Car Seat Anxiety: The Dangers and Comforts of the Internet

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you may know that my husband and I were in a minor car accident about two weeks before our son was born. Essentially, this is what happened: we stopped at a red light. We were stopped for a bit. A bus pulled up behind us, and it didn’t stop in time. A city bus. Yes, there is a lawsuit pending. Despite what the driver claimed, it is not possible for a city bus to “tap” a car, even while going very slowly. It was scary. I had to be monitored in the “Triage” section of Labor and Delivery. We had to throw out the car seat that we had installed in case the baby came early (he did, by the way! ten days early! I was right!) and buy a new one. Because “you never know.”

I am now thoroughly car seat paranoid. I check the little “is this installed correctly” bubble that should be green about once a week, to make sure it’s still green. I pay close attention every time I strap our child into his seat. I have taught his close-by grandmother, who has a base installed in her car, the proper placement of the chest clip (higher than you thought), why children should not wear bulky clothing in car seats (it’s pretty much equivalent to not tightening the strap) and the list goes on. Other parents tell me that this particular anxiety is warranted: very few people actually use their car seats correctly. Which makes it pretty hard for the seat to do its job. I refer anyone who wants to know more to The Car Seat Lady, an amazing lady with an amazing website.

The latest installment of my car seat anxiety (pun intended) involves hearing, at his last checkup, that our son, Walter, is 26″ long. Which is only 4″ shorter than the maximum length recommended by the manufacturer of his “infant” car seat. Of course, I immediately began to dread the day he would require the next step in child restraint safety–the “convertible” seat. These get their names from the fact that a child can sit in them facing the rear of your vehicle while he is under a certain weight (it varies depending on the car seat) and can also be installed so that it turns around to face the front of the car when you baby is a toddler who weight more than 30, 35, 40, etc pounds. The concept does not give me anxiety. The fact that there are eight billion car seats to choose from, ranging in price from under $100 all the way up to $500 is what causes me to freak out.

How do you know when you are paying for safety and when you are paying for a brand name or a fabric pattern? Why is it that the Consumer Reports recommendations are from 2011 and apply only to car seat models that are no longer available for purchase? Are the basic standards required of all car seats really good enough to justify buying the least expensive seat? And, finally, am I willing to pay extra so that I can adjust the height of the harness straps without taking apart the car seat?

The only question I know the answer to in that list is the last one: yes, we are all agreed, dad, mom and grandmother, that paying more for the “sliding” harness is totally worth it. When my mother-in-law bought carseats (before they were required), she just walked into a store, pointed to one, and walked out with a box. I can’t do that. Because I Googled it. Now, I know too much to buy just any car seat, even if they do meet basic standards, because I know that some are better–Consumer Reports says so. But since their tests apply to models no longer commercially available, I don’t know which current model is the safest one. I can also order online, and each and every retailer stocks different models from the big brands. I have both too much and too little information.

In my daydreams, money is no object, and we buy the Clek “Foonf” in “dragonfly” green, a Danish carseat that really does have some incredible new safety features and is only as wide as a person. You could instal three of them, side by side, in the back seat of a minivan, and they wouldn’t touch. It’s amazing. And around $500. So that’s not happening.

I’ll figure it out. I got a short list of good ones from moms and baby gear bloggers I trust. That’s the joy of the internet. Go to a couple of Facebook pages, ask a few people for some brand names on Twitter, check out that list in a few stores, and a mom can feel reasonably confident in her short list of preferred car seats.

But boy oh boy, is the car seat industry a racket! I was in two different stores today, and I could not tell you the difference between different models from the same brand that cost $100 more, except that they had different (meaningless) names. You can, I kid you not, get “last year’s colors” for less money. When Graco comes out with a “Tensley” shade of mauve that beats out last year’s “Kinsley” shade of muted magenta, consumers are apparently expected to care.

