Car seats are an absolute necessity for infants and toddlers. An infant seat can reduce the risk of death in a car accident by more than 70 percent.
Earlier this year, Consumer Reports withdrew its car-seat ratings after discovering flaws in its test methodology. They re-did the tests to come up with top picks.
One of the most important aspects is how easy it is to put in correctly.
For babies up to a year old and who weigh as much as 20 pounds, a rear-facing seat is a must. A convenient choice for parents is the kind that snaps in and out of a base that is secured to the car. The base can either be attached with the car's seat belt or the LATCH system.
“With the LATCH system, the base of the seat attaches to a set of metal anchors that are positioned between the seatback and cushion,” said Jennifer Stockburger with Consumer Reports. “What we found was that those that had push-on style LATCH connectors were easier to attach and detach then those that had the hooks."
Consumer Reports recently crash tested 11 infant seats. All performed adequately, whether attached by the LATCH system or the seat belt. The tests, done at an outside lab, simulate the government's required 30 mile-an-hour head-on collision into a rigid barrier.
Consumer Reports also checked how securely the seats fit in various types of vehicles and how easy they are to adjust. Good ones make it simple to set the seat at the proper angle with an actual level indicator that shows if the seat is in the right position.
“ Look for chest clips that are easy to open and close, “ Stockburger said. “You'll be putting your baby in and out. And for adjusting the harness tension, you want a single pull and one that can be reached even when the seat is installed."
The $160 Chicco KeyFit has all those features and earned Consumer Reports' top rating. Two less expensive seats, also very easy to use, are Best Buys. The Baby Trend Flex-Loc and Graco SnugRide each cost $90.
No matter what car seat people get, they should try it in the rear-center seat first. It's the safest place for babies, as long as you can get a secure fit.
Consumer Reports advises keeping your baby rear-facing until he or she reaches the seat's maximum weight and height limits. Consumer Reports recommends getting a free car-seat inspection to make sure you've put the seat in correctly.