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Ask the Baby Gear Expert: Car Seats
Updated on
April 1, 2024

Ask the Baby Gear Expert: Car Seats

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Ask the Baby Gear Expert: Car Seats.
Ask the Baby Gear Expert: Car Seats

Ever wish you had a baby gear expert by your side to answer all of your questions and help you build your baby registry every step of the way?

Welcome to Ask the Expert, a new series where I answer real questions from real Babylist users and parents just like you. Who am I? I’m Jen LaBracio, Babylist’s Gear Editor, a role that perfectly combines my love of (obsessive) research with my love of all things baby gear.

The baby gear item I get asked about the most, from expecting parents and experienced ones alike, are car seats (my recommendations for the best strollers coming in close second).

And I completely understand why. From safety to selection and everything in between, the world of car seats is overwhelming, and choosing the right seat feels like a big decision. (Because it is!)

Having a little information on your side can go a long way in helping you to feel confident about your choice whether you’re registering for an infant seat or shopping for a convertible.

We received so many great car seat questions from all of you so let’s get to it. It’s time to talk all things car seats!

What is the top-rated car seat out there?

This is the most common car seat question I hear from parents again and again. Fortunately, the answer is quite simple, and it may surprise you.

The safest infant or convertible car seat is the one that fits your child, fits your vehicle and can be installed correctly by you every time.

That’s because all car seats in the US have to pass the same minimum standard testing. While more expensive seats may include features that go above and beyond what’s required, when it comes to the “safest” or the “best,” it all comes down to fit and installation.

These are my go-to car seat resources if you’re looking to learn more about overall car seat safety, seat standards and installation:

You can also check out Babylist’s guides on the Best Car Seats for all ages and stages, the Best Infant Car Seats and the Best Convertible Car Seats for my favorite car seat picks.

Should I get an infant or convertible car seat? I’m so stuck!

There’s really no “better” choice when you’re making this decision; it’s more about what’s better for you and your family.

There are lots of benefits to an infant seat, which is probably why more than 80% of Babylist parents decide to register for one. It’s easier to install than a convertible, much more portable and can be used with a stroller. (Also, unless your stroller is newborn-friendly—meaning it either reclines completely flat or accepts a bassinet attachment—you’ll need to snap in an infant car seat to stroll with your baby for the first six months or so.) Infant seats are also much easier to use in taxis and ride shares.

But it’s definitely possible to make a convertible car seat work from the beginning. If you’re planning on wearing your baby in a carrier rather than carry a car seat or stroll with them, a convertible seat from day one makes a lot of sense. A convertible is also a good choice if you’re looking to save money by skipping the infant seat or simply looking to limit the number of baby products you buy.

Is there such a thing as an infant-to-toddler car seat that attaches directly to a stroller?

This is another popular question and something that can be understandably confusing if you’re new to the world of car seats. The short answer is no, but let me explain.

All infant car seats made in the US come with two components: the seat itself and a separate base. The base stays installed in your car and the seat clicks in and out. The perk of this seat + base system is convenience and portability. It’s easy to get your baby in and out of the car or transfer the seat between cars if you have additional bases. And if you have a travel system—a stroller + car seat combo—or plan to make your own using adapters, it’s also easy to transfer your baby from the car to the stroller and back again without disturbing them very much.

Parents that drive frequently with their babies in tow or those who don’t own a car, like urban families who rely primarily on taxis or rideshares, love this feature about infant car seats. It’s a breeze to unclick your baby’s seat from its base, pop them into your stroller and be on your way.

So what happens when your baby outgrows their infant seat (which usually happens around one year old) and is ready to move into a convertible seat? The answer is, unfortunately, that you’re in for a bit more inconvenience.

Convertible car seats are bigger, heavier and bulkier than infant seats since they’re designed to take you from day one until the preschool years and beyond. They install directly into your vehicle and don’t use a separate base and they aren’t designed to be easily carried or switched from car to car. And there are currently no convertible car seats on the market that attach to a stroller.

So what’s a parent to do? There are a few options. You may want to leave your stroller at home and invest in a good toddler-friendly baby carrier for when you’re out and about. (Just note that you’ll still have your convertible seat to contend with, though, as it’s not safe for a baby to ride in a car in anything but a car seat.)

The most popular option is to invest in a lightweight convertible car seat, including any that are specifically designed for travel. (Check out my list of best-of lightweight convertibles here.) While this solution isn’t nearly as convenient as the clip-and-go feature of an infant seat, a smaller, lighter convertible seat can be taken out of your car and either carried or sometimes even stored beneath your stroller if you have the space. It’s not ideal, but lots of parents make it work.

Is there a car seat that works for all stages of my baby?

And now onto a question with an easy answer. (Yay!) Yes, there are car seats that will work from day one until your child is old enough to own their own cell phone. They’re called all-in-one car seats, and they’re pretty awesome.

All-in-one seats transform from rear-facing seats to forward-facing ones then ultimately to booster seats and most have a lifespan of about 10 years. Instead of purchasing three or four separate seats as your child grows, you’ll only need to purchase one.

Like lots of other things, there are pros and cons to all-in-one seats. You can learn more about them and see my favorite picks in the Best All-in-One Car Seats guide.

What’s the best placement for a car seat in the car: driver’s side, passenger’s side or in the middle?

