To the uninitiated parent, buying a car seat for your child can seem technical at best. There are a dozen terms designers and retail stores use to describe car seats, their various accessories and features. Below you’ll find some handy tips for sorting through the riff raff and deciding what features and accessories you really need for your carseat.
Here are some key terms you should familiarize yourself with before shopping for your child’s first carseat.
LATCH – This stands for ‘lower anchors and tethers for children.’ Now what the heck is that you ask? Most vehicles built after 2002 have standard hardware in the seats that help attach the carseat more easily to the car. A LATCH system replaces a seatbelt for fastening the carseat into your car. The LATCH system is beneficial because it not only makes installing a carseat easy, but it also prevents the seat from slipping out of place over time. Don’t worry if your car doesn’t have a LATCH system. You can still install almost any car seat using the seatbelt only. Some modern car seats built after 2002 are especially designed to accommodate LATCH systems, but you can still install these using a standard belt as well.
Convertible Car Seat – This is a seat that can accommodate an infant in a rear facing position or an older child in a forward facing position. Some convertible seats also act as a booster when your child is almost old enough to ride using a standard seat belt.
Rear Facing – Rear facing simply refers to car seats that are designed to face the rear rather than the front of your car. All infants less than one year old and under 20 pounds must ride in a rear facing car seat. All infant carriers are rear facing, meaning they are designed to sit in the rear of your car. Convertible car seats have the option of being rear facing or forward facing.
Forward Facing – Forward Facing only car seats are those designed for children over 1 year of age up to about 3 or 4 years of age. Convertible car seats provide the option of being forward facing once your child is old enough to move out of the rear facing position.
Booster Seat – Most children are not large enough to use a standard seat belt until they are about 80 pounds. Your child may be 5 or more before they can sit in a car using an adult seat safely. A booster seat helps your child sit safely in the car and use a standard seat belt safely until they are big enough to do without one. You can buy a separate booster seat or a convertible car seat that changes to a booster seat.
5-point Harness – A 5-point harness is a safety restraint belt that touches the base of the carseat in five places. The belt has two points located over your child’s shoulders, one over each of your child’s hips and one between your child’s legs. This safety harness is considered one of the safest.
3-point Harness – A 3-point harness includes safety straps that come down over your baby’s head and then snap into position.
T-shield – This is a form of harness that looks like a “T” that snaps over your babies head into position. It looks somewhat like a shield, hence the name.
Base – This is the part of an infant carrier that attaches to your automobile. You can snap the infant carrier or carseat into position once the base is secure, and detach your infant carrier to transport you baby from the car to your destination. Some parents prefer buying multiple bases for two or more cars, that way they don’t have to take the entire car seat out when switching cars.
Angle or level indicator – This is a feature on most rear facing or convertible car seats that lets you know whether or not you have positioned the seat correctly.
Harness – This simply refers to the straps or belts used to keep your baby securely fastened in the car seat. Some harnesses come with covers to prevent chaffing of your baby’s delicate skin.
Leveler – This is a device like a ‘noodle’ that can help prevent a car seat from wobbling or leaning too far in one direction or the other.
Tether Straps – These are anchors that attach to your car and the car seat to hold your child’s seat safely in place.