For most parents, the idea of traveling with kids elicits some stress. The crying, the constant bathroom breaks and the painful cries of “Are we there yet?” are enough to put anyone on edge. Whether you’re planning your first family vacation with a baby on board, or are just skeptical of whether that outdated car seat is still keeping your 6-year-old safe, you should know what to look for before making a purchase.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, babies must sit in a rear-facing car seat until age 2 to 4 and a forward-facing seat until at least age 5. After they outgrow these seats, you can put your child in a booster. If you’re shopping for an infant, a convertible car seat is the most cost-effective option (you can use it in both the rear-facing and forward-facing stage).
It may seem obvious, but before purchasing a car seat, make sure the seat will actually fit in your car. You should always shop for a car seat in person so you can ask the retailer to test it out in your vehicle before making the purchase.
Whether you’re buying a convertible car seat for an infant or a booster seat for a 6-year-old, you must always read the label and pay attention to those safety tips. This label will include height and weight restrictions, as well as installation instructions.
Some parents acquire a seat that’s already been used. It’s best to buy a brand-new seat, since you can be sure the newest models are up to current safety standards. But if you insist on buying a secondhand seat, which is typically advised against, be sure to consult the NHTSA’s Used Car Seat Safety Checklist. If the old seat doesn’t meet these standards, understand that you’re taking a risk.
If you’re in a time crunch, consult NHTSA’s car seat search engine before heading to the store, which helps you find the best product based on your child’s age, height and weight. Each car seat has its own NHTSA rating based on ease of use and the clarity of the product’s instructions and labels. While all new car seats meet the same federal safety standards when used properly, as many as half of car seats are incorrectly installed, so clear instructions are actually an extremely important safety feature.
Remember that a more expensive car seat isn’t always safer. When shopping around for the best car seat, you should look for a five-point harness, side cushioning for impact protection and straps that will adjust as your baby grows.
When it comes to buying a car seat, most parents want to do everything within their power to protect their children, even if that means spending a little extra money. If funds are tight, there are other ways you can cut spending. If you want to become more responsible with your money, try reading up on the secrets every financial planner wants you to know.