A list of things to think about as you prepare to add a new little person to your family.

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Infant or convertible seat?

One of the first things you need to decide when buying a seat for a newborn is whether to buy a rear-facing only infant seat, or a larger convertible seat. There is no right or wrong choice here, so long as the seat fits your child and your vehicle appropriately. Used seats come with their own set of challenges; read more about those here.

If you are expecting multiples or a small baby, it is very important to look for a seat that starts at 4 lbs and also has low harness slots. There’s even one that allows use at 3 lbs! A baby’s small torso needs to be taller than the lowest harness slot to fit properly in most cases. Take your tape measure to the store and check out the differences between models. Newborns come in different sizes and shapes of course, but a seat that is highly adjustable is more likely to fit well from birth. Many seats will come with required or optional padding or low birth weight inserts to improve the fit, so check that any floor model you’re looking at has all of the parts present.

If you prefer to use a convertible from birth you still need to consider actual fit – not just the stated minimums on the seat. Many convertibles fit an average-sized newborn from birth and also come with required or optional padding to improve fit. Some now start at 4 lbs, but most at 5 lbs. The lowest harness position is still important, so don’t be shy with the tape measure. To make things more confusing (sorry), some convertibles are available with additional newborn-specific padding or fit rules for wee ones. Please ask us if this is the route you want to take so we can give you the most current information possible.

Vehicle shopping

If your current set of wheels isn’t ideal for transporting kids you may find yourself in the market for a new vehicle. This isn’t as straightforward as you might hope, unfortunately. Read more here about what features are important to consider once you have kids on board.

Recline and breathing

One of the biggest challenges encountered by new parents is properly reclining the car seat. Some car seats naturally position a child more upright than others; some babies are floppier than others. If your child’s head tilts forward then something needs to change immediately, as this is very dangerous for young babies. If they are positioned chin-to-chest the airway can close. Babies don’t have the physical ability to lift or reposition their head, and their brain hasn’t yet developed the reflex to alert them to breathe. Chin-to-chest can result in positional asphyxiation and can be silent and fast.

Regardless of whether you choose a rear-facing only seat or a convertible seat, it is absolutely critical to make sure that car seat is reclined as much as possible within any allowable range provided by the seat. Some seats have a weight-based recline range, some are more flexible, and others just state a single line for all ages. Read more about recline angles and how to use them here.

Avoid unregulated products

Walk on by that wall of cute baby stuff  that claims to be “made for use in the car seat.” Car seat manufacturers rigorously design, engineer, and test their products to work as intended, meaning to keep your little bundle safe in a crash. If you deviate from the instructions you increase the chances of the car seat not doing its job. Are you eying up a fuzzy set of harness pads to be comfy at the neck? Some car seats come with those. Some manufacturers make them available for purchase for specific seats. Don’t buy ones that aren’t made specifically for your seat.

Avoid adding head positioners to car seats. They tend to attach to the harness, and go behind the head. This can change how the harness works or fits your child, and putting something behind the head can push baby’s head forward and is the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. See above for chin-to-chest dangers. 

If your car seat came with a head positioner, head pad, body pad or insert, then read your manual carefully to see if there are any requirements for use or removal. 

Bunting bags or sleeping bag inserts also fall into the unregulated category. They tend to add bulk, interfere with how the harness works or fits, may interfere with how the handle moves, or how the carrier snaps onto the base. Shower cap-style covers may be an option, but avoid use in the car so baby doesn’t overheat. Often a blanket draped over the seat is all that is needed to keep the wind out for quick in and out trips between car and house.

Other unregulated products include mats, mirrors, toys that attach to the handle of the seat, aftermarket covers or sew-your-own covers, and anything that didn’t come with the car seat or was not made by the manufacturer of the car seat. Many brands have options in these categories because parents want them, so look there first if you’re feeling a need for these items. And if you received these items as gift or bought them and can’t return them? They may be appropriate for use in the stroller instead.

Hot cars

Every year we hear of tragic hot car deaths and possibly think to ourselves we would never do that, we love our kids too much. If this is you – stop. Stop right now. That thinking is dangerous.

