The Guide to Carseats: Part One

Well, baby J is probably soon going to outgrow his Graco Snugride 22.

It has served me well – two years and two babies. It was the perfect choice for us- relatively light (so picking it up wasn’t such a ridiculous chore), very cheap (although the Amazon link has it for $111, I picked up that exact seat for $65 at WalMart), and rated high for safety on Consumer Reports.

That’s not to say it didn’t have cons. The model I had, for example, made adjusting the straps a total bear. (They have fixed this with the new version of the seat, which is called the Graco Snugride Classic Connect). The LATCH connectors are not nearly as good as the much loved Chicco Keyfit. But for the cheap mama that I am – perfect.

Alas, it is time to buy him a convertible. I’m choosing between three models: a Britax, a Graco, and a Chicco.

LATCH? Convertible?? Chicco? Head spinning? Let’s start at the beginning.

Part One of our carseat guide is going to start with carseats for infants. Part Two will likely be a controversies post on the actual results of research on rear-facing.

There are two types of infant carseats – a bucket seat and a convertible seat

What is a bucket? What is a convertible? Which one should you choose?

A bucket seat (otherwise known as an infant seat) is like the classic baby carriers of the olden days. (Note: now, when people talk about baby carriers, they mean devices you use to strap the baby to you/wear your baby.)

Old school infant carrier (not for use as a carseat!)

Bucket Carseat

Features of a Bucket

– will fit a baby from newborn to late infancy/early toddlerhood (depending on brand and your child’s size)

– rearfacing only

– has a ‘base’ that stays in the car. You can then detach the carseat from the base with one hand and transport the carseat. You can connect this into another car that also has a base, or click it into a compatible stroller.

– you can also strap the carseat in the car using your seatbelt, in case you don’t happen to have a base.

car seat base

Pro:

Portable!

Con:

Your baby will outgrow it and then you will need to buy a convertible carseat anyway*

*Technically, you may be able to get away with not buying a convertible carseat after your baby outgrows the infant seat. But I don’t recommend that step. To understand this statement, let’s go over convertible seats.

Features of a convertible seat:

Fits children from newborn – early childhood (depending on features of particular seat and size of your child)

Is not portable

Some new kinds also have a base system, where the carseat locks into a base that stays in the car (but you still can’t really transport a sleeping child around in the carseat, which is a benefit of the bucket. And it won’t lock into a stroller).

Is rearfacing AND forward facing. (hence: convertible.)

Pro:

Save money – skip the bucket seat.  (with some kinds, you can technically use the same seat throughout childhood).

Con:

Not portable

So, what do I recommend?

Depends? I guess with most people, I’d recommend getting the bucket. I know people who went straight to the convertible seat. They baby-wore their child when out of the car or placed him or her straight into a stroller made for newborns. For the parents who didn’t regret that decision one bit, I still noticed the child would be awakened when taken out of the carseat and wouldn’t fall back asleep, even if placed in a sling or wrap. No biggie to those parents. Would have frustrated the heck out of me. For my friends that did regret it, their main issue was restaurants. If you wear your baby, where the heck do you put him or her in a restaurant? (assuming you are dealing with a squishy newborn). Some parents have no trouble eating while wearing their baby (and their baby stays happy and content, even if awakened, because he or she is being worn) Other parents choose to use a stroller in those cases. But for those reasons, if you are ambivalent, I recommend going ahead and getting the bucket.

A couple of cons to the bucket. The bucket gets HEAVY after a while. Now, I don’t get why that’s such a big deal, because I’ve always always used a stroller frame  (we’ll discuss this later) that the bucket sits in to move the baby. I don’t just lug the bucket around myself. But oh well.

Second con: Too much time spent in the bucket, a common criticism made by babywearers. Valid. If your child is awake, go ahead and take him or her out of the carseat and carry him around for a bit.

Recommended bucket seats:

I’m not going to do personal recommendations, and instead draw from the giants of baby registry-ness: Lucie’s List, Consumer Reports, Baby Bargains, and specialized car seat sites.

