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Convertible car seats, as their name suggests, can be installed in both forward-facing and rear-facing positions in your car. This makes them a lot more flexible than infant car seats, which can only be installed facing the rear of the car.

Infant car seats can be used until a child weighs around 40 pounds, at which point a new, forward-facing seat would need to be purchased. Their convertible counterparts, on the other hand, can continue to be used until the child reaches around 80 pounds in weight (which usually happens by the time they’re eight to 12 years old). Convertible car seats can be a great option for saving money, space, and time. Below, we talk through what to look for in a convertible car seat, when they’re your best option, and how to properly install one to keep your child as safe as possible.

Rear-facing, Front-facing, and Booster Seats

For infants aged between zero and at least 15 months old, a rear-facing seat should be used. This position provides the most support to their developing bodies. These seats cradle your baby’s weight, supporting their head, neck, and spine. They’re far safer that a forward-facing seat in the event of a collision, since any force which cannot be dissipated by the car and the seat itself is absorbed by the baby’s back – the sturdiest part of their body. This alignment protects their vital organs, and significantly reduces injuries and fatalities. In fact, it’s now illegal in all 50 states to travel with a child under the age of 1 in a forward facing seat. The American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends travelling with your child in a rear-facing car seat until they are two years old.

When a child reaches this stage of development, it becomes safer to travel with them in a forward-facing seat. This is because, as a child develops and becomes taller, they can no longer fit comfortably into a rear-facing seat. Additionally, once their bodies are more developed, the injury risks associated with collisions or sudden stops are reduced. Nonetheless, children of this size still require the extra protection and support offered by a front-facing car seat.

As the child continues to grow, a booster seat will be required. Some convertible car seats can also carry out this function, but these tend to be too large for use with new-borns. Booster seats are usually needed when a child is aged between 8 and 12 years. At this age, children are generally too large for a forward-facing seat, but not yet tall enough for a standard seatbelt to properly fit. A booster seat raises them so that the seatbelt is positioned correctly, providing them with the best possible support. The AAA recommends that children should not ride in the front seat of a car until they are 13 years old.

Pros and Cons of Convertible Car Seats

Convertible car seats can be incredibly useful for a number of reasons, but they also have their drawbacks.

Pros

  • You’ll only need to buy one car seat (and possibly a booster seat), rather than needing to find a new one at every stage. Using your budget this way could allow you to invest in a better quality seat.
  • They’re convenient. You’ll only need to make one purchase, and get used to the configuration of one seat.
  • Since the seat stays in the car, your baby will spend less time strapped into it. Leaving a baby strapped into an infant car seat for long periods of time can be detrimental to their breathing.

Cons

  • Convertible seats are generally more time consuming to install and uninstall. This can be inconvenient if your child will regularly travel in different vehicles.
  • Convertible seats don’t attach to a stroller like some infant seats do.
  • Some convertible seats can be a bit too roomy for new-borns, so you may need to purchase an insert, which could risk reducing its functionality.
  • Infants should travel whilst seated at a 45 degree angle – most convertible seats will allow for this, but this will take up a more room in the car than an infant seat would.

With these factors in mind, whether you choose to purchase a convertible seat or an infant seat is mostly down to personal preference and lifestyle. For smaller cars, the relative compactness of an infant seat may be your best option for comfort. If an infant is particularly small, using an infant car seat is generally the best option for safety. Some parents choose to purchase both types of seat, using the convertible seat when their child outgrows the height or weight limits of the infant seat.

Choosing the right car seat can be confusing, but, whatever you decide, ensure the seat has a good safety rating, and is suitable for children in the correct age and weight range.

What to Look for in a Convertible Car Seat

If you decide to purchase a convertible car seat, there are some key factors which should influence your decision:

  • Size

When buying a car seat, compatibility issues can sometimes arise, and it’s important to make sure that the seat will fit in your car!

  • Ease of Installation

This is not only important for convenience, but also for safety. If you’re not sure how a seat should be installed, the risk of doing so incorrectly is increased. Try to choose a seat with clear, easy-to-follow installation instructions. If you are unsure, seek professional assistance.

  • Safety

Every car seat on the market must pass certain safety standards, but since these develop so quickly, you should always invest in a brand new seat and avoid second hand purchases. It’s also a good idea to look for seats with good side impact protection (SIP). This means a seat is better equipped to absorb the impact from collisions to the side of the vehicle.

  • Weight limits

Look for a seat which can hold your little one in the rear-facing position up to the highest weight possible, as this is the safest position for travel.

  • Extras

Some added features can make your life so much easier! You might consider looking out for a seat which can fold away to save space, or has a quick-adjust feature for its harness.

Installing a Convertible Car Seat Properly

When installing a car seat, you should always closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and seek assistance if you are unsure of anything. With this in mind, the process is usually as follows:

  • Installing the Car Seat with a Seatbelt
  1. Position the car seat in the back of your car, and thread the existing seatbelt through belt path, making sure there are no twists in the belt.
  2. Buckle the seatbelt, before locking it. Information about how to lock the seatbelt can be found in your car’s manual.
  3. Press down firmly on the seat, and tighten it until it will not move more than an inch back and forth or side to side.
  4. Ensure the seat is positioned at the correct angle. For babies in the rear facing position, this will be 45 degrees from ground level.
  • Installing the Car Seat with Lower Anchors
  1. Position the car seat on the back seat of your vehicle.
  2. Locate the lower anchors – information about them can be found in the vehicle manual.
  3. Connect the car seat’s lower anchor attachments to the car’s lower achors, ensuing the straps are not twisted.
  4. Press down on the car seat, and tighten the fit so that it won’t move more than an inch side to side or backwards and forwards.

Regardless of installation method, ensure your baby is strapped into the seat’s harness correctly:

  • The straps should be snug enough that you cannot pinch them away from the baby’s shoulders with your thumb and index finger.
  • The buckle should rest at armpit level.
  • The baby’s back should be flat against the back of the seat.
  • Bulky clothing should be avoided, since this can prevent a snug fit.

A properly installed car seat can reduce the risk of death in a collision by 71 percent, so it’s vital to check and double check that the seat is installed correctly and fits well. When installing a car seat, be sure to avoid these common mistakes:

  • Installing the seat too loosely. Follow the guidance above, and make sure the car seat cannot move more than an inch in any direction.
  • Not checking the seat’s angle. The ideal angle for travel will change with your baby’s weight and age. With a good convertible seat, the angle at which your baby is positioned can be adjusted, so always check the manual to make sure the angle you’re using is right for your child.
  • Using a seat again after an accident. If the seat has done its job properly, it should be damaged after an accident. This is because it protects your child by absorbing and dissipating the force of the collision. You’ll need to invest in a new car seat if you’re involved in an accident.

Sources

  1. Car Seat Guide, American Automobile Association
  2. How to buy a Convertible Car Seat, Baby Center
  3. How to Install a Convertible Car Seat Rear-Facing, NHSTA

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