Statistically speaking, the safest place to install your child’s car seat is in the middle of your back seat. That’s because many crashes involve a side impact, so being seated in the middle will help to avoid that direct impact.

That being said, not all cars allow for a car seat in every spot that has a seat belt. Be sure to check your particular vehicle’s owner’s manual prior to installation and make sure other passengers in the car can ride safely.

For more information on car seat installation, head over to Safe Kids’ Ultimate Car Seat Guide Installation Tips.

Do I need to get my car seat inspected after I install it?

Great question. While you don’t need an inspection, I always recommend one if at all possible. Depending on the type of seat you own and what kind of vehicle you drive, installing a car seat correctly can be tricky—and an improperly installed car seat won’t protect your child in the event of a crash.

The best way to set this up a car seat inspection is with a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). CPSTs are trained in how to install all types of car seats and are required to keep their certification up-to-date. There are a few ways to connect with a CPST.

  • Safe Kids, the organization mentioned above, hosts child passenger safety events across the country. You can find out if there’s one near you here.
  • Search for a car seat inspection station in your state. Just be sure to reach out first to find out hours, availability, services offered etc.
  • For more individualized service, you can book a personal appointment with a CPST.

One more quick note on car seat inspections. You may hear that you can drive over to your local fire or police station for a car seat check. While some stations are authorized inspection stations and have a CPST as part of the team, the majority are not, so be sure to check beforehand.

How long can I use an infant car seat?

You’ll be able to use your infant car seat until your child outgrows the seat by either height or weight restrictions. “Or” is the key word to pay attention to here. Even if your child falls within the height limits of the seat, but has outgrown the seat’s weight limits, you’ll need to make the switch to a convertible—and vice versa.

Most babies outgrow their infant seats by around one year old. It’s also helpful to know that the majority of children will max out on the height limit long before they ever reach the maximum weight limit. A good rule of thumb is that if the top of your child’s head is within one inch of the top of the shell of the seat, it’s time to transition.

When can I turn my baby from rear-facing to front-facing?

This is one of my favorite ever baby gear questions to receive. I’ll never get tired of answering it, and that’s because I think the answer is SO important.

There’s a huge body of research that proves that riding rear-facing is safer for babies and children than riding in a forward-facing car seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission and lots more of the nation’s top scientists, researchers and physicians all agree that you should keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. (If you’re interested in learning more about why extended rear-facing is safer, as well as how to keep your bigger kid comfy in a rear-facing seat, this article does a great job of explaining it.)

When you’re shopping for a convertible car seat, choose one with a high rear-facing limit. You’ll want to keep your child rear-facing until they reach the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer.

What’s the best inexpensive car seat?

While you certainly can spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on a car seat, don’t worry—you don’t have to.

There are tons of reliable, affordable car seat options for infants, toddlers and beyond. And since all seats on the market have to pass the same strict federal safety regulations, you don’t have to worry about sacrificing safety.

Take a look through the Best Infant Car Seats for Under $250 and Best Convertible Car Seats for Under $250 for my favorite wallet-friendly car seat picks.

What’s the best car seat for taxis or ride shares?

As someone who had her first baby while living in a city, this question hits close to home. City parents have to think a bit more deliberately about choosing certain items of baby gear than parents who live either in the suburbs or in a more rural area do. A car seat is one of those items.

If you’re a city family who doesn’t own a car, you’ll want to focus on these three features when choosing an infant car seat:

  • Weight. Look for a lightweight seat that’s easy to get in and out of cars or carry on public transportation.
  • Seat belt installation. Be sure to choose a seat that can be installed either with the base or using a vehicle’s seat belt.
  • Stroller-friendly. Choose either a travel system (an infant seat + a stroller sold as a pair) or, if you’re looking at a stroller and a car seat from different brands, be sure they’re compatible using adapters.

Another popular option for city parents is the Doona. It’s a one-of-a-kind car seat + stroller all rolled into one and is a great choice for city parents.

Five Tips for Building the Best City Baby Registry has lots of tips on car seats and beyond if you’re creating a baby registry tailored to city life.

What’s an anti-rebound bar and what seats come with one?

An anti-rebound bar is a metal bar across the bottom of a car seat that reduces the movement of the seat in the event of a crash. A car seat moves toward the point of impact during a crash. An anti-rebound bar halts this movement—the rebound—and helps the seat come to a stop sooner than it would have if the bar was not in place.

Anti-rebound bars are becoming more and more common in car seats manufactured in the US. While not a must-have, an anti-rebound bar is a worthwhile safety feature to consider when you’re shopping for a car seat. A few of my favorite seats that feature anti-rebound bars are:

You can learn more about car seat terminology (and there’s a lot of it!) in our Babylist Gear Glossary on infant car seats.

Do travel system seats that come in and out of the car every time compromise safety?

Short answer: nope! Long answer: also nope!

As long as your seats are installed correctly and your child is within the height and weight requirements of your particular seat, a car seat that’s part of a travel system is just as safe as a car seat sold on its own.

Jen LaBracio

Senior Gear Editor

Jen LaBracio is Babylist’s Senior Gear Editor, a role that perfectly combines her love of all things baby gear with her love of (obsessive) research. When she’s not testing out a new high chair or pushing the latest stroller model around her neighborhood, she likes to run, spin, listen to podcasts, read and spend time at the beach. In her past life, she worked for over a decade in children’s publishing. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and their two boys, Will and Ben.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.