Updated: May 9, 2015
Car Seat Reviews and Buying Guide:Expecting parents need to buy all sorts of new baby gear, but beyond a crib, a car seat should be the #1 item on your list. You can't even leave the hospital these days without a certified baby car seat that works properly. It's the law in all 50 states to have a car seat for your new infant, so be prepared and do your research early. There are infant car seats, convertible car seats and booster seats available in most stores like Target, Walmart for Babies R Us. They offer different upholstery, safety features, styles, colors, and prices. Smaller sedans often have a hard time fitting car seats and just buckling them in can be a hassle. The rear facing infant car seats are what you need first. As your infant grows too large for that type, you will move on to the convertible car seats which are front facing and then eventually to the booster seats.
Choosing Car Seats - Selecting the Best Infant and Toddler Car Seats:Infant car seats are designed for babies that are up to 22 pounds or 26 inches long. They face the rear of the car and should be buckled into the center seat in the back. Unfortunately this means you will be unable to see your newborns face when driving, although some parents put up a mirror on the seat so they can see. Any car seat for infants should be supportive of their head, neck, and back. The models with stay-in bases are the most convenient as the base gets buckled into the car and the car seat attaches to the base. That way you can simply detach the car seat from the base and not wake up sleeping babies. The baby still gets belted into the car seat unit with a 5 point harness (legs, shoulders, waist) for the utmost safety. Another option it to buy a convertible car seat which can be used on newborns and toddlers. The seats adjust so you can do the rear facing style until the infant is about 20 pounds and then the seat can be changed to go forward facing and accommodate a toddler from roughly 20 to 40 pounds. The convertible car seats offer 5-point restraint systems with straps for the hips, crotch and shoulders. You can adjust the straps as the child grows so it fits properly. The last type of car seat for kids that have outgrown their convertible seats are the booster seats which are appropriate for kids weighing between 40 and 80 pounds, under 4 foot 9 inches in height, and usually ages 4 to 8. Using a car's safety belt system on younger kids is dangerous since the height of the seat belt is not designed for children. Some booster seats have belt positioning adjusters in both the backless and high backed models. All new cars have a LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system so that you essentially anchor the car seat to the vehicle for added safety. Follow the installation instructions on any car seat you purchase - improper use or installation is what causes most of the injuries you see in car accidents even when children are seated in their car seats. Consumer Reports does an excellent job each year of testing the new car seats for safety features - look for that report to see if any brands have failed the tests. Recalls are another issue as some manufacturers are more notorious than others.
See our buying guides for all car seat types below: