We know that one of the least frugal things about having babies is the seemly incessant need for baby "stuff" .. The most important purchases you'll ever make for your babies and kids are their car seats. A seat is a vital piece of protection that can literally mean life or death in a collision.
After my last post, I thought I might expound a bit on our current car seats. We currently have all Graco seats. When we looked at new seats we tried out others (yes you can do that!) and didn't really find any that fit our cars or our kids. Graco is affordable (as car seats go), comfortable for the kids with nice features like cupholders and snack trays, and most importantly they are SAFE, with low numbers of recalls (at least from our experience) .. we had one recall with an infant seat and the issue was the base that stays in the car *might* not click into place, the seat was still usable without the base. For us this was a non issue since we are insane about making sure our seats are properly used everytime we put the kids in the car .. and I don't think we were even using the base at the time .. I think the seat was more secure without it in the car we had at the time. Graco did send out new bases however and we had them with in a week of confirming that we did have a recalled seat.
Here's a list of the seats we've used or are currently using .. the pictures aren't necessarly the seats we have since the patterns change frequently.
Graco SnugRide: This was the infant seat we used with both of our girls. A top rated seat that is easy to install and easy to use. It's rear-facing only and fits babies up to 20 lbs AND 1 year old. If your baby is over 20 lbs before 1 year, you need to jump up to a Convertible seat or use the Graco SafeSeat system (more to follow) .. all kids must stay rear facing until age 1, before that age babies lack the head and neck control to be facing forward. Prices start around $80
Graco ComfortSport: The ComfortSport is a convertible car seat that can be used (in the from birth to 40 lbs. It's convertible because you use it rear facing up to 30 lbs and then it can be used forward facing up to 40 lbs. I say in theory it can be used to 40 lbs because the shoulder strap placement is relatively low and my 35lb 4 year oldory) is too big for this seat. Currently our 2 year old, 27 lb, 30 in daughter is very comfortable in this seat. Both girls have used this one both rear facing and forward facing. More on rear vs. forward facing to come! Prices start around $80
Graco CarGo: A harnessed booster or convertible booster .. This is a great seat and is rather versatile. For kids over 1 and between 20 and 40 lbs it's a nice forward facing seat with the standard 5 pt. harness. Or for kids 30 to 100 lbs (!) it's a nice belt positioning booster. For the moment, our 4 year old 35 lb, 38 inch daughter is using this as a harnessed seat. However, she is just about too tall to be using it as such and will most likely use it as a booster or move in to her TurboBooster full time! This seat is only to be used forward facing and has a long life to it since it's rated up to 100lbs. Prices start around $80
Graco TurboBooster: A booster is a seat for older kids that in the past wouldn't have been in a seat at all. This seat positions a regular seatbelt so it properly fits a younger child, typically anyone under the age of 12 will need a booster (more to come). There are 2 types of the TurboBooster, a backless model for older kids and a model that has a back for younger kids .. the model with the back converts to a backless one. This is the model we're using with our 4 year old. This is a forward facing only seat for kids age 3 to 10 and 30 to 100 lbs. I wouldn't recommend a booster until they have outgrown a smaller seat though.
Graco also has a line called SafeSeats which makes it easier to determine what seat your child should be in. It's a nice Step One, Step Two, Step Three system that I wish would have been around 5 years ago! The biggest improvement I've seen from the little bit of research I've done on this system is that the infant seat is now rated for kids up to 30 lbs which means that parents can keep their babies rear facing longer and is especially nice for those bigger babies that are 20 before they're 6 months old! The seats are more expensive initally that the regular SnugRide infant seat but I think its worth it for the fact that this does keep babies rear facing longer and 30 lbs is BIG in our house .. my 2 1/2 year old would still be in this seat! The only drawback other than price is I can see parents trying to cart this seat around with a 30 lb baby in it and I imagine alot more backaches for mom and dad!
One more note about Graco seats .. you may notice the prices fluctuate from pattern to pattern with in the same model of seat. This has nothing to do with the safety of the seat .. it's simply a manner of padding and accessories. The "shell" or frame of the seats are all the same. The base model of the SnugRide is $80 but you can pay up to $150 for a Snugride with fancy accessories like a cover or extra padding. We simply bought the lower priced model for all the seats we've had and have had no problems at all with any of them.
I'm planning a more extensive post about the safety issues regarding car seats and some hints and tips about buying and using seats in a future post. Let me know if there's anything you'd like covered!