SO.... How to you find the right seat for your family? The consensus in the car seat world is the best seat for you is the one that fits .. fits your child, fits your car and fits your budget! So let's start with those 3 ...
First, the best seat fits your child: .. See this post!
Next, the best seat fits your car:
Do some research .. pick up Consumer's Reports, parenting magazines and read lots of reviews by parents and get some ideas about which seats you think you'd like. There's a great carseat to car compatibility database at CarSeatData.Org
Before buying a seat, test it out! Stores like ToysRus will allow you to take a display model out to the parking lot and test fit it before you buy. Check with your local stores first .. some require a deposit or having an employee escort you .. and babysit you while you try it out. I spoke with a manager of our local ToysRus on the phone before I went in and explained the situation and they were so accommodating! I did have to leave my drivers licence before leaving the store with a cart full of seats to test out. An hour later I had a few scrapped up knuckes and a new seat picked out. The manager came out so see how I did and advised me to wait a week for their baby sale to start .. I've bought 3 seats from ToysRus .. isn't customer service an amazing thing! I wouldn't recommend doing this with your kids in tow and I would set aside a couple of hours to play around with seats. Trying different seats in different positions. Our ComfortSport wouldn't fit snugly in the center seat of my car but fit great in one of the outboard positions!
So you're in a parking lot with a crazy looking hunk of plastic with a cute cover and your backseat and your rear end sticking out for the world to see .. now what?
The Basics of Installation:
1. Get out the owners manuals for both your vehicle and seat, read throughly and have at the ready when you're installing.
2. If your vehicle was manufactured after 2002 it will have a LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) system. Cars made before 2002 may also have this system but its required on cars made after 2002. LATCH is a system of anchoring points that are built into the frame of the car and is used instead of the vehicle's lap/shoulder belt. It should be noted that the LATCH system is easier for installation but know that the lap/shoulder belt can be used as safely. With our van we don't use the LATCH system because it's not as effective as using the seat belt but the LATCH in my husbands car is very effective. I would try the LATCH system first and if you don't have a "good install" try again with with the regular seatbelt.
3. For LATCH installation:
- Locate the LATCH belt (looks like a skinny seatbelt with a hook on each end) on your seat with the help of the owner's manual .. make sure it's routed though the seat properly with no twisting, bunching, pulling or snagging.
- Next, using your car's manual find the anchor points for the LATCH system (these are just flattened metal rings bolted to the frame of the car). There will be one for each side of the seat and one for the top tether (used for forwarding facing seats).
- Position the car seat on the seat of the car! If installing a forward facing seat, attach the top tether strap from the car seat to the tether anchor of the car and tighten.
- Next, attach the LATCH clips from the properly routed LATCH belt to the anchor points and tighten. When tightening straps you need to add weight to the bottom of the seat to simulate a child sitting in it .. I find it easiest to place my knee in the crease of the seat and place my weight down while pulling the straps tight. Car seat is now installed.
- To check for a good install grasp the sides of the seat directly about where the LATCH belt comes out. Pull it out towards you and shake it from side to side. A well installed seat should slide more than an inch in any direction. If it moves around easily, check your install or try again using a different position in the car or with the lap/shoulder belt. On infant seats, also push down on the top of the seat .. if the bottom (where the car seat meets the back of the seat of the car) changes angles or rises up, the car seat is not safely installed.
- First, remove LATCH system belt from the proper belt path. Only the belt that is being used to secure the car seat to the car should be in place.
- Next, using your vehicle's manual for reference, place car seat in position.
- If you are using a top tether, secure that first (see above) and tighten.
- Grasp the car's seatbelt and guide it though the proper routing on the car seat. Refer to the owner's manual for the seat or use the same routing as with the LATCH belt. Make sure there are no twists, snags or pulling on the seatbelt. Secure the latch plate (the metal part at the end of the belt) in the buckle.
- Now, while kneeling in the bottom of the seat, grab the lap portion of the seatbelt as it comes out of the buckle and pull it tight.
- While still kneeling in the seat, pull out the slack on the shoulder portion on the opposite side of the carseat.
- Finally, pull out all of the shoulder strap from the car. Make sure you hear a click and allow the belt to retract back into the car.
- Check for fit by grasping the sides of the seat just above the belt path and pull the seat towards you and from side to side. If the seat moves more than an inch in any direction, or just doesn't feel secure ... try again! Try a different position in the car or a different car seat. Some seats just don't fit some cars!
- If you're using a lap only belt, follow the same instructions as above. If you are having issues with the lap belt coming loose during use, try turning over the latch plate before buckling the seat belt. This should reset the locking mechanism in the belt.
If you're a first timer or anytime you get a new seat or a new car .. I suggest seeking out a Child Passenger Safety Tech (CPST). These lovely folks will not only install your seat correctly for you but will teach you how to do it yourself. Many insurance companies, especially AAA, offer clinics. Also check out resources available through your hospitial, doctor's office, health department, fire station and state police post. Also check out SafeKids.Org, which a great organization dedicated to preventing accidental injury in children world wide. From their site on clinics in your area where CPSTs will inspect your seats and teach you the proper way to install them in your car and install your child in the seat. You can also search for CPSTs in your area and find one that will do the inspections on an appointment basis. We were fortunate that one of the nurses at our peditrican's office was a CPST and we could ask her to inspect our seats for us.
I can't say enough about these wonderful people and can not recommend them enough to others. They know the tricks of the trade in getting seats to fit perfectly in your car, like using a foam pool noodle to get the recline angle just right on a rear facing seat! If you can't get to one of these folks, check with the local fire and police stations, many communities have their firefighters and officers trained on how to install car seat properly. Have both your car's and car seat's owner manuels available when installing any seat .. there are differences between different models as to how and where to install .. for instance, not all center lap/shoulder belts can be used for carseats .. it depends on the car!