I’m a local Child Passenger Safety Technician. I know it can feel super overwhelming picking a car seat and many parents don’t know anything about choosing a car seat, and I think it’s important this week’s blog to be dedicated to the basics of choosing a car seat for your kids. Note that I’m talking specifically about car seats in North America – Britain, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand has different standards, statistics, and rules. I am certified in Canada, and the same cars are sold in Canada and the US, so there’s a lot of information that is general to North America.
1. Not all car seats fit in all cars.
There are hundreds of models of cars on the market, and there are thousands of trim levels of each of those cars. There is no way that every car seat will install in every car and there are many combinations that are completely incompatible. I urge you, before buying a new car seat, to check in with a car seat tech and ask if the model of seat you’re looking to purchase is compatible with your vehicle. Most techs will do this for free, even those of us who charge for our installation services. Don’t want to spend your hard earned money on a seat that won’t safely install in your car. And don’t risk your precious child in a car seat that isn’t properly installed. CPSAC has a find-a-tech map on their website, Safe Kids Worldwide has a find-a-tech map on their website. There are Facebook groups run by car seat technicians in Canada and the US – I have some of each in the recommended groups section in the Parenting Posse. Ask a tech about compatibility!
2. Not all car seats fit all kids.
Some seats are designed to best accommodate tall, thin children. Others are designed to best accommodate short, stalky children. Some are more all-rounders. There are some seats that will not fit your child for very long, or at all. This is especially important if your child lands on the 80-100th percentile in height or weight. You’re going to need high limits to get the most use out of that seat. As a tech, I’ve had hands on every seat on the market – we’re all kind of nerds so we tend to go hang out in the car seat aisle to check the seats out and talk. We get pretty good at knowing which seats will fit which shape of kid best. Ask us. Do not buy a seat based off it’s colour, or because it’s on sale, unless you know that seat will fit your child.
3. Price has NOTHING to do with safety.
That $70 Costco Next is just as safe as the $600 Clek Foonf. There are no grades in safety testing. Consumer Reports does “grade” seats, but their test is nothing like the actual safety standard! What matters is the safety standard in your country. The difference between the $600 seat and the $70 seat are bells and whistles. Just like clothes, the Walmart t-shirt is going to cover your bits just as effectively as the Gucci t-shirt, the Gucci t-shirt just has fancy fabric and is tailored better. They both do the job, as long as they’re both installed correctly. What you’re paying for is perks and convenience with a higher priced seat. If you can’t afford the $600 seat, don’t feel guilty. Do not put yourself in debt to buy the more expensive seat because you think that you’re putting a price on your child’s safety. Buy the seat that fits your car, your child, and your budget.
4. Buy the seat that meets your needs now
So many parents get all caught up in these marketing gimmicks like “3-in-1: the last car seat you’ll ever need!” That doesn’t exist. Your 3-in-1 car seat is going to fit your child from birth to booster, because each mode is going to have it’s limitations. I know most convertible seats have a 6-10 year expiry on them…but the chances of you going a decade without getting into a crash or otherwise compromising the seat are slim to none. Not to mention, a car seat after just 3 years is disgusting. Don’t get sucked into paying a premium for features you won’t ever use. Buy the car seat that fits your kid now, not the price. All seats on the market have passed the same test. As you go up the stages of car seat the price goes down. Boosters are cheap, like $40-60. A booster mode is not worth paying an extra $150 for. Buy the seat that is going to fit your child in the mode they’re in now the best.
Consider downloading a WHO growth chart for free off the internet, mark where your child is now, and then follow that growth curve line and note where they’ll be when they’re 4 years old.
Up until age 2, rear facing is 500x safe. After age 2 the margin of safer gets smaller with each passing year, but it’s still safer until about age 6. Most children are not mature enough to be boostered until age 6/7.
For big kids, you want to make sure the seat belt is hitting them on their hard spots – low on their pubic bone or upper thighs, and on their collarbone, not up in their neck or falling off their shoulder. You also want to make sure that the belt retracts through the belt guides smoothly. You can test this by making your kid lean forward, and then making sure it goes back into the retractor without bunching. It’s imperative that it works correctly because you’re relying on the emergency locking retractor to engage in a crash.
Those are the very basics of choosing a car seat for your children.
Car seats aren’t cheap!
They’re an investment, and I want to make sure you’re making a sound investment and keeping your children safe. For more information, the best place to get those questions answered is your local techs or car-seat specific Facebook groups. Do your due diligence ahead of time.
Happy Black Friday shopping!