Convertible Car Seat Basics

Finding the right model of convertible car seat for your child can be a difficult and confusing process. This is due to the huge number of models available from lots of different manufacturer’s. In this article I will try to help you to know what key points you should be looking for when considering making a purchase.

Convertible car seats typically fit a child from 5 pounds in weight up to around 65 pounds although you should always check the manufacturer’s documentation for the exact weights and height limits.

Things to Look For in a Good Convertible Car Seat

Try to get a seat that can be used rear facing for as long as possible. The American Association of Pediatrics, (AAP) says that the longer a child can be kept rear facing the better preferably up to at least 2 years old or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer. So, look for a seat that can be used rear facing for a child until they reach 35, or better still, 40 pounds minimum.

Make sure that the harness can be adjusted easily from the front, if possible with your child seated. You will then be able to quickly and easily adjust the harness when your child is wearing thicker clothes with the minimum of fuss.

Look out for thicker, no-tangle straps, as you will find it much easier to get these done up, especially as the seat gets older and the straps start to get bent out of shape with use.

Purchasing a good make of seat that has extra side-impact protection, and extra strengthening and technology incorporated into the design is a wise choice. These features are designed to keep your child’s head neck and spine in alignment during side collisions, when your child is exposed to high crash forces and very vulnerable to injury.

You should look out for extra padding on the seat, as this helps to give your child a more comfortable ride. This will result in less of a struggle when trying to get your toddler in the more comfortable seat.

Try to also find a model with removable machine-washable covers, as there are sure to be spills on the seat fabric. Being able to remove the covers for cleaning is a great help in keeping the seat looking and smelling good for longer.

The Age and Size of Your Child

It’s important to understand that even though a convertible car seat can fit a child between 5 to 65 pounds on average, this does not necessarily make it the best choice for a very young infant. Many parents prefer to purchase an infant car seat for their newborn baby for several reasons:

  • An infant car seat is made specifically for transporting a young infant and therefore supports the child’s spine better
  • Due to its smaller size an infant car seat does not swamp the child with its size, and as a result, it can be a lot easier to position a baby safe and snug within the seat
  • The strap position is almost always easier to get right in a smaller infant seat
  • One of the most important advantages of using an infant seat is that the seat fits on a base that is fitted to your vehicle. More than one seat base can be purchased for different cars, eg the grandparents, allowing your child to be transported safely in several different vehicles
  • Infant car seats are also designed to be compatible with several ranges of strollers allowing you to keep your child in the seat while travelling around the shopping mall or on trips

These are all important benefits of using an infant car seat instead of a convertible car seat. Due to these reasons many parents opt to purchase an infant car seat while their child is small and cannot sit upright unaided and then transition to a convertible car seat later at the appropriate time.

Convertible Car Seat Choices

Finding a Convertible Car Seat Suitable for an Infant

If you are looking to use a convertible car seat to use with an infant then you should pay great attention to the points listed below:

  • Make sure that the seat you are considering fully reclines so that your infant is transported at the correct angle (around 45 degrees at first), as this is the safest position for a newborn. The incline angle can be changed to a more upright angle after your child is able to sit up and support their head unaided
  • Any seat under consideration should also come supplied with foam positioning inserts to pad out the seat, so that it can support a newborn correctly
  • The seat should also have a 5-point safety harness fitted and the harness straps should also have sufficient adjustment so that they can be positioned correctly to secure your newborn snug and safe

Getting a Convertible Car Seat for a Toddler

Firstly, have a close look at the manufacturer’s recommended height and weight ratings in the forward and rear facing positions. Make sure that your child falls well within the ranges. A car seat can be an expensive purchase so you want to make sure that you can get plenty of use from it.

See the points listed above in, “Things to Look For in a Good Convertible Car Seat”, before making your choice.

Notes on Installation

It’s very important that you read all the manufacturers’ documentation supplied with the seat before you attempt to fit it in your car. You may also find that the manufacturer has videos on their website where you can watch the correct fitting process to follow. Making sure that you have familiarized yourself with the proper information will help you to fit the seat securely.

Always use the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system to install car seats, as a much safer and tighter fit can be obtained than when using the vehicle seat belts. Again, pay close attention to the manufacturer’s detailed instructions.

All car seats should be installed in the back of the car and never in the front as this puts your child at a much greater risk of injury during an accident.

After you have fitted the seat pay a visit to your nearest National Highway Safety Transportation Administration Car Seat Inspection Station to check that you have installed the seat correctly. A properly fitted seat will give the maximum protection to your child.