Let’s start with the behemoth: The BabyCenter Carseat board. Like the Teach Your Baby To Sleep Board, these ladies have basically put together everything you need to know and I’m just reaping the benefits from all their research. I just want to make that clear. I am no car seat expert, but they are.

Here is the BBC Google Document (constantly updated) with their recommended bucket carseats. (Please click on the document for exhaustive details on each seat)

Top Seats:

Britax B-Safe or Bob B-Safe (4-30lbs)
Britax Chaperone (4-30lbs)

Chicco Keyfit/KeyFit 30 (4-22/30lb)

Combi Shuttle/Shuttle 33 (birth-33/35lbs)

Cybex Aton (4-32lbs)
Evenflo Embrace 35 (4-35lbs)
Graco SnugRide 30 (4-30lbs)

Graco SnugRide 35 (4 or 5-35lbs) (newest versions of the start at 4lbs)

Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 (4-40lbs)

Learning Curve/First Years/Lamaze/JJ Cole Via I470 (5-35lbs)

Maxi-Cosi Prezi (4-30lbs)

Safety 1st OnBoard35/OnBoard35 Air/Eddie Bauer Sure Fit (4-35lbs) (some older versions started at 5lbs

or maxed out at 22lbs)

Summer Infant Prodigy (4-32lbs)

Check out the rest of the document for recommended bucket seats for those on a budget, for preemies, for small spaces, etc.

Also note they were not able to review the Graco ClassicConnect 30 because of how new it was at the time of the document, but other sites consider it a good carseat.

A few things of note that you’ll see mentioned in this document:

Height and Weight limits:

You’ll note that different brands have different height and weight limits. Of course, the more generous the height/weight limits, the longer you can keep your child in the bucket seat. However, with a few exceptions you will likely be putting your child in a convertible seat anyway, so the overall length of time your child is in the bucket doesn’t completely matter because at some point, he or she will be too heavy to pull the bucket out of the car easily.

There are exceptions to what I said above. Some bucket carseats go up to 40 pounds. The max rearfacing limit I’ve seen on convertible carseats is about 40 pounds, so you could then conceivably  just go straight from the bucket to a forward-facing carseat, instead of finding a convertible that does both rear-and forward facing.

In addition, your carseat philosophy matters. If you just follow the letter of the law (your child, in most states, must be 1 year old AND 20 pounds to be turned forward facing), then you can go straight from the bucket seat to a convertible seat.  If, like most children, your kid hits 20-22 pounds before he or she turns 1 year, you’ll want a bucket seat that accommodates a larger child. So, your 30 pound 1 year old can stay in the bucket seat and then get moved into a forward facing seat at a year old, thus saving the need for a convertible.

In my case, my kid didn’t hit 20 pounds until she was about 20 months old, so she definitely was still in a 22-pound weight limited bucket seat on her first birthday.

Three things to note, though, if you plan on going straight from a bucket seat to a forward facing seat:

1. Height: Even if you get a high-weight-limited seat, your child may STILL outgrow by height! (We’ll talk about height limits in a bit)

2. Annoyed child: Many children begin haaaating their bucket seats at a certain point, especially if the seat reclines too much. You may end up switching to a convertible when your child is 6 months old

3. Safety: If you plan on turning your child forward-facing as soon as possible (1 year old), keep in mind that current AAP recommendations suggest your child is rearfacing until at least 2 years old. The NHSC recommends your child is rearfacing until at least 3 years old. You’re the parent – honestly, I really don’t care – but don’t make a decision on this and then realize you’d rather have your kid be rearfacing as long as possible. (As for me, L and J will be rearfacing as long as there’s no reason to change the status quo. I may change my mind if a tantrum ever happens over it, but if they know no different, then most likely they won’t care. And L is so tiny I really would prefer to keep her rearfacing until she’s at least 3 years old).

cafepress_carseat safety

Yes I need to crop this.

And, of course, as I mentioned above, there will be a controversies post on rearfacing sometime soon.

Lucie’s List says it more clearly:

“You don’t need a 35 or 40lb infant seat. I swear.

