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What to look for when buying the baby car seat

What to look for when buying the baby car seat.Ease of use: Look for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's five-star rating system. The more stars a car seat has, the easier it is to use. The NHTSA ratings take into account how easy it is to install the seat in your car and secure your child in it, as well as the content and clarity of the instruction manual.

A car-seat base: Most infant car seats come with a plastic base you install in your car; some parents buy an extra base for a second vehicle. Snap the car seat into the base, and buckle up your child when you're ready to go. When you reach your destination, unsnap the car seat from the base and take it with you. Some car-seat bases have add-ons like an adjustable foot that can help get the proper recline angle, or level indicators that use a ball bearing or bubble to show you precisely when the correct angle is reached.

Easy adjustments: You'll need to adjust the harness and headrest as your child grows. Better car seats allow you to easily adjust the straps and harness height from the front. The most user-friendly models have single-hand belt adjustments with quick-release buckles, no-rethread harnesses, and single-hand height-adjustable headrests.

LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) style: Since 2002, all car seats and vehicles have been compatible with the LATCH system. LATCH allows you to attach the car seat directly to your vehicle instead of using the seat belt to secure it. This can make installation easier, although correct installation using seat belts is just as safe. Most infant car seats use the lower anchors only, not the tethers. LATCH connectors come in two styles: attached to a flexible strap that threads through the car seat, and “rigid LATCH” that sticks straight out of the seat back. Many experts consider the rigid LATCH connectors easier to operate.

Easy cleaning: Babies and messes go hand in hand, but a surprising number of car seats come with covers you can't take off. A detachable, machine-washable cover makes cleanup much easier.

Comfort: A well-padded seat with plenty of head support gives your baby a better ride.

Side-impact protection: Some car seats have special energy-absorbing foam and other features designed to better protect your baby's head and chest in a side-impact accident.

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