How to Make Sense of Car Seat Ratings

With all the brands and styles of car seats out there, researching our baby car seat was more involved than my senior thesis paper. Fortunately for me, I had a gaggle of girlfriends who had just had babies so my first pass was just checking out their models. Then I jumped online to visit the sites of some well-reputed organizations who publish annually updated Car Seat Ratings! Yipee, huh?

The tricky part was making heads and tails of all the information they provide. After all, this car seat was going to keep my precious bundle of joy alive and safe! There was some due diligence to be done! I’m happy to share a few key bits of learning and save you some legwork.

First of all, understand that most car seats on the market today meet Federal Safety Standards, especially if they are rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Like all other products for children, if there is a safety issue with a car seat, recalls are published. If you register your car seat, you will be contacted should a safety recall affect your particular product.

A company called Safety Belt Safe issues updated recall lists for car seats. You can print out the latest list or subscribe to their updates.

Car seats can range from $70-300… in every size, color, shape and style. So I can’t presume to be able to give “one size fits all advice.” Pricewise, there seem to be safe options for any budget.

Ease of Use

This was THE critical factor for both me and my hubby! He would observe dads at the mall carrying their “pumpkin seats” and comment that they looked like they were dislocating an arm! That’s why we ended up with the Evenflo Embrace… simply because of the “Z” shaped handle!

But there are other factors that contribute to how easy a car seat is to use. Examine how it installs in a car. Do you have to push the buckles/latches really firmly to get them to release? What about the straps? Is the buckle that restrains your baby simple and straightforward? Remember that whatever you are doing, you are likely to be doing with a wailing infant close by!

Just in 2008, the NHTSA released an Ease of Use Car Seat Rating system to help all of us parents make the smartest choices when buying our baby gear. The ratings go from 1-star to 5-stars, with five being the best, most excellent evaluation of instructions, vehicle installation features, labels, and securing the child.