5 Car Seat Features That Are Worth Your Money | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

Shopping for a car seat can feel overwhelming, especially as a first-time parent. Car seat marketing is packed with buzzwords and acronyms that can make your head spin: anti-rebound bar, FAA-approved, LATCH system … What’s more, although all federally compliant car seats fulfill the same purpose — protect your child in the event of an accident — there are huge differences in price.

First, some reassuring news: A more expensive car seat won’t necessarily do a better job at protecting your baby than a cheaper one. As long as a car seat meets federal safety standards (more on this below) and you’re using it according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, you shouldn’t feel pressured to shell out for a high-end car seat if it’s not in your budget.

“The answer to ‘Which is the best car seat?’ is ‘The seat that fits your child, fits your car and that you will use correctly on every trip,'” says Greg Durocher, CPST-I, a child passenger safety technician instructor and founder of Safe Rides 4 Kids. 

That said, when it comes to car seats, some features come highly recommended by experts, while others are simply nice to have. Here’s what to look out for:

The car seat feature you should definitely have

FMVSS 213 certification

“On one hand, selecting a car seat is a complex decision, but on the other, it can be very simple,” says Durocher. That’s because every car seat on the U.S. market is supposed to meet the same Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, or FMVSS 213. Trusted SourceNational Highway Traffic Safety AdministrationFMVSS No. 213 Child Restraint SystemsSee All Sources [1]

This means that as long as you’ve installed the car seat correctly and your child is within the manufacturer’s height and weight requirements, it will perform to federal safety standards regardless of whether you spent $200 or $600.

However, while every car seat in the U.S. is supposed to meet this bar, there are still products circulating that don’t comply, Durocher says. You might come across a car seat that isn’t FMVSS 213-certified if you purchase one secondhand, inherit an older model from family or friends, or shop from an unauthorized online retailer.

Car seat features experts recommend

A high rear-facing weight limit

Whether you opt for an infant car seat or a convertible car seat, experts recommend looking for a seat with a high upper weight and height limit in the rear-facing position. When a child is in the rear-facing position in a forward crash — the most common type — the car seat shell will support the head, neck and back, Durocher says. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) agree a child is safest in the rear-facing position for as long as possible. Trusted SourceAmerican Academy of PediatricsNew Child Passenger Safety Seat Guidance Advises Kids to Ride Rear-Facing as Long as Possible; Drops Age CriterionSee All Sources [2]

Weight maximums range from around 32 to 35 pounds on infant car seats (the upper height limit on these is almost always 32 inches), and between 40 and 50 pounds and up to 49 inches in the rear-facing position on a convertible model. 

Choosing a car seat with limits on the higher end of those ranges is a good investment since it ensures your little one can ride rear-facing longer. 

Five-point harness

These days, the vast majority of infant and convertible car seats sold in North America have a five-point harness with a chest clip. FMVSS 213 technically doesn’t require this feature, but it’s a good one to have.

The main purpose of a chest clip is not to keep your baby restrained but to help you securely position the shoulder straps. Still, it’s vital that you clip it on every single trip; the manufacturer also performed safety tests with the clip and determined it essential to meeting the FMVSS 213 standards. 

LATCH system

Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) refers to the anchors (a metal bar in the seat) and tether (a hook above or behind the seat) in cars made in September 2002 or later. Trusted SourceAmerican Academy of PediatricsCar Seat Installation Information: Seat Belts & LATCHSee All Sources [3] (Car seats manufactured after this date are also designed to be used with LATCH.) 

“LATCH systems were intended to be an alternate system of installing car seats that would reduce the common misuses that were identified with using the vehicle seat belt,” Durocher explains. “But botheither [LATCH or seatbelt method] is safe to use when used correctly.” In most cases, you should use one or the other — not both, which can create too much pressure at the base — but double check your seat’s manual to be sure. 

Recline angle indicators

Rear-facing car seats need to be installed at a semi-reclined angle to prevent a baby’s head from falling forward. Nearly every car seat sold in the U.S. has some sort of indicator to help caregivers install the base at the safest angle.

