Making the transition from an infant seat to a convertible car seat can be tough for parents who’ve grown very attached to the portability of a bucket-style infant seat. But when a baby starts to get close to the height or weight limit of his infant seat, there’s no two ways about it – it’s time to make the switch.
Here are 5 things you should think about when you’re choosing a convertible car seat:
- Will it fit in your car? Just as with infant car seats, it’s not uncommon to find that your car and your convertible car seat have compatibility issues. And with two possible installation directions, you ideally want to check that both will work in your car before you make your purchase. Also, if you have multiple children in the back seat, that can be a major limiting factor when choosing a convertible seat, as fitting 3 across can be very difficult.
- How long will it fit your child? Different convertible seats have different weight limits for both forward- and rear-facing. You want to choose a seat with a high rear-facing weight limit if possible, since more and more research is proving that rear facing is significantly safer than facing forward. Current AAP recommendations state that children should remain rear-facing until they turn two, but many parents are leaving their toddlers and even their preschoolers rear-facing. Forward-facing weight limits are important too – a 5-point harness is always going to be a safer bet than a seat belt, so try not to move on to a belt-positioning booster for as long as possible.
- Can you install it easily? Because convertible seats don’t attach to bases, there’s a little bit of a psychological barrier when it comes to installing and uninstalling them. But you want to get to the point where you do feel confident installing and uninstalling your car seat as needed. There are design elements that make some seats easier to install than others. Built-in lockoffs are a very handy feature that can help you get a good snug installation in almost any situation. The size of the belt path can be an issue for some people with large hands. Convertible seats have two different belt paths for installation, depending on whether you are installing the seat rear- or forward-facing. Make sure you can access the belt path easily, either by getting your hands into them (they don’t need to go all the way through, but far enough that you’ll be able to pass the seat belt from one side to the other), or by peeling back the fabric.
- Does it have Side Impact Protection (SIP)? At the moment, there are no safety standards requiring side impact protection in car seats, and accordingly, there aren’t any standardized testing procedures in the United States to certify any claims made by car seat manufacturers about side impact protection. In other words, for the time being, this is still the Wild West of the car seat world. But that doesn’t mean that side impact protection isn’t important. Side impact crashes account for 1/4 of traffic fatalities, and a seat with good side impact protection can absolutely make a difference.
- Are the “extras” a bonus? Lots of car seats tout some great value-added features. The Radian car seats can fold. Some Britax models (like the Britax Boulevard) offer a quick-adjust harness that can be height-adjusted without rethreading. The Orbit Baby Toddler Car Seat can be installed rear-facing on the base for the Orbit Infant Seat. These are conveniences that can make life a lot easier, and if you’re trying to decide between two (or more) seats that meet your other criteria, these are worth considering.