Buy the Best Car Seat

by Joe Kita

Seventy-five percent of kids are not as secure when riding in a car as they should be, and it’s not because mom is on the phone or dad is listening to Coldplay at full volume. Rather, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it’s because the car seat is being used incorrectly. As a new dad, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed by the different brands, features, and installation intricacies of these things. After all, your back-seat talents are limited to snaps and clasps of a much different variety. Here’s a checklist to buying and using a child seat right:

Buy a ‘rear-facing infant model’: Don’t be tempted to save money by purchasing a convertible seat that promises to accommodate your child for many years. That’s like buying a bike for him to grow into. You want a rear-facing infant seat. These models are for babies up to about 20 pounds, plus their design (removable carrier and pivoting handle) eases transfer.

Check the ratings: The NHTSA rates dozens of infant seats in five categories including “securing the child” and “overall ease of use” at http://www.nhtsa.gov/Safety/Ease-of-Use. For $5.95 you can also access Consumer Reports’ buying advice, test results, and model recommendations at www.consumerreports.org.

Look for this on the label: This child restraint system conforms to all applicable U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.” If that’s not there, don’t buy it.

Install it carefully: This is where most mistakes are made. Read the car seat’s instruction booklet and your vehicle’s owner manual. Then, before you ever put the baby in, take it to a local child-safety-seat inspection station to have it double-checked. You can find the nearest one by using the locator at http://www.nhtsa.gov/Safety/CPS.

Register for recalls: If you register your car seat with the NHTSA, it’ll notify you of problems or recalls. Register here (http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/recalls/register/childseat/index.cfm) and also with the manufacturer directly to be doubly safe.