Protecting What’s Most Important: Your Child Safety Seat Cheat Sheet

Britax Carseat
Source: Britax

Being a parent, there’s nothing more terrifying than the thought of seeing your child in danger. We all want to keep our kids safe, and the old saying “Buckle-up for safety!” still rings true all these decades later. Strapping your child into a 70 mile-per-hour, two-ton chunk of steel and glass with a highly explosive canister of petrol affixed to its undercarriage sounds like a terrible idea, yet millions of Americans do it every day without a second thought.

To protect our offspring we place them in these padded little “bubbles” that resemble a racing seat in a NASCAR truck more than a child transit shelter. These baby/child seats come in a myriad of colors, shapes, sizes, and weight limits, and as our children grow, so do the amount of options available to them.

But with all of these choices available to us, what do you buy? These seats aren’t cheap, and while there’re numerous online reviews, and the NHTSA and the DMV offer fantastic information on the best ways to protect our kids, there’s an overwhelming feeling of uneasiness that goes with committing to a child seat. We want to see our kids safe and securely strapped in when it’s time to hit the open road, and the fear of incorrect installation, using the wrong size, or failing to make sure the seat has not expired (yes, all car seats have an expiration date) is a genuine anxiety for millions of parents.

In order to get a better feel for what is best for our little ones, the Cheat Sheet turned to Claire McCarthy. McCarthy is a certified child passenger safety technician, and works on a voluntary basis with the SafeKids Rhode Island division to conduct public car seat check events.  She also provides private checks and conducts training seminars for parents and caregivers on the proper use and installation of car seats. Keen on keeping up to date on new seats and technologies as they emerge, McCarthy also attends workshops and training seminars regularly to stay ahead of the curve, and consistently participates on a message board that’s comprised of techs and advocates. So when we asked her what child seat was the best on the market she hit us with a very honest answer. “There is no ‘best’ seat. The seat that fits your car, your child, and will be used correctly 100% of the time is the seat that is best for that family.”

 Infant/rear-facing only seats

McCarthy told us that all rear-facing infant seats must have a combination of a front harness adjuster, low bottom harness slots (7 inches or less) in order to fit smaller babies, multiple crotch buckle slots to optimize fit, and a base with lock-offs that are built-in for easy seatbelt installation and removal. Since infants cannot support the weight of their heads like adults can, it is also best to make sure a car seat’s leveling device has been dialed in so that the child can recline comfortably.

Graco Snugride
Source: Graco

Graco SnugRide 35

– 5- to 35-pound weight limit
– lowest harness slot is 6.5 inches
– lock-offs built into base

Source: Safety 1st
Source: Safety 1st

Safety 1st/Dorel OnBoard Air 35

– 4- to 35-pound weight limit
– 5.5-inch lowest harness slots
– lock offs built into base
– front harness adjuster

Source: Chicco/Facebook
Source: Chicco/Facebook

Chicco Keyfit

– 4- to 30-pound weight limit
– lowest harness slots with insert 7 inches
– lock offs built into the base
– front harness adjuster

 Convertible seats

As your child grows, it’s necessary to move them to a larger seat in order to accommodate their growing frame and weight. Convertible seats are a great option for anyone wanting to avoid this tedious task, as they offer child safety for more than just infants and can be used for quite a while longer. McCarthy recommends that if using this style of seat from birth be sure to look for low harness slots and multiple crotch buckle slots, always have a tall seat shell, check the high rear-facing weight limit, and be sure there are a series of lock-offs for easier seatbelt installation.

Graco Size4Me 70
Source: Graco

Graco Size4Me 70, Head Wise 70, and My Size 70

– rear-facing 4-40 pounds
– forward-facing 20-70 pounds
– SUPER tall shell for extended rear-facing
– top harness slots are 17.5 inches
– lowest harness slots are 7 inches (with insert)

Source: Evenflo
Source: Evenflo

Evenflo SureRide/Tital 65
— 6.25-inch lowest harness slot
— 19-inch tallest harness slot
– rear-facing to 40 pounds, forward-facing to 65 pounds
– tall shell allows extended rear-facing for tall children

Source: Britax
Source: Britax

Britax Boulevard (or Advocate) ClickTight

– 6.5-inch lowest harness slot
– 18.5-inch tallest harness slot
– Rear-facing to 40 pounds, front-facing to 65 pounds
– ClickTight installation makes installing with a seatbelt very easy (with new LATCH weight limits this is great!)

 Combination seats

Combination seats are commonly referred to as a 5-point harness system that can switch to a booster seat as the child grows. These seats offer a great amount of versatility, and while they can be a bit pricier, are indeed an “all-in-one package” once the child outgrows a convertible seat. Look for high top harness slots (17 inches or more is ideal), a high harness weight (50-plus pounds), and a set of lock-offs for easier seat installation and removal.

Recaro Performance SPORT
Source: Recaro

Recaro Performance SPORT

– 20-65 pounds with harness
– 30-120 pounds booster mode
– 18-inch top harness slot
– 20-inch top booster position
– can use latch in booster mode

Source: Evenflo
Source: Evenflo

Evenflo Maestro

– 50-pound harness limit
– 18-inch top harness slot
– 19-inch top belt positioning guide (to use as booster)
– can use lower anchors and top tether in booster mode

Source: Britax
Source: Britax

Britax Frontier 90 ClickTight

– 90-pound harness limit
– 20.5-inch top harness slot
– 23-inch top belt positioning guide adjustment (booster mode)
– ClickTight installation makes installing with seatbelt VERY easy
– can use lower anchors and top tethers in booster mode

 Belt-positioning boosters

Belt-positioning booster seats are designed for the big kids, and are the final stage of child seat required by law. McCarthy says lower anchor capabilities are a must if you don’t fancy the idea of having to buckle the seat down when a child isn’t in it, and to always look for very high back adjustments that are 19 inches or taller. The ability of going “backless” is always a perk too, and this kind of adjust-ability offers even more comfort for the child as they grow.

Chicco Kidfit
Source: Chicco

Chicco KidFit

– 30-100 pounds, 4 years old with back
– 40-110 pounds without back
– 19-inch top booster position (with back)
– has lower anchors to secure seat to car

Source: Graco
Source: Graco

Graco Affix

— 100-pound weight limit
– 20-inch top belt guide
– can use lower anchors to secure seat
– back is removable to become backless booster

Source: Britax
Source: Britax

Britax Parkway SGL

– 120-pound weight limit
– 21.5-inch top belt guide
– lower anchors to secure seat
– SecureGuard clip optional to keep lap belt even lower
– back is removable to become backless booster