Of course you love your kids. So did the parents who made the horrifying mistake of forgetting their kids in a hot car. We all get distracted. We all go on auto-pilot. And it’s not that those parents forgot about their kids for 8 hours, it’s that their brain told them their kids were safely at daycare or with grandma or wherever they usually go. If you have ever driven a familiar route and then realized you didn’t really remember the last few kilometres of travel then you, like every other tired, distractable human, are at risk of making a tragic mistake. And this risk intensifies when we are tired. Hands up if you are a new parent (or hey, any parent) who isn’t often tired. No? Okay then, read on.

How to minimize the risk? Thankfully there are some simple, low cost things you can do to reduce the risk to your family.

  • Use any systems in place with daycare or school to have them contact you or a series of people if the child doesn’t show up as expected. This might be called a safe arrival program.
  • Make a habit of always opening the rear door after you exit the driver’s seat. Even better, keep something back there that you need such as a phone, wallet, or purse.
  • Communicate with other caregivers when exiting the vehicle and get in the habit of doing a head count once inside.
  • Take advantage of any technological backups provided by your car seat or car, for example:
    • Some Evenflo seats come with SensorSafe, which includes an app connected to the chest clip of your child’s seat together with the ODB port in your vehicle. The app, when set up, will contact a cascading series of people if the system determines that the car was parked but the chest clip is still buckled.
    • GM has a chime reminder if it determines that the rear door was opened within a certain time the car was driven. We expect to see more and more advances in this area of injury prevention as manufacturers get more creative to prevent the rising number of hot car deaths in North America.

For more information on this topic you can read here.  Kids and Cars is the primary source of information on this topic.



Winter wear

Newborns who travel in rear-facing only seats are quite easy to keep warm. Typically the car seat starts out warm because it’s been in the house. Dress baby in thin, warm, well-fitting layers, such as a sleeper layered with a slim-fitting fleece sleeper over top. Add a hat, and then buckle. Tuck a blanket around baby over top of the harness but avoid any fluff near the face. Quick in-and-outs between store and car can be dealt with by draping a blanket over the seat to keep out the wind, but don’t leave it in place for long as it may limit air flow. Avoid using bunting-bag type seat inserts, see above for unregulated products.

Keeping newborns warm and safe in convertibles, as well as a child of any age in a larger seat, requires a bit more planning. Read more here.

Car seats are for cars

Always buckle as if you’re driving. We all know someone (or did it ourselves) who loosened baby’s harness “for comfort” while inside, covered them with a blanket, and then forgot to re-buckle to drive home. Not only does this put them at risk of injury in a crash, but it means baby could slouch and slide down in the seat, changing the position of their head or where the straps are on their body. New parents forget things. They’re tired, distracted, and just trying to function. Avoid this risk by always buckling properly as if for a drive.

Car seats are not safe sleeping spots. Once the car seat comes out of the car, baby should come out of the car seat. You’ll notice that the angle the car seat sits at is different on the floor or stroller compared to when clicked into the base. Please re-read the section above about chin-to-chest and why it’s so dangerous. Consider baby wearing, a stroller with a recline-flat seat or bassinet, or a portable crib for sleeping when not at home. Find more information on safe sleep here.

Click the carrier only onto the base, compatible stroller, or place on a low and flat surface. Rear-facing only car seats aren’t meant to click or dock onto the top of a shopping cart. This could damage the seat’s own locking mechanism, as well as making the whole contraption very top heavy. Avoid the fall hazard and put the carrier down and in the shopping cart if it fits, baby wear, or use a stroller to pull behind you with one hand while you push the cart with the other. Alternately, this may be a good time to take your friends up on offers to help and send them to the store with a list, take advantage of grocery delivery or pre-order and quick pickup options, or something else that suits your life. Further avoid fall risks by not placing the car seat on high or unstable surfaces like a couch or counter.

Stroller compatibility and travel systems

Disclaimer: we do not provide much input on strollers, that’s not our thing. If stroller compatibility is important to you our advice is to consider how you use the stroller separately from what you need and want in a car seat. If you happen to find a travel system that works for you, excellent. Travel systems are car seat-stroller combos that come as a set.

For many people though, what they want in a stroller is different from what comes in a travel system, and they shop for the two separately. Regardless, car seats are not intended to replace a crib for sleep, and chin-to-chest is dangerous. Strollers may not position baby well when they’re little.

Does your lifestyle include any of the following?

