The manual for the car seat does explain all the recommendations, but they can be hard to understand, and many people may not read them for a variety of reasons.
Parenting is hard, especially in the beginning when you clearly have no idea what you’re doing. You’re going to get all kinds of conflicting advice about everything from nursing to cosleeping and everything in between. And you’re going to be sleep deprived. Oh, so sleep deprived.
But I think it’s safe to say that all parents want their children to be safe. That’s a given. Why is it, then, that we’re all apparently so terrible at installing and using car seats? Dr. Benjamin Hoffman is a professor of pediatrics at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) School of Medicine. He’s also the medical director of the Tom Sargent Children’s Safety Center at the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.
He ran a study a couple of years back that was cited in Forbes as saying that “only 5% of families installed their car seats and positioned their newborns with no major mistakes.” That means 19 out of 20 families are doing something wrong. The study involved almost 300 parents, the majority of whom already had older children too, so it’s not like they were new to this stuff either.
Mistakes are common because car seats can be complicated.
It’s overwhelming enough trying to pick the right car seat. And then you’ve got to figure out how to properly install and use the thing. The safety of your children is literally at stake. And yes, car seats are complicated.
We started out with a Graco travel system before graduating to a Clek Fllo convertible car seat. We picked the latter partly for its attractive design, but also because it is relatively compact while offering the same level of safety and protection as larger models. Some people like the added features of Diono car seats, for instance, but we found them rather bulky.
Here’s the thing. After you’ve gone through all the comparisons and reviews, after you’ve decided on the “right” car seat, you’ll find that your experience with that car seat is going to vary depending on your car. To this end, as completely backwards as it may sound, you may end up choosing a car to fit your car seat (rather than choosing a car seat to fit your car).
Even though the BMW X3 is technically marketed as a “compact SUV,” there’s no question that it’s a sizable vehicle. Even so, it got a “C” grade for fitting an infant car seat. When you go bigger with the Mazda CX-9, you find that it got a “C” for both latch and rear-facing convertible car seats. The “C” grade indicates that there is “marginal room” with “two fit or connection issues” and it’s “difficult to access [the] third row when available.”
Switch over to a sporty hatchback like the Hyundai Elantra GT or the Subaru Crosstrek (based on the Subaru Impreza) and you’ll find almost straight-A report cards. Both vehicles only received a single “B” grade. The Elantra got a “B” for the infant car seat and the Crosstrek got it for the booster.
This reaffirms something that I’ve long since said about car shopping: a larger vehicle doesn’t necessarily provide more room.
I really enjoyed our 2007 Honda Fit when we had it. The car may look decidedly “subcompact” on the outside, but through clever design and the use of smart materials, it sure felt a lot roomier on the inside than you might expect. And while many of the concerns I once had are still important, like fuel economy and creature comforts, I’m very much concerned now about how well a vehicle can accommodate a child car seat.
What do you look for when shopping for a new or used vehicle? What are your top priorities?
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Cars.com. All opinions are entirely my own.