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The construction and design work similarly to a bike helmet, by using an exterior hard plastic shell combined with a layer of energy absorbing hard foam placed between the shell and your head. There are two different methods used to secure a car seat in a vehicle. We will provide you an overview of each, including the most common reasons to use one over the other, or when you might need to use one over the other based on manufacturer guidelines.

During our installation testing, we found significant differences between car seats regarding ease of installation with a seat belt depending on the vehicle we were using. Parents who plan to use this location exclusively may want to install their seat of choice in this position to ensure that a good fit is possible before choosing to keep it Amazon has a great and easy return policy. Both methods of installation are possible whether the seat configuration is rear-facing or front-facing. Depending on the laws in your area, children need to be restrained rear-facing up to a certain age or weight range.

We recommend you keep children rear facing as long as possible within the guidelines of the seat because it is safer for children in the event of an accident.

Car Seat Buying Guide - Child Safety Experts

The choice of how to install is somewhat up to you and what works best for your car, but all seats will eventually need seat belt installation because the LATCH method has weight restrictions. Each seat we tested has a level indicator to help parents confirm when its installation angle is correct. While they don't all look or function the same, they all provide similar information and guidance. Some of the level indicators are lines on the seat that are either molded into the plastic or imprinted on a sticker on the side of the shell.

The level line should be parallel to the ground after installation and is best to observe by standing back from the vehicle. Some indicators look more like a traditional level you'd find in construction with liquid and a bubble, or a small ball that rolls inside a plastic casing that indicates the seat is installed at the correct angle range when it falls within a pre-marked area in its path.

It is important that parents use the level as instructed in the user guide with their seat. Adjusting the shoulder height of the harness on a car seat may not sound like a big deal until you have to do it. Being able to alter the harness quickly and easily means your child will be using a correct fitting harness at all times. Avoiding changing the harness height because it is convoluted or difficult to operate, could lead to improper restraining in the seat. Not using the harness or seat correctly could lead to injury or possible death in the event of a crash, so this is an important feature to consider on any seat.

Rethreading harness straps to adjust shoulder height is the most difficult method of adjustment in the seats we reviewed.

Tips for Buying a Car Seat or Booster Seat

Rethreading requires that you remove the harness straps from a connector on the back of the seat, and unthread the straps from their current slots through the back of the seats to move them to higher slots. The process itself isn't that difficult, even though it is convoluted. However, you usually don't notice you need to adjust the straps until your baby is in the seat.

This process means you will need to remove your baby from the seat and possibly the seat from the car to adjust. Then you will need to reinstall the seat before you place your baby inside and get on your way. We worry that some parents will procrastinate making adjustments for this reason. This hassle could lead to a cycle of forgetting to do it time and time again leaving your child driving around in a poorly fitting harness.

Child Car Seat Buying Guide

Do NOT do this!! The easiest to change, and thus our favorite seats, are those whose height can move without the need for rethreading. This design means no splitter plate, no moving the harness straps from one slot to another, no removing baby from the seat. This kind of adjustment can happen on the fly as soon as you notice the harness needs changing. These were not the only options with this feature in the group, but they are the ones we liked the best. Once the shoulder straps are adjusted, and your child is in the seat and buckled in, the entire harness tightens by pulling on the strap that trails from the foot of the seat.

This process should be easy, and in theory, it is, but not all tightening straps are as easy as others. Most of the harnesses we tested loosen by pressing a button near the foot of seat, while others worked by lifting a small lever in the same location. The button or lever should be somewhat stiff to operate to prevent little hands from pressing the button.

Car Seat Buying Guide

However, they shouldn't be so difficult to use that an adult can't do it with one finger. Some seats have buttons that are visible on top of the seat fabric, while others have the adjustment hidden under padding and fabric to help little ones avoid temptation out of sight, out of mind. The buckles on the majority of the seats we tested are so remarkably similar we can't help but wonder if some of them come from the same assembly line.

Many were easy enough to use, and while there is a pressure metric they need to meet, some were too stiff and hard to operate. If you have any thumb strength or structural hand issues, this might be more important to you than it is for others. While the weight of the carrier in our review of infant seats was important because you need to transport the carriers from place to place, the weight of the convertible seats is less important in our minds because you won't be carrying them around that often.