  • being car-free
  • taking a lot of public transit
  • walking including to areas with a lot of stairs
  • living in a building that doesn’t have an elevator
  • traveling by plane
  • trail running
  • pushing more than one child (now or in the future)

If yes, then our advice would be to shop for the stroller separately and then look at what car seats are compatible with your stroller of choice. Popular brands make adapter bars for many types of car seats, and often the adapters can be found second hand.

Parents of multiples are advised to consult with other parents of multiples for input on the stroller situation.

Find and read your manuals

Unearth your vehicle manual and flip to the section usually called “child restraints.” Also read your car seat manual cover to cover. Some manuals are organized more clearly than others. Use the customer service options offered by your car seat manufacturer. All are available to provide additional product support; some even go so far as to video chat with you to troubleshoot any questions you may have. These days, virtually all of them are responsive on social media, so pick your preferred communication method and reach out with questions. They want you to use their product safely and properly, so don’t be shy.

Are you dusting off your own seat to use with another child? Reread its manual. It’s amazing the things you forget. Often, a rear-facing only seat has been left set up for the larger, older child who vacated it, so some steps will need to be taken to ensure it’s set up for a wee one. Also double check that all parts are there, there’s no mold or rodent damage from being in storage, and the seat hasn’t expired since you first purchased it. If you’re borrowing from a friend go through this list with them to make sure it’s appropriate to pass along.

Read your car seat manual and your vehicle manual.

Practice with a doll or stuffed animal

This may sound ridiculous but it’s very helpful! Find a baby-sized doll or stuffy – doesn’t need to be perfectly proportioned – and try buckling it up. If you are doing this at the shopping stage some stores may have an appropriately-sized doll to test out, or CPSTs often have one on hand for prenatal education. Get a sense for how the harness adjusts and tightens, how the buckles feel, and where the arms and legs are meant to go. Your baby will be much cuter, but also possibly wiggly and most definitely noisier. Practicing on a doll will up your confidence for when it’s go time.

Poppy, a Build-A-Bear monkey, is a good-sized model to practice on!

Register your seat

Sometimes car seats are recalled and it’s important that the manufacturer knows to reach out to you to inform you of any concerns with their product. If you don’t register your seat they can’t know that you have it!

Registering is easy and can be done online. Your car seat will come with a postcard-type card that contains all of the information needed to register your seat. If you lost it don’t despair; all of the information needed can also be found on your seat. Look for a sticker that indicates date of manufacture and model number. We also recommend taking a picture of this label for easy reference should you ever need the information on it for a warranty question. The registration information should be readily accessible on the manufacturer’s Canadian website.

Registering your seat applies even if you are using it for a second child and forgot to the first time around. It applies if you were given a safe used seat by a trusted friend or family member. Do it now!

Some manufacturers reward owners who register their seat with additional warranty options, so take advantage!

Meet with a CPST for hands-on help

Car seats are life saving devices, and when used properly, are very effective. For some parents, reading the car seat manual and car manual is all that is needed and they feel confident and ready to welcome their newest family member. 

Some parents feel much more prepared if they meet one-on-one with a CPST to learn how to install and use their seat. Rewind a bit – many CPSTs can also help with the choosing of a seat at the buying stage. Do what works for you! Find a CPST near you at https://www.cpsac.org/find-a-tech/.

Thank you to our CPST colleagues from across Canada who provided adorable and educational photos for this article. You know who you are!

An unconventional giveaway...

Congrats to the winner of a pair of custom-made baby slippers. Jen will knit them and mail them to you. They’re handmade, cute, and stay on little feet! 

Just like buying a new car seat, buying a new vehicle can be very overwhelming. It’s hard to sift through all the information out there and to decide what should be a priority for your family. While shopping many people consider paint colour, fuel mileage, safety ratings, and built-in entertainment and navigation systems, but surprisingly few seem to consider functional seating capacity. If your family does or will include children it’s important to think long term about how the vehicle will accommodate car and booster seats as your children grow. There are a startling number of factors to consider from this perspective.

We have included a photo gallery to illustrate some of the more challenging vehicle design features that may impede a successful car or booster seat install, but first some details. But don’t be alarmed! Chances are you will find something that works with a particular vehicle, but your options might be limited. Consider each feature carefully and decide what matters overall to you. Would you like help narrowing down the options? The knowledgeable folks at car-seat.org (from whom we’ve learned, and continue to learn a great deal), particularly in the Car and Vehicle sub-forum, can probably save you time and aggravation if you post the particulars of your situation.

