I’ve made no secret of my passion for car seat safety in the past few months, but I wasn’t always as much of a fanatic as I am now. We chose Eli’s infant seat basically at random, without almost any research, because I liked that it had high height/weight limits and a good gender-neutral pattern, but that was it. Not even a Google search to speak of before making such an important decision.
When it came time to choose a convertible car seat, I did tons of research, but I still felt so confused about what seat was best for my child and for my car. So when I was asked to test as many car seats as I could get my hands on, I jumped at the chance. This was a dream project for us, and it was one that really opened my eyes to car seat safety and the incredible number of options available on the market today.
Over the past 2 months, we have tried 15 different convertible car seats. All but 2 of these were sent to us by the companies to test, and we tried each one of them for between 10 days and 2 weeks (the total number of hours in use was roughly the same for all the seats), in at least two different vehicles with both the seatbelt and the LATCH, the system of lower anchors and tethers for children. Virtually all cars made after 2002 have a LATCH system that consists of small metal hooks in the lower part of the back seat (usually identified with a tag or a button picturing a child in a car seat) and tether hooks on the top or back of the back seat, to allow car seats to be installed with a special belt with hooks (which comes with your car seat!) instead of a seatbelt. Both LATCH and the seat belt are equally safe when used correctly, but often LATCH is an easier way to install the seat.
We also installed each seat both rear- and forward-facing to check the fit. However, we only had Eli and my niece ride rear-facing, meaning his car seat faces the back of my car, which is in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to keep children rear-facing until age 2 and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommendation to continue rear-facing as close to age 4 as possible, within the height and weight limits of the car seat. After the experiment, we passed each seat along to my sister, who tried them out with my niece, who is about 5 months younger than Eli.
One quick note before we get into the list: All these seats, from the least to the most expensive, passed the same crash testing. There is no evidence that any brand or specific seat is “safer” than any other. The safest car seat is whichever seat you can install in your car, fits your child well, and that you can use correctly every single time.
Without further ado, here are the best car seats of 2013!
While there are certainly a few more convertible seats on the market, these 15 are some of the best out there and hopefully can help serve as a guide for choosing a good-quality seat that fits whatever your family’s needs are.
For pictures of these seats in various cars and with differently sized babies, check out my flickr set here. I have at least a few pictures of each of the seats listed above.
For an update on car seat changes happening in 2014, check out Parenting You Need to Know: Car Seat Changes in 2014.
All photos above courtesy of the car seat manufacturer’s website.