A carseat here, a carseat there. . .

By Mir
July 20, 2006

Adventures (may I call you Adventures?) writes:

You are so pretty!!! I have a question for you. I think you’ll know exactly what I need since you have little ones, too. My 7 month old is getting pretty tall for her infant seat. She will inherit my 2 year olds convertible car seat that he is currently using. We’ll need a new seat for my 2 year old. This is where the problem lies. Car seats for 2 year olds and up are CRAZY EXPENSIVE. He is almost 30 lbs (I can put rocks in his pockets for some extra poundage), and about 36 inches tall. One seat that I looked at and thought was pretty good was $100. (Britax Parkway). Is there anything less expensive, without skimping on safety and quality? I would like to use it for my 7 month old when she needs it in the future.
Thanks so much, and I LOVE this site!

I’d never thought of that rocks-in-the-pockets thing, but that’s a great tip! Thanks! Heh. Okay, let’s get back to your question, which is essentially this: How do you get the safest carseat for the least amount of money?

Let’s start with a bit of rudimentary car safety, shall we? Repeat after me: Your son is too little for a booster seat. Your son is too little for a booster seat. Rocks in the pockets are not a suitable substitute for weight, and—in this case—age. The average two-year-old (not that I don’t believe yours is exceptional, because I’m sure he is) is too wiggly to be trusted in a regular car seatbelt, even if he’s large enough to meet booster seat requirements. And see above; your son isn’t big enough yet, anyway. You still want a 5-point harness restraint system for him. It will make it easier for him to fall asleep in the car, and it will be your safest option.

Some seats allow you a 5-point harness beyond 40 pounds, even, but at a minimum, please please please stay with a 5-point harness until 40 pounds.

(“But Mir,” some reader is imploring, “my ten-year-old is tiny, and he’s still just 39 pounds. Do I keep him in a 5-point harness?” To this I say: Yes. Ideally, that is. Kids vary in size, but until 40 pounds, a 5-point restraint is safest. As a kid gets older, do you stick to the ideal? That’s a decision each family has to make for themselves.)

Now, having said that: I realize that most manufacturers of booster seats rate them as starting at 30 pounds, despite the AAP recommendation that children remain in a toddler convertible seat until 4 years or 40 pounds, whichever comes last. It’s not that I’m unaware that this happens.

I just happen to think it’s crappy, irresponsible marketing.

Look, if you have one of those tiny kids (and I feel your pain, I do, because I have one, myself), you may find yourself with a 6-year-old who hasn’t crested the 40-pound mark, yet. And do I think your 38-pound 6-year-old is going to die in a booster seat? No. That’s a case where you’re really close and said child is going to weep with consternation at being the only 1st grader still in a toddler seat, and you cheat a little. I get that.

But don’t cheat with a 2-year-old. Particularly if you had to fill his pockets to get to the weight minimum.

[Wow, aren’t you glad I don’t have strong opinions about anything?]

So, what does this mean for you? This means you’re shopping for a second convertible seat, or—if you want to get the best bang for your buck, here—a so-called toddler/youth seat, which has both a 5-point restraint and later converts to a beltless booster.

Resource time!

Now, let’s talk about specific products. The good news is that, yes, there are plenty of perfectly serviceable carseats which are going to be cheaper than comparable Britax seats. Britax is one of the gold standards in carseats; they consistently pull in the highest safety ratings, they are stylish and comfortable, and if you can afford one, good on ya. The problem, of course, is that they tend to be very pricey. (This was how I immediately knew you were talking about a booster seat; the price tipped me off.)

Do you need a Britax? I don’t think so, no.

The bad news is that you wanted something cheaper than $100, and if you want a toddler/youth convertible seat (which, again, I think would be your most logical choice at this point, as it would be the last seat you’d have to buy for your son), I think you’re looking at around $100. You may be able to find something cheaper, on sale, but consider that your price point.

Is it absolutely essential that you go cheaper? Well, you can buy yourself a second convertible seat for closer to $50, but then you need to go back and buy a booster, later on. Spend it now or spend it later; it depends on your goals.

I can tell you what I did, but please help yourself to that 5-pound sack of salt over there while I do. What worked for us may not work for you. I tend to spawn tall, skinny children. This results in a child who is too tall for a convertible seat (shoulders must remain below the highest belt slots) long before she is heavy enough for a booster. After doing some research I settled on the Century NextStep, which gets decent safety ratings, is suitable for tall skinnies, and can usually be found for under $100 if you follow sales. That’s what worked for us.

One final point, which should go without saying: Never, ever buy a used carseat. This is an essential safety item. Buy it new; no exceptions. (In my state it’s actually illegal to resell carseats.) A carseat that’s been in a crash is now garbage, and there’s no way to know if a used seat has been crashed. Also, a seat over 10 years old is useless. Will you know how old a used seat is? Nope. (Other items you must buy new: bike helmets and underwear. Just sayin’.)

As always, there isn’t any “right” answer. Do your research. Compare products. Keep in mind that once you’ve found the model you want, just like mattresses, the manufacturers tend to change the fabrics every year—you may be able to get last year’s model on clearance if you keep a sharp eye out.