Case in point… Lucie is 3 years old and weighs 32.5 lbs. Most people upgrade to a convertible car seat around 12 months of age anyway, so 90% of you will be just fine with a 22lb seat… and 100% of you will be just fine with a 30lb seat. 35 and 40lb infant seats are ludicrous. There’s NO WAY a 2 or 3 year old is going to sit in an infant bucket. Also remember car seats (of all types) are outgrown height-wise BEFORE your kiddo reaches the max weight. Promise.”

Let’s talk about height next. As the proprietor of Lucie’s List mentions above, often your child may outgrow the infant seat by height first as opposed to weight. Height is something we often forget to check when looking at car seat specs.

That being said, despite the ranges listed on bucket car seats’ height limits, unlike weight, these are just suggestions. The true way to see if your child has outgrown his or her car seat is by putting your child in the seat and then making sure his head is at least 1″ from the top of the shell. In the case of my daughter, who has longer legs with a shorter torso, she technically outgrew the seat by the manufacturer ranges but she was still about 3″ from the top of the shell so she could still be in it.

Handle Position:

Another thing you may notice in the Google Document is discussion on handle position. Different carseats have different safety rules regarding the handle on the bucket seat. For example, my Graco Snugride is safe in the car with the handle completely down or completely up. But, the manual indicates it is not safe to ride with the handle in the two in-between upright positions.

LATCH: Stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. This is a system installed in all newer cars allowing for an easy way to clip in a carseat.

For more acronym busters, check out the CPST Encyclopedia

Other review sites:
Here are other seats as recommended by review sites:

Consumer Reports:

22 lb capacity seats:

Keep in mind that any review site may have bias and errors.

Baby Bargains

From the 2011 edition:

Good: None. “Let’s be honest, if you’re on a super tight budget consider not buying an infant seat at all. A good 5 point convertible car seat will work for both infants and children.”

Better: Chicco Keyfit 30

Best: Graco Snugride 35 (but they mention the snugride 30 or 32 would work as well.)

Dark Horses: Britax Chaperone, First Years Via

Carseatblog:

This site has full reviews, as well as a separate list for preemies and multiples.

Britax B-Safe

Chicco KeyFit 30

Dorel onBoard 35 Air

Graco SnugRide 35

Car-seat.org:

The reviewer on Car-Seat.org makes a great point regarding carseats and which one is best for you.

Experts know that the “best” seat is the one that fits your child, fits your vehicle, fits your budget, and will be used properly every single trip. This means there’s no single best seat for every situation, and it also means that *your* best seat might not be on this list. That’s OK! The list below contains seats which are generally found to be easy to use and to fit a fair variety of children and vehicles well. There are inexpensive and pricey seats on the list. While all seats have to meet the same basic safety standards, some seats may have features which make them more comfortable or easier to use. Speaking of safety, it’s not unusual to hear a parent say they purchased this seat or that one because “it was the safest.” While some seats may have features which could improve their performance in a crash, there aren’t any reliable, comprehensive crash test comparisons for US and Canadian seats. This means that there’s no way to tell if one seat is actually safer than another in the real world. Fortunately, a properly used seat provides excellent protection in most crashes. I hope the below list aids you in your search, and if you have any questions, please ask them on our forums! Infant Seats (rear facing with a carrying handle)

  • Cybex Aton ($$$$): 4 lb – 32 lb. Super easy to install with LATCh, small to fit in even snug back seats.
  • Chicco Keyfit 30 ($$$): 4 lb – 30 lb. Easy to install with LATCh or seatbelt, compatible with a number of Chicco strollers.
  • Graco Snugride 30 ($$): 4 lb – 30 lb. There are a variety of SnugRide models with different weight limits.

Other safe bets: Britax B-Safe ($$$), Britax Chaperone ($$$$), Combi Shuttle 35 ($$$), Evenflo Embrace 35 ($), Graco SnugRide 35 ($$$), Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 ($$$$), Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite Plus ($), Safety 1st Onboard 35 ($$), Safety 1st OnBoard Air ($$$)

Stroller/carseat combos

So, one of the benefits of a bucket carseat is the ability to click it into a stroller and go! (So no , you do not have to just cart around a heavy baby and heavy carseat).

