How To Shop For A Car Seat

Updated December 2019.

When wandering the car seat aisle, or looking online, how do you decide which car seat to buy?  The choices seem overwhelming, the reviews conflicting, and the prices all over the map!  What about safety ratings? Ease-of-use ratings?  What does it all mean?!


I want the best seat. Which one is that?

There is no one car seat that is the BEST seat for everyone.  The BEST seat for you is the one that fits your child, fits your car, fits your budget, and that you will use properly every single time.  But…which seat is that?  Here are some things to consider when shopping.

Your vehicle

If you are vehicle shopping in anticipation of a new baby or growing family please read this first.

If your vehicle has any quirks or limitations to car seat or booster seat use it may narrow down your seat options quite quickly. We could list vehicle barriers, or you could read our vehicle shopping guide even if you aren’t shopping. A vehicle with features that make car seats difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible though! It may mean you ask for help early on to save yourself the frustration of trying to figure out what will work for you. There are very few vehicles that don’t work at all.

Your child’s size: rear-facing considerations

Where does your child fall on the growth chart for weight and height?  Seats have different proportions that will better suit different types of kids.  If you’re shopping for an infant seat, it’s hard to know ahead of time what your baby will be like.  Not all infant seats actually fit small babies, including preemies; if possible, choose a seat with a low harness height and a weight rating beginning at 4 lbs.

Weight limits vary on infant seats, and as of this writing max out at 22lbs, 30lbs, or 35lbs.  Overall height of the shell of the seat varies as well, with a higher-weight seat generally having a taller shell. Many infant seats now available fit until a standing height of 30″ or 32″.

Very few kids will last to the full weight limit in the higher-weight seats; most will outgrow by height long before. The lower-weight limit seats are often outgrown by height and weight around the same time, but this of course varies by the build of the child.

Some parents choose to skip the infant seat altogether and go straight to a convertible seat (one that installs rear facing and then can be turned forward later on).  More and more seats are being designed to fit well from birth, with some starting as low as 4 lbs. When rear facing, the harness must be at or below the child’s shoulders. If you plan to go this route, choose a seat with a low bottom harness position, which may or may not require or include manufacturer-approved  infant padding to make the seat fit a newborn.

Another consideration is the weight limit for rear facing and forward facing. Currently convertible seats have rear-facing weight limits of 35-50 lbs, with the trend towards higher rear facing weight limits.

Your child’s size: forward-facing considerations

Look at the tallest or highest harness position as well. This will matter when using the seat forward facing, as the harness must be at or above the shoulders at that point.

Forward-facing weight limits vary, maxing out somewhere between 40 lbs and 65 lbs. As we highly recommend keeping a child in a harnessed seat until at least age five before transitioning to a booster, it’s advisable to shop for a tall, high-weight harnessed seat to ensure the seat fits the child until they are booster ready.

There are seats that are called 3-in-1s, all-in-ones, or multi-mode, and are marketed as the only seat you’ll ever need. Look at those with a critical eye; it is very difficult to produce a seat that fits a 4 lbs newborn and also fits a child who is 6-9+. Often seats that have rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster capabilities don’t do all of the stages well, so you may not be saving money in the long run.

Don’t shop for a booster when your child is still an infant – cross that bridge years down the road when you can get something that fits well (and is usually relatively inexpensive).

Your child’s size: booster seat considerations

Booster fit varies greatly from child to child, and even vehicle to vehicle.  Some require in-vehicle head support, and some do not.  All require a lap/shoulder belt.  Shop for a dedicated booster when your child is ready for one (read here to know if your child is ready for a booster – don’t rush this step!). Some children are ready for a booster seat at age five, many at age six, and most at age seven.

Boostering doesn’t have to be an all or nothing switch. You could use a booster seat for shorter trips around town, but use a harnessed seat for longer road trips where they may get bored and fidget, or fall asleep and slump over.

How do I know if a seat is a good fit?

Ideally you would try your child in the seat, and try installing it in your vehicle before buying. We know this isn’t always practical or possible, so online research can narrow the list.

Canada does not have safety ratings or ease of use ratings. If you are reading anything that claims this it is either American and not directly applicable to our seats, or it is marketing. Be critical.

Every car seat legally for sale in Canada bears the National Safety Mark (circle sticker with a maple leaf), and passes the same strict crash test standards.

Some seats do have features that make them easier to use properly every single time, so try buckling the seat, adjusting the harness, and feeling the fabrics when shopping. Take a read through the manual as well to see how the seat adjusts, and for anything you find confusing or hard to understand.

Be cautious of online store reviews and ratings as they are frequently written by people who aren’t using the seat correctly, and then not surprisingly, aren’t happy with it.

We keep a list of our favourite seats in all categories (infant, convertible, combination, and boosters), and reading through those lists are a great place to start.  We’ve chosen them for their longevity, their features, and their value for price. There is nothing unsafe about seats that aren’t on this list so long as they fit your child and install well in your vehicle. Seats that are brand new to the market may not appear right away, as it takes some time to acquire hands-on experience with the product.

I still have questions

Post a question on our Facebook page and we’ll point you in the right direction! We’ll need to know the following information so please have it ready:

  • Make, model, and year of your vehicle(s)
  • Age, weight, and height of your child(ren)
  • Details about all children who ride in the vehicle and what seat they’re in, even if you are only seat shopping for one. Sometimes rearranging makes the most sense.
  • Your budget
  • How long you intend to keep a child rear facing, if applicable
  • Any other relevant information around how you use your vehicle or transport your kids