Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Choosing a New Car Seat for My Almost-3-Year-Old

So, I think I need a new car seat.

I'd been doing well for a while, resisting the urge to buy something I didn't really need, browsing without purchasing all the new and wonderful seats that have come out recently. After all, my older two are already in booster seats. We own four convertible car seats (two Graco Nautiluses and two Diono Radians). I couldn't possibly need any more car seats, could I?



But I realized that the Nautilus my third son is using must be close to expiring, because I got it when my second was born, and he's almost 5-and-a-half. I checked the expiration date, and, sure enough, it expires in December of this year! I checked the other one, and it's good until December of next year but would have to be replaced after that, and he will still need a 5-point-harness at that point (he'll be 4 and something and probably not ready for a booster). The baby is using the Radian R100 rear-facing right now, which is good for a long time yet.

The main problem I have with our other Radian (currently hanging out in the garage) is that at some point in the past, our cat peed in it, and after all these years and many cleaning attempts, it still smells of cat pee when it's in a warm car. That suggests to me that the cat pee absorbed into the plastic and foam of the seat, and I worry that it might have compromised the integrity of the materials, or that my cleaning attempts did so. In other words, not only does it make my car smell of ammonia, but it's possible that it's not completely safe, too.

Plus, and this is so trivial and yet matters to me and to the toddler, we really like car seats with integrated cup holders, and the Radians, as much as I like them, don't have cup holders.

The conclusion, then, is that I need to either replace the toddler's car seat or buy the baby a new one and put the toddler back in the Radian.

I've had my eye on the Chicco NextFit, which has great weight and height limits and is supposed to be very easy to install and use. But the $280 price tag is a bit staggering, especially when I don't really need it. The other great option is the new Graco Headwise/Size4Me, which is similar to the NextFit but $100 cheaper. I don't know what makes the NextFit so expensive, but in my understanding the NextFit and the Headwise are very similar in terms of specs and use. The Graco also has integrated cup holders - two of them!

But then I thought, well, if I'm replacing the toddler's seat, since he's already forward-facing, why not just get a new Nautilus, or a similiar harness-to-booster seat, rather than spend money on a convertible seat that I don't need to use rear-facing at all?

The single thing to remember about car seats is this: The safest car seat is the one that is installed correctly, fits well in your car, fits your child, and is used properly every time. There's no magic to it. Whether you have a Clek Foonf (which run about $500) or a Cosco Scenera ($50), if it's not installed properly, if your child is too big or too small for it, or if you don't buckle your child correctly, a Foonf isn't going to keep your child safer than a Scenera will, or any other seat.

I'm not knocking the pricier models at all. Indeed, they do offer ease-of-use and comfort features that do make them "better" in some ways. Because, if the seat is easier to install and easier to use and more comfortable for the child, the chances that it will be used correctly are much higher, and thus your child will be safer in them.

After browsing my options for a while, I've decided to either simply replace the Nautilus that's about to expire with a new Nautilus, or purchase the new Britax Frontier 90.

Now, I've always been very happy with our Nautiluses. I bought a second one, after all, and am considering buying a third. I also recommend it to friends all the time. I personally don't find it difficult to install, although others have said they do find it harder than some other seats they've tried. It's affordably priced, at around $150. My kids have never complained about being uncomfortable and indeed seem to enjoy the throne-like feel. It has arm rests and a cupholder and adjustable head rest. It's really a good, solid seat. It's wide, so it's not so great for 3-across, if you need that. It allows you to use the harness until your child is 65 pounds and then switch to booster mode until 100 pounds. It expires after 6 years, so keep that in mind when considering your purchase.

The Britax is over $100 more, but it has some features I'm very interested in. One is that it's a no-rethread harness, which means you never have to take the straps out and move them up a slot as your child grows. You can raise the harness height on the fly without even taking the seat out. Now, you don't have to adjust the height often, of course, but it's still a nice feature. The other amazing thing about the Frontier is the new "CLICKTIGHT" installation, which makes installing with a seat belt an absolute breeze. And, it can be done one-handed, if some of the videos I've watched can be believed. A one-handed car seat install?! Plus, it has a harness weight limit of 90 pounds, which means even if you have a really big, heavy kid, you can continue to use the harness for a looooong time. And after that, you can use it as a belt-positioning booster until your child is 120 pounds! And, as I'm sure you're wondering, it can be used for 9 years from the manufacture date before expiring. There's a reason this seat is $100 more than the Nautilus. It's not that the Nautilus is a bad choice. It's just that the Frontier does so much more in a similar niche.

I love that companies are acknowledging the desires of parents and recommendations of safety organizations to keep kids harnessed and boostered longer. But older kids need higher weight limits, and Britax has delivered in spades!

I won't be making the purchase for a few weeks yet, but I'll be sure to fill you in on what I end up buying and how it works out for us. I might even have a setup and installation video for you when the time comes!

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