Lucie’s List combines her carseat recommendations with stroller compatibility.

Best in Class

…..there are 3 (and one prospective) infant seats that are consistently awarded high marks from moms and experts alike. Depending on your budget, here are the four that I recommend:

$ — Graco SnugRide
$$ — Chicco KeyFit OR Britax B-Safe
$$$ — Britax Chaperone
$$$$ — UPPABaby Mesa [not until June of 2013]

**It will help you IMMENSELY to select an infant seat that’s compatible with your stroller of choice. It will save you $50+ on a special “car seat adapter” alone. See notes on each car seat…

1. Graco SnugRide ClassicConnect 30, $99, 7.5 lbs

……..
** Stroller compatibility: the Snug Ride car seat goes nicely with their basic stroller frame, the Snug Rider Elite. At 15.5lbs and $75, the Graco Literider is also a option — it can be used with or without the carseat. I don’t recommend any other Graco “travel system” strollers because they are too heavy and bulky. 

2a. Chicco KeyFit 30, $175

“……

** Stroller compatibility: For your lightweight stroller base (for car seat only), go with the KeyFit Caddy. BUT WAIT! The Chicco Liteway Plus is a better option, it offers a lightweight base for your car seat, then later becomes a regular umbrella stroller. Killing 2 birds with 1 stone, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

2b. Britax B-Safe, $175

………** Stroller compatibility: The true beauty of the B-Safe is his compatibility with Britax and BOB strollers (Britax bought BOB last year). For a lightweight umbrella stroller that can be used with or without the car seat, check out the B-Nimble (similar to the Chicco Liteway Plus). The B-Safe + B-Agile stroller is an awesome combination. You can also use him with the ever-popular B-Ready stroller, which upgrades to a double (read more below in Strollers) when you have another kiddo. He also goes with any of the BOB jogging strollers (with an adapter). Essentially, you have better stroller options with the B-Safe than the KeyFit. Yes, it’s true.

3. Britax Chaperone, Retails for $235 (on Amazon for $184), 10lbs

…….** Stroller compatibility: Again, this Britax seat plays nicely with Britax and BOB strollers. For a lightweight umbrella stroller that can be used with or without the car seat, check out the B-Nimble (similar to the Chicco Liteway Plus). This guy + the B-Agile stroller is an awesome combination (see below). You can also use him with the ever-popular B-Ready stroller, which upgrades to a double stroller (read more below in Strollers). He also goes with any of the BOB jogging strollers with an adapter.

4. UPPABaby Mesa, $279, 10.5 lbs

UPPABaby is a luxury brand that’s actually worth the money, in my opinion; …….

** Stroller compatibility: Let’s face it, if you’re in the market for an upscale car seat [ahem], you’re probably also looking for an upscale stroller as well. Your stroller options for the Mesa do not disappoint: he fits directly into the UPPABaby Cruz or Vista (see below), both of which I recommend. Your problem is going to be finding a simple, lightweight stroller base for this guy. I know of none (so far)…

There are basically two options in terms of stroller compatibility. You can click your carseat into a stroller that is designed to accommodate a stroller on top (with or without an adaptor), or you can use a lightweight stroller frame whose only job is to give your stroller wheels.

There are three basic lightweight stroller frames – the Graco Snugrider Elite, the Chicco Keyfit Caddy, and the Babytrend Snap n Go.  As their names imply, these frames will work with their brand carseat – however, many of these brands will also accommodate other carseats. You will need to check the reviews.

We have a Graco Snugrider (not the Elite, which is a newer, better model) and it is by far my favorite baby purchase. (Especially because I got it for $10 at a yard sale).

