Factors To Consider When Choosing A Convertible Car Seat

Congratulations on bringing that precious new life into the world and we’re delighted to see you doing your research and thinking of safety first. Shopping for a convertible car seat is no simple matter. For parents who’re on the move, taking the baby to daycare or spending an hour in traffic to and from the supermarket, infant and toddler safety is of utmost importance.

With traffic accidents still being among the leading causes of childhood injuries and fatalities, pat yourself on the back because shopping for a baby car seat is the right thing to do. Not only that, it’s also the lawful thing to do, at least in the States where having a child restrained properly in an appropriate car seat is required by law, right up until the age of seven.

There are three types of car seats available for your small ones, the infant seat, the convertible car seat for infant and toddler and the booster seat for children 4 years and over. Because we know that purchasing a baby seat can be an expensive affair, we recommend opting for a convenient convertible car seat, many of which have a triple function as infant, toddler and booster seat. That means you won’t have to fork out extra cash every couple of years for a new purchase.

Still, all of those acronyms, straps, tethers and unfamiliar specs are a mouthful and a mindful and, especially for those of you who’re new to the parenting game, the chances are you’ll be needing some help familiarizing yourself with convertible car seat ‘ins and outs.’

We’re here to run you through the basic layout of a car seat and to list all the important features to look for and understand so that you’ll not only make an informed decision when purchasing your convertible car seat, you’ll also know how to use your baby seat correctly, ensuring a safe drive for your little one.

General Layout Of A Convertible Car Seat

Now, what makes a convertible baby seat convertible is the fact that it can accommodate infants, up to a certain weight and height, in the rear facing position and toddlers, also up to a certain weight and height, in the forward facing position. In other words the convertible car seat can be installed facing the front or facing the back of your vehicle.

One of the big differences between the infant and convertible car seats is the fact that, unlike the infant only seat, the convertible seat doesn’t click in and out of a base, it gets installed in its entirety. This means that you cannot simply remove the seat to carry your baby in it. Nevertheless the superior compatibility of a convertible car seat means that it’s a far more economical option.

The general layout is a cushioned, padded wrap around seat with a harness that can be adjusted to various settings to accommodate different positions, different weights and different heights. It includes a host of vital safety features to protect your child in the unfortunate event of an impact.

The seat will be installed (by you or by a professional) using specific tethering combinations. For example, the seat will tether to the front car seat track and the back seat when the convertible car seat is facing the rear. The seat will tether to various parts of the back seat when facing forward. Some seats include the option for seat belt securing, such as the ClickTight system from Britax.

Important Features To Look For In A Convertible Car Seat

1. An Extended Rear Facing Limit

What we mean by this is, look for a seat that has as high a rear facing limit as possible. This is because child safety experts all agree that the longer your child faces the rear, the safer your child will be.

Around 40 lb is definitely acceptable but 50 lb is above average. The Clek Foonf is a popular and excellent example of a convertible seat with well above average rear facing capacity, 50 lb! Also, just because your child if big enough to use the front facing setting doesn’t mean you should necessarily make the adjustment. We recommend keeping your child rear facing until the rear limit is reached, the longer the better.

2. An Extended Front Facing Limit

Now, although your child may be reaching the minimum requirements for the transition to booster seat phase, this doesn’t mean that you should make the change immediately. Look for a convertible car seat with the highest front facing limit, 65 lb is a good range to look for. Now, keep your child front facing as long as possible before changing to booster.

3. An Extended Booster Mode Limit

Look for a booster mode limit of at least 95 lb so that you can enjoy maximum usefulness from your purchase. A good example of this is the Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65.

4. Impact Tested

Always buy a registered brand (be careful) because that means the manufacturer will have met safety regulations by submitting the seat to various stress and impact tests. When it comes to your convertible car seat and the safety of your child, only the best will do so the more safety features a seat has, the better.

5. Impact Protection

Side impact protection consists of specially designed foam cushioning and frame detail that nests your baby’s head, neck and sides. I find this is not only an essential in the unfortunate event of a crash, it’s also extremely comforting for baby and will, for example, support his neck if his head lols whilst he’s sleeping.

While your convertible child seat should feature various impact protections, side impact protection has been under the spotlight because studies have shown that side impacts are one of the leading culprits amongst crash related child fatalities. A good example of a convertible car seat with SIP is the Britax Marathon.

6. Easy Installation

The LATCH system of convertible car seat securing and tethering became the industry standard in 2002, it’s a force-multiplying technology much like your car’s seat belt system and what’s more…it makes for a fairly easy install so it’s definitely something to look for. All vehicles and convertible car seats manufactured since then have 2002 have been LATCH System compatible. It stands for Lower Anchors & Tethers for CHildren.

An alternative to the LATCH system, which is even easier to install, is the system employed by the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB, a similar system is employed by a number of other brands in certain models and basically allows you to install the baby seat using the seatbelt from your car, super convenient and also required by law for children and seat combinations greater than 65 lb.

7. Easy To Use Recliner Adjustment

Your seat should feature various levels of recline for your baby’s comfort in the rear facing position. It’s important that these adjustments can be made without unnecessary tugging or jolting of your infant so ensure that the convertible seat you choose features easy recline adjustment operations.

8. The Five Point Harness

The five point harness, as a means for securing your child in his seat, is an industry standard for various reasons. Not only does the five point harness prevent your child being ejected from the seat in the event of a crash, it also distributes the force of the crash evenly over more parts of the body and, what’s more, the back tether prevents excessive whiplash.

9. Height Adjustment Features

These may include adjustable headrest, footrest, cushioning and strap positions so that your child can remain comfortable and secure in his seat whilst growing. A very popular example of an adjustable convertible car seat is in the Chicco NextFit. In this model the headrest adjusts as the child grows and the harness strap position alters as you adjust the headrest.

10. Waterproof, Wipeable Fabric And Cup Holders

It’s no secret that having a little one is a messy affair and when you’re turning corners, breaking and accelerating, things can get even messier. There are a number of factors to consider as far as convertible seat fabric is concerned, besides comforting touch, consider whether or not the fabric is waterproof, so that it can be wiped.

Some models feature removable, machine washable padding that’s very convenient. Other factors to consider are the color of the fabric for stain visibility and for heat absorption factors and also whether or not the seat has cup holders as these can be a huge convenience when you don’t have free hands.

11. Research Your Vehicle / Convertible Car Seat Compatibility

There are many factors to consider here. Cars manufactured before 2002 won’t necessarily be LATCH system compatible so you need to do the relevant research to determine whether this seat is going to be a good fit for your vehicle. Measure your back seat dimensions and check them against the convertible seat’s dimensions, considering tether capabilities in both the rear and front facing positions.

Conclusions:

Now that you’ve been introduced to industry standards and some of those acronyms I mentioned earlier, the chances are you’ll know what to look for when shopping for a convertible car seat.

One final word of advice I’d like to offer is this: do your research (just like you’re doing now) and please…read those reviews! When it comes to purchasing items that could mean life or death for your beloved little one, you can’t always trust the advertisements, because they’re invariably positive. Read third party reviews that detail the active use of your potential purchase and you’ll be well on your way to making a good, educated decision.

All the best to you and your bundle of joy and many safe returns!