My Kid Has to Sit in a Car Seat for How Long?

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One of my co-workers was looking into convertible car seats the other day. She asked me my opinion about car seats, and boy, was she in for it. My daughter, who's now a svelte five-year-old, was such a large baby that she grew out of her carrying-case car seat (you know, the infant kind you lug around, giving yourself permanent back pain?) when she was four months old.

You heard me right.

My daughter was so young when she got too tall for her car seat that she wasn't really even sitting up by herself really well when we had to buy two convertible car seats. Our first carrying case purchase was relatively easy -- one carrying case and two bases. Because my husband and I both work, we never really know who will be picking up the child. Also, until you get to the booster stage, you don't want to be installing and uninstalling a car seat really, um, ever, without professional help. So that meant at four months, we had to buy two convertible car seats. And they were so not cheap.

We ended up buying an convertible infant sofa for our main car. It was a great carseat, but it was really big, and it was almost round in its shape, making it virtually impossible for two adults to squeeze in on either side of it in the back seat. I couldn't wait for her to grow out of it and was intensely relieved when she hit the height and weight requirements for her current boosters.

Of course, then we had to buy two of them, one for each car.

The good news is that booster seats are way less pricey than convertible car seats. The bad news: Now we had one carrying case, two bases and two convertible car seats that nobody wanted to buy because they were used. I ended up giving one convertible to a close friend and donating the others to a daycare for inner city kids that took them after I signed some statement swearing they'd never been in an accident. I never expected to get any money back from the investment, but it can be hard to stare at almost a thousand dollars worth of plush and plastic and realize you only used it for a few years.

Can you buy them used? Car seats are crazy expensive, and the prevailing wisdom is that you should never buy a used car seat because you never know if they've been in an accident. But seriously? You know how much these things COST? Some moms take a calculated risk. Frugal Babe writes:

So there you have it.  We got a super safe carseat for $75, and saved the world a bit by recycling rather than buying new.  Each to their own, and I’m sure some people wouldn’t feel comfortable buying a carseat used.  But it’s easy to check recalls online, and my mindset is to buy used whenever possible. 

If you're going to buy a used car seat, do your research first. There's a ton of great information online. Linda and Cara of Baby Bunching have purchased 12 car seats between the two of them and have all their advice here. They write:

Like in most other aspects of Baby Bunching, hindsight is 20/20 when it comes to car seat purchases.  If we had a nickel for every time we thought "If I'd only known then what I know now", we'd have enough money for an entire warehouse of Britax Marathons and Bugaboo strollers.

Another car seat pain point is travel. Do you take the base for a carrying case? (We didn't on our first flight with my daughter after calling the car seat company and finding out there are instructions on the side for how to strap just the infant seat into a seat belt without the base. I wouldn't do it every day, but it was quite secure and taking the base would've been hellish.)

Or ... do you rent a car seat with your rental car? Eek. I don't recommend it. Our own Mir Kamin wrote a round-up of travel carseat rental horror stories that make me happy we've always taken ours along when we fly anywhere. It's no fun: They're heavy, they're bulky and they induce glares from fellow travelers. You can check them, but we always just installed it on the plane -- it provided my daughter with somewhere to sleep, and I didn't have to hold a squirmy toddler for three hours.

Now that she's five, there are plenty of days that I look back and think "Will she be in that thing forever?" She doesn't seem like she needs it. But child passenger safety technician El at Profoundly Seth writes:

After your child is mature enough to sit properly in a booster, settle in for a while. Kids need to ride in a booster until they can pass the 5 Step Test.

That means you need to be able to say 'Yes' to all of these questions:

1. Does your child sit all the way back against the vehicle seat?

2. Do your child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?

3. Does the shoulder belt cross your child's shoulder between his neck and arm?

4. Does the lap belt cross your childs hips as low as possible, touching the thighs?

5. Can your child remain seated like this the whole trip?

At the end of the day, car seats and boosters are worth their weight in gold, as long as they're installed properly. How many car seats have you gone through? Do you regret purchasing so many? Did you go convertible from the get-go? Did you keep your convertible and by-pass the booster? Any advice for the rookies?

Here's my advice: Think hard about how long you want your kid to be strapped in so she can't move. Many convertible boosters go up to 65 pounds now -- which sounds great until you have to hand your six-year-old something she dropped on the floor because she can't lean forward AT ALL.

 

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