Cheap Car Seats Buying GuideOne of the first purchases new parents make is a car seat for safely transporting theirbaby. Many opt for a rear-facing infant car seat because babies must ride backwards forthe first year and until they reach 20 pounds.Rear-facing seats are sometimes combined with a stroller and can be moved back andforth between that foot-powered mode of transit and the high-tech mechanical kind (i.e.,your vehicle), or simply carried around while you go about your daily business. Forward-facing seats are designed for children weighing at least 20 pounds and up to 80 pounds,and measuring about 57 inches in height; these seats are much less mobile and usuallystay put, latched to the rear seat, but can be moved from car to car. In between these twooptions is the convertible car seat, which is designed to do double duty by facing eitherfront or back, depending on the childs age, weight, and the parents personal safetystandards.Clearly, you get the most value for your money with a convertible car seat that can carrya child from birth through the pre-kindergarten years, or until the child weighs 40 pounds.Note, however, that government and medical experts recommend newborns betransported in special infant car seats because convertible car seats are rarely a good fitfor young babies. But even if you decide to start out with an infant seat, youll need aconvertible seat at some point in the near future; the weight limit on infant seats is usually30 pounds, the point at which experts say its OK to let the child face forward.Convertible car seat prices range from $50 all the way up to the three-digit stratosphere.The market is dominated by products from Cosco, Evenflo, Graco, Safety 1st, and Britax,the latter offering the car seat of choice for parents willing to break through the Cheapismbarrier. But listen up, dollar-wise shoppers: the most expensive car seats may not be thebest buy even though they have a certain amount of aesthetic and brand appeal. Cheap carseats come in an assortment of styles and fabric patterns, sport convenient features, andsafely accommodate both rear- and forward-facing passengers. And based on scores ofconvertible car seat reviews, parents and caregivers appreciate the value they get for themoney they spend on cheap car seats.Every cheap car seat (and pricier models, as well) includes three critical components:body, harness, and latch system. The body provides the seats support structure and isusually made of durable plastic. It should be sturdy and well-constructed.The harness refers to the straps that create a seat-belt system and securely hold a child inplace. The safest strap system is the five-point harness, which has two straps over theshoulders and two around the hips, in addition to a crotch strap. The three-point system,with two shoulder straps that come together with a buckle and fasten between the childs
legs, is effective but less secure. You will not find many three-point harness models onthe market these days, and those we did find do not fare well in car seat reviews. Users ofthe Cosco Scenera with Versa-Fit Overhead Barrier (starting at $90, Amazon), whichfeatures a three-point harness, complain in car seat reviews on Amazon that the straps aretoo wide and hard to tighten, the overhead barrier makes the harness difficult tomaneuver, and the harness wouldnt prevent a child from falling over the barrier. Thefive-point harness gets a nod of approval in a car seat review by a parent of two boys whoowns at least one Safety 1st Vantage Booster (starting at $80, Amazon) and writes onBuzzillions that its the safest design because children cant wriggle out of it. Regardlessof which cheap car seat you buy, experts at Keepkidshealthy.com stress the importance ofpositioning the harness so it fits your child properly (at, or just below, the shoulders whenrear-facing and at, or just above, the shoulders for front-facing), placing the chest clip atarmpit level, and tightening the straps.The latch secures the convertible car seat to the automobile seat. Parents of children whono longer need car seats and owners of older cars are surely familiar with the hassle ofusing seat belts to fix the car seat in place. But most cars and car seats manufacturedsince September 1, 2002 are equipped with the new LATCH system, which relies on atether behind the top of the car seat and two side anchors to hold the seat in place. If youhave an older car, you can buy a kit and install the LATCH system yourself;alternatively, you can secure the seat with the seat belt.Cheap Car Seat MaterialsOpting for a cheap convertible car seat doesnt have to mean sacrificing style orconvenience. Inexpensive car seats come in a variety of fabrics and colors, and thoseintended for everyday use are often made of nylon or a similar easy-to-wipe material.Spills happen, so you might want a seat cover that is easily removed and machinewashable. One happy consumer writes in a car seat review on the Walmart site that theseat covers of the bargain Graco ComfortSport with Graco Pedic Foam (starting at $80,Amazon) look like new after being washed. Although you may fancy a designer fabric,like that found in the Eddie Bauer Black Leather 3 in 1 Car Seat (now unavailable),remember that such covers can be hard and costly to clean -- and leather doesnt adjustwell to temperature changes.Inexpensive Convertible Car Seat ReclineMany cheap car seats have a recline feature that lets you adjust the seat angle to enhancethe young passengers comfort and safety. The experts at CPSafety say young babiesshould recline at a 45-degree angle to keep their airway open, but older children shouldsit more upright even in the rear-facing position. The Evenflo Titan Elite Convertible CarSeat (starting at $92, Amazon), Safety 1st Avenue Convertible Car Seat (starting at $85),
