Choosing the Right Car Seat

If you are a parent, you know that protecting your child in the car is your number one priority while driving. Having a good car seat is essential to prevent your child from sustaining injuries – they can even prevent death in case of an accident. They’re also required by law, though the specific law varies depending on the state. Arizona requires that children under 8 years of age, and less than 4’9” tall use a child restraint device. There are a lot of different car seats on the market; let’s help break it down for you.

Before even looking at different brands, it’s important to make sure you’re purchasing the correct type of car seat for your child’s age and size, as well as for the fit of your vehicle. These are the primary different types of car seats, and when and why you should consider each:

Rear-Facing Car Seats
(these are for infants up to 2 years old)
These type of car seats are designed to face backwards so that, in case of an accident or sudden stop, there is no risk of momentum throwing the child forward suddenly. They are also designed this way because of the difference in weight dispersal from adults to children – adults only carry 6% of their weight in their head, whereas a baby carries about 25%. That’s a huge difference! During this most vulnerable age range, having an appropriate rear-facing car seat is essential.

Front-Facing Car Seats
(children over 2 years old)
These are still very secure car seats, the only difference is the direction your child is facing. At 2 years old, children are generally talkative and curious. It will be better for your in-car interaction to have your child facing you, and the safety risk of facing forward will have greatly decreased at this point.

Booster Car Seats
(generally recommended age 4-8)
Booster seats do exactly what they say – boost your child up to a height where the seat belt is much more effective in protecting the right part of the child’s body. There are different options on level of back and support for you to choose from, but it is definitely required in Arizona that your child use one of these up until age 8.

Once your child reaches 8 years old, and 4’9” in height, it is likely time to graduate to a regular seat belt. Discuss the importance of staying buckled, and the proper way to wear a seatbelt once your child reaches this stage.

Safety Features Offered:

All different car seat and booster seat manufacturers list different safety features available on their model. Here is an overview of what you might see, and what they mean:
All-In-One
These car seats actually transition as your child grows older – this is a great cost-effective choice for something that will not need to be replaced as your child grows. They will transition from rear-facing, to front-facing, to booster!

Convertible
These are similar to All-In-One in that they will generally change between two of the different types, but not between all three. So you may get a convertible that goes from rear to front, or front to booster, but not all. It’s still a good option to save on need to replace over time.

5-Point-Harness
This simply refers to the type of harness, 5 points referring to 5 connections, for a much safer restraint system.

Multi-clip Chest Straps
Though not required, these straps help secure your child even more, and are great to look for in choosing a car seat.

Lock Clips
These locks prevent a car seat from falling over, and are essential to making sure your car seat is installed properly.

LATCH System
“Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children” – this is required in all cars built since 2002. Kits featuring LATCH systems are also available for purchase if you have an older vehicle. These help secure car seats better, and prevent you from needing to use seat belts to secure the car seat, which is a much less safe approach.

Impact Protection & Wings
This is just an extra layer of protection in the form of foam padding and additional support structure around your child’s head – think of it as an additional helmet. This can be crucial in protecting from side collisions, and is good to look for in choosing a car seat.

Choosing a Car Seat

Now that you know a little more about the basics, it’s time to choose a brand. You can read reviews of specific brands, sorted by type of car seat on Consumer Report’s site, and make an informed decision on what is best for your car and your child from there!