How many people do you regularly transport? Do you often have family visit and/or transport friends? How old are the people you transport most often?

How long do you expect to own this vehicle? How old will your children be at that time and what type of seats would they be in (rear-facing, forward-facing, booster)? Do you plan on having more children in the future?


Tether anchors: How many forward-facing children do you have or expect to have at one time? If the vehicle is older than 2002, has it been retrofitted with anchors if possible? If not, is the retrofit part still available or easy to find? If it’s a 3-row vehicle be aware that many have only one tether anchor in the 3rd row, and sometimes none at all. With few exceptions vehicles that come factory-equipped with tether anchors can not have additional ones added. Do not use a universal unregulated/untested tether anchor or get into “do it yourself” mode when it comes to this critical safety element. Contact a tech for a list of vehicles with more than three factory-equipped tether anchors if you anticipate needing the flexibility that multiple tether anchors offers.

Ford’s new inflatable belt

Seat Belts: The type of seat belt present (lap belt or lap/shoulder belt), their locations, the length of the buckle stalk, whether the buckle is fixed and forward-leaning, whether the buckle sits forward of the bight (seat crease), and how the belt itself locks can all influence how and whether a car seat or booster seat can be installed in that location. Some types of belts are straight out incompatible with car and booster seats, and other new types, such as Ford’s inflatable belts, may not yet be fully tested or approved with some models of car or booster seats.



Headrests: More accurately called head restraints they serve an important function in protecting an adult’s head and neck against whiplash-type injuries. They are sometimes required to support a high back booster seat, always required for use with a backless booster seat, and often interfere with the installation of a forward-facing car seat. Whether head restraints are adjustable, removable, or fixed and forward-leaning can very much affect what car or booster seats can be used there.

Safety: When shopping for a new or used vehicle it’s worth the time to investigate any available information on safety ratings, such as those published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. If purchasing an older vehicle investigate whether the seat belts are in good working order, or have ever been replaced (recommended after a vehicle is around 20-25 years old), and that existing safety features are undamaged and accounted for, such as airbags and tether anchors.

Seating Capacity: Many vehicles advertise themselves — or consumers assume — that seven seat belts means the ability to simultaneously transport seven people. While that is possible given the absolute right combination of people it’s not usually as easy as it looks. The same goes for many five-seaters that can’t actually seat five at the same time. The Car Seat Lady made a handy pictorial showing three types of seating configuration to watch for in a back seat. Essentially you want to avoid having seating positions cross over one another, or the middle be too narrow to accept a car or booster seat. Take careful note of any restrictions in three-row vehicles. Sometimes it’s not permitted to install any seat in the 3rd row if it’s especially small or what’s considered ‘stadium seating.’ Get that car dealer to dig out the manual for you to read carefully!

Taking a seat along for a test drive...it's so CLEAN!
Taking a seat along for a test drive…it’s so CLEAN!

Try before you buy: Already own seats, and you’re convinced you want to continue using them? Take them with you and try them out. Install with UAS and then re-install with seat belt as eventually you’re going to max out the weight limit of the anchors and need to install with the belt. Not fond of your seats? Research before hand what would be suitable for the vehicle you’re considering, whether you’re willing to budget that into your purchase price, and whether they will properly fit your child.

Trucks: Trucks that do not have full-size cabs pose particular challenges due to their shallow back seats, access to tether anchors, and (in)ability to switch off the airbag in the front seat. Extended cab trucks with flip down back seats are especially challenging; due to their depth and non-compressible materials very little will install there, and some manufacturers may prohibit installing a seat there. No car or booster seat may be installed on a sideways facing jump seat, nor a rear-facing vehicle seat.

Interior Quirks and Geometry: Every vehicle interior is different but potential barriers to successful seat installation include the following. Illustrated where possible with a typical example. Thank you to all of the people who provided photos for this article.


A1 BeltFOTBForward of the bight seat belts. This particular seat happens to work with this style of belt, but most will do as illustrated in the next set of photos.

Installation appears solid at first…


…but easily shifts like this. Not acceptable of course. Forward-facing installations with a forward-of-the-bight (FOTB) belt are not usually better as they tend to slide forward more than is allowable.



