What Is a Convertible Car Seat?

Patti Podnar
July 3, 2015

Find out what a convertible car seat is and 6 important things you need to know about using one.

If you're an expectant or new parent, you're probably being bombarded by impassioned, well-meaning advice from your mom, your neighbor and the UPS delivery guy. Bottle or breast? Disposable or cloth diapers? Infant or convertible car seat?

In the end, all you want is to cut through the opinions and get to the facts. In the case of car seats, start by defining just what a convertible car seat is. It's a convertible seat that you can use rear-facing when your baby is an infant and forward-facing as your child grows into a toddler. Most seats accomplish that by having two different belt-routing paths for the car's seat belt or LATCH belt. One is to be used when the seat is rear-facing, and the other is intended to be used when it's forward-facing. Some even convert to a booster seat as your child grows. Here are the most important things you need to know about convertible car seats as you shop around:

  1. Convertible Seats Are Safe
    According to Sergeant Travis Plotzer of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Office of Homeland Security, convertible car seats have to meet the same federal safety requirements as any other car seat. Sgt. Plotzer explains, "As long as your child is within the weight and height limits provided by the manufacturer, and you're using it properly, a convertible seat is safe for a baby."
  2. They Have an Expiration Date
    According to Amy Artuso, a program manager with the National Safety Council, many parents don't realize that a car seat can expire. She says, "If you're considering a convertible car seat, you're probably planning to use it for several years, so be sure to check the expiration date to make sure that it matches your expectations for the seat's use."
  3. Convertible Seats Are Budget-Conscious
    A convertible car seat can take you all the way from your baby's ride home from the hospital until the day she's ready for a booster seat. (That's provided you haven't been in an accident, however. Seats that have been in an accident must be replaced.)
  4. The Higher the Weight Limit, the Longer You Can Use It
    Convertible seats vary widely in their weight and height limits for each position. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that children stay in rear-facing seats until at least until age 2, a convertible seat with a high rear-facing weight limit will let you keep your child in the safest position for as long as possible. Seats with higher weight and height limits in the forward-facing position will let you use the five-point harness for a longer time.
  5. The Safest Seat Is One That's Easy to Use
    The whole point of a convertible seat is that it can adjust to fit your child's growth. If the seat is difficult to install and adjust, you'll be more likely to delay adjusting the fit or to do it incorrectly. Read reviews online before purchasing to see if it's difficult to use.
  6. Not All Convertible Car Seats Fit in All Vehicles
    This can shock a lot of first-time parents. The reality is that there are too many variables in both car seat configuration and vehicle configuration, so the pieces don't always match up. Artuso says, "I always encourage parents to take the vehicle and the car seat to be checked out by a certified inspector. There's no charge, and the service is available through many local police departments." Some hospitals also provide the service.

If you're looking for a car seat that you can use for years, a convertible seat is a great option. Just do the same due diligence that you would for any other seat: check the safety ratings, pay attention to the height and weight limits, check for recalls, verify that it fits in your car and be sure it's easy enough to use and install that you'll use it correctly every single time.

For more on car seats, check out the 7 Features the Safest Car Seats Have.

Patti Podnar is a freelance writer focusing primarily on topics surrounding families, careers and business. She strongly believes, however, that a truly professional writer can tackle any topic.

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