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Once your baby has outgrown her rear-facing infant car seat, typically between 1-2 years, the next step is a conventional, or toddler, car seat.
Of course you want a car seat that's reliable, comfortable, and easy to use, but above all, keeps your child safe. With so many brands and factors to consider, how do you make an informed choice?
When evaluating car seats, the key thing to note is their type, weight capacities, and their additional features (some are important, others not so much).
There are several types of car seats available. Just learning the difference will make shopping much easier:
These car seats are always positioned forward-facing, but still offer two modes of use: first as a conventional car seat, complete with harness, then (once a child reaches the harness weight max) as a belt-positioning booster seat that's used with the vehicle's seat belt.
Merge the convertible and combination car seats, and you have the 3-in-1. This car seat works rear-facing, forward-facing, and as a belt-positioning booster seat. Some parents love the versatility; others would rather have a series of car seats more scaled to their child's size.
In addition, there are single mode forward-facing car seats, which are geared to narrower weight and height ranges.
Keep in mind, not all manufacturers use these terms the same way. (We're using them the way National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—or NHTSA—does.) So look at how the car seats work, rather than just what they're called.
Beyond these safety basics, some toddler car seats offer additional features that, we think, make them better choices. Some offer enhanced safety features or are easier to install correctly. Others provide greater comfort or convenience. Here are some of the things our buyers look for:
And after you buy, be sure to read your manual (even if you rarely read manuals) and follow the manufacturer's installations directions. Register your car seat with the manufacturer, so you'll be notified of any news or recalls. And, since four out of five car seats are installed incorrectly, periodically take advantage of car seat inspections held in your area. That way, you'll know your car seat is always doing its job to protect your child. Find a listing of inspection stations near you here.
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