Happy shopping, and don’t let me see that kid in a booster until he’s at least 4, y’hear?


  1. You may want to check with your local police department. Some departments have a program in place from a fedeeral grant in which a qualified police officer will install a free carseat into your car.

  2. Car seats actually have an expiration date. This is helpful if you are using it for more than one kid. I used our infant carrier for both of my kids and it expires on 12/08 – the date is stamped on the bottom. This was purchased in 2002 or 2003 so it’s life was actually less than 10 years.

  3. I think you should look for another convertible carseat. You really should have the 5 point harness, your child’s probably going to be in it for another 2 years, and boosters are so different (ie. most of them don’t have the 5 point option) that I wouldn’t worry about them yet. I’m surprised at the $100 price point, though. We bought our carseats at Burlington Coat Factory, and there are several options for about $60.

    Also, once you get a booster, I doubt that the “don’t buy used” rule still applies, because at that point you use it with your car’s seat belt, so it just needs to be a piece of molded plastic to make the kid sit up a little higher and hold the belt in place. The booster we bought our son at 4.5 years old has two pull-out trays for toys and a cup holder, and little reading lights, so he thinks it’s the greatest thing ever, but we bought it at Burlington Coat Factory for around $60 (the Evenflo Big Kid Deluxe Booster Seat

  4. Consumer Reports rocks! That’s where we found our child’s carseat! They give you the latest/safest ones avaiable and there is usually a price range that is affordable!

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! The advice is excellent. I will NOT put rocks in my sons pockets, I PROMISE! That said, I now see that he will need to be in a 5 pt harness until 40 lbs. I checked the AAP web page and I really like how they list all the different seats. I will be looking into a combination seat (5 pt that will turn into a booster). I’ll decide which brand with the help of Consumer Reports. Ciao for now!—Adventures

  6. You give such great advice, Mir (and you’re so dang pretty, to boot)! I can’t imagine how much time it must take each day for you to do this kind of research. Thank you from all of us faithful readers!

    As a side note, a couple years ago, I watched a news program which talked about our lax carseat laws here in the states compared to other countries–and our high incidence of accident-related deaths among children, as a result. Can’t remember the exact statistics now, but some other countries have kids in car seats til AGE 10, and their rates of death are *SUBSTANTIALLY* lower than ours in the U.S. That left a major impression on me!

    My kids are both tall/big boned, yet I still kept my son in a car seat (booster) til at least 7 or 8 years old, and my daughter is going to be 7 next month and entering the 2nd grade, and she’s still in one, too. She complains that none of her friends ride in car seats, and when friends are in our car they always ask why she has to be in one, and my answer is always the same: It’s safer, and I’m a mean mom! LOL

    Can’t be too careful.

    And there’s always therapy available for them in later years. 😉

  7. Perfect timing, Mir! Finding a carseat solution for my three children under 36″ tall is on my list of things to do today. You’ve made my job a lot easier and I can’t thank you enough.

    As a side note, I know that at least one state (Maine) has a carseat law for children up to age 8/80 pounds. I wish more states would follow suit and more parents would obey the existing laws. Toddlers/infants/young kids riding loose in cars is one of my biggest pet peeves.

    Also, since riding in the car is statistically the most dangerous activity most children participate in each day, and they will be using a seat for several years, this is one area where spending more money than you had planned may be an excellent idea. Obviously, buying a Britax isn’t an option for everyone, but I’m willing to be frugal in other areas to make sure my little ones are safe.

  8. Adventures, thank you for asking such a good question! Mir, thank you for such good advice! I”m now toddling off to the websites to see what convertible car seat MY (almost) 2 year old will be riding in, now that her shoulders are above the highest slot in her current one and she is rapidly approaching 40 lbs. No, I’m not joking.

    Oh and good info about the expiration date!!!!

  9. Everyone should really check with their local fire, police, and EMS departments to find out if anyone offers a grant program or any such thing. Here in Oklahoma we have the Safe Kids Coalition that offers seats for a reduced price upon occasion, and I work for an EMS service that gives out *brand new* *FREE* Evenflo convertible car seats about once a month. I’d say a brand new free seat is worth the time you’d spend on the phone, wouldn’t you?

  10. In Illinois, all children up to the age of 8, regardless of weight have to be in at least a booster seat.

    Thanks for the great info!

  11. The hospital where our son was born gave away free car seats too. You just had to go watch a very dull (but very short!) safety video.

  12. My daughter’s carseat is going to expire in December of this year. And I absolutely have to buy a replacement carseat, not a booster because at 3 yrs old I think she might weigh 25lbs.

    I agree with you on all accounts.

  13. great post, we are often asked why our daughter 7.5 is still in a seat, not only is it the law here in PA ( 8/80) but it is safer by far.

  14. I’ll have to check the local laws here in Germany sometime, but the users’ guide for my son’s toddler/youth convertible seat says it should be used up to age 12. TWELVE. Yipes! That seems like forever me. Especially since it’s so much fun to get on the plane every time we fly back to the US.

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