In case anyone from Graco sees this, I have a bone to pick with you: stop naming your colors with completely un-descriptive, un-helpful words that sound like made-up reality-TV baby names. Britax’s “Mooflauge” may be stupid, but at least it gives you some idea that that’s the one with the cow spots. Given that price varies by pattern, a fact that makes me want to throw things, it would be helpful to have a clue what I’m looking for when I see which pattern is the cheapest. Because no, I don’t care if my kid’s next car seat is so 2012.

But Walter has not outgrown his infant seat. I do not have to choose a new seat, yet, or start wondering all over again if the slightly more- or less-expensive seat would have been safer, physically, or wiser, financially. Right now, all I have to worry about is how to get the damn infant seat installed in the Super Shuttle when we arrive in Dallas this Thursday for the BlissDom conference.

Which car seat did you buy? Do you feel like it’s a status symbol? Do you have any tips for installing an infant seat in a Super Shuttle van?

PS Don’t forget to enter my giveaway before March 20th!

9 Comments

  1. claire said:

    What car seat do you own now? Many allow a 1″ rule till they are outgrown. One inch till their head is at the top of the carseat shell there are three things I ask people when they are looking for seats, budget? Car? And stats for your kid. I usually end up recommending the diono radian because it is a tall seat, with a high rear facing weight limit. but it can be finicky to install. the foonf has its pros and cons. another to look at is the chicco nextfit. it is a promising new convertible!

    Feel free to email me anymore questions

    March 19, 2013
    Reply
    • Anne-Marie said:

      I heard this 1″ rule! We are well away from that. But what about their feet? I think his feet are getting pretty close to the edge. Is it ok as long as they don’t touch the back seat?

      March 19, 2013
      Reply
  2. Leah Marie said:

    Status symbol? No. I couldn’t have cared less about that either. But, I went with a Britax convertible because it was what my sister used. I had seen it, buckled a baby into it, and knew it was a good choice. Britax also gets good reviews. And since my mom was buying to for me, I could afford it. Heh. I’ve used it for both Thing 1 (now safely in a booster) and (currently) Thing 2. It will expire at the end of this year (boo) so I’ll have to get something new for both Thing 2 and Thing 3. I wonder if my mom is still feeling generous…

    March 19, 2013
    Reply
    • Anne-Marie said:

      Britax is on my short list. There’s one that’s in our budget if I buy it in last year’s colors. I think that having the $400+ one is supposed to be some sort of status symbol.

      March 19, 2013
      Reply
  3. Laura said:

    If you ever have car seat questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me! I’m a certified child passenger safety technician and have a baby safety business, http://www.overthemoonbabyservices.com!

    March 20, 2013
    Reply
    • Anne-Marie said:

      You are too sweet! I am absolutely taking you up on that offer. I am going to wait until he’s bigger, so that I feel a little less paranoid. But when he is actually about to outgrow his seat, you will hear from me.

      March 21, 2013
      Reply
  4. Katrina said:

    I spent 10 years working in specialty children’s retail and half that time was as a trainer (which meant lots of time working with car seats and their manufacturers!) Britax is the only company that independently tests their own seats – everyone else waits for someone else to find a problem to issue a recall. So yup, that means for my first born (due in 4 weeks!) I insisted we get the Britax infant seat and register for the convertibles.

    Consumer Reports always uses seats that are “available to the general public” and docks seats over a certain price point, so while they are a good place to start, they shouldn’t be your only resource.

    Most important tip though – try the seats you think you want in the car they will be used in before you buy anything. Try installing it. Try taking the baby in/out of the seat. Try uninstalling. Infant seats are easy – the base is pretty standard. Convertibles – particularly when used rear facing – are a whole other beast.

    April 18, 2013
    Reply
    • Anne-Marie said:

      Laura, the previous commenter, is going to answer a bunch of questions we have about carseats. I’ll ask her about Britax to make sure this info gets added to the upcoming post! Thanks for sharing the info!

      April 18, 2013
      Reply
  5. Cheryl said:

    This is an old post, but I wanted to share that we got the Clek Fllo at Babies R Us. The drift fabric is less expensive, $349, and then we had a 20% off coupon and got it for $270 total! I do not think it is a status symbol, we chose it for the features and got a great deal on it.

    September 16, 2015
    Reply

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