In the U.S. (as well as in other western countries) car seats are required for children. Before we had our baby we read that the hospital won’t even allow you to go home without a car seat. So we did a lot of shopping around for one, and hopefully our anecdotal experience can help some of you out there who are confused about which one to get.
The reviews for car seats seem all over the map, but I think that’s because they’re all pretty much the same. At least there don’t seem to be any major differences between the low and medium end car seats. Since we don’t typically follow the current fads in spending, the car seat we originally bought was one of the so-called convertible car seats–the kind where they sit up (as opposed to laying down). We thought this would last beyond the infant phase into the toddler phase without having to go out and buy a second car seat. The car seat said the minimum weight was 5 lbs–the same as the infant car seats. Well that was a mistake: those sitting car seats are really not good for infants because they can’t really hold their heads up. In fact even though according to the law we were doing the right thing, that seat was definitely less safe than just holding the baby in your arms. My wife had to hold the baby up in the car seat while I drove the whole time. Don’t get me wrong, at 5 or 6 months he’d be fine in it (maybe even earlier), but since you need a car set from day 1, I wouldn’t recommend getting that kind.
I took that car seat back and picked up one of the ones for infants. It is a combo that comes with a carrier which acts as the car seat, a platform that you install in the car, and a stroller. We got this one: Baby Trend Venture BC
We picked it after testing a few of the models on how easy they were to close the harness and buckle. It was great. We were able to put our son in the car seat at home, and then carry the car seat out the the car and just click it into the platform. That is especially nice when they’re so little that you need to take a lot of care in supporting their head and neck. I suppose it would be cool if a company made a swivel version so that we could just turn the seat to the side to make it easier to put him in, then swivel it back so it locks in place.
As he has gotten bigger, lugging the car seat in and out of the car has become more strenuous. I’m not sure how much the car seat weighs, but when he reached about 15 lbs I started to just carry him and leave the car seat in the car. Looking back, there may be an advantage to getting the Evenflo Journey Travel System instead because of the design of the carrier might make it easier to carry. The carrying handle has a unique shape that looks like it would make it a little bit easier (follow the link and look at the pictures). But honestly, I don’t know how much easier it would make it or how many extra lbs I’d be willing to go through.
As for price vs quality goes, the Cosco Sprinter Travel System is definitely the cheapest out there. Don’t be confused: quality in this case doesn’t refer to safety. All of these car seats are designed to keep your children safe and are crash tested. Like I said before, one of the things we knew we wanted was to be able to get the child in and out of the seat with as little difficulty as possible. We found that the Cosco seat was just too difficult to harness and buckle and we didn’t want to deal with that hassle every time we went out. So if you’re thinking about it, I would definitely recommend you actually go out to stores like Target and Babies R Us and test the models that they have for the kinds of things that are important to you.