Car Seat Buying Guide

In this article, we will review the key factors in purchasing the right car seat for your child:
  1. Safety Considerations
  2. The Industry Leader
  3. Car Seat Types
  4. Car Seat Features

If you already know which type of car seat you should buy, you can jump down to our Quick Picks under section 4 - Car Seat Features or use our Britax Car Seat Comparison Chart to compare car seats.

Your child's car seat is one of the most important purchases you will make. It is not a purchase to short change on research or cost. Buy the best brand and buy the best car seat for the size of your child and your vehicle. You should buy 3 different car seat styles as your child grows from new born to youth.

  1. Why Safety Matters

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 1 through 14.

    The good news is that diligence has resulted in a higher rate of infants and toddlers in rear seats and in restraints and consequently lower death rates due to car accidents. There is still a long way to go with children 4 to 7. CHOP research conducted in 2002 concluded that only 16% of 4 to 7 year olds were using a car seat or booster. They also concluded that the usage of belt positioning booster seats lowers the risk of injury to children in crashes by 59%. Since that time, the industry is recommending keeping children in a 5-point harness car seat rather than a belt positioning booster for as long as possible up to 80 lbs and 53 inches. Sadly, sales of larger 5-point harness youth car seats jump when news hits that a child was killed or seriously injured in an accident due to an ejection from a regular car seat belt with or without a booster.

    Quick Guidelines:

    1. Keep your child in a rear facing car seat as long as possible according to car seat manufacturer guidelines - this is the safest position.
    2. Keep your child in a 5-point harness as long as possible according to car seat manufacturer guidelines - this is the safest harness.

    Please follow the guidelines of your car seat manufacturer and the laws of your state.

  2. The Car Seat Leader

    We always like to start with identifying the leader in a product category. That brand will lead the industry in research & development, innovation, quality and reliability. In this case, we want the best and safest car seats.

    The leader in this category is Britax. Britax is a global company with 30 years of world-wide use, testing and focus on child safety and innovation. It is the most recommended brand by professionals and consumers. Britax car seats have more engineers and child safety experts working on them than any other car seat in the world. Britax safety testing exceeds U.S. standards and is so advanced, it can also certify airline seats. A Britax car seat is the only child car seat that is safety tested around the world using a real crash. And, Britax owns over 50 safety patents.

  3. Car Seat Types

    There are 5 car seat types. These are general descriptions. Please review the specifications of the particular car seats you are considering.

    1. The first car seat, an Infant Carrier Car Seat (infants 4-22 lbs up to 30") - An infant carrier car seat is a rear facing 5-point harness seat. The seat locks into a base while in the car. You can remove it from the base and carry it with its u shaped handle and lock it into a compatible stroller. This car seat is the most convenient for an infant since the infant can remain in the seat as you go from place to place. Also, newborns usually fit better in an infant car seat than they do in a convertible car seat.

    2. The second car seat, a Convertible Car Seat (infants, toddlers 5-65 lbs up to 49") - A convertible car seat gets its name because it can convert from rear facing to forward facing as your child grows. Generally, a convertible is rear facing from 5-33 lbs and forward facing 20-65 lbs (and over 1 year old). This is a 5-point harness seat.

    3. The third car seat, a Youth Car Seat - There are 3 types of youth car seats: a Forward Facing Youth Car Seat, a Combination Booster Car Seat, and a Belt Positioning Booster.

      1. Forward Facing Youth Car Seat (children 22-80 lbs up to 53") - This is a 5-point harness car seat for larger children. This is a large car seat and may not fit in compact cars. It is recommended over a booster seat for as long as a child can fit in a 5-point car seat.

      2. Combination Booster Car Seat (children 2 yrs+ & 25-100 lbs, 30"-60") - This is a new car seat style that combines a Forward Facing Youth Car Seat with a 5-point harness for children up to 80 lbs and 53" and a Belt Positioning Booster up to 60" and 100 lbs.

      3. Belt Positioning Booster (children 30-100 lbs up to 60") - This seat boosts the child up so that the car's seat belt can be used. Originally designed for the 30 to 100 lb range and up to 60 inches, the booster seat is being replaced by the 5-point youth car seat for children up to 80 lbs and 53" as the industry is recommending a 5-point harness for as long as possible. Although specifications allow for children as small as 38" and 30 lbs, it is not recommended. In fact, Britax is discontinuing its popular Monarch belt positioning booster seat in favor of its new Frontier, a Combination Booster Car Seat.

  4. Car Seat Features

    We will focus on the key features that you might consider in selecting within a car seat type group. Since we have selected Britax as the industry leader and the brand we will recommend, we will only compare the features they offer. You can compare these features against other brands if you wish.

    1. Infant Carrier Car Seat - Britax offers one infant carrier, the Britax Companion Car Seat. It features:

      1. True Side Impact Protection - Side impacts are the second deadliest type of crash to children in child restraints. The reinforced headrest is lined with EPS foam to absorb energy in side and rear impacts. Its design cradles the head to keep it away from protruding parts and minimize and cushion violent side to side movements.

      2. Tangle-Free Polyester 5-Point Harness with 3 harness heights - The 5-point polyester harness, with strong no-tangle polyester webbing, fits snugly over the child's shoulders, collarbone and hips providing a more secure fit as your child grows.

