The process of choosing an infant carseat for us was pretty quick. We looked at them in the store, we looked at the specifications and then we basically eenie-meenie-miney-moed into a Graco Snugride 35. And honestly, it’s been a great seat. In fact, we still use it in my husband’s car because my 12 month old will apparently never outgrow it. Truthfully, he’s actually getting close to the height limit now, so it’s likely time to remeasure and buy our second convertible seat.
The process of picking a convertible car seat, on the other hand, was drama. There are so many of them. They all have different features, different types of foam, different sizes, different shapes, different colors and half of them become boosters, but apparently not good boosters and I seriously lost about 2 months of my life to the convertible car seat research situation. Which is why I’m writing this- not to tell you which seat to buy (though I will tell you what we bought and why), but rather to give tips on what would’ve saved me a lot of time and sanity.
No matter what seat you go with, they’re all rigorously safety tested and wouldn’t be available to buy if they weren’t going to keep your baby/toddler safe, so it comes down to personal preference. These are 9 tips for how we chose a convertible carseat and a quick run down of why we chose the seat(s) we did.
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Click through to see how to make your carseat choosing experience take way, way less time than ours did.
1. Set a budget 2 of 11
Convertible carseats really run the gamut as far as prices go. There's one as inexpensive as $39 (Cosco Scenara) and there's one as expensive as $499.99, which is actually on sale from $699.99 (special edition Clek Foonf). Since we will eventually need two seats, we capped our budget a bit lower than the upper end seats. Keep in mind that many places will have sales or coupons, so don't narrow your search too much, but stay within a range that you're comfortable with.
Image by MorgueFile
2. Decide how long you want your child to rear face 3 of 11
I'll stay off my soap box for the most part on this one, but I would strongly encourage parents to research the benefits of extended rear facing, especially with all the new carseats on the market that are comfortable for long term rear facing. Anyway, before you choose a seat, you want to decide what your rear facing plans are because different seats have different rear facing capabilities. If you're a short term rear facer, you can go with some of the less expensive seats that don't rear face to high weights/heights. If you're a long term rear facer, look for some with the upper weight and especially height limits since it seems that many kids outgrow the height before the weight. It was this step that nixed several otherwise great seats due to their short shell, which reduces the length of time that the seats can be used. Though because my child is on the shorter side of the spectrum, he'd likely be able to rear face to at least 2 in almost any convertible seat, but that isn't the case for everyone.
3. Check your car specifications for seat bracing, LATCH and other installation issues 4 of 11
I have a small car and one of the biggest challenges is that I'm not allowed to brace a carseat against either of my front seats due to my airbags. That means that either I need a smaller carseat or I need to keep the front seats pulled up. Also, my car doesn't allow side latch borrowing for the middle seat position, so finding a seat with an awesome LATCH hook up/tightening system wasn't a priority since we'd have to do a seatbelt install anyway, but a seat with good rear facing lock offs was something I searched for.
4. Do an online search for carseat info 5 of 11
With your budget, rear facing duration and car info in mind, do a search. I highly recommend carseatblog.com (and am unaffiliated with them). They have a great list of recommended carseats, but also have reviewed a ton of other seats. Chances are, they have good quality info about a seat you're interested in from the perspective of a trained carseat technician.
5. Once you have a few seats in mind, look at the size of the seat 6 of 11
How tall is it? Will you be able to see out your back window? I loved the one particular seat on the market but it was so tall for my tiny car that it blocked my back window. How about depth? We had a different seat high on our list, but it was so deep that we'd have to keep our seats way forward to not brace. How wide is the base? Will you be able to fit passengers/other carseats next to it? You may even have to pull a measuring tape out to get past this step!
Image from MorgueFile
6. Is the seat cleanable and how? 7 of 11
Once I narrowed our carseat search down to 3 and then did some deep investigation about the seats. For me, the ability to clean the seat was critical. My child is a bit of a puker and having to hand wash, or like a few seats on the market (that I otherwise adored) spot clean, just wasn't my thing. Unfortunately most seats have straps cannot be removed and cleaned for safety reasons.
Image from MorgueFile
7. Try the seats in your car 8 of 11
I can't speak on behalf of many baby stores, but I know that Babies R Us allows you to try different seats in your car for free. We tried the Graco MyRide 70 and the Chicco Nextfit to see how they fit in the middle and side positions. We learned quickly that the Graco MyRide 70 wasn't going to work for us. We also tried a few Evenflo seats that I hadn't been super interested in before, but that jumped higher on my list after seeing how nicely they fit.
8. Read online reviews from other users 9 of 11
The carseat blogs are great for getting to know seats, but once you've decided or are near decided, check Amazon (where this picture comes from) and Babies R Us and other carseat dealers and read what users say. Don't take these as the word of God by any means, but it's good to know some of the more common issues/complaints before you buy a seat.
9. Check for deals/coupons 10 of 11
Once you've picked your seat, check for coupons or sales. We had a 20% off coupon for Babies R Us that made the purchase a little less financially painful. We'll do the same for our next seat.
Our end result: Chicco Nextfit 11 of 11
Ultimately we went with the Chicco Nextfit for my car and will likely replace our Graco Snugride 35 with a lower cost seat since my husband doesn't do much driving with the baby, so we don't need anything terrible fancy or with extra padding. We chose the Nextfit for the ease of installation/use, the many different recline positions both rear and forward facing, the great fit in my car in both the middle and side seats, the quality of the seat, the fact that the cover can be washed and in spite of the spot cleaning strap issue. The cost was also a con, but by buying the Scenera or Evenflo as our other seat, the overall cost is reasonable and the quality of the seat makes up for it. We'll be able to keep Eli rear facing at least to age 2, if not beyond in the Nextfit and he is more comfortable in it than in his infant carrier. Overall, I'm very happy with my decision and I would choose this seat again in a heartbeat. My only gripe is that that the fabric is a dark color so heat is going to be a factor this summer, but I'm working on fixes for that now as well.
I know that our seat isn’t for everyone, but hopefully these tips will help lead you to the seat that’s right for you and your baby or toddler!