Do what really stinks? Car seat shopping. You ask online, "Hey, what car seats do you recommend?" And suddenly you are flooded with comments, "We bought the ExpensiveGoldPlated seat deluxe because we just really thought our child's safety was worth the investment. We are so glad we didn't go with GenericAffordableSeatYouAreLookingAt because it would have said we don't care about the well being of our child." It is hard. The prices for each car seat vary drastically and it is hard to tell with each seat whether you are paying for safety or brand name or styling. Obviously as parents we care about the safety of our children; it just is nice to know what is actually worth the money.
Before I go any further on car seats we have owned and currently own, here is an excellent link from Consumer Reports on which car seats are safest: Best Car Seat Buying Guide by Consumer Reports. I loved that article when I read it. It was so refreshing to see in side by side comparison that expensive does not equal safety. Don't fall for the hype; do your own research and buy what works and what you can afford.
For tips on car seat safety, here is the link to the Academy of American Pediatrics Updates on Car Seat Recommendations. AAA also has some helpful links on Rear-Facing Seats, Forward Facing Seats, Booster Seats, and Seat Belts. State laws are also changing regarding car seats; AAA has a link to car seat laws in your state as well. For more reading on car seat safety, such as Top Car Seat Mistakes, I highly recommend checking out the AAA website and Car Seats: Information for Families at healthychildren.org. Those links discuss things like car seat expiration dates, proper installation, and proper 5-point harness positioning.
So what car seats do we own? With a heavy heart, Dionos. It pains me to say it because I have already had new moms ask me, "Oh, we were looking at those! We really want the safest seats." I feel like that owning them throws me in the same category as the people that think price = safety. Let me tell you, nope, nope, nope, nope. Why do we own Dionos? Because they are narrow and we can fit three children in the 3rd row of our mini van. We are expecting our 5th child and would rather buy car seats than a new car. Our car seats do not say we love our children more than your children; they say we do not want a car payment.
Our 4.5-year old twins are in the Diono Radian R100 Convertible Car Seats. They are both in the 50th percentile for height and weight (they both weigh in just under 35 lbs) and so we think that they will most use these seats this year and next year as well. They are able to buckle and unbuckle their seats, though we did take the headrest off of the 2nd row seat just to make it easier to check that they are buckled correctly. This seat works rear facing until 40 lbs and forward facing as a five point harness up to 65 lbs. It also works as a booster up to 100 lbs. The height limit for all these configurations is 57"
In the 2nd row on the captain's seat, our 20-month old 20 something lb toddler is in the Diono Radian R120 Convertible Car Seat. We bought him a different seat than the preschoolers because he had just turned 1-year old when we bought it and we wanted his seat to have a few more creature comforts than the basic seats we bought them. Along with more padding, this seat has a wider weight range which contributes to its higher price tag. This seat works rear facing until 45 lbs and forward facing as a five point harness up to 80 lbs. It also works as a booster up to 120 lbs. The height limit for all these configurations is 57". We also bought him this Diono car seat liner and it has been amazing; I recommend the liner to anyone who wants to cut down on car seat washings.
I usually have the other captain's seat out of our van in the 2nd row. When we are going to pick up passengers or have out of town guests, we put it back in, but for day to day use; this gives us more storage space in our mini van. It is very handy having the seat out when we go to Costco as mini van's in general do not offer very much trunk space, especially when that trunk has a stroller in it.
What did we have before we bought the Dionos for our 4 boys?
Normal sized car seats that took up all rows of our mini van. In the 3rd row, our preschool twins are sitting in Safety 1st Alpha Omega Convertible Car Seats. (From this angle it looks like they have outgrown the heights, but I can tell you that I always make sure that I raise their seats so they do not outgrow the heights.) I liked these Safety 1st Alpha Omega seats, we actually own three of them. This is the seat we bought our oldest when he moved to a convertible car seat and the seat we bought our twins when they moved to a convertible car seat. It works rear facing until 35 lbs and forward facing as a five point harness until 50 lbs. It works as a booster until 100 lbs. The height limit is 52" for all these configurations. Our oldest outgrew this seat at 3.5-years old. Our twins are much more average height and weight and had not outgrown the limits at 4-years old when we moved them to Dionos. Our twins comfortably rear faced until 2-years old in this seat. (Our oldest did not rear face that long because the recommendation was not at 2-years old at that time or he would have rear faced longer.)