Graco Snugrider and the Graco Snugride22 combo. Oh,and a Bebe Au Lait nursing cover :-)

Graco Snugrider and the Graco Snugride22 combo. Oh,and a Bebe Au Lait nursing cover 🙂

In addition, as Lucie’s List recommend above, if you get the Chicco Keyfit carseat, you should probably get the Chicco Liteway Plus to go with it.  I have the original Chicco LIteway umbrella stroller (not the kind that accommodates a carseat – that didn’t exist yet) and I love it because it is both sturdy and light and can accommodate a newborn by lying flat. The addition of compatibility with a carseat is amazing!  If all this existed when I had my first baby, I probably would have splurged for the Chicco Keyfit carseat, gotten the Liteway plus, then upgraded to the Chicco NextFit convertible carseat (which will be available on April 30 2013). Alas, not only did all this not exist, but I went extremely cheap with my first baby (preferring the cheaper, less luxury Graco brand) not realizing I’d have back to back babies.

Shopping carts

Two things here. First, most carseats are not designed to fit into the shopping cart, despite what you see at the grocery store. Check your manual – this can hurt the LATCH system on your carseat. That being said, I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that at least one carseat brand has shopping cart instructions in its manual. If that’s the case, then sure, go for it. But check your manual. Most major brands explicitly say not to.

Second, if you decide to go against the manual and put your carseat in the shopping cart anyway, then check Amazon reviews to see if your carseat clicks in easily. I know Amazon reviewers suggested  my old-style Graco Snugride 22 does not work very well in shopping carts.

Recommended Convertible Carseats

Before I get into recommended convertible seats, remember that all these seats have way different features. Some of them can be used from birth to grade school, (and will go from rear-facing, to foward-facing, to high-backed booster), ostensibly meaning that “this will be the only seat you will ever need”.

But but but, remember that there may be height restrictions, and your child may again outgrow the seat via height first. So don’t immediately assume an all-in-one seat is best!

As usual, Lucie’s List explains this very well, as well as explains why 1.) rearfacing is considered the best for as long as possible (a future controversies post for me!) and 2.) why harnessed seats for older children is considered better than just a booster seat.

These are her recommended seats:

——- Summary ———–

$ ~ Safety 1st OnSide Air Protect ($80)read more

$$ ~ Britax Roundabout ($140)read more

$$ ~ Evenflo Symphony 65 e3 ($175)read more

$$$ ~ True Fit Premier by First Years ($200)read more

$$$$ ~ Britax Boulevard ($225) read more

*** Chicco NextFit to be added to this list — reviewing pending…($280)
—- Seats for Special Situations —-

Small car ~ Combi Cocorro ($160-$240) [more]

3-across ~ Diono Radian ($240ish)  [more]

For Newborns ~ Maxi Cosi Pria 70, True Fit Premier, Evenflo Triumph Advance, Cosco Scenera [more]

For Flying ~ Cosco Scenera, Evenflo Tribute, Safety 1st OnSide Air (all < $100)  [more]

You’re Loaded!~ Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP 5-70 ($330)  [more]

Carseatblog’s list:  (again, click on the link for full reviews and specs)

Britax Boulevard 70-G3 & Advocate 70-G3 

Britax Roundabout 55

Combi Coccoro

Cosco Scenera & Scenera 40 RF

Diono Radian RXT

Evenflo Symphony 65 E3 (aka Evenflo Symphony DLX)

Evenflo Triumph Advance 65

 True Fit Premier c670 & True Fit SI (Side Impact) c680 by Learning Curve

Graco Size4Me 70 & My Size 70 (BRU exclusive – same product; different name)

Orbit Toddler G2

Safety 1st Complete Air 65 LX

Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 with TinyFit

Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP 5-70

Car-Seat.org’s list:

  • Britax Boulevard 70-G3 ($$$$): 5 – 40 lb rear facing; up to 70 lb forward facing harnessed. Easy to install.

  • Diono Radian RXT ($$$$$) or Diono Radian R120 ($$$$): 5 lb – 45 lb rear facing; up to 80 lb forward facing harnessed; Booster to 120 lb. 3-in-1 seat can be used rear or forward facing or as a booster, quite narrow, folds for storage or travel through an airport.

  • Dorel (Safety 1st) Guide 65 ($): 5 lb – 40 lb rear facing; up to 65 lb forward facing harnessed. Simple seat for a tight budget.

