Car Seats: Buying Checklist and Common Mistakes

So, you’re in the market for a car seat and you just realized how ridiculously overwhelming it is. With so many brands, styles, patterns, features and reviews, it all seems to run together. In order to cut the chaos and pick the seat that’s best for you, base it off your budget, your car and your child.

buying car seat

Budget: First thing’s first: Look at what you can afford and knock out anything that exceeds that budget. You’re going to have a lot more expenses just around the corner, so be smart with this purchase. Most infant car seats will be used for the first nine to 12 months, and forward-facing seats will last you into the second and third years. Laws differ by state, but most states require the child to be in a backward-facing seat until 12 months of age or 20 pounds. So, you will likely end up buying an infant seat and then a toddler or convertible seat later.

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Size: If you’re producing long-legged kids with long torsos to match, you’re going to need a seat that can accommodate that. Perhaps you have a compact car or you need to fit more than one car seat into your vehicle, you’ll want to pick up one that’s narrow and less bulky. This would mean looking at features like cup holders and armrests as well as thickness of the upholstery. Click here for real mom advice on taking road trips with the kids.

Function. Car seats are meant to do one thing: safely and comfortably contain your child in a vehicle. Car seats must have a five-point harness with a two-piece chest clip that lines up with the armpits when clicked together. There’s a newer design called the LATCH system, which includes a built-in latch beneath the seat crease of the car and often times behind the head rest. Car seats that can clip onto these latches provide more stability. You might also want to check for head impact protection — when the same foam used inside helmets is applied to the seat by the head. (via Car Seat Safety)


Car seats expire. Yes, they actually expire. The manufacturer can only guarantee the parts and safety of the seat for so long. Usually the timeline is between six and 10 years.

Buying used? You saved money, but it might cost your child his life. Not to be dramatic, but most used car seats don’t come with a manual showing proper installation, and you have no idea if the seat was involved in a crash. Most brands recommend a seat be replaced after even minor accidents. Also, the plastic can become warped and banged up, making it less likely for all attached parts to operate perfectly. Be very, very selective here.

car seat

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Not understanding installation. Car seats need to recline at a 45-degree angle and attached at least by a seat belt. If you pick up a car seat that cannot fit in your vehicle at the appropriate angle, it could cause your child to slump forward. Infants, especially, need that head and neck support. Placing the car seat in the middle of the back row, staggering the driver and passenger seats, in the safest place.


Forgetting to register the car seat. There’s a little slip of paper that comes with each new car seat. Filling it out and sending it in will put you into a big database from which the brand can pull your contact information in case of a recall. If a part becomes defective, damaged or lost (like an extra strap or clip), you can call the company and request a replacement. This is also key to total replacements when involved in an accident. Your insurance company might just cover the cost – so get your ducks in a row now. Click here for a list of other items you didn't know your insurance company could cover!

If you put a little thought behind this purchase, it’s pretty difficult to mess up! The key to having the safest car seat is what you do with it following the purchase. Most local fire departments will install the seat for you, and many hospitals will check the installation free of charge. Three out of four car seats are not installed or used appropriately, so don’t be afraid to ask questions because you’re certainly not alone.