I've been spending a lot of time over the past few weeks looking at infant and toddler car seats.
I've sought recommendations, looked at safety ratings, and lurked in car seat forums.
We had borrowed an infant seat from a friend for Elizabeth, but that seat is expired (and disposed of) and we now know more about the features that matter to us. So, it's time to acquire a seat for baby #2.
I've had 3 Infant seats in particular recommended as great seats - the Graco Snugride, the Graco Infant SafeSeat (Step 1), and the Chicco Keyfit 30. These three offer an range of prices to suit your finances or your feature preferences. Things that mattered to me when choosing a seat - safety and ease of use. Now, I understand that all car seats on the market are supposed to pass national safety standards, so I can be reasonably assured that any seat I purchase will offer my child protection in the event of a crash. So considering that, I had to go with the ease of use. I knew that I wanted a higher weight seat, so I could keep my baby rear facing longer in a secure infant seat. I knew I wanted front adjust. And I knew it had to be absolutely easy to install, as it will be moved on a regular basis, and by some individuals who might not be as particular as I am about having a tight fit for my infant seat. The Snugride only goes to 22 pounds, while both the Safeseat and the Keyfit o to 30 pounds, and unless you're very careful you might not get some of the good features, like a front adjust harness tightener. So, that was out.
Jude and I went to check out the Safeseat and the Keyfit in person at a Babies R Us. Although the Safeseat comes in more patterns than the Keyfit, The Keyfit definitely won out. The price difference isn't so great that it makes it worth getting the less expensive Safeseat. The Keyfit had a bubble leveler, spring button recline adjustment, was narrower and shorter from front to back, and was a lighter weight seat (Although why this really matters stumps me - I wear my babies instead of carting them around in an infant carrier. Exception - maybe in a restaurant.) There were other things, but really, I just liked how the Keyfit works better than the Safeseat. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge fan of any of the patterns currently out, or of the anticipated patterns coming out in 2009. I'll probably go with the Cubes pattern, as the most neutral.
We'll be taking a trip with 24 hours worth of driving one way. We currently have a Cosco Scenera, but that seat has no comfort padding to speak of, and we're hoping that a more padded seat will help Elizabeth stay happier for longer in the car. This choice however is far more challenging for me.
With an infant seat, you expect that you'll have to get additional seats for a child as they grow. When you get out of the infant seats, you'll find some seats the advertise that it'll be the last seat your child will need. You could buy seats that you think will last you all the way through seat/booster years, or get seats that are somewhat more specialized, and perhaps buy 2-3 different seats after the infant seat. Now there are all kinds of options in the toddler and older sized seats. I don't need a convertible seat for Elizabeth, as she is no longer rear facing. So, I could get one of those 3 in 1 seats that have a higher weight limit, but are forward facing only. Honestly, there are so many variations on what we could do that I am undecided.
And, although Elizabeth is currently forward facing, I've been reading more and more research that suggests that it would be far safer for her, in the event of an accident, to be rear facing for as long as possible. Convertible seats would allow me that safety feature, but a forward facing only seat would eliminate the possibility ot turning Elizabeth back to rear facing.
Seats that have been recommended to me: the Britax Marathon, and the Graco Nautilus. Further investigation has led me to add the Britax Boulevard to the list, as it is essentially similar to the Marathon (same frame, even) but with a couple more features that look worthwhile. I'm inclined to go for a Britax seat - even though I can't use it as a booster, I anticipate that I could pass this seat on to another child before it expires. I could use it to keep a child rear facing up to 35 pounds. It looks like it has more padding, so for the sake of a long car ride, maybe a better option. However, the frugal part of me definitely likes the Much-Less-Expensive forward-facing only Nautilus (it's a 3 in 1 seat - harnessed, then high back booster, then no back booster), and that I should reasonably be able to use the seat until E hits the state law of having a child in a harnessed seat until age 4 and 40 pounds, and in a booster until age 8 or 80 pounds, or 4'9" tall.
I think the Nautilus patterns are not so hot. And, I'm not fond of the lack of variety in the Boulevard covers. The Marathon definitely has the best best selection of covers. Jude likes the extra padding in the Boulevard, and the fact that the harness height can be adjusted without removing the seat from install. Unfortunately, the price on the Boulevard is twice that of the Nautilus. Yeowch.
I only have a couple of weeks to decide, and no more opportunities to see these seats in person again before making a decision. Oh, Choices!