  • Graco My Ride 65 ($$): 4 lb – 40 lb rear facing; up to 65 lb forward facing harnessed. Fairly wide, but comfortable.

  • The First Years True Fit ($$$): 5 – 35 lb rear facing; up to 65 lb forward facing harnessed. Removable headrest allows it to fit in smaller backseats, even when reclined for a newborn.

Other safe bets: Britax Advocate 70-G3 ($$$$$), Britax Marathon Classic ($$$), Britax Roundabout 50 Classic ($$), Britax Roundabout 55 ($$$), Dorel (Cosco) Apt 40 ($), Dorel (Cosco) Scenera ($), Dorel (Maxi-Cosi) Pria ($$$$), Dorel (Safety 1st) Complete Air 65 ($$$), Dorel (Safety 1st) OnSide Air ($), Evenflo Tribute ($), Evenflo Triumph ($$), Graco My Ride 70 ($$), Graco Size4Me ($$$), Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP 5-70 Convertible ($$$$$)

Consumer Reports:

BabyCenter:  (note: the BBC ladies haven’t been able to review the Chicco NextFit yet, but they are oh so excited about it)

Britax Roundabout 50 Classic, Marathon Classic
Britax Roundabout 55, Highway 65, Marathon 70, Boulevard 70, Pavilion 70, Advocate 70
Clek Foonf
Diono Radian R100, R120, and RXT (formerly Sunshine Kids Radian 65SL/80SL/XTSL)
Eddie Bauer Comfort
Evenflo Momentum
Evenflo SureRide/Titan
Evenflo Triumph
First Years (Learning Curve) TrueFit/TrueFit Premier
Graco MyRide 65/MyRide 70
Graco MySize 70/Size4Me 70
Maxi-Cosi Pria 70
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP Convertible
Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65
Safety 1st Complete Air65
Safety 1st Guide 65/EasyFit/Eddie Bauer XRS 65

BabyBargains:

Good: The Cosco Scenera or the Evenflo Titan Elite.

Better: The Sunshine Kids Radian 65 or the First Years True Fit.

Best: The Britax Marathon 70.

If Money is No Object: The Britax Boulevard 70 CS or the Recaro ProRIDE.

Another overview of convertibles (including helpful links)

What we have:

We have the Graco MyRide 65 for L. It works fine, and we like the cupholders. I hate hate hate the belt clasps, though.

It technically works for kids 5-40 pounds rearfacing then up to 65 pounds forward facing. However, when we tried to put Baby J in the seat on the way home from the hospital, we were not comfortable with how it worked (with the infant insert). Of course, we really couldn’t figure out how to get it right, so it was probably user error. I did read reviews that the MyRide isn’t as great for smaller babies (both L and J were 6lbs 9oz at birth). However, Lactation Chic used the MyRide from birth, and her daughter was also 6lb 9oz, so there you have it.

For Baby J’s convertible carseat, I am looking at three  – another MyRide 65, the Britax Roundabout 55 (apparently a nicer carseat, although I’d have to pay $12 to get an attached cupholder- believe me, when you have toddlers, it matters), and the upcoming Chicco NextFit, which has many many carseat dorks in a tizzy. The Roundabout and the MyRide are in the same price range; the NextFit is about $100 more expensive.
What if you need an extra convertible seat for Grandma’s car?

If you are using a bucket seat, just purchase an extra base.

For convertibles, most of the websites above have great recommendations for budget convertible carseats. The Cosco Scenera is one that comes up time and time again.

As for our Grandma, I may instead suggest to her that she get the upcoming Chicco NextFit, because of how easy it is to remove it from her car. It’s much more expensive than a typical “extra” carseat (it’s the carseat I want for Baby J), but in our family, ease of removal and re-installation is more important.

Preemies:

Most of the websites I list above have information on what carseats are best for preemies (ex: some need a carbed as opposed to a carseat). Keep in mind that although most convertible seats say that they can be used from babies 5lbs and above, that those seats are still a bit difficult for use with a preemie or a small baby. However, even some bucket carseats are not great with small babies.

More information:

For a great resource on carseat safety, plus more specs on various carseats, check out car-safety.org.