How much should you spend to buy the "best" car seat for your little one?
And how do you define what a “good” car seat is?
If you’re a new or soon-to-be mom, that’s probably one of the many questions swirling around in your head?
And if you’re like most, you’re probably guessing more equals better — or a higher price tag equals a safer seat.
That’s where you’d be wrong.
A seat’s price doesn’t necessarily dictate how safe it is — but we’re gonna tell you what does.
The right seat for your child won’t necessarily be the right choice for someone else’s child.
We’re gonna cover what to look for in a car seat — and how to find one that fits your child, your budget, and your car.
Let’s get started.
What does the average car seat cost?
So, let’s go ahead and get the numbers question out of the way.
Car seats range widely in price, from inexpensive low-back booster seats that cost as little as $15 to high-end convertible or combination seats upwards of $300.
But, in general, you’re probably going to pay somewhere between $100-250.
Though, if you’re on a tight budget, you can likely find something less expensive that works just as well.
What should you look for when buying a car seat?
While what works for each person will vary, there are a few important qualities to look for when shopping for a car seat.
First, before we jump into what to look for, you should know that all car seats sold in the US have been crash tested and have to meet certain safety requirements before being put on the market.
That means, whether the seat you choose is budget-friendly or high-end with all the bells and whistles, you can rest assured that it has been crash tested and proven safe.
The added upgrades that raise the price are for comfort and convenience, not safety.
That said, you should definitely consider more than cost when determining the right car seat for your child.
Other important factors to think about when choosing a seat are these.
- Whether or not it fits well in your vehicle — not all cars and seats are a good match. You can test this out at most retailers when purchasing in-store. Many will let you try out the car seat in your car before buying. You can also find lots of good information online. Look up the make and model of your vehicle along with the specific car seat and most of the time you’ll find what you need.
- If you have multiple kids in car seats, consider positioning and whether the combination of seats will fit well into your vehicle.
- Bells and whistles — as mentioned above, car seats are all designed to meet the same safety standards. However, there are certain things that make pricier car seats more appealing to some. These include cup holders, easy installation, extended rear-facing capability, padded strap covers, and more. You’ll have to weigh these things against the added cost to determine if they’re worth paying for.
- The size of your child — this one is incredibly important. There are many types of car seats...low-back boosters, high-back boosters, infant travel systems, convertible seats, and combination seats. There are also all-in-one type seats that are made to fit a child from infancy through the pre-teen years when car seats are typically outgrown. The age and size of your child is something you need to take into consideration when determining what type of seat to purchase.
- Lastly, you need to consider the type of seat you want to purchase. We touched on this briefly in the above point, but your child’s age, your vehicle type, and your personal preference will all go into determining the type of seat you buy. If you have an infant, do you want a convertible seat that will last through the preschool years? Or do you want a snap-and-go travel system that you can take from car to stroller with ease? If you have an older child ready for a booster, do you buy a low-back or a high-back? That will depend on your child’s maturity level and how much space you’ve got available. For older kids, low-back boosters are low profile and don’t take up much space. They also move well from car to car if your child carpools with another family on a regular basis. All of this to say, when shopping for a seat, take your lifestyle and your child’s individual needs into consideration as well.
What should you avoid when buying a car seat?
So, we’ve covered what to look for when buying a seat.
Now we’re gonna touch on some things to avoid.
Never use a hand-me-down seat.
For starters, never EVER buy a used seat.
It’s not safe.
You don’t know the history of the seat.
Certain things — washing car seat straps, the seat having been involved in an accident prior — can make a seat unsafe to use going forward.
Unless you know the complete history of the seat and would trust the owner with your child’s life, do not use a seat that isn’t brand new.
Never use an expired seat.
To go along with the above, never use an expired seat.
Whether you do choose to purchase a seat from a trusted friend, or you’re using one you saved from an older child, you run the risk of the seat being expired.
Expiration dates on car seats are there for a reason. After a certain amount of time, the plastic starts to degrade.
This means it’s unreliable and no longer guaranteed to hold up in an accident. It’s tempting to go this route to save money, but please don’t gamble your child’s life.
You can find the expiration date printed right on the seat — check the bottom and sides.
Beware of knock-off car seats.
Lastly and most importantly, keep your eyes peeled for potential knock-off seats.
Sadly, there are people who will try to pass off car seats as safe when they don’t meet quality standards.
This is mostly a problem you’ll have shopping online vs. in-store. Never buy a seat from AliExpress or Wish. Those are shipped straight from China and don’t usually meet US safety requirements.
Don’t buy a car seat on eBay either. Those seats will either be used or knock-offs. You will very rarely find new seats on eBay and there’s no real way to verify one if you do.
You even need to be careful on Amazon and Walmart’s websites. With the introduction of third-party selling on those sites, knock-off seats unfortunately have been found on those platforms too.
The best way to guarantee you are getting a seat that meets current safety standards is to buy one in-store at a trusted retailer.
Or you can shop online, but be sure you are buying directly from the store vs a third-party seller (or shop on sites like Buy Buy Baby that don’t allow third-party sellers). To be sure you’re getting it from the store directly, look at the section on the listing that says “sold and shipped by”. That will tell you who the seller is.
Where can you go for more information? Take some time to research before purchasing a car seat.
If you have questions — and you certainly might — there are a few places you can go for answers.
The first place we’d recommend is your local car seat technician. If you aren’t sure where to find that info, call your hospital or police/fire station.
Generally, they’ll have the information of someone you can call for help with car seat questions and installation.
If you come up short there, check out the Safe Kids website.
We hope this post helps you see that you can find a safe car seat on a budget — and what to look for when shopping for one.
Did you learn anything new? Share this handy guide with another mom-to-be who needs help car seat shopping!