Best Infant Car Seats: Safety Comes First
Infant car seats help you safely transport your child from point A to point B
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Rear-facing seats are the safest option for taking along your baby on car rides, making them a true must-have item for any parent. Choosing the right one for you and your baby’s needs isn’t an easy task, but we’re here to help you make a great choice. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the best infant car seats out there.
Why Buy an Infant Car Seat?
- Safety first. An infant car seat is the only safe (and legal) way to transport your young child in a car. Infant seats are made to protect your child from the forces of a crash, dramatically reducing the chance of injury.
- Convenience. Many car seats come in travel combos: the seat and a stroller into which the seat fits. This is a great option if you’re looking for something that’s easy to use on the go, saving you arm cramps from carrying around a heavy car seat.
- Head support. Infants are still learning how to support their own weight and move their little bodies. That’s what makes a car seat useful. They have built-in head support so that your little one doesn’t strain their neck and feels comfortable and supported.
- Comfort. For many smaller babies, an infant car seat will be more comfortable and will provide more support than a convertible car seat. That’s important for your baby’s overall health and safety.
- Secure. Car seats are easy to install, either with a LATCH or base system. Both will keep the seat secure, with the base system having the additional advantage of being more convenient, as you can simply lift out the infant car seat and go.
Founded in 1938, Britax has been in the business of making quality childcare products for over 80 years. Headquartered in the UK, it’s a global innovator in car seats, strollers, and high chairs. Its most popular products include the B Agile & B Safe 35 Travel System and the B-Safe Ultra.
Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Graco has been innovating practical solutions to parenting problems for over 60 years. Manufacturing high-quality car child seats, it’s a name you can trust. Some of its most popular products include the SnugRide 35 and the SnugRide Elite.
Evenflo has been engaged in the design, research, and development of childcare products since 1920. This established global brand is based in Miamisburg, Ohio and is one of the best on the market. Its best-selling products include the LiteMax 35 and the Vive Travel System.
- Under $100: At the budget price range, you’ll find a couple of decent options. Most of these are made from good-quality plastic and fabric, but may not be as durable as other higher-priced options. At this price, you’ll find a solid basic seat with few extras.
- $100-$250: In the mid-range, the selection widens a bit. Most seats at this price point will be well-made, modern, and durable, and have comfortable extras to keep your baby plush and safe.
- Over $250: The luxury price point features some of the most well-known brands and models. Often, you’ll get the best quality materials and craftsmanship at this price, but other times, you’re just paying for a name. Keep that in mind while shopping.
Make sure you know how much space your backseat has for a car seat. Keep in mind that the safest spot for your child’s car seat is in the middle position, so measure the size of the seat and shop with those measurements in mind. A car seat with a large base might not fit in a smaller car, for instance. Likewise, if you have multiple children, and all of them are in car seats, you’ll have to keep those measurements in mind as well.
Infant car seats typically come with one of three harness systems: the three-point, the five-point, and the T-shield. Five-point harness systems are the safest, as they reduce the neck and crotch forces on your baby in the event of a crash. They’re also the most adjustable and customizable, making for a safe, secure, and comfortable fit for your child.
Safety and Comfort
Padding, support, and cushioning all play a role in the safety and comfort factor. Basic seats will often lack some of these important safety features, so look for side-impact protection in the form of foam or air pads on the sides as a minimum. The best car seats will have additional safety and comfort features in the form of an anti-rebound bar, a boot to protect the baby’s feet, and a larger canopy.
- Installation: Although most car seats are easy to install, it’s a good idea to double check your work and make sure you followed the correct belt path. Installation text and diagrams from the manufacturer are a great first step. Have the installation checked by a professional. You can find an NHTSA inspector to do that for you.
- Cleaning: Choose a seat that is made with a smooth fabric rather than one that is textured, such as corduroy. That will make it easy to wipe clean when little messes happen (and trust us, they will). Keep that in mind when you’re being tempted by merino wool seats.
- Age: We’re talking about the age of the seat here. Make sure that you purchase a new car seat, as second-hand and otherwise used ones, are not as safe. For the best protection, you’ll want to purchase one from a registered retailer.
- Travel System: If you want to save some money and get additional convenience out of your infant car seat, look into travel systems. These make it easy to tote your baby around without needing to move them out of the car seat and into a stroller.
Best Infant Car Seat Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Infant Car Seat Overall: Chicco KeyFit 30
Rated as one of the best infant car seats in the United States, the Chicco KeyFit 30 is a great choice for your baby. Made from super durable materials that have been tested to the highest standards, the seat is cushioned and comfortable. Newborns and smaller infants can be supported by the removable head and body supports (aka infant inserts), making it a customizable and safe fit. The harness system is unique as well, allowing buckling at two points to make cinching easy. Tightening is also a breeze with the unique one-pull harness.
The stay-in-car seat base gives the whole system great ease of use. Attach the base with your vehicle’s LATCH system, click in the car seat, and go. A spring-loaded leveling foot and two easy-to-read leveling indicators make perfect installation of your new car seat a cinch. Another great feature is that it clicks into compatible Chicco strollers with equal ease, making the perfect travel system.
