Babble Best Picks:
There might not be a more important baby product that you'll buy than a car seat. You can skimp on hand-me-down clothes, used toys or even second-hand strollers, but experts agree that car seats should be brand new - especially if you don't know the history of the particular car seat.
There are two options for babies: First there's the standard infant car seat, which is fitted more securely for a baby and is also lighter and more maneuverable for parents. An infant car seat can easily transfer between multiple cars, as well as turn into a travel system by hooking onto a stroller or shopping cart. However, infant car seats only face backwards and have a relatively short weight and height capacity, meaning you'll need to buy a bigger car seat toward the end of your baby's first year.
The second option is to just go with a convertible car seat from the jump, saving you money on the infant car seat and multiple car seat bases. Every convertible car seat that we tested can be used rear facing starting with newborns, although they generally don't have the best fit and features for the littlest ones. Convertible car seats are naturally much bigger and heavier than an infant car seat, and aren't as simple to move in and out of cars. Plus, you'll need multiple car seats for multiple cars, rather than just buying an inexpensive base (as with infant car seats).
Yet once your baby hits around 30 lbs., a convertible car seat can last you until your child is 65-100 lbs., possibly making it the last car seat you'll buy. But with so many different features, manageability and price points, it can be hard to tell just which ones are the very best. So to give you a hand, we tested the most popular infant and convertible car seats to fit your lifestyle and budget.
Chicco Keyfit 30 is our top pick when considering all factors, like crash test ratings, ease-of-use and installation fit. Its safety reputation is what really cinched our decision, but the Keyfit 30 will also give you the least amount of headaches: easy to install, easy to adjust and manageable to carry (the 9-lb. weight isn’t the lightest, but we didn’t have any complaints). We were even able to get a good fit using just the seat belt rather than the LATCH system.
Side note: The LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Child Safety Safety Seats) is the easiest way to get a secure fit on your car seat. Nearly every car made since Sept. 1, 2002 is equipped with two metal loops (or anchors) where the back seat and back cushion meet, and every new infant and convertible car seat has two latches that easily hook onto those anchors. Check your car manual to make sure you’re using the right LATCH anchors for the car seat’s position, and check with your car seat’s instructions on how to install it. LATCH isn’t inherently safer than using the seat belt to install the car seat, but it’s easier to get the best fit, which ultimately could be safer. Either way, we recommend having your car seat installation checked by a certified car seat safety technician (try your local firehouse). Find out more about LATCH at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.)
We also like that the seat has a 30 lb. weight limit, possibly lengthening the amount of use. However, keep in mind that most babies outgrow the height limit before the weight, and the Chicco Keyfit doesn’t have an exceptionally large amount of leg room. Yet at 30″, you’ll be able to use this infant car seat longer than some of the others. And the Keyfit’s newborn insert is perfect for cradling the smallest of babies.
All in all, our only complaint is that it might not be compatible with many different strollers.
Get it from Babies ‘R Us, $179.99