      3. Anti-Rebound Bar - The Britax patented anti-rebound bar reduces the forward rotation of the infant seat into the vehicle seat during impact and stabilizes seat movement. Rebound is the "bounce" after initial impact has occurred.

      4. Adjustable Carrying Handle - Smooth, contoured adjustable carrying handle has soft grip.

      5. Stroller Compatible - Compatible with Britax Vigour stroller for simple Click & Go System.

      Quick Tip: Order an extra Companion Car Seat base unit for your second car to make using either car a breeze.

    2. Convertible Car Seats - Britax offers five different convertible car seats. Two of them, the Britax Diplomat Car Seat and the Britax Roundabout Car Seat are compact convertibles that accommodate children up to 40 lbs and 40". The three others, the Britax Marathon, Britax Decathlon and Britax Boulevard, are larger, for children up to 65 lbs and 49".

      1. Standard Features - All Britax convertible car seats have the following features: Deep sides and EPS foam, comfort foam, flexible LATCH, Versa Tether, Built in Lock-offs, removable washable cover, tangle free polyester 5-point harness, auto eject buckle, Velcro tabs to keep belts aside, belly pad, comfort pads, sculpted base, forward face recline capable. For more information, see the Britax Glossary of Terms.

        The features that differentiate the seats from each other are the following:

      2. True Side Impact Protection - This feature is designed to reduce the injury potential of a side-impact crash by transferring and distributing the force of the impact. Product features include deep side walls and adjustable head support to distribute crash forces, shield from vehicle intrusion, contain the head and body, and minimize side-to-side head movement. (Featured in Britax Boulevard and Britax Diplomat).

      3. No Re-thread Harness Adjust - An adjustment dial easily adjusts the height of the 5-point harness as your child grows without requiring that the child seat be uninstalled from the vehicle in order to move the harness from one harness slot to the next. (Featured in Britax Boulevard and Britax Diplomat).

      4. Infant Body Pillow - A removable accessory pillow positioned around the lower back and sides of the infant to provide additional support. The sides of the pillow can also be folded inward to add additional padding on the sides for smaller occupants. (Featured in Britax Boulevard and Britax Diplomat).

      5. Infant Positioning System - Removable accessory pillows which consists of an infant body pillow for lower back and side support, and an infant head pillow, which comfortably cradles the infant's head. (Featured in Britax Decathlon).

      6. LATCH Bar - Select Britax seats have a steel bar extending along both sides where the LATCH connectors are attached. The LATCH bar adds additional reinforcement to the seat while also assisting in seat stability during side impact crashes when installed using LATCH. (Featured in Britax Boulevard and Britax Marathon).

      Quick Picks: Compact: If you are buying for a smaller car and for a child well under 40" and 40 lbs, go with one of the compact convertibles, the Britax Diplomat or the Britax Roundabout. Of the two, the Britax Diplomat Car Seat is fuller featured with True Side Impact, No Re-Thread Harness Adjust, and Infant Body Pillow. Full Size: If size is not an issue, you can also consider the full-size convertibles, the Britax Boulevard, the Britax Decathlon and the Britax Marathon. Of those, the Britax Boulevard Car Seat is fuller featured with True Side Impact Protection, No Re-Thread Harness Adjust, Infant Body Pillow and LATCH Bar.

    3. Youth Car Seats - Britax offers 3 youth car seat types: a Forward Facing Youth Car Seat (Britax Regent), a Combination Booster Car Seat (Britax Frontier), and a Belt Positioning Booster (Britax Monarch). We will compare features of these seats together as most parents will usually choose between one of these seats.

      1. Combination Child Seat - A type of forward facing child restraint that is used with an internal 5-point harness system to secure a child up to 80 pounds and then, with the removal of the internal harness, is used as a high back belt-poistioning booster seat. (Featured in Britax Frontier).

      2. Five-Point Harness - A child seat harness with five attachment points: two at the shoulder, two at the hips, and one between the legs. A core tenet of the Britax child passenger safety philosophy is that children should remain in a properly positioned five-point harness as long as possible. (Featured in Britax Regent and Britax Frontier).

      3. True Side Impact Protection - This feature is designed to reduce the injury potential of a side-impact crash by transferring and distributing the force of the impact. Product features include deep side walls and adjustable head support to distribute crash forces, shield from vehicle intrusion, contain the head and body, and minimize side-to-side head movement. (Featured in Britax Frontier and the Britax Monarch).

      4. No Re-thread Harness Adjust - Quick-adjust, one-hand adjustable harness height system re-positions head support and harness height effortlessly without having to re-thread the straps. (Featured in Britax Frontier and Britax Monarch).

      Quick Pick: The Britax Frontier Car Seat is the way to go in this category. It features the latest technology and combines a 5 point harness for children up to 53" and 80 lbs and converts to a belt-positioning booster children up to 60" and 100 lbs.

    To compare Britax Car Seats, please visit our Britax Car Seat Comparison Chart. For more information on car seats and child safety, please visit, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration website and The Center for Injury Research and Prevention website.

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    Article Written - May 18, 2008.