GaGaGear

Backseat Driver: Convertible Considerations

Posted on: April 11, 2010


Along with first teeth, losing and regrowing hair, the army crawl and pulling up to standing, it’s one of baby’s earliest physical milestones: outgrowing the portable baby bucket.  If one bicep has grown to 2x the other, and you’re just starting to get some sleep, chances are it’s time to shop for a convertible car seat.

A “convertible” car seat is one that can be installed in either rear- or forward-facing positions.  It is strongly recommended that children be kept rear-facing as long as possible given height and weight guidelines assigned to a seat by its manufacturer (usually, *at least* one year in age and 20 pounds in weight).  Car-safety.org explains the crash physics behind safety guildelines well – among other benefits, rear-facing car seats spread frontal crash forces over the whole area of a child’s back, head and neck; they also prevent the head from snapping relative to the body in a frontal crash.  With frontal or frontal-offset crashes making up 70-75% of severe crashes, it’s important to seek out a top-rated convertible model that fits well into your vehicle facing both directions.

Here are GaGaGear’s top-line convertible considerations:

1.  Reputable make/model with no recent recall activity

Maxi-Cosi Priori | Photo Credit: elitecarseats.com

Many parents stick with the same brand as they make this transition – a reasonable choice, since most the quality names from the infant category are equally proven with convertibles.  Fans of aesthetic and functional European styling might move from the Maxi-Cosi Mico into Maxi-Cosi Priori, looking ahead to a Rodi booster, or perhaps a Recaro.  Others fish within a certain price tier, or consistently pick the year’s “top” product from a reputable list.  Top-scoring Graco SnugRide or Metropolitan owners might pick the Britax Marathon or Boulevard (Graco’s convertible MyRide is nothing special).

Still others eek out the bucket seat as long as possible and transition directly to the functional yet forward-only-facing Graco Nautilus, which boasts 3:1 convertibility from a 5-point harness all the way to a backless booster.

A quick Google search will bring up any number of sites that compile car seat rankings, but we’ve had good luck with EliteCarSeats.com.  Also check Amazon for reviews once you’ve narrowed your list.  Carseat.org has a no-frills recall info page that’s kept up to date as recalls are announced.

2.  Where will you install the car seat?  Review 360-degree impact features.

Many cars have dedicated LATCH bars just for the side seats and not for the middle.  Although most convertible car seats can still be installed using a car’s seat belts, LATCH gives parents greater confidence and flexibility if installing/re-installing frequently without outside assistance.  While the middle of the back seat is still considered safest given the range of possible impacts, the sides are often most practical, and inevitable for growing families.

We discussed front- and frontal-offset crashes earlier.  A 5-point harness is “standard” front-impact protection for the category, and a clip that’s stiff or tricky to open is actually a good thing.  (Think child safety caps on medication.)

Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL

Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL | Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Side impact protection is just as important to review, and is accomplished in different ways at different price levels.  Less expensive seats rely on large quantities of dense foam padding to absorb and transfer energy in a crash, and can be bulky as a result, especially side-to-side.  The upper eschelon of convertibles (and infant buckets too) look more race car than padded pillow, and are engineered similarly with rigid internal structures designed to absorb and transfer impact back into the body of the car itself.  New seats with steel construction and deep side impact protection like Sunshine Kids’ Radian XTSL aim to boost side-impact safety within a more streamlined profile.  The Radian XTSL can run close to $300, but it also rates up to 85 pounds and has a slim enough profile so you could probably skip getting a booster.

3.  If installing behind the passenger, does sufficient legroom remain?  If installing driver-side, is there sufficient legroom for the tallest driver in your family?

This is the point at which some parents start to panic about buying a large sedan or minivan.  Our advice is to postpone that decision until you try a few seats in your current car – there is quite a range re: depth in the rear-facing position – if you could fit the infant seat, there’s likely to be a convertible sized just right for you.  It’s also not a time for self-sacrifice – if the driver can’t steer, brake, shift, or otherwise control the car comfortably and safely due to lack of leg or shoulder room, keep looking.

4.  Car seat width and rear seat real estate.

For some, this won’t matter – but for families looking to stretch (gasp) three seats across the back seat, it’s something to consider far in advance of that third trip to the hospital.  This is where Sunshine Kids shines, with the narrowest-yet-safest convertibles on the market today.  You’ll be lucky to squeeze a diaper bag between some of the other models, so if you’ll be sticking with your sedan, take it to the store and ask to test one seat on either side simultaneously to get an idea.  If you can’t get three across forward-facing, try to at least fit two puzzled together with an infant bucket, rear-facing in the middle – especially if you are a one-car family (since visiting relatives or friends don’t always rent a car).

5.  Child’s Comfort / Room to Grow

Lastly, do consider the comfort of your passenger long term.  Convertible seats are meant to last through a period of considerable growth for your child – in all directions.  This is where Amazon customer reviews can be particularly helpful, since you might find feedback from parents with children at different ages.  Especially look at the head/neck padding of the seat – some are adjustable, and others are fixed.  If fixed, be sure the padding is fairly flush with the seat and doesn’t force a shorter child’s head to tilt forward uncomfortably.  Some seats like the Maxi-Cosi Priori can recline, which is helpful for smaller children and those who still fall asleep frequently in the car.

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  • JHeff: I have read a good number of comments about most users of the boba not really ever using the foot rests. Looking at the videos I've seen, the back on
  • Mama GaGa: Oh, boo! Thanks for the manufacturing update - I will make note in the post. Cheers - MG
  • Cathy: I know this is a couple years old but I ran across this post and was so excited when you said the Boba was made in America - a big selling point for m

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