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How to choose a child seat that will fit your car

Consumer Reports News: May 26, 2009 03:02 PM

Have you ever had a problem getting a car seat to properly fit in your vehicle, but no matter how hard you try, it won’t work? Not all car seats fit securely in all vehicles. But how can you know before you buy a seat?

Just in time for summer travel, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced that consumers may have some additional help in making car seats choices come the 2011 model year. as automakers will then be required to recommend specific seats in a variety of price ranges that will fit certain vehicles. A number of car manufacturers in Europe already have a program of this type. Currently only Nissan and Infiniti provide guidance of this type in the US through their Snugkids™ programs which provide a list of seats that fit their vehicles.

However, there are plusses and minuses to this program. The greatest benefit is that a lot of the work in choosing a car seat will potentially have been done for you by the manufacturer and would take away some of the trial and error of choosing a seat that fits though the details of what constitutes a good ‘fit’ are not yet known.

Negatives to this program include the potential that lists could be influenced by marketing partnerships between seat and car manufacturers and lists may not include all available brands and models We would hope it would be more about proper fit and safety rather than sales and advertising.

On the plus side, both vehicle and child seat manufacturers may become more attuned to issues that hinder secure child seat installations and find more reasons to make design changes.

The best thing for a consumer to do is to check what models are recommended by the manufacturers as a starting point, then research Consumer Reports ratings, government ease-of-use results and other sources to find the best model for you. A model that rates well from multiple sources is likely a better choice. But keep in mind that there may be other models not recommended by manufacturers that may still do well in your car and that may be worth considering and equally important is how the seat fits your child.

We continue to recommend that if you’re looking for a new car, bring in your car seat and try installing it before you buy. If you have an existing car and want to check fit, many stores will allow you to take a floor model out to the parking lot to check the fit in your vehicle. Be sure to ask a salesperson. If they won’t allow you to take the car seat out of the store, check the return policy to see if you can bring it back if it doesn’t fit properly.

Consumer Reports installs several car seats in every vehicle we test. We advise subscribers on whether it is easy or difficult and which seat types have the most secure fit. Go to the model overview page of any vehicle tested, then click on the vehicle road test tab and check out our “Driving with kids” section.

--Liza Barth

   

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