The 10 Best Convertible Car Seats
Why Should I Buy A Convertible Car Seat?
We're committed to helping you make well-informed choices and avoid unnecessary expenditure, so we've set out for you the pros and cons of buying a convertible car seat right away, versus using an infant car seat for the first 6-12 months.
Safety: There's no question that tiny babies have different requirements than bigger toddlers: their little spines and skulls are still growing and they're not yet able to support their own heads. This means they have to be able to lie flat in the car seat, so you'll need a seat that will allow them to do that. Infant car seats are designed to do this, but most convertible car seats now do too.
Another key safety issue is your little one's direction of travel: the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be kept rear-facing in the car until the age of 2, and this is the law in many US states. If your child outgrows their infant car seat before that age - which they are likely to do - then you're going to need to upgrade to a convertible seat in any case. Don't forget you need to bear in mind the seat's maximum height as well as the maximum weight allowance.
When it comes to protection in case of impact, the latest tests for Consumer Reports show convertible car seats outperforming infant seats in their ability to protect a child's head.
Comfort: Traditionally, infant car seats have been preferred for very new babies because they provide a measure of padding to keep your baby secure and cozy. These days, as you'll have seen from the products reviewed above, a lot of convertible car seats come with a removable 'infant insert' designed to do just that (although if your baby is especially tiny you might still find these seats a little too big at first).
Convenience: This is one big advantage that infant car seats have over convertible models: they can be lifted out of the car and carried into the house. Some models even fit right onto the stroller. But before you make a purchasing decision based on this, there are two things you need to remember:
Your baby is going to get heavy! Sure, swinging the car seat right out of the car and carrying it around seems like a great idea at first, but as your baby grows this is going to become less and less practical.
Multitasking your car seat may not always be safe. Some parents like to put the car seat on top of a shopping cart, but the manufacturers of both car seats and shopping carts advise you not to do this, as it can easily cause the cart to topple over, risking injury to your child. Meanwhile, even leaving your child in her car seat in your home is not as good an idea as it might seem: a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics last year found that this may not be safe.
Price: There's no contest here: buying one car seat is definitely going to be less expensive than buying two! We think you can get all the advantages of an infant car seat from a convertible seat if you choose carefully: check out the next article for our advice on how to do just that.
Convertible Car Seats: The Essentials, The Desirables, And Winning Details
Think of buying a car seat like hiring somebody for a job. It's one of the most important jobs in the world: that of helping to keep your baby safe. So you definitely know what you don't want. A second-hand car seat? That's like a resumé printed in Comic Sans - straight in the trash.
But once you've filtered out the definite 'no's, there are still a lot of candidates out there. To help you pick one, we've put together a sort of job description for the ideal convertible car seat: starting with the essential qualifications, then the desirable qualities, and finally a list of little winning details. Keep an eye out for these and they could just help you spot the car seat of your dreams.
- LATCH (Lower Anchors & Tethers for CHildren) - and maybe a decent seat belt alternative. LATCH is a set of straps by which you can attach your car seat directly to anchors built into the car, instead of having to wrap the seat belt around the car seat. All car seats have been compatible with this since 2002, so you should be golden - unless you're in an older vehicle, in which case you may not be able to use LATCH. Check your vehicle's specifications and if it isn't LATCH-able, make sure you buy a car seat that attaches via the seat belt with minimal fuss.
- A 5-point safety harness. Almost all modern convertible car seats come with this sort of harness, which is made up of a strap for each shoulder, a strap for each thigh, and a fifth strap between your baby's legs. Only with a 5-point harness can you ensure that the car seat is properly adjusted to your child's shape and therefore keeping him or her completely secure.
- A harness that is easily adjustable from the front, so you don't have to take the seat out of the car every time when the straps no longer fit your growing child.
- An infant insert. If you're going to be using this car seat for your newborn, this padding is essential so that he or she can fit snugly inside and still have room when they get bigger.
- A machine-washable, removable cover! We toyed with filing this under 'essentials' but it's not strictly necessary...it's just going to make your life about a billion times easier once that car seat is all smeared with PB&J.
- A decent NHTSA 'Ease of use' rating: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates car seats on how easy they are to install and use correctly.
- Side-impact protection. The amount of protection offered from side impact varies a lot between models. It's not possible to protect against every little eventuality, but for your own peace of mind you'll probably want to get the best side-impact protection you can afford.
- A cup-holder! It sounds frivolous, but if your kid wants juice, you're going to want somewhere to put juice. Somewhere that is not 'all over your kid'.
- A lightweight seat. The biggest downside of convertible car seats versus infant car seats is their bulk and weight: opting for a seat made of lighter material could save you some heartache (and arm-ache) when you inevitably have to shift the seat around.
- An affordable seat. If you find a seat that checks all the boxes above - and it suits the size of your child and of your car - don't spend any more than you have to.
A Brief History Of Child Car Seats
The 19th century saw the earliest manufacture of cars, but it wasn't until the 1930s that the first child car seats appeared - and even then, they weren't really intended to keep children safe: just keep them still and in view of the driving parent.
Some 1940s models hooked on to the front passenger seat so Baby could keep the driver company - and even had a little steering wheel fitted so he or she could join in with driving, much like Maggie Simpson.
In 1962, two models of child safety seats were developed at around the same time: in Britain, a rear-facing seat with a three-point strap was created by the inventor Jean Ames; while Leonard Rivkin in the US designed the front-facing, metal-framed Strolee National Safety Car Seat for Children.
In the late 1960s, car manufacturers began to develop their own child safety seats: first Ford's Tot-Guard, which was developed in 1967, but it took a number of years to become available to the public; then the Loveseat, produced by General Motors.