and Graco ComfortSport feature an adjustable recline. A car seat review by a parent onOverstock.com notes that getting just the right angle can be tricky in some cars when theseat faces rear. Some parents also report that car seats adjusted to the full 45-degree rear-facing recline dont always fit in the back seat (much depends on the vehicle you drive),so you may have to try out one or two different models.Cheap Convertible Car Seat SizeThe overall size of cheap car seats varies tremendously depending on the model andfeatures included. Activity trays, cup holders, and extra padding add to a car seats bulk,but many consumers seem willing to shoehorn a seat into the car if it means morecomfort for the passenger; one parent tried sitting in the Evenflo Titan Elite and in areport on Buzzillions notes it is "generously wide." But buyers beware: make sure thebudget convertible car seat you choose fits into your car. One user warns in a car seatreview on Amazon that the Graco ComfortSport fit nicely in one of the family vehiclesbut was too large for another. And a parent writes on the Walmart site that the side-mounted cup and activity attachments on the Evenflo Titan Elite hog space and may notleave room for adult passengers when the unit sits in the center of the back seat.Budget Convertible Car Seat Weight/HeightA car seats advertised weight includes the seat unit with the attachments and padding.Parents seem to prefer a car seat that feels strong enough to support and protect the child,but light enough to carry into an airport or transfer from one car to another; a consumerposting a car seat review on Mysears.com, for example, says the Safety 1st Avenue isgreat for travel. One user of the 10-pound Cosco Scenera Convertible Car Seat (startingat $55, Amazon) writes on the Toys R Us website that the seat seems flimsy and theframe twisted during installation, whereas the Graco ComfortSport and Evenflo TitanElite are described as "sturdy" in car seat reviews on Buzzillions and Walmart. If yourewilling to go for broke, consider the 21-pound Britax Marathon (starting at $200,Amazon); parents posting car seat reviews on Viewpoints.com say that if price is not anissue, the safety and comfort of this high-end and heavy model is worth the investment.A related design issue is the height of the seat and the shoulder harness. Adults seem tolike the seat height of the Graco ComfortSport because it lets tiny passengers enjoy theview out the window, keeping them happily occupied (sigh), as one mom notes in her carseat review on Amazon. Others, however, gripe on sites like Walmart that the shoulderstraps on the Graco ComfortSport dont comfortably fit children who weigh less than theadvertised 40-pound weight limit even when threaded through the highest slots. The issuecrops up often enough that a number of parents specifically comment in their car seatreviews of the Graco Comfort Sport that they dont have this problem; inadequate harnessheight occasionally surfaces in reviews of other car seats that we researched. By the way,
the Evenflo Titan Elite appeals to consumers posting on Walmart and Buzzillionsparticularly because of the 50-pound weight limit, which exceeds the usual 40-poundmaximum of most convertible car seats.Low-cost Convertible Car Seat FrillsThere are some useful extras commonly found in convertible car seats that wont addmuch, if anything, to the final price. Even cheap convertible car seats often includeconvenience items such as cup holders, activity trays, and pockets for crayons and books,although you may have to forego luxuries like the four-position headrest on the EddieBauer Deluxe Convertible Car Seat (starting at $150, Amazon). A convertible car seatsreview at ArticlesBase considers this model a good choice if youre into extravagance butconcludes that frugal shoppers would be just as satisfied with something cheaper. Indeed,one owner of the Safety 1st Avenue writes on Buzzillions.com that the padding, headsupport, strap covers, and low price are worth more than the bells and whistles on fanciermodels.Bargain Convertible Car Seat InstallationRegardless of a car seats size and features, it should be easy to install and/or transferfrom one vehicle to another. In general, cars and car seats equipped with the LATCHsystem facilitate the installation process, although the LATCH anchors on some backseats may be difficult to locate and some cars do not have anchors for the mid-seatposition.Most purchasers report installation is fairly quick and straightforward for the front-facingposition. One Walmart shopper says in a car seats review that the process took her all of15 minutes with the EvenFlo Titan Elite, and a self-described technologically-challengedmom writes on Epinions that the Evenflo Titan Deluxe Convertible Car Seat (starting at$72, Amazon) is quick and easy to install. We found similar comments about the GracoComfortSport on several review sites.Rear-facing installation may be more of a trial, depending on the car and car seat.Reviews of cheap car seats on Overstock.com indicate that the Safety 1st Avenue can behard to position at the correct angle and may need a rolled-up towel to make it level.Users of the Evenflo Titan Elite and Graco Comfort Sport likewise report using towelsand pool noodles to prop up rear-facing seats. Convertible car seat reviews on the Toys RUs site are far less enthusiastic about the Evenflo Tribute V Convertible Car Seat(starting at $55, Amazon), which they contend is very difficult to install, and even at itstightest, it seems to move more than it should; one user reports that the seat was still notproperly installed after a 30-minute struggle. All bets are off if you have to rely on thecars seat belt to hold a convertible car seat in place; one dad suggests on a convertible carseats review on Amazon that you put your full weight on the seat while buckling it up.
