How To Shop For A Car Seat

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?!

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.

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.  Seats that are rated from 4lbs (rather then 5lbs) do fit small babies well and are a good bet if you’re expecting a small baby, or multiples.

Weight limits vary on infant seats, and as of this writing max out at 22lbs, 30lbs, 32lbs, or 35lbs.  Overall height of the shell of the seat varies as well, with a higher-weight seat generally having a taller shell.  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 an infant/child seat (one that installs rear facing and then can be turned forward later on).  While most of those are rated from 5lbs, very few actually fit newborns by height.  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 limits for rear facing and forward facing.  Currently infant/child seats have rear-facing weight limits of 30-45lbs, with the trend towards higher rear facing weight limits.  Shell height varies in this category of seat as well, and is not always directly related to the rear-facing weight limit.

In addition to looking at low bottom harness position, consider the tallest 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 40lbs and 65lbs.  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 he or she is booster ready.  There are seats that are called 3-in-1s and are marketed as the only seat you’ll ever need; problem is, they don’t typically fit newborns well, and don’t tend to make great boosters either as they poorly position the seat belt.  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).

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!).

Ideally you would try your child in the seat, and try installing it in your vehicle before buying.  Be cautious of online reviews as they are frequently written by people who aren’t using the seat correctly, and then not surprisingly aren’t happy with it.  Reviews, including ease-of-use ratings, and safety ratings, by places such as Consumer Reports and are excellent for many products, are not well regarded when it comes to car seats.  Every car seat legally for sale in Canada, and bearing the National Safety Mark, passes the same crash test standards.  Some seats do, however, 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 anything you find confusing or hard to understand.

We keep a list of our favourite seats in all categories (infant, infant/child, child/booster, 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 wrong with seats that aren’t on this list so long as they fit your child and install well in your vehicle.

Still confused and looking for advice?  Post a question on our Facebook page and we’ll point you in the right direction!

Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs ~ Laura, Lindsay, Emery & Jen

2 comments to How To Shop For A Car Seat

  • Lindsay

    Hi ladies! Thank you for a fantastic website with great information. Super useful in helping me decide which seat to buy to protect my little guy. I have a small car and have been looking at the Convertible Britax and Peg Perego for fit. I’m wondering if you’ve had any experience with the Convertible Peg Perego It seems like a very similar design to the Britax series but includes an anti-rebound bar and breathable fabric (good for my little guy who sweats in his current Graco). When I tried it in my car, it fits the seat better and doesn’t require a pool noodle to keep it at a 45 degree angle. Thoughts Thank you!

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