Overall, this is a feature-packed and ultra safe choice for your infant. The one downside we noticed is properly cleaning the car seat can be a bit difficult, as removing the cushioned pads means disassembling a large part of the seat itself, making the task quite an ordeal.
Best Value Infant Car Seat: Baby Trend Expedition Jogger Travel System
If you’re looking for the ultimate travel system on a budget, this might be the right pick for you. This jogger and car seat combo comes at a great value price and offers a number of features. The stroller itself is like a jogger, meaning it has extra large bicycle-type tires that easily maneuver over almost any surface. A convenient parent tray with cup holders, a front swivel wheel with a locking mechanism, a covered storage compartment, an extra-wide ergonomic handle, and an easy-trigger fold round out the feature set.
The car seat itself attaches to the stroller quickly and easily and boasts a number of features as well. A five-point safety harness with easy one-hand adjustment and push-button release keep your baby safe and secure, while an adjustable leveling base attaches the seat securely to your car. EPS energy-absorbing foam creates superior side impact protection, and the seat pads are removable and washable.
Overall, this is a great value pick that will accommodate kiddos up to 50 pounds and 42 inches tall, so your little one won’t outgrow it too quickly. Keep in mind, though, that you do get what you pay for, and the components on this seat are not as high in quality as a more expensive model. That being said, it’s still a great choice for the money.
Best Infant Car Seat Honorable Mention: Graco SnugRide 35
A popular brand for a reason, this Graco seat is a great choice for your little one. SnugLock technology makes for hassle-free three-step installation, keeping infants from 4 to 35 pounds safe; a remarkable weight limit range, as this is one of the few models that can support very small infants. The adjustable base has four different recline positions, letting you customize the fit to your vehicle and a level indicator. It’s rigorously tested to meet and exceed federal safety standards, offering you peace of mind.
For smaller infants and newborns, additional head and body support cushions improve comfort, safety, and fit, making the whole seat very customizable to your child’s needs. A rotating canopy provides shade and sun protection for your little one, and an easy-to-adjust harness. Fully LATCH-compatible, this seat features Click Connect Technology, providing one-step attachment to a number of Graco car bases and strollers.
Overall, this is a great choice if you’re looking for something that’s easy to use. We did notice a downside that you should keep in mind when making a purchasing decision. The harness straps on this seat tend to be a little difficult to tighten snugly, posing a potential safety hazard. It’s a good idea to always double check the tightness of the harness to ensure maximum safety.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Infant Car Seat
- For safety reasons, you’ll always want to remove heavy or bulky outerwear from your child before buckling the harness of the car seat. This will ensure that the straps snugly secure your baby. To keep your baby warm, place a coat or blanket over the buckled harness.
- Make sure that the shoulder straps are at or below your baby’s shoulders, adjusting them as the child grows. Remember that the harness must be snug enough so there is no slack, the straps should lie flat without sagging or twisting, and the top of the chest clip should be positioned at armpit level.
- Your child is ready for a convertible car seat once his or her head nears the top of the seat. To keep your baby safe, there should be at least a 1-inch gap between the top of the seat and the top of your baby’s head.
- Some infant car seats come with a carrying handle. This is a great convenience feature to carry your infant with you while you’re on the go. Most safety seats require the handle to be in the down position when you’re traveling in the car. Always check the user’s manual of your particular model for detailed advice.
- Many car seats come with bases to make for easy installation and use of the seat. It’s a good idea to purchase several bases and just one seat so that you can easily switch cars without having to worry about securing a new seat.
Q: How long can my baby stay in an infant car seat?
A: This depends on the growth and development of your child. Most guidelines suggest that infants and toddlers ride in a rear-facing car seat until they reach two years of age or outgrow the weight and height limits of their infant car seat (this varies by brand and model, but is usually around 30-40 pounds). Convertible seats are a good option as well, as these will last through the toddler years until your child is ready for a booster seat.
Q: Do infant car seats have an expiration date?
A: It might sound strange that a car seat can expire, but that’s the case for infant car seats. Most will have a date of expiration stamped on the manufacturer label, while others show the date of manufacturing. In general, infant car seats expire about six years after manufacturing. For safety reasons, don’t use an expired infant car seat.
Q: Is it safe to use a second-hand car seat?
A: Generally, it’s not a good idea to rely on a second-hand car seat to keep your child safe. New seats are tested for their ability to withstand the forces of a crash and will offer the best protection for your child. Used car seats may have weakened structurally from use, even if they look undamaged from the outside, so it’s worth investing in a new, quality seat.
Q: Where should I position my infant car seat?
A: The right position inside your car will make all the difference in keeping your baby safe. It’s important to remember that rear-facing car seats should never be placed in the front seat. The middle position is preferred since it’s away from side passenger airbags that may cause injury to your young child.
Our top pick is the Chicco KeyFit 30 with its super comfortable padding and excellent safety rating. It’s one of the best on the market and will keep your baby safe and secure.
If you’re looking for a great value, consider the Baby Trend Expedition Jogger Travel System. It combines the convenience of a car seat and a baby jogging stroller in one, all while saving you money.
What do you think of our picks? Have a favorite infant car seat? Share your thoughts in the comments down below!
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