Overlapping lower anchors (UAS). The set in yellow is for the centre seating position; the set in blue is for the outboard seating position. Only one set can be used at a time and you must use the set indicated for each spot, not one from each.

A1 overlapping UAS


Raised bight. Most vehicles have a crack or a gap at the location marked ‘seat turn/crease’ in this picture. A raised bight means the crack or gap is above that spot, and this can complicate some rear-facing installs. The lower anchors aren’t necessarily always as pictured here – they may be at the lower turn/crease, set into the bight, or recessed elsewhere.

A1 raised seat bight


Overlapping seat belts. These two seating positions cannot be used at the same time for anyone or any car seat due to the overlapping anchor points. What appears to be a popular five-passenger vehicle (Toyota Rav-4) is what a fellow tech referred to as a “four passenger vehicle with an extra seat belt for decoration.”

A1 overlapping belts

Off-set lower anchors. The position of the lower anchors on this van bench seat takes up two seating positions when in use.

A1 offset UAS


Hard plastic at the seat bight. Many seats won’t install well against copious hard plastic at the seat bight. Most prevalent on SUVs and wagons where there is a 60/40 split. The hinge at the split and on each outer edge usually makes for a hard time with rear-facing seats.

A1 hard plastic at bight


Flip-down centre consoles or arm rests can be problematic for a rear-facing car seat install. If the pivot point of the console is too high compared to the edge of the car seat it won’t be held tightly in place and the risk is that it will impact a child’s face in a crash. A few vehicles have a mechanism to hold the console in place in just this situation, so read your vehicle manual carefully to see if this ‘fix’ applies to you. If a manual doesn’t prohibit installing a car seat there then go for it – but it still makes some parents uncomfortable.

A1 console


Extremely narrow centre seats with closely spaced seat belt anchors. Who or what would fit there? Not much. The spacing there is about 11″.

A1 narrow centre seat


Fixed, forward-leaning buckle stalks. The angle of the webbing is all wrong for a forward-facing car seat install. Attempts to pull on it to tighten usually result in something like this – jammed, bunched, and not at all tight.

A1 forward leaning buckle


Difficult to access tether anchors, usually in trucks. Acrobatics are sometimes required to balance a seat while routing the tether to awkward and hard to access anchor points.



Shallow back seats in extended cab trucks, or flip-down seats in trucks. Seat depth is often not sufficient to properly support a car seat, and hard plastic means the surface is not compressible. Usually some compression or give in the upholstery is needed to achieve a good installation.

A1 flip down back seat


Pronounced side bolsters, most often found in cars, can significantly reduce usable side-to-side space by forcing the car or booster seat to shift toward the centre.

A1 side bolster


Long buckle stalks. The sneaky thing about long buckle stalks is that they don’t always seem long until you try to install a car seat or use them with a booster seat. Sigh. For a harnessed seat it may be permissible to twist the female end up to three full turns (no half turns), and often this is enough to shorten the whole unit and get the buckle lowered and out of the belt path. Once in a while the buckle stalk is SO long it will go right into the belt path. This is okay so long as the whole thing is in there and not teetering on the edge. It is not permissible to twist a buckle stalk when used with a booster seat.

A1 long buckle stalks


Fixed forward-leaning head rests (head restraints). Because this head restraint is not adjustable or removable it causes problems with forward-facing car seats and booster seats. The gap it creates between the seat back and booster makes this particular booster incompatible in this seating position.

A1 Forward leaning head rest


Phewf, that might be it. Or at least that’s all we have pictures of. Did we miss something that causes you grief in your own vehicle? Tell us about it! So go forth and car shop – but look at the vehicle’s features with real, functional seating capacity in mind, armed with all of these helpful hints!

Updated December 2019.

No time to read? Download a PDF checklist for used seats here.

What’s the risk, really?

There are too many potential issues with a seat of unknown history, and ultimately you’re trusting the seller or lender with your child’s life. Do you trust that person to be honest about the history? We, too, are thrifty and like a good bargain, but car seats and booster seats are one of the few things we strongly encourage you to buy new whenever possible.

Great brand new seats can be had in all categories (infant, convertible, combination, and booster) for around $100, and if you’re not in a hurry, sometimes for less on sale. There are circumstances when someone might feel they have no choice but to use a used seat, and going over this checklist will go a long way to ensuring it’s a safer used seat.

