Children depend on their parents for many things, one of them being to keep them safe from harm. A crucial way of providing such safety is by properly securing your child in a child car seat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the U.S." Therefore it is necessary to carefully choose a suitable car seat for your child. Below are some factors to consider when selecting a car seat.
- New Car Seat: It is recommended to buy a new car seat rather than a second hand one for your child. This is because the old car seat might have the instruction manual missing, might have been in a crash or can even be a recalled model.
Types of Seats:There are a few types of car seats available depending on the age, height and weight of your child:
- Infant Car Seat - This is suitable for new born babies. Your infant can use an infant car seat in the rear-facing position until he/she reaches the age and weight restrictions for the seat (typically 1 year old or 20 pounds) and can support him/herself. After this your child should be moved into a convertible car seat.
: An Infant car seat has a handle for easy carrying, enabling you to safely carry your baby without having to unbuckle and wake him/her up. (Remember to place this in the down position while in the car to prevent injury to your baby).
Base: An infant car seat typically comes with a base which is installed in the car, allowing the infant car seat to be detached and carried while leaving the base firmly in place in the car.
Travel System: If you are also planning on buying a stroller, you might want to consider a Travel System. This is a package which includes a stroller, infant car seat (which securely attaches to the stroller), and an infant car seat base.
- Convertible Car Seat - This type of car seat has two positions, rear-facing and forward facing. The weight limit for this type of seat is typically 40 pounds.
Forward-Facing Car Seat - This car seat can only be placed in the forward-facing position. A child is placed in such a seat when he/she reaches the rear-facing position height/age/weight limitations.
Booster Seat - This is for a child who reaches the age or weight limit for a convertible/forward facing car seat or whose ears have reached the top of the car seat.
Safety Standards:Be sure to buy a car seat that meets federal safety standards.
Size:The car seat must be compatible with your vehicle; some seats may be too big to fit in the back of your car. Try different models and, if possible, before buying a car seat try to fit it in your car to see which fits best; if this is not allowed, make sure you can return the car seat. Also keep in mind that a narrow car seat might be more suitable in cases where you have other passengers in the back seat. Remember to never put a car seat in the front seat or on the side passenger seats if those seats have an airbag. The safest position for a car seat is the center of the rear seats.
3 Point versus 5 Point Harness:Experts believe that it is safer to have a 5 point harness system (two adjustable straps over the shoulders, two straps over the hips and a crotch strap) as compared to a 3 point harness system (straps come across each shoulder and buckle between the child's legs).
Harness Straps:These should be wide and twist free for easy buckling and also more protection of the child.
- Harness Straps Adjustments - Having a mechanism in the front for adjusting the harness strap makes it easier to tighten and thereby provides proper protection for your child. Keep in mind that the straps may need tightening or loosening depending on the clothes that your child may wear. In the case of rear-facing seats, make sure the harness adjustment mechanism is not too low, otherwise it will be difficult to reach.
- Harness Strap Position - The harness straps should be slotted at or just below your child's shoulders. There should only be a maximum of one finger space between the harness straps and your child's collar bone.
- Harness Slots - A car seat with more harness slots is ideal for a growing and/or taller child.
Chest Clips:A two piece chest clip is easier to use and difficult for children to open. They also prevent twisting of the straps. The chest clip should lie against your child's chest and must be at the armpit level.
Level Indicator:Try to find a car seat that has a level indicator on the side, as it helps in ensuring that the seat is installed at the correct angle. Those car seats that do not have a level indicator need to be positioned at a 45 degree angle. To accomplish this you may need to use a rolled up towel or a pool noodle at the car seat's base in order to adjust the seat's angle. The car seat should not move more than 1 inch from side to side.
Weight Limits:A car seat in the rear-facing position is the safest place for your child. Therefore select an infant and/or convertible car seat that has a higher weight limit for the rear-facing position.
Covers:Machine washable car seat covers that can easily be removed are ideal as children tend to be very messy.
Padded Wings:Some car seats have extra padding on each side of the head. These help in protecting your child in case of an impact, and are also more comfortable for a sleeping child keeping his head in an upright position.
Top Tether:Some front-facing car seats come with a top tether located at the back of the car seat, thereby providing extra security. This hooks into an eye bolt found at the roof, floor, deco or seatback of the car (only in those cars manufactured after September 1, 1999). When buying a car seat with a tether system, try the tether adjustment mechanism as some are easy to use while others are difficult.
LATCH System:Cars and car seats manufactured before September 2002 require the use of the vehicle's safety belts to install the car seat, while those manufactured after 2002 come with a LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), to secure the car seat. It is also possible to retrofit a LATCH system on some non-LATCH car seats. In selecting a LATCH system car seat try the attachments as some are easy to use while others are difficult.
Registration:After you buy your car remember to register your car seat by filling out the warranty/registration form in order to receive information on any recalls on your car seat.
The bottom line is to choose a car seat that allows you to easily secure your child in the seat every time, because no matter how many features the car seat may have, it will be useless in protecting your child if he/she is not fastened in properly.