Dad’s Guide to Finding the Right Car Seat - dummies

Dad’s Guide to Finding the Right Car Seat

By Sharon Perkins, Stefan Korn, Scott Lancaster, Eric Mooij

Finding the right car seat can be frustrating for dads. Getting a cute mobile for your baby’s crib is optional, buying a stroller that you can take mountain running is optional — but using a car seat for your most precious cargo is not. Yeah, sure, you free-ranged in your parents’ car when you were little and lived to tell the tale, but sadly some children haven’t. So take advantage of the fact that things have evolved somewhat since those days and use a car seat for every journey you take in the car with your baby.

As with strollers, so many models of car seats are out there that it pays to shop around. Luckily you’ve got a few months to do this! There are different sizes according to the age and weight of your child, generally falling into these categories:

  • Infant car seat: This is a car seat specifically used for newborns up to approximately 20 pounds. The car seat fits into a base that stays in the car, which is strapped in using the car’s existing seatbelts. Infant car seats should only be used in a rear-facing position — the best position for children in a car for as long as you can keep them that way.

An infant car seat can be taken out with your baby in it — leave the base in the car or you’ll look pretty silly — and attached to some strollers. They’re not meant to fit over a shopping cart, no matter how many people you see using them that way. Baby car seats also have a movable handle so you can carry your baby around in it like Red Riding Hood’s basket of goodies. However, the seat will constantly bump your legs, jarring the baby and bruising you. Putting it into a stroller is easier for both of you.

  • Child car seat: Some car seats are convertible, meaning you can use them all the way up from newborn to your child’s 21st birthday — or almost. An insert holds your baby in place when he’s tiny and is removed when he’s older. Car seats usually have straps that attach to bolts in the back of the back passenger seat or to the floor when in the rear-facing position. If your car doesn’t have bolts, they can be purchased and put into the car by a mechanic for very little money.
  • Booster seat: Every state has its own laws about when your child can sit in a booster and how long he needs to use one. Check the Governors Highway Safety Association website for a current list.

Infants should stay in rear-facing car seats until they are at least two years old. Rear-facing positioning reduces the risk of death or serious injury by up to 75 percent, according to a 2007 study. Kids with long legs are still better off riding rear facing.

Think twice about buying a secondhand seat. Seats sold in the United States have expiration dates printed somewhere on the seat. After this date, the plastic may start to weaken, providing less protection in an accident. Car seats that have been in an accident may also be damaged in places you can’t easily see and should not be used.

Add-ons like custom car-seat covers can be cute, but they’re not always safe. Don’t use anything aftermarket on the car seat, not even if the manufacturer says it’s designed to fit. Check SaferCar.gov for more information.