx
It gives a series of questions to be sure the seat is safe. Basically, if you know the history of the seat, it's not expired and has never been recalled (or the recalled part has been fixed or replaced), it is probably safe to use. Just remember when you're taking a used seat, that in some ways you're trusting your child's life to that person. If it's your sister or your best friend, that's a lot different than some lady selling a seat in a garage sale or on craigslist, or a resale shop that doesn't know the history of the seat.
How do I know if my seat has been recalled?
Check here http://www.carseat.org/Recalls/recall.shtml for a current list of recalled seats. You will need to know the name of your seat, the date of manufacture, and in some cases, the serial number. That information can be found on a sticker on the side or back of the carseat.
When do carseats expire?
Most carseats expire after 6 years. Some seats will have a date imprinted in the plastic saying “Do not use after ****”, others just list the date of manufacture. There are some exceptions-Sunshine Kids Radians expire after 8 years, and the Graco Nautilus backless booster only portion expires after 9 years. Check your carseat manual. If not specified otherwise, you can assume it’s a 6 year expiration.
What do I do with an expired seat?
You should destroy the seat. You want to make it look like nothing anyone would ever consider using for a child. This can be fun, especially if you need some stress relief!!
-Definitely cut the straps off, and if you're feeling ambitious, cut them into a few pieces.
-Remove the seat cover and padding
-Mark on the seat with a permanent marker "TRASH-Do Not Use" and "Unsafe Seat"
-Visibly damage the seat-this is the fun part. Sledgehammers, chainsaws, shotguns, whatever you prefer. Have a good time and make sure you inflict significant damage.
-Throw out the seat separately from the cover/padding/straps. You could put one in another trashcan, or toss them on separate days.
Any steps you can take to prevent someone from reusing that seat are great ideas. Bonus points for creativity!
Where do I go to get my child's carseat inspected?
How do I tell if my child has outgrown his/her carseat?
Weight limits are always hard and fast. There should be a sticker on the side of your carseat with the weight limits specified. For convertibles, there is usually a different weight limit for rearfacing than for forward facing.
A rearfacing seat is outgrown by height when the top of the child’s head is less than one inch from the top of the carseat shell. A forward facing seat is outgrown by height when either the top of the child’s ears are even with the top of the carseat shell or when the child’s shoulders are above the top harness slot. Once again, there are a few exceptions to this rule, so check your carseat manual to be sure.
When the child outgrows the seat by weight or height, it’s time for a new seat, even if they didn’t meet both limits.
Is my child ready for a booster?
To be ready for a booster, your child must first meet the weight, height, and age requirements for the booster seat you have selected. Remember these are minimums, and each step up to a new type of seat is a step down in safety, so you don’t want to rush. Your child must also be able to sit properly in the seatbelt for the whole trip, every trip-no leaning to the side, playing with the seatbelt, or slouching. The seatbelt must fit across the child’s hips or upper thighs and across the collarbone, not the neck or face. It’s best to keep your child harnessed to the limits of his/her harnessed seat, but at that point, if s/he meets the requirements of the seat and can sit properly, s/he is ready to ride safely in a booster seat.
In some cars, the seatbelt will lock when you pull it all the way out and release it slowly. When children are first switching to the booster seat, locking the seatbelt in this way with the child in the seat can help ease the transition and give them time to learn to consistently sit properly in the seat.
When can my child stop using a booster and just use the seatbelt?
Three things need to happen: Your child needs to fit properly in the seatbelt, have the maturity to sit correctly in the seat, and meet your state’s requirements.
First, fitting properly in the seatbelt. There is a 5 step test to see if your child fits the seatbelt.
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip? http://www.carseat.org/Boosters/630.htm
Second, the maturity to sit properly. Booster seats are practice to sit correctly with a seatbelt-not leaning forward or slouching, not playing with the seatbelt, etc. This will be a parental call on your part for when you believe your child is ready.
Third, meeting your state (or province) laws. Many states have laws requiring children to remain in a booster seat until age 8 and 4’9” or 80lbs. There is a brief summary of each state’s laws here: http://www.iihs.org/laws/ChildRestraint.aspx
What should I look at when I’m buying a carseat?
You want to see first of all how well the seat fits your child. Can you get a snug fit with the harnesses? How much room does the child have to grow? Are the harnesses easy to tighten and loosen? What about moving the harnesses to a higher slot?
You also want to see how the seat fits in your vehicle. Is it easy to install or do you have to practically stand on your head? Can you get it tight enough-less than one inch of movement side-to-side or front-to-back when you hold the seat where the belt goes through? For rearfacing seats, can you get an appropriate recline angle (at least 30 degrees for all kids, 45 degrees for infants)? Can you get a better installation with LATCH vs. the seatbelt, or in a different position in your car? Once the seat is in, can you still easily tighten and loosen the harness? How difficult is it to get your child in and out of the seat?
What is LATCH? Is it safer than the seatbelt?
LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren. It was designed to make it easier to use almost any carseat in almost any vehicle, since there are so many different types of seatbelts. It is equally safe to the seatbelt up to the weight limit specified by the car manufacturer or carseat manufacturer-in most cases either 40 or 48 pounds. After that the seatbelt must be used. Never use LATCH and the seatbelt at the same time-just choose one. The systems distribute forces differently, and it's possible that they will somehow interfere with one another in a crash.
I just want to buy one carseat from birth to booster age. What should I get?
There is no seat that can safely do this, no matter what you read on the box. It's just not possible for a seat to support a 6 or 7 pound newborn at a 45 degree recline, yet also function as a proper booster for a 7 year old child.
To minimize the number of seats you buy, I'd recommend one of the following tracks:
1) Infant seat, cheap convertible seat with high RF limit, good FF seat that converts to a booster
2) Infant seat(optional), good convertible seat with high RF & FF limits (and good infant padding if you're skipping the infant seat), cheaper high-back booster
Most likely, you'll need about 3 seats for each child, depending on how your child grows. Most carseats expire after 6 years, so it wouldn't be possible for one seat to take your child to the recommended 8 years old without expiring anyway. The good news is that if you have other children, you can often pass down the seats to help minimize your cost and get the full life out of a carseat.