You’re expecting? Congratulations! It’s an exciting time in your life and one of the most daunting. There are many decisions to make and deciding what car seat to buy is just one of many. Whether you have an infant or a toddler, a car seat is one of the most important purchases you’ll make.
While I was still pregnant, I planned a day to shop for car seats with my husband and was shocked to see so many options at our local baby store. There was an entire wall dedicated to car seats and another aisle for car seat accessories! Some accessories were universal and some only fit on certain car seats. I learned that day that in many instances, your infant car seat has to be compatible with your stroller too! It was overwhelming. After an hour of looking at almost every car seat model, accessory and stroller, I left the store feeling defeated with no car seat and a long list of questions.
I’m sharing my research and experience to help other parents out there and hope this article helps you feel more equipped to choose your child’s car seat.
The importance of a car seat
A car seat is required by law and is an essential safety item for your child while travelling in a vehicle. A car seat or restraint system, provides proven life-saving and injury-reducing benefits when correctly installed and used. Car seats and restraint systems can help prevent children from being thrown forward, which plays a major role in reducing severity of injury, and increases chances of survival in an accident.
What to look for when buying a car seat
As a first time parent, I knew it was important to choose the right car seat for my kiddo, but the options were overwhelming. The best advice I can give any new parent is to research, research, research. Read the labels and look up car seat reviews from non-biased sources. Another great source of information is your provincial and government websites, such as our blog post on how to install car seats. Here are a few general guidelines of what to look for in a car seat:
- Select a car seat that’s been tested and approved
- Choose the correct size for your child’s age and height
- Make sure it is easy to install and secure
- Choose a car seat that you think will best protect your child
- If you are thinking of buying second hand car seat, visit the Government of Canada’s guide to second-hand car seat safety
Types of car seats
As mentioned, I was shocked there were so many different types of car seats. To make your life a little simpler, I’ve summarized them below.
Infant car seat
- It is the first seat most new parents use, and can only be installed rear-facing. It has a base attached, which can be removed.
- This car seat provides the best fit for newborns and smaller babies, and most can be used for children between 4 and 30 lbs.*
- The crown of your child's head must be lower than the top of the carrier shell of the car seat. If kiddo exceeds the height limits of this car seat, they are too tall.*
- Generally, you purchase a convertible car seat as soon as your child outgrows their infant seat. It can be installed rear-facing or front-facing.
- The harness system, similar to an infant car seat, has a higher rear-facing weight limit. This means kiddo can ride rear-facing longer.
- It must be installed rear-facing for children younger than 1 and weighing less than 20 lbs. These seats can be used rear-facing up to 50 lbs and forward facing toddlers to up to 65 lbs.*
- When your kiddo outgrows the weight or height limit of a forward-facing seat harness, it's time for a booster that uses your car's own seat belt.
- Boosters are used in the car to raise a child up, to allow the seat belt to fit correctly—over the sternum and high across the upper arms, rather than across the abdomen. They come in two main styles, high-back and backless.
- Though backless versions are portable and easy to install, a high-back version is recommended, since it better positions the shoulder belt, provides some side-impact protection, and is more comfortable for children to rest their heads against.
All-in-one car seats
- These offer great value by taking children from birth to booster seats. They're a tempting money-saver, but when I talked to some car seat experts, several mentioned that by doing so many things, they can compromise on other features.
- All-in-one car seats accommodate children from 4 to 50 lbs., sitting rear-facing, kids from 20 to 65 lbs,. sitting forward-facing in a harness, and kids from 30 to 120 lbs., sitting in booster mode
- These can only be used by children who are the appropriate weight, age, and height limits, to sit facing forward.
- Designed to be forward-facing only, these have a harness (for use up to a certain height and weight), and then transition to a booster, with the harness removed.
- They're for children weighing between 20 and 90 lbs., who are harnessed, and 30 to 120 lbs., in booster mode.*
*Always check the weight restrictions on your model; each brand or model is different.
Tips to ensure car seat safety
While doing my research, I found out that not all car seats fit in all vehicles and not all car seats offer the same level of safety. Because of this, it’s very important to go through a safety checklist to make sure your child is safe while driving.
- Check the seat's height and weight limits. Age is also an important factor because it is reflective of your kiddo’s skeletal development.
- Be sure to install the car seat or booster correctly.
- Once installed, the seat shouldn't move more than one inch side to side or front to back.
- In rear-facing installation, the harness straps are at or below your baby's shoulders. For forward-facing, harness straps should be at or above your tot's shoulders. The chest clip should always be at armpit level.
- If your child is secured properly, you shouldn't be able to pinch any fabric on the straps at the child’s shoulders.
- Ensure your car is clutter-free.
- Recline right and tether tight. Check the recline angle for rear-facing seats (most have an indicator) to avoid allowing the child's head to fall forward and obstruct breathing.
- For forward-facing seats, always attach and tighten the top tether to help prevent forward movement, which could cause head injury.
Protect your family with the right insurance coverage
In addition to my research, I also contacted a BrokerLink insurance advisor, to make sure I had the right family car insurance. An experienced broker will take the time to understand your needs and provide you with options for your best insurance protection.
Contact a local BrokerLink insurance advisor near you today!
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How to choose the right car seat for your child FAQs
What’s the difference between a car seat and a booster seat?
A car seat is the first type of seat your baby will use. The first version is installed rear-facing with a base attached to it, which can be removed. Once your child reaches a certain height and weight limit, they can start using a forward facing car seat. Again, when your child outgrows the weight or height limit of a forward-facing seat harness, it's time for a booster that uses your car's own seat belt.
When can a child stop sitting in a car seat?
Your child is safest in a booster seat until they have reached the maximum height and weight recommended by the manufacture of your booster seat. Children can legally use a seat belt when they reach age, weight or height limits set by the regulations in your province or territory. However, children should keep using booster seats if the vehicle seat belt does not fit snuggly on their lap or centered on their shoulder.
It’s recommended that you keep your child in a booster seat as long as possible. Don’t transition to a seat belt unless your child has outgrown their booster seat and the seat belt fits. For more information on when to transition your child out of a car seat, visit the Government of Canada’s guide to Installing a child car seat or booster seat.
What kind of car seat should my 5 year old be in?
Your child’s age, weight and height will determine what type car seat or booster seat they should be in. Always refer to the information referenced in the manufactures guild of your safety seat or transport Canada’s website on installing a child car seat or booster seat.