In the second row, our oldest is riding in another Evenflo booster seat, also from bought at Target. (The link goes to Amazon because Target's webpage wasn't cooperating. Sorry, Target.) I bought him this Evenflo seat because it was really inexpensive and had good weight and height limits. He was over 40 lbs and it seemed like a good fit. He has also been a child that never challenged his seat belt. He is a bit of a rule follower and has properly sat in his seat pretty much from the get-go. There was one incident where he tried unbuckling at a stop light because he dropped his toy and "the van was stopped, Momma!" but I quickly reprimanded him and he never did it again. Our other boys have very different personalities and I do not see them being so well behaved. The new Evenflo booster seat we "upgraded" him to has memory foam padding and is much more comfortable for him, though he never complained about this one. When we bought all new car seats, I had bought the Diono Cambria Highback Booster; I immediately returned it. The thing was huge! It was much larger than even the Safety 1st Convertible car seats and was just a highback booster. It has very large wings on the top and did not fit in the 3rd row next to the Diono Radians. We now own 3 Evenflo booster seats: one for the mini van, one for my husband's Jeep, and one for my parents' house.
The baby is riding in the Chicco KeyFit 30 infant car seat. This car seat works from 4 to 30 lbs. We used it with all 4 of our boys, even our twins, who both came home from the hospital under 5 and a half lbs. I like an infant car seat for about the first year. We moved our twins to a convertible car seat before they were a year old because they were just too cumbersome for me to lug around. However, I love being able to drop the infant car seat in the stroller or carry it into a restaurant while the baby naps and have a comfortable place for the infant to sit. It was nice with our first son, but even more convenient with our fourth. He was happy to sit in his seat and watch us or talk to his brothers as they rocked him. We are going to use this same seat for Baby #5.
Why did we switch to Dionos?
|Complete set of car seats in my parents' Suburban|
Before we moved across country, I stayed at my parents' house while my husband went to SOBC. Since we were getting ready to move to the west coast (and actively trying to have our 5th child), I figured it would be convenient to leave a set of car seats at my parents' house on the east coast. Leaving a complete set of car seats was the biggest motivator for buying the Dionos when we did. We knew we would need them at some point because of how narrow they are-- eventually we would have Baby #5-- but it just made sense to make our lives easier for future travel. Over this past Christmas, I flew by myself across country with our 4 boys (and pregnant with our 5th child). After that long flight, it was a relief to be picked up at the airport by my parents in their suburban full of car seats-- no hassling with car seats! Now at my parents' house they have 2 Britax car seats given to them by friends explicitly for use when grandchildren come to visit, my 2 Safety 1st Alpha Omega convertible car seats, a Chicco KeyFit infant seat, and an Evenflo booster seat. This summer they will be welcoming their 7th grandchild (my 5th baby and my sister's 2nd baby) so they need plenty of car seats as both my sister and I are Navy wives traveling in to visit them!
Here is our car seat history in pictures, starting with our first baby and ending at my current pregnancy with baby #5:
1 baby: back seat of the Jeep
For our first son, we owned 3 different car seats: the Chicco KeyFit, the Safety 1st Alpha Omega Convertible Car Seat, and an EvenFlo car seat bought to have a spare car seat in my husband's Jeep after we bought the mini van. (We bought the mini van while I was pregnant with twins.)
|Our oldest in the Chicco KeyFit infant car seat January 2009|
|Our oldest in the Safety 1st Alpha Omega Convertible Car Seat March 2010|
3 children (toddler + infant twins)
Toddler in the 3rd row of the mini van and twins in the 2nd row
When our twins were born, we bought a second Chicco KeyFit infant carrier, this time a KeyFit 30. When they moved into convertible car seats, we bought them each Safety 1st Alpha Omega Convertible Car Seats. Our oldest son stayed in the car seats he already owned in the 3rd row of the mini van. We could not fit 3 car seats across with our twins rear facing, even when our oldest moved to an EvenFlo Highback Booster.
|Our oldest in the Safety 1st Alpha Omega Convertible Booster Seat |
and our twins in Chicco KeyFit infant car seats May 2011
|Twins in Safety 1st Alpha Omega Convertible Car Seats September 2011|
|Safety 1st Alpha Omega Convertible Car Seat March 2012|
|Oldest in EvenFlo Booster Seat |
and twins in Safety 1st Alpha Omega Convertible Car Seats June 2012
3 children (preschooler + toddler twins)
Fit all 3 in 2nd row of mini van with forward facing car seats
When our twins were able to forward face in their Safety 1st Alpha Omega Car Seats, we could fit 3 car seats across in the 2nd row of our mini van. Our oldest is riding in his EvenFlo Booster Seat.
