A family road trip is one of the best ways to see sights both on and way off the beaten path. All those miles on the road also give you plenty of quality time with the kids. If your youngsters still need a car seat, it’s important to make sure it’s set up properly before you hit the open road. This article is going to share with you how to properly prepare car seats for the littles when your family takes a road trip.
Car Seats Done Right
Did you know that 96% of parents believe their child’s car seat is installed correctly? The reality is that three out of four car seats are being used incorrectly, so it’s important to double- and even triple-check to make sure the one you’re using is properly installed.
What Kind of Car Seat Do You Need?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed the “4 Stages for Kids” guide for parents to help you determine which car seat is best for your youngster.
Stage 1: Rear Facing
A child must be in a rear-facing car seat from birth until between the ages of three and five. Why? Rear-facing seats better support the neck in a forward collision. A child doesn’t have the strength in their neck to resist the force of a collision until around the age of two or three.
Stage 2: Forward Facing
Between the ages of three and five, your child can be placed in a forward-facing car seat. You should continue to use this 5-point harness system until your child outgrows it.
Stage 3: Belt-Positioning Device
Starting at the age of four or five, and until they are between eight and 12 years old, your child should use a belt-positioning device. This could be a booster seat or a RideSafer® vest.
The RideSafer® vest is the ideal way to go, as it brings the belt down to the child’s position and holds it in place rather than boosting the child into an adult-sized seat.
Stage 4: Vehicle Seat Belts
When your child reaches the height of 4-feet-9, you can see if they pass the 5-step fit test. While your child is sitting in the back seat of your car, check the following:
- Shoulder belt crosses between the shoulder and neck.
- Lower back is against the vehicle seat.
- Lap belt is on the thighs.
- Knees bend at the edge of the seat.
- A child sits like this for the whole trip.
Your child must meet all five criteria to graduate from their belt-positioning device. They must also ride in the back seat until they are at least 13 years old.
Quick Car Seat Setup Checklist
As you’re setting up your child’s car seat before hitting the road, run through this checklist for proper installation:
- Make sure the car seat is secured snugly.
- Make sure the harness straps are in the correct position.
- Make sure the chest clip is in the correct position.
- Make sure the harness is snug enough.
- Make sure your child doesn’t wear a heavy coat while they’re in the seat.
- Make sure you aren’t using any accessories that haven’t been tested with the car seat.
- Make sure the car seat hasn’t expired.
Seek Out a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician
Before departing on your road trip, you could also visit with a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. These individuals are car seat experts who have taken a 40-hour class created by the NHTSA. During this course, they learn about harnessing procedures, installation, and different types of car seats.
You can reach out to your pediatrician, a children’s hospital, or the local police station to find a technician in your area.
Check State Car Seat Laws
You probably know your state’s car seat and child restraint laws like the back of your hand. Your next road trip, however, could wind through several states—the best ones usually do. That’s why it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with the specific laws in any states you’ll be traveling to or driving through.
All states have specific laws that require children and infants to ride in a safety seat, while age and height requirements commonly vary from state to state.
Top 7 Best Car Seats for the Littles in a Road Trip
Now that you know the ins and outs of choosing the right type of car seat and setting it up, it’s time to make sure you have the best car seat for your road trip. Here are the top seven on the market today.
1. Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat
The Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible car seat is one of the best overall choices. Its simple setup and lightweight design will make your life easy. It can even be used as a rear-facing car seat for infants and then a front-facing seat when they get bigger.
What’s the best part? When the kiddo spills their apple juice, the cover and car seat pad are removable and machine washable.
2. Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat
If you’re looking for a car seat that grows with your child, the Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible is the perfect option. It has four positions for the shoulder straps and two crotch positions.
It also comes with a removable head pillow. You’ll love that it promotes good posture, and when naptime hits, your youngster will love it, too.
3. Cosco Apt 50 Convertible Car Seat
A suitable weight rating from five to 50 pounds makes the Cosco Apt 50 Convertible one of the most versatile car seats you can buy. It’s also only eight pounds, so switching cars for the road trip will be a breeze.
4. WAYB Pico Travel Car Seat
If you’re looking for the ultimate lightweight car seat, the WAYB Pico Travel car seat is for you. It’s front-facing only, so you’ll need to make sure your child weighs between 22 and 55 pounds or measures 30 to 45 inches tall.
What makes this car seat special is its ability to fold up into a compact package small enough to fit into a suitcase. It even comes with its own travel bag.
5. Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat
Do you have several children in the car seat phase? You’ll need something compact so you can accommodate multiple car seats at one time. That’s where the Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible could come in handy. It’s small enough to fit three in the back seat of most vehicles. It’s also sturdy enough to accommodate children from 22 to 65 pounds in the front-facing position.
The Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible is also specially designed to deflect collision forces away from the head, neck, and spine.
6. Graco My Ride 65 Convertible Car Seat
They grow up so fast. If your kiddo is getting big, you may need a larger car seat for your road trip. If that’s the case, look to the Graco My Ride 65 Convertible. It has a weight rating of up to 65 pounds.
It can also secure your child up to 40 pounds in a rear-facing position. That will make it even easier to keep them rear-facing for longer than two years, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
7. Cosco Finale DX 2-in-1 Booster Car Seat
The Cosco Finale DX 2-in-1 Booster rounds out the list as the best choice to accompany your child through toddlerhood until they’re ready to sit in the back seat all by themselves. It doubles as a forward-facing 5-point harness car seat and a high-back booster seat.
It even has a 10-year lifespan to boot.
What Else Should You Bring on a Road Trip With the Kids?
Car seats for the littles are half the battle when embarking on your next road trip. Once it’s installed, you have plenty of miles of adventure to think about.
Remember the Snacks
A hungry child is probably last on your list of sights to see. That’s why you’ll need to make sure you have plenty of snacks on standby. Indeed, it’s one of the essentials that you must pack for a road trip. If you’re looking for something fun to do before you leave, have the kiddos help you put snack bags together filled with things like pretzels, chips, nuts, and dried fruit. You could also fill a cooler with water and juice.
Most car seats offer cupholders and trays as accessories to make snack time easy.
Things to Do on the Road
A car seat travel tray is good for more than just eating. It’s also a good place for a coloring book and some crayons or a travel board game. It’s always important to bring lots of activities to keep the kids occupied on long trips.
First Aid Kit
Make sure that you have this on your checklist when planning your road trip. Indeed, a first aid kit is a must for any road trip—especially when the kids are in tow. It’s comforting to know it’s within arm’s reach in case of an emergency. Ideally, of course, you hope it will stay in the glove box for the whole trip.
Planning a Road Trip? Prepare the Car Seat!
A road trip is one of the best ways to spend a vacation, and having the whole family along for the ride is sure to make it even more exciting. Now that you know how to prepare your child’s car seat for your next trip, you’ll be able to spend your time with one less thing on your mind!
Steve is a Content Specialist and Team Lead at Stream Companies, where he’s been working since 2019. Steve has a passion for cars, the automotive industry, and the role they play in our everyday lives. From road-tripping and commuting to off-roading and racing, he’s covered it all.
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