When is a used seat safe?

A seat isn’t unsafe just because someone else has used it. The potential for risk comes from the history not being known. Maybe you’ve decided to borrow a friend’s infant seat for your baby, or are flying to visit relatives and your cousin has a spare you can use instead of bringing it on the plane (read more here for our thoughts about traveling with car seats).  Much less risk there, because you can ask those people specific questions about the seat, and trust you’re getting an honest answer.

Is it ever illegal to use a used seat?

No – provided the seat is otherwise appropriate for your situation.

In some cases it may be illegal for the person to have provided (sold, loaned, or gave) it to you. That includes if the seat is:

  • expired
  • not compliant to current Transport Canada CMVSS standards (as of this writing, anything produced 2012 or later will be)
  • recalled and not fixed
  • damaged and not fixed
  • missing parts
  • missing a manual (a digital manual is fine)
  • crashed to the point of requiring replacement (some brands allow re-use after a minor crash)

In all of those scenarios above it would be against Health Canada’s Consumer Product Safety Act to pass on the seat.

If I can’t give it away or sell it, what are my options other than the landfill?

If you find you need to destroy a seat, for any reason (expired, crashed, or otherwise unsafe to use), here’s what we suggest.  Alternately, a CPST may be able to use it for teaching.  A CPST won’t put kids into it, but will use it to teach other parents about car seat safety, and Health Canada has approved this practice.  If you’re willing to donate, please contact a tech near you to see if can be used.

If you’re out of options then please destroy it. Make it so no one else could ever consider using it in the car.  Cut the straps and pull them off.  Remove the cover, but keep it to use as a spare for an identical seat, or to give or sell for use on an identical seat.  Remove UAS (LATCH) straps.  Write CRASHED DO NOT USE in permanent marker on the shell. If you’re fortunate to live near a recycling facility that takes car seats, strip it of all cloth and metal and take it there.  If not, put the mangled shell in a black garbage bag and put it out with your garbage. Dispose of other bits separately.


If you’re considering a previously owned seat for any reason – travel, vacation, saving a few dollars – have a read through this list to see if the seat is a good choice for you. If not, please let us know what you need and we’d be happy to suggest some options. Our goal is to give you the information you need to make informed choices for your family.

Last updated December 2019.

We are asked this question often, from parents feeling stressed about the pressure to spend huge amounts of money on a car seat to keep their child safe. Will a seat that costs $500 do a better job of protecting your child than a $99 seat? 

You don’t get to pick your crash. Focus on choosing and using a seat that fits your child and your vehicle, and that you use properly every single time, and have confidence you are keeping your kids safe in the car.

Every single seat currently available for sale in Canada will bear the National Safety Mark.  That is your assurance as a consumer that the seat has passed the same strict crash tests as every other seat out there. Most manufacturers do not release their crash test data, so we don’t know how much beyond the standard a particular seat made it. Seats either get a pass, or a fail. If they pass, they go on the shelves. If they fail, they don’t. Canada does not have safety ratings of any kind, so be critical of anything stating ‘highest rated’ or ‘safest on the market.’

So what are you getting in a $500 seat versus a $99 seat?  Mostly ease of use features and premium options. Those features may be worth it to you, but don’t make the seat inherently safer.  Unless…unless that feature makes you able to install and use the seat correctly every single time.  There are features that are handy; there are features that make an installation possible in a vehicle that’s tough to put a car seat into; there are features that make only a single seat possible in a given situation; there are some really nice fabrics out there.

We’ll attempt to point out some features that might make a particular seat attractive in your situation, and then it’s a matter of deciding what is worth your money, and what is marketing.

UAS connectors

UAS (Universal Anchorage System, aka LATCH), is a system to install car seats and is an alternative to using the seat belt. Vehicles 2003 and newer have this system built in. There are many different versions of UAS connectors (hooks) out there, ranging from a simple metal hook, to those with push-button releases, self-ratcheting mechanisms, and more. How often do you move your seat around?  It it’s daily, you might want to pay a little more for a seat with premium connectors.  If it’s hardly ever, then paying extra for premium connectors may not be a priority.  Even the most basic connectors are simple to do with a little practice.

