Keep Your Backseat Driver Safe

Buying Guide: Car Seats

September 10, 2014 Buying Guides By
One more way to obsess about your new familial addition.
Editor’s Note: Our talk of cars tends to be related to a wide variety of topics like speed, looks, comfort and fuel mileage. Yet often overlooked — both by enthusiasts and everyday drivers — is one of the most important factors: safety. This week, we’re taking a deeper look at how modern vehicles are keeping you and your loved ones safe on the road with our Automotive Safety Issue.

Your baby has arrived. What a glorious day. And after being coddled at the hospital, you’re kicked out of the nest like a baby bird being taught how to fly. The days-old human in your hands makes the world bigger and scarier: a sneezing stranger becomes a fount of disease, an approaching siren has you listening for gunfire, and fellow commuters become demolition derby opponents. To get your baby home safely, you must battle blind spot mergers, yellow light runners, and impatient tailgaters.

Amid this gauntlet, hopefully no one neglected to buy a car seat for the newborn.

Car seats originally looked more like lawn chairs, meant to keep children in place rather than protect them from crashes. Today’s car seats, however, must meet strict standards set by the NHTSA, including a new side impact protection test. These five options come in different prices and styles, but all pass these standards with flying colors; they’ll let you breathe a bit easier knowing your precious cargo is as safe as can be. The rest is up to the driver.



Best Baby-on-a-Budget Option: The B-Safe features energy-absorbing foam for the sides of the headrest, LATCH connectors with a one-button easy release, an ergonomic carry handle and a five-point harness for less than $200. If you own a pre-2002 car without LATCH anchors, the B-Safe’s built-in lock-offs use the seat belt to secure the base. The BOB version offers colors that coordinate with the BOB jogging stroller; add the adapters ($40), and it becomes a full travel system, eliminating the need for a second stroller.



Easiest All-Around Car Seat: The ability to install and remove a car seat base quickly and safely is extremely helpful if you’re chauffeuring your child in more than one car. The KeyFit 30 has two bubble levels and a spring-loaded foot to make sure the base is at the proper angle for any seat, and its one-pull LATCH system is the easiest of the bunch to ensure a tight fit. It also features easy-to-remove inserts for when your baby grows and thick padding for comfort and security, and fits almost every stroller Chicco offers (and non-Chicco strollers, with the aid of adapters).



Best Form-Meets-Function Car Seat: UPPAbaby is known for stylish, durable strollers like their Vista and G-Luxe, and their award-winning Mesa car seat upholds that reputation. The base features an easy-to-read indicator showing whether it’s been installed properly, in addition to automatically retracting LATCH connectors. Its no-rethread rear headrest adjusts very simply, and a one-button release removes the seat from the car. And if you’re already an UPPAbaby fan, the seat pairs with their Vista or Cruz strollers.



Best Critically Acclaimed Car Seat: German manufacturer Cybex’s offerings are relatively new to the US; after winning a Red Dot Design award in 2014 and landing on Consumer Reportstop five list of infant car seats, they deserve a warm welcome. The Aton Q offers unique features like Telescopic Linear Side Impact Protection, with protruding bars that decrease damage from side impact collisions. These bars also offer a low-lying headrest, which will prevent your infant’s head from tipping forward (something that can lead to serious breathing problems).

What Is LATCH?

According to the NHTSA, approximately 75 percent of car seats are not installed correctly; from 2002 on, the group has required all car seats to feature LATCH (Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children) in order to bring that number down. LATCH-equipped car seats essentially bypass the seat belt, anchoring directly to the seat itself by connecting to metal hooks near the base of the seat. For more information check out the NHTSA’s website or for general fitting guidelines.



Best Futuristic-Looking Car Seat: The Orbit’s unique design allows for rotation of the seat once it’s docked; this means lower back relief for those who would otherwise have to repeatedly lean over and place a car seat sideways. Though there are no side impact regulations for infant car seats, the Orbit has passed independent laboratory standards and uses an expanded polypropylene as impact-absorption foam, rather than the styrofoam of competitors.



Best $4,000 Car Seat: Art Center College of Design student Rory Craig created a one-off, race-inspired car seat with a body made of carbon fiber with a CNC-cut foam core; it also features Sparco straps and a harness, making it extremely strong, very light and entirely ridiculous looking. Evidently, it costs about $4,000 and took nine weeks to make — but what else will you put in your Bugatti Veyron?