These indicators are more than just helpful, “they’re essential,” says Suzanne Chan, a pediatric nurse practitioner and a certified passenger safety technician (CPST) at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “Making sure the seat is in the correct position for the height and weight of your child isn’t something you can eyeball.”

Some higher-end car seats have a bubble indicator. Others have indicators that look like a ball, dial or wheel, and some budget-friendly seats have a more basic line level.

If you’ll be taking your child’s car seat base in and out often, you may want to prioritize a recline angle indicator that’s easy for you to read. But a car seat with a simpler line indicator can still be installed safely. 

Car seats features that are nice to have

No-rethread harness

Buckling a child into a car seat is often harder than it looks, and adjusting the harness can be particularly fiddly. As a result, many parents appreciate a no-rethread harness, since this feature doesn’t require you to manually rethread the straps as your child grows.

“They’re easy and simple for parents or caregivers to make their own adjustments,” Durocher says. But both rethread and no-rethread harnesses secure children safely.

Anti-rebound bar

Some car seats come with an additional component called an anti-rebound bar that’s designed to protect a child from rearward rotation in the event of a crash. 

Though it might give parents added peace of mind, “injuries related to rebound are pretty minimal and not the hugest concern,” Durocher says. So while this is a nice feature, experts say you shouldn’t stress if your car seat doesn’t have it. 

Easy-to-clean materials

Car seats encounter a shocking number of messes, from diaper blowouts to vomit to deeply embedded snack crumbs. And some features do make cleaning easier than others, such as fabric inserts or removable and machine-washable canopies.

But because an easier-to-clean car seat doesn’t impact safety, this is decidedly a “nice to have” feature. It’s more important that you clean your car seat according to the manufacturer’s exact instructions to prevent damage and preserve its safety.

FAA approval

A Federal Aviation Administration-approved (FAA) car seat is certified for use on an airplane, “but FAA approval is only relevant if a parent wants to install the seat on the airplane for the child,” Durocher says. In other words, FAA certification doesn’t make a car seat any safer for use in a car.

If you do plan to fly with your baby or toddler at any point, using an FAA-approved seat is smart. While you can legally hold a child under 2 in your arms as a “lap infant,” the AAP, the FAA and the National Transportation Security Administration (NTSA) agree that it’s safer for young children to sit in their own airplane seat with an approved restraint, such as a car seat. Trusted SourceAmerican Academy of PediatricsFlying With a Baby: Parent FAQsSee All Sources [4]

Baby-safe materials

To comply with FMVSS 213, car seats sold in the U.S. must have foam padding and fire-retardant materials to protect children in the event of a crash. Some also tout “Greenguard Gold-certified” materials, meaning they met third-party chemical emission standards. Other car seats might have mesh panels or fabric like merino wool for added airflow, which might appeal if you live in a hotter climate.

Looking at materials might help you narrow down your car seat options. However, “as far as things like fabric, that is a personal choice,” Durocher says.

Rotating seat

More and more car seats sold in the U.S. now have a swivel seat. This type of seat rotates to face the car door, which can make it easier to buckle your child in without hunching over.

Many parents love this feature, it’s federally compliant and safe to use, and it can be particularly helpful if you have back pain, for example. But as with the other nice-to-haves above, a swivel won’t affect a seat’s safety in a crash, so feel free to skip this if it’s not important to you or in your budget.

Car seat features to avoid

Off-brand accessories

One car seat feature that’s a definite skip? Aftermarket accessories from third-party manufacturers that did not come with your seat. This could include belt adjusters or extenders, headrests, footrests, newborn support inserts or pillows, shoulder pads, harness covers, seat protector covers, weather protector covers, even mirrors or toys that attach to a car seat. 

These types of products might sound harmless — even helpful — but they haven’t been tested for safety with the car seat and can be incredibly dangerous in the event of a crash, Chan says. If it didn’t come in your car seat’s original packaging, it’s not safe to use.

Shopping for a car seat can be daunting, but it’s important to remember that every car seat legally sold in the U.S. is certified to meet the same safety standards. The number one thing you can do is buy a car seat that’s FMVSS 213-certified and use it correctly on every trip, Durocher says. “Aside from good defensive driving to avoid a crash all together, this is the most important thing to ensure the best possible outcome.”




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