Parents in the market for a car seat have many options to choose from—whether it's an infant carrier for their newborn, a convertible car seat for their toddler, or a combination booster or booster seat for their school-age child. The best practices such as keeping children rear- facing forward as long as possible, and car seat features like side impact protection, a five-point harness or an anti-rebound bar, may sound foreign to a parent new to the car seat world. That's why it's important to make sure they're adequately informed to invest in the car seat that will offer a correct fit and the greatest protection for their child.
There are four types of car seats parents should look for at various stages of their child's life:
- Infant carrier: Depending on the manufacturer, these accommodate babies from birth up to 32 pounds and can only be used in the rear-facing position. They have a carry handle and come with a base that stays in the vehicle.
- Convertible car seats: A convertible car seat can be used rear-facing and then "converts" to be used forward-facing. Some convertible car seats allow children to remain rear-facing, the safest position for a child, up to 35 pounds and forward-facing from between 40 and 65 pounds.
- Combination booster seats: Combination booster seats can only be used forward-facing and feature a five-point harness that can later be removed, turning the seat into a belt-positioning booster. Some combination seats can keep children harnessed up to 85 pounds.
- Belt-positioning booster seats: Belt-positioning booster seats are for older children who have outgrown their five-point harness. They rely on the vehicle seat belt system to keep the child restrained, but ensure that the vehicle seat belt is properly positioned across the child's shoulder and lap. Some booster seats, particularly those with backs, offer additional protection from side impact crashes.
No matter the child's age or stage, your customers should invest in a car seat equipped with features that absorb crash forces and minimize a child's risk of injury. Encourage your customers to look for the following:
Technology that manages crash forces in front and rear collisions.
Front and rear collisions are the most common types of crash. Features that help protect a child in a front or rear collision include a staged-release energy-absorbing tether that helps anchor the top of the child seat to minimize forward movement in a crash and an energy-absorbing base that deforms in the event of a crash. If your customers are shopping for a car seat for their newborn, recommend that they look for infant carriers that feature an anti-rebound bar to minimize rotational forces and reduce the possibility of head contact with the vehicle seatback.
Technology that manages crash forces in side impact collisions.
One in four of all motor vehicle crashes that involve children up to 12 years old are side impact crashes and these produce the most severe injuries.
Features that provide enhanced protection in a side impact collision include: deep side and head wings to contain the child during a side impact, a rigid barrier around the head and torso to shield the child from intruding objects, energy-absorbing foam lining in the shell and head restraint to absorb crash forces, and an adjustable head support to minimize lateral head movement in a crash. One of the newest innovations for side impact protection is external side impact cushions, which reduce side impact crash energy before even reaching the car seat while also protecting adjacent passengers.
Features that provide convenience, comfort and ease-of-use.
Ease-of-use features will help ensure that your customers use the car seat correctly each and every time, while comfort features help a child stay properly positioned in the seat. Two important features for a growing child include a quick-adjust head restraint and no-rethread harness. These make it easy to adjust the harness shoulder height and head restraint without disassembling the harness. Premium push-button LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) connectors also provide a quick, simple and tight installation.
Car seats that promote industry best practices.
It's important for your customers to not only know the right features to look for in a car seat, but to also understand the best practices that will offer their children the greatest protection for as long as possible.
For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children stay rear facing for as long as possible. Some convertible car seats offer higher rear-facing weight limits as well as design features that provide a correct and comfortable fit for a two year old, helping to facilitate rear facing longer.
The AAP also recommends that children ride in a harnessed seat for as long as possible, or at least to 4 years of age. It's important to consider convertible car seats with higher weight limits and to graduate children from a convertible car seat to a combination booster.
By understanding car seat features and best practices that maximize child safety, convenience and comfort, you'll be able to walk your customers through one of the most important purchases they will make for their little ones.
* Special Thanks to Darryl Donovan of firstSeat LLC for reviewing this article.