The Clek Foonf is a very heavy seat at 38 lbs and 6 ounces; it is cumbersome to carry and more than a handful. However, given that you will rarely be moving it or transporting it, we don't feel this is a deal breaker or high on the consideration list for most parents. Alternatively, if you will be moving your seat or using it for travel, you might be interested in the lighter weight seats like the Evenflo Tribute LX that is only 9 lbs 4 ounces.

Sometimes the biggest differences between seats are smaller details. In a product genre where so many of the seats are similar in structure and function, the details are the only thing that helps differentiate them from each other. With gear that is so heavily regulated, it could be difficult to tell one product from another, or for parents to decide why one is better than another without considering the features that make them stand out. While the jury is out on the efficacy of the anti-rebound bar offering additional protection, general physics seems to support the claim that it does.

This bar works on the rear-facing seat and prevents the seat from dramatic flipping back against the vehicle seat back in the event of a crash. It is the back and forth motion that causes head and neck trauma in a collision, so less movement theoretically means fewer injuries.

Even though we like the idea of the bar, we think that currently there is not enough information available for caregivers to believe that the absence of this should be a deal breaker. However, we wouldn't overlook a high scoring product without a bar in favor of a lower scoring option that has one. Luckily, these seats earned higher scores in our review, so you can purchase a high scoring product that also has a rebound bar. If you use the seat belt to anchor your seat to the vehicle instead of the LATCH connectors, it is important to have a spot to store the unused anchors.

Unlike infant seats, where the anchors could get in the way of proper attachment of the carrier to the base, the anchors on the convertible seats are more of a nuisance than a potential hazard. Not all of the storage options are great, and we prefer the options that keep the anchors attached to the shell body, so they don't come loose. Chicco NextFit has interesting plastic side pockets, which are sort of hard to use but keep them out of sight. It probably isn't necessary though, and any seat that keeps them connected to the shell seems to work fine.

Clek Foonf has rigid LATCH anchors that pull back under the seat and rear facing anchors that tuck under the seat bottom. On each seat, there should be a spot to store the user's manual. You should have easy access to it in case you need it, but it shouldn't be where little ones can find it or where spilled items and vomit can reach it. Onboard storage helps keep answers at your fingertips to improve overall use and safety. It is important to use the storage space as intended, so you aren't caught without the manual when you need it.


Some of the seats store the manual under the padding where the child would sit, which seems like a bad spot and one where it could easily get damaged, though this is better than locations where children can find the manual and destroy it before you notice. If you lose the manual or it does get damaged, most are available online or you can order a new one from the company. It is far better to do the extra work to get a manual than it is to guess on specific installation or design information about your seat.

With so many options and features to choose from, the decision on which car seat to buy can feel daunting. We've broken the process down into steps that help you determine what to consider when deciding which option is best for you and your child. While there are several excellent high-scoring products in this review, your particular needs or limitations might find you choosing a different model that works best for you even if it didn't win an award in our tests.

As previously discussed, where you plan to install the car seat may impact which seat you choose to purchase. Where and how you plan to use the seat might also influence you. Your usage pattern can make the difference between which option best meets your needs and which will be frustrating to use.

Height and Weight Limits

If you reside in a major city and will need to transport your little one in a cab or Uber, you may want to look at some of the lighter weight seats. This would also be true if you travel frequently and plan to lug a seat through the airport or on a train. Some of these seats are heavy, and this should be a factor for parents who won't be installing the seat in their car and forgetting about it. The Evenflo Tribute earns high marks in crash testing, and at just over 9 lbs you will probably have an easier time carrying it than you would the Clek Foonf at over 38 lbs in its rear-facing configuration, or the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB at over 28 lbs.

Will your seat be installed in the center seat or on the side? Some vehicles do not offer LATCH connection points for the center seat, so you will want to check your vehicle for anchor points.

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Alternatively, you can install the seat using the belt only, and we found during testing that many of the seats feel very secure installed using a lap-only belt, and some were even easier to install with the vehicle belt than with LATCH. Therefore, we suggest parents take ease of installation as seriously as we do.

General Car Seat Guide - Which Car Seat Do I Use Next?