Monday, September 14, 2015

Convertibles (Car SEATS not cars!)

Convertible car seats are the workhorses of the car seat world. These seat are designed to be used rear facing and then, when outgrown in rear facing mode, turned around and used forward facing. Many (but not all) convertible seats are designed to be used from birth instead of an infant seat with a handle. Convertible seats typically can be used rear facing until 40 lbs or 40 inches tall but there are variants both ways. This is the size of an average 4 year old. When we say rear face to the limits of the seat we mean the limits of a convertible- not an infant seat- which are outgrown usually before 1 year. After the rear facing mode is outgrown, convertible seats are turned around and used forward facing until about 65 lbs.

A convertible can be #therightseat for your child from birth until booster age. 

There are a lot of convertible seats on the market. How do you know which one is the right one? First- there is no BEST seat. 

The BEST seat is one that:
  1. Fits the child
  2. Fits your vehicle
  3. Fits your budget
  4. You can install and use correctly 100% of the time
If you have a tall child, look for a seat with a high rear facing height limit. If you have a heavy child, look for the 50 lb rear facing weight limit. If you have a tiny car, look for a seat that is compact front to back. If you need to fit three seats across your back seat, look for the narrowest seat. Overwhelmed by the choices? Talk to a CPST! We have a lot of knowledge about choosing the right seat for your situation and we're always happy to help. One thing you should not rely on are online reviews by other customers (like on Amazon). I know, I use them for everything too. This is the one instance where I can definitively say they are worthless. Remember these statistics:

90% of seats are installed or used incorrectly
96% of parents believe their seat is installed and used correctly

So, when it comes to reviews, 90% of the people writing the review have no idea that they're doing it wrong. If you like to read online reviews of seats I recommend Car Seats For the Littles. They do amazing, in depth reviews and they are written by CPSTs so they are also accurate. They don't shy away from pointing out flaws either. They also have a list of recommended seats. That's not to say that if it's not on the recommended list, it's not a good or safe seat, it just may have some quirks that make it not as easy to use for a wide variety of situations. It's always a good place to start. 

After you've selected and purchased the right convertible seat for your child, vehicle and budget it's time to install. The first thing you should do is sit down and read the manual. I mean REALLY read it. Cover to cover, all the words. It's critical to understanding how to install and use your seat correctly. 

Installation of convertible seats is as varied as the number of seats on the market. Some basic install tips. 
  • Use the right belt path- convertible seats have two belt paths- one for rear facing and one for forward facing. The belt paths are clearly labeled on the seat. Using the wrong one can be deadly in a crash. This video shows a seat properly installed on the right and installed with the belt through the incorrect belt path on the left. 
  • Set the harness straps at the correct height
    • Rear facing, the straps should be at or below the child's shoulders. In a crash, the child will be pushed back into the seat and ramp up the back of the seat. Having the harness below the shoulders prevents upward motion of the child.
    • Forward facing, the straps should be at or above the child's shoulders. In a crash, the child will be thrown forward into the harness. Having the harness above the shoulders limits the forward motion of the child.
  • Use the top tether! The top tether should be used regardless of whether you use the seat belt or the lower anchors for installation. It limits head excursion by 6-8"- which is huge. In studies, only 29% of parents used the top tether on a forward facing installation and of those who used it only 56% used it correctly. 
  • Make sure everything is snug. Your seat should not move more than 1" side to side or front to back AT THE BELT PATH when given a firm shake. Do not test for movement at the top of the seat in a rear facing installation. It will always move there- it's designed to. Only check at the belt path. 
  • Do the pinch test! You should not be able to pinch any excess harness webbing when your child is harnessed snugly enough. Make sure the top of the chest clip is level with their armpits. Having the harness too loose can cause your child to be ejected and killed in a crash. 
Having #therightseat is critical to the safety of your child in the car. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of convertible car seats. As always, if you have any questions, please comment or send me an email.