Saturday, June 19, 2010

Convertible Car Seats?

I got an email this morning from an online baby supplies store saying that my 5 month old was ready to "graduate from an infant car seat to a convertible one".  After I recovered from the initial indignation of some commercial interest prematurely aging my baby (he's not going to be 5 months until the 30th!), I said to myself, "Here I was thinking that his car seat was good for another 10 it really time to be shopping for a convertible car seat?"

So I did a little research, and this is what I've found.

What is the weight limit on infant car seats?

I double checked mine, and it said 22 pounds.  My son is 18.5 pounds , so good thing I looked.  When I was car seat shopping during my pregnancy, I saw infant car seats that went up to 35 pounds and I was considering starting with a convertible car seat so that I wouldn't have to get another for while.  I would have gotten one of those, but ended up receiving this one as a gift.  It's been a great car seat!  If my son wasn't such a little fatty, he'd definitely get a lot of use out of it.

What is a convertible car seat anyway?

A convertible car seat can be positioned in the vehicle to be rear-facing for infants and forward-facing for toddlers.  They should still have a 5 point harness for safety.  They are also secured the same way as infant car seats.

Are the weight limits different for convertible and infant car seats?

Like infant car seats, the weight limits vary for different models of convertible car seats.  The weight limit is also different for when the car seat is facing the front or back.  According to baby products guide Heather Corley, the limit is about 30 pounds rear facing and 40 pounds front facing.  Some new models go up to 65 pounds.  I've even seen a few convertible/3-1 car seat options go as high as 100 pounds.  But something to remember is that the higher the weight limit, the bigger the car seat.  Make sure your vehicle can handle it before making the purchase.

How long should baby use a rear-facing car seat model?

Child passenger safety experts recommend at least 1 year and a weight of at least 20 pounds before switching to a forward-facing model.  It's best to keep your child rear-facing for as long as the weight limit allows on your car seat model.  The new recommendation is to keep your child rear-facing until 2 years old if at all possible.

Thinking ahead:  How long should I use a car seat for my child?

The current recommendation is that children should be restrained in a car seat or booster seat until they are at least 4 years old or 40 pounds.  The longer the better.  Because of how fragile small children's bone structures are, staying rear-facing as long as possible is safest as it greatly reduces the inertial impact of a collision.  Seat belts in vehicles are designed for adults (3 point rather than 5 point restraints) and can cause serious injury in an accident including but not limited to spinal cord injury, intestinal stricture, and bone fractures.  Even in an appropriate child safety seat, serious injury can occur during accidents if the harness is not appropriately fitted to the child.

The Verdict

Yes!  It's time to start shopping for a new car seat.  My son is 3.5 pounds away from the maximum weight limit and will very likely outgrow his current model by the time he's 6 months old.  For those who can, I am definitely in favor of starting with a convertible car seat for newborns so that you get longest use out of it.  Going through all the transitions as your baby grows can mean buying as many as 3-4 child safety seats.  If you can buy one that does more, you'll be saving money in the long run and decreasing your consumer waste.

My Car Seat Picks

Most economical:  Cosco Scenera ($39-60 new)

Weight limits: 5-35 pounds rear-facing, 22-40 pounds front-facing.  Features a removable cup holder and 4 harness locations for maximum adjustability as your child grows.  It comes in a variety of color options.  Available at most retailers.  Online prices vary by color.  Lowest price found was $39.99 in Meridian pattern (charcoal grey) at Baby Depot.

Best Value:  Evenflo Titan Sport ($67.54 and up)

Weight limits: 5-35 pounds rear-facing, 20-50 pounds front facing.  Features include removable cup holder and storage compartment, 2-position recline, and multiple harness slots to accommodate growth.  This model is affordable, compact, and easy to install with the LATCH system.  Lowest price $67.54 in Stonehill color option at  A Titan Elite model is also available with more features.  The Evenflo Triumph line also offers some good choices.

Most versatile:  Recaro brand convertible carseats

Weight limits: 5-35 pounds rear-facing, 20-70 pounds forward facing.  May be used for children up to 8 years old.  Features include side impact protection, ergonomic shape, infinite adjustable headrest, double wall head support, and ventilation system to keep baby cool, approved for airplane use.  Some features vary by model, so check the specific model an accurate list.  I was impressed by their long history as an automotive seat designer for over 100 years and manufacturers of the first child safety seat.  Recaros are on the pricey side, running between $200-300 brand new, but no one else comes close in safety and comfort features, and they have the highest maximum weight limits, which means you'll be able to keep your child in a car seat style safety restraint (the safest) for as long as possible.  They come in a variety of colors and styles. has many Recaro closeouts available for up to 50% off.

If you're looking for a booster seat, Recaro makes a great, affordable model.  For $90, you can get a booster seat for children up to 100 pounds complete with side impact protection unlike other booster seat models.

Best All-Around:  The First Years True Fit Convertible Car Seat C630 ($147 and up)

Weight limits:  5-35 pounds rear-facing, 20-65 pounds forward-facing.  The C630 model was given 4 out of 5 stars by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Aministration (NHTSA) for ease of use in both forward- and rear-facing positions.  The C670 rated a full 5 stars in both forward- and rear-facing..  They were the only ones to be rated this highly in both the rear-facing and forward-facing categories.  Features include no-rethread harnesses for easy height adjustment, removable headrest, side impact tested, built in lock offs, low center of gravity allows deeper, wider, and taller seating area with increasing the outer dimensions, and multi-position buckle.  One draw back is that this a very wide seat.  It may not be a great option if you have a smaller vehicle.

Note:  All car seats sold in the USA are considered safe as they meet a minimum safety requirement required by law.  The ease of use, however, increases overall safety as the easier a product is to use and install properly, the less room for user error which may lead to death or injury in the event of an accident.  Others rated 4 and above were the Recaro Signo (FF), Graco My Ride 65 (RF), Safety 1st Complete Air (FF).

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