Parents who are more frugal about their time than their budget may want to consider theGraco MyRide 65 (starting at $170, Amazon), which features color-coded belt paths thatindicate which to use for rear- or forward-facing installation.Cheap Convertible Car Seat ComfortThe perils of an uncomfortable car seat are well-known to parents and caregivers: acrying baby, a squirming toddler, and a whining four-year old who keeps asking whenyoure going to get there. The Safety 1st Avenue, Graco ComfortSport, and Evenflo TitanElite convertible car seats all win praise from adults, at least, for perceived comfort andsufficient cushioning. Relieved parents and caregivers write about children easily fallingasleep, sitting peacefully through long car trips, and generally seeming secure,comfortable, and happy. In a convertible car seats review on Buzzillions, a nanny writesabout buying the Evenflo Titan Elite on the advice of her young charge, who indicated itwas his favorite among all the car seats he sits in.Insufficient head support is a common complaint about cheap convertible car seats.Although Safety 1st Avenue reviews on Mysears.com, EvenFlo Titan Elite reviews onStayathomedads.about.com, and Graco ComfortSport reviews on Amazon notesatisfaction with the head support on these models, critics grumble about inadequaterecline and no place for sleepy heads to rest. (This latter matter can be resolved with anadd-on head support that costs about $10-$15.)For some users of the Evenflo Titan Elite and Graco ComfortSport models, the shoulderstraps are a sore point. The Evenflo takes a few hits in several convertible car seatsreviews by parents on Buzzillions for excessive twisting while moving the child in or outof the seat, and the Graco is charged in several Amazon reviews of cheap car seats withuneven tension in the straps, although the two-piece chest clip is praised as user-friendly.Adjusting the straps in the rear-facing position can be daunting on some inexpensive carseats and in some cars.Cheap Car Seat DurabilityThe fabric on cheap car seats affects perceptions of durability and the length of timeyoull use it. According to cheap car seats reviews, the consensus among experiencedparents is that material quality trumps pattern when deciding which car seat to buy.Because convertible car seats should accommodate a child for several years, be sure tochoose one that suits your lifestyle. If you expect to dine in your vehicle more often thannot, remember that lighter-colored materials may be more aesthetically appealing butthey show stains and spills more readily. Features like additional seat covers, or coversthat are easy to remove and wash, will increase a seats longevity and improve itsappearance. As an aside, a very unhappy user of the Cosco Scenera with Versa-Fit
Overhead Barrier complains on Amazon that little passengers can easily pull the materialoff the barrier, which is held in place only by small pieces of plastic.Most new convertible car seats have a one year manufacturers warranty. Remember tofill out and mail the warranty card immediately so you can be contacted if yourconvertible car seat is ever recalled for safety or durability problems.One last and very important word of advice: Safety experts recommend that you shouldntuse a car seat thats been in an auto accident. More specifically, if an impact caused theair bags to deploy or damaged a door nearest the car seat, replace it immediately. If at allpossible, spring for a new car seat rather than a second-hand unit -- you dont know whereor how it was used, and safety features tend to improve over time.The federal government has posted a lot of useful information about child passengersafety on the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, aswell as ease-of-use ratings for many car seat models.