Last night, I purchased what I believe will be our last car seat. We’ve been fairly economical, and somewhat futuristic in our planning, but I’m still pretty sure we have somewhere around $500 invested in these bad boys. The safety of my children is paramount, but I admit, when we strapped our daughter into her infant carrier for the first time six years ago, I had no idea how complicated car seats could be!
With two children three years apart, you’d think there wouldn’t be a lot of overlap and that we’d just pass each seat down as my daughter outgrew it. Between height and weight limits, wear and tear, expiration dates, and different pick-up scenarios, that hasn’t always been the case.
Six years of parenting has actually netted us six different car seats.
Here are six tips for getting the car seats that are right for your family:
1) Measure the space in the backseat of your car with the front seat where the driver/passenger needs it to be. I’m 5’10”, and I’m all leg. When I drove a Saturn sedan, backseat space was minimal. We had to go with a smaller rear-facing infant seat for space reasons.
2) Be sure the seat/cover is washable. Some less expensive models don’t have removable padding. Spring for a model that at least has a washable cover – car sickness, spilled milk and exploding diapers can and will happen to you.
3) Buy the biggest seat you can afford and that will fit in your car. Your kids aren’t going to shrink. You’ll get the most use out of the seats with bigger height and weight ranges.
4) Check the expiration dates – manufacturers now stamp expiration dates on car seats, typically 5 years after they’re manufactured. If you have more than one child, be sure the seat that’s on it’s encore performance is still safe to use. (They don’t implode on expiration, but components do wear over time.)
5) When you get a new car seat, go to a Child Seat Inspection Station to confirm your seat is properly installed. The staff at these stations have attended special training, and will show you how to properly install your child’s seat (it isn’t alway obvious).
6) Teach your children that car seats aren’t optional. I’m too old to have used a booster seat as a child myself, but my parents had a rule that the car didn’t move if we weren’t buckled. I’ve sat in the driveway for many a minute, waiting for my kids to stop flailing so I could buckle them in properly. After a minute or two, the game gets old, and they willingly let me buckle them in.
Confused as to what kind of seat your child should be using or wondering about the laws in your state? Check out the Child Safety section of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website. There are links to inspection sites, state laws and the latest guidelines.