Car seats tend to be the most daunting baby gear item to purchase for new parents. It’s scary as it’s so unfamiliar and is so important, as it’s the key to safely getting around town in the car. Take a deep breath, as we have a guide that will help you demystify these seats and focus in on what’s going to matter most for you!
We know many city families don’t even have a car (which makes this all the more confounding) and even if you do, you still might be using a combo of your car, an Uber and taxi to toggle around town. The basics: They always tell you: to leave the hospital, you must have a car seat. We hear you city folk! You may not even have a car! But you know you will be going around town for doctors appointments, playdates, and other excursions, so even if you don’t have a vehicle of your own, you surely will be riding in one once baby is on board!
Here's the essential vocab:
Rear facing seats: This is what you want to start. You always want your baby to be rear facing, as this is the safest way to travel. The rear facing seat will cradle the baby in case of an accident, ensuring much less movement of the head and neck as there would be if they were forward facing. Infant car seats are all about safety - they are geared to insulate babies from the forces in an accident. Their hard shells, carry handle and side impact protection help to minimize any issues in an accident. Many car seat bases have load legs as well that minimze foces before they get too close to baby. Although a newborn can generally go into an infant car seat / bucket seat or a convertible car seat in the rear facing position, most city parents will choose a “bucket seat” or infant seat, as these are smaller, lighter and can work with the stroller for a travel system using a car seat adapter. The larger “convertible seats” are longer lasting, but they are heavier and cannot integrate with your stroller so aren’t as portable.
Infant Car Seat (or Bucket Seat): These are rear facing only – generally used for about 1+/- year, depending on baby’s height & weight and the max height & weight required by the seat. Once they bust 1 dimension it’s time to move on. They are designed for safety and have many features to protect the baby and minimize any forces in an accident.
Convertible Car Seat: These are much bigger, and can be positioned in a car as rear facing and forward facing. These have also been engineered to minimize forces of an accident on a baby and protect them. These can be used to about 65 lbs +/- which could be 3-4 or even 5 years old.The convertible seat is not compatible with your stroller with car seat adapters, making them less mobile than the infant seats.
European belt path: This is a biggie for city parents. Although all infant car seats come with bases (this is the large LATCH enabled gear that comes with your seat, which gets installed more permanently in your car and into which the car seat can click in and out), our city parents aren’t taking these with them when catching a taxi or Uber. Therefore, we look for a feature called a European belt path, a small tab on the back of the seat, which is key to safer seatbelt installation of the car seat. You have a choice: you can install the base with LATCH in your own car, or, if you’re more on-the-go, you leave the base in your car /at home and install using the seatbelt. Many car seats have you thread the lapbelt through an area on the front of the seat and ensure it’s in lock position for installation. We don’t love this as the only installation point, and the seat can still move a bit (and the more secure and immobile it is the better). Those seats equipped with the European belt path allow you to loop the shoulder harness around the seat, also in lock position, and get the seat much more safely installed.
Load Leg: This is a feature on the car seat base, giving more stability and safety when used. If you are going to use the base, you definitely want to pick a car seat with a load leg. This minimizes forces in an accident and is definitely worth looking for in a seat.
Other features of interest:
Now, how to pick? As a general rule of thumb, as you add features you add both weight and price, so you want to think about how you’ll be using the seat, what are the things that you really need, and don’t pay for extra features that don’t make sense with your level of usage. Without further adieu, some of our favorite car seat models to review. Come in and check them out in store!
Cybex Aton 2 The Cybex Aton 2 is a great premium car seat, and is a more basic form of the Aton series and a bit more affordable, with everything a good car seat needs.
Cybex Aton M The Cybex Aton M has more features than the Aton 2 including no-rethread harnesses, a different type of LSP (Linear Side Impact Protection), and SensorSafe, a really cool technology built into the seat so that it can sync with your car and phone and give you updates like it’s too hot/cold in the car, or baby’s been sitting in the same position for too long, or reminders that baby is in the car.
Cybex Aton Cloud Q The Cloud Q offers even more features, the most unique of which is that the seat can recline to near flat position when on the go and clicked onto the stroller. This is nice as babies aren’t supposed to spend extended periods in the sit up car seat position, so this seat offers a choice. This seat is also offered with Sensorsafe technology, no rethread harness, belt tensioning plate and the key features of the M.
Clek Liing Clek, the creators of the “mother of all car seats”, the convertible car seat, the Foonf, entered the infant car seat market recently with the Liing. The Liing is a beautifully designed seat with a metal load leg, secure rigid latch installation and 7 different recline positions to fit the slope of your vehicle’s backseat. It’s also super narrow so that you can install 3 across in the backseat.
UppaBaby Mesa The Mesa is a great car seat that coordinates well with the UppaBaby range. You must know, however, the Mesa does not work with any non-UppaBaby stroller which, if you have an UppaBaby primary and a different brand’s lightweight stroller, could be a bit of a pain. So what we’re saying – keep it in the family! The Mesa offers premium fabrics and some FR free models and its install with the base is excellent, very highly rated. The Mesa however does not have a European belt path, meaning it’s not our top choice for Ubers and taxis. But if you have a car and are fans of the Uppa range this could be your perfect car seat!
Doona This is half car seat half stroller and the easiest way to transition from taxi to sidewalk. The levers on the back of the car seat releases wheels and voila, you can stroll away. This dual purpose car seat makes life easy for active parents. One thing to note, though, we don’t believe it replaces the primary stroller, as the Doona is only in “car seat position” meaning sit up, and (at least for city folk), we stroll too much for this to be your one about-town solution. But for quick trips, it’s pretty awesome.
Those are our top picks for the best and safest car seats for 2019/20. And don't think you need to match a car seat with the same brand strollers because strollers can be compatible with a range of car seats. You always want to assess your needs and pick the right one for you! Want to see them in person? Come in to one of our stores and one of our stylists will walk you through. And for installation needs, we recommend highly “the car seat lady”, a New York City pro who will help you get it right!