Side impact protection

The best possible side impact protection you can give your child is to rear face them for as long as possible, in any seat appropriate for their height and weight. Many seats are now marketed with various forms of ‘side impact protection’, ranging from large head wings, air pockets around the head, special foam and other materials, or a deep shell.  As there is no federal crash test standard (yet) for side impact protection, consumers really must take a manufacturer at their word that is has any effect whatsoever.  It probably doesn’t hurt anything, but whether it helps or not is anybody’s guess.  At the very least, seats with deeper shells or head wings provide a nice spot to rest a tired head.

Harness: no-rethread

To adjust the harness height many seats require you to undo the harness straps at the back of the seat, pull the strap out, and re-thread it through the correct slot, and then put it all back together. Some seats come with a no-rethread harness, meaning you don’t have to undo anything to adjust the height. Rear-facing seats typically don’t have to be uninstalled to change the height, but forward-facing seats do. Whether this feature is attractive depends entirely on how you use the seat. People who have multiple children using the same seat, such as daycare provides or grandparents, really like this feature. They can raise or lower the harness height in seconds. Those who have a dedicated seat for a single child also like this feature, but really don’t need it. Re-doing a harness height manually five times over the course of a seat’s life is really not a deal breaker for most of us.

Built-in lock-offs

Seats with built-in lock-offs have a locking mechanism as part of the seat that locks the seat belt by clamping the the webbing in some way. A lock-off would be used instead of a belt’s own locking mechanism, if present. 

Lock-offs can be handy if you install often with a seat belt and that installation is difficult, or have an older car with seat belts that don’t lock. They can be useful, and in certain situations extremely helpful, but are not necessarily going to be the difference between a successful installation and an unsuccessful one.  

If you frequently travel internationally, a seat with lock-offs can be very handy as seat belts outside of North America often do not lock for car seat use.

Load legs

Load legs are common on European seats but are only recently appearing on Canadian ones, currently only on rear-facing only infant seats. The load leg extends from the back of the base to the vehicle floor. The load leg minimizes how much a rear-facing seat moves in a crash, and reduces crash forces on the child. Some vehicle features may prevent the use of a load leg, such as a hollow under-floor storage compartment or stow and go seating. Check vehicle fit before committing, but if a load leg is present, make every effort to use it.

Anti-rebound bars

Rear-facing infant and convertible seats may come with an anti-rebound bar (ARB), the purpose of which is to minimize how much a seat rebounds toward the back of the vehicle after a crash. Seats that do not have this physical bar do also have anti-rebound structure built into them but it may not be as obvious. Other ways of managing rebound include a pronounced bolster on the front edge of the car seat, or use of a rear-facing tether. 

Evenflo EveryStage anti-rebound bar

Latchable boosters

Once a child is at the booster stage, many parents are alarmed to discover that the booster seat just sits there on the vehicle seat. Yes, that is what booster seats do, as it’s the seat belt that is now restraining the child. There are some boosters, or harnessed seats that convert to boosters, that come with the ability to be semi-installed with UAS. All this does is prevent the booster from become a projectile in a crash, and eliminates the need to re-buckle the booster when it’s empty (because you do that, right?). This feature is not required to be used in vehicles that do not have lower anchors.

Harmony Youth Booster UAS

Plush fabrics and padding

Higher end seats do typically have really nice fabrics (oh how we love that Britax Cowmooflage!), with more comfort padding in various places.  That’s purely fashion however – unless you do long drives or your child has a sensory need for a particular fabric.

Premium covers also tend to include optional harness covers for at the child’s neck, and miscellaneous other padding that can be customized for child fit.

Recent years have seen new breathable fabrics, heat-regulating fabrics, an influx of merino wool covers, and other specialty fabric types that may appeal. Full disclaimer: we would never personally buy a leather cover for messy, spilly babies, but you do you!

Niche Needs

There are some situations that call for a particular seat.  Often the need is for either a very narrow seat, or a very tall seat, or a seat that is known to be the only one that works in a very specific situation.

In certain circumstances parents may be faced with having to spend a fair bit of money to get a seat that fits the bill. But not always – sometimes the perfect seat is that $99 one!

Want, need, or nice to have?


When shopping for a seat decide if you actually need the feature on the seat, or if it’s just a nice bonus. Ultimately your child will be safe as long as you take the time to properly install and use your seat every time. And one more thing? Work with a CPST for guidance on what seat to buy, and how to install and use it properly.

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