For more links on fitting 3 car seats across in a vehicle, check out The Crash Detective and The Car Seat Lady.
|Oldest in EvenFlo Booster Seat and twins forward facing |
in Safety 1st Alpha Omega Convertible Car Seats April 2013
4 children (kindergartner + toddler twins + infant)
Toddlers in 3rd row of mini van, kindergartner and infant in 2nd row
Toddlers in 3rd row of mini van, kindergartner and infant in 2nd row
When our baby #4 came along, we moved our twins to the 3rd row of the mini van. It didn't make sense fitting 3 across in the 2nd row because one of the children would have to climb over a wall of car seats to get to their seat in the 3rd row. None of the car seats we owned at this time fit in the 3rd row of the mini van, which is much narrower than the 2nd row. At this time we knew we wanted to have one last baby and so we researched which car seats we would need to fit in the 3rd row of the mini van and decided to buy Diono car seats for the children to make our current vehicle work when we had 5 children. We bought our twins their Diono Radian R100 Convertible Car Seats first, then our oldest his new EvenFlo Booster Seat, then baby #4 his Diono Radian R120 Convertible Car Seat when he moved out of the Chicco KeyFit 30 infant car seat. Once our twins had their Diono car seats, we could move our older 3 boys to the 3rd row of the mini van. We have really enjoyed that seating arrangement as it gives us an extra seat in the 2nd row for a passenger (or 2, if we squeeze someone on the jump seat) or extra storage if we completely remove the second captain's seat.
|3rd row: our twins in the Safety 1st Alpha Omega Convertible Car Seats|
2nd row: our oldest in the EvenFlo booster seat and baby #4 in the Chicco KeyFit 30
2nd row: baby #4 in Chicco KeyFit 30 infant seat
4 children + pregnant with #5 (1st grader + preschool twins + toddler)
Older 3 in 3rd row of mini van thanks to Diono car seats, infant in 2nd row
|3rd row: oldest in EvenFlo Booster Seat; twins in Diono Radian R100 Convertible Car Seats|
2nd row: baby #4 in Diono Radian R120 Convertible Car Seat
When Baby #5 makes her entrance this summer, we will have more shifting around to do in our mini van seating arrangement. We plan on keeping our older 3 boys in the same seating assignments they have now, in the 3rd row. Baby #5 will ride in the Chicco KeyFit infant carrier. Baby #4 will turn 2-years old then and we will forward face him. The two of them will ride in the 2nd row of the mini van.
To me, car seat shopping is stressful. It is hard to project everything you will want when investing in your first car seat purchase, especially if you are undecided as to how many children you may want or what vehicle you are hoping to all fit in to. It was expensive buying a complete second set of car seats for all of our children-- especially Dionos-- but I am glad of the convenience of having a complete set of car seats at my parents' house when traveling. I suppose I should address a few opinions I have on the various car seats we have owned. Mind you, this is all opinion.
The Chicco KeyFit infant carriers have been great. They seem to work as well as other infant carriers and come in a lot of cute prints, especially now. (My sister just bought a chevron print! Jealous!) They are super easy to install with the latch system and can even be safely buckled without the car seat base using only a seat belt. I love the ease of use Chicco has mastered. They have levels on the side of their car seats and bases that show you if the seat is installed correctly and their instructions on installation are easy to follow. I liked our Chicco seats a lot.
The Safety 1st Alpha Omega Convertible Car Seats were great-- very affordable. I happened to buy our twins' car seats when they were on sale at BJ's Wholesale and combined them with a coupon. We paid $90 a seat at the time. They are easy to install (not like Chicco, but easy enough). I have a hard time installing a rear facing car seat, but I could do it with these seats, if I had to. (After installing them rear facing-- the time I had to-- I did drive to our local fire house and have them inspected first thing.) Forward facing I can install them, no problems. They are easy to adjust as your child grows and easy to clean. They are not narrow like Dionos by any means, but they are not huge cumbersome car seats like some models I've seen. They worked great for travel because they are not too heavy (19 lbs) and because they are easy to install. They are not hard to have the proper 5-point harness positioning and they are easy for the parent to buckle and unbuckle. I liked these seats too.
|Picture from Amazon|
How on earth would a parent wear this car seat and wrangle their child at an airport?
Especially me... a parent with 3 incredibly heavy Diono car seats + pregnant + 4 children. Nope.
The Diono Radian seats are in a whole different ball game. They are steel framed car seats. We have the Radian R100 and Radian R120 and they weigh 26 and 23 lbs, respectively. They don't hold it well either. There isn't an easy spot to grab on to the seat to make it an easy 23 or 26 lb weight. The thin straps they come with to wear the seat on your back while lugging a child through the airport (what?! see above picture) cut into your shoulders and so the seat is just heavy. It does fold flat-- super neat feature-- and so you could fold it flat and stick it on the bottom of the luggage cart, I suppose. However, these seats are a beast to install. They are so flat and narrow that the seat belt is actually taller than the seat. If you are flying somewhere and getting a rental car, you might not have the tools on hand to properly install the car seat, if you are unfamiliar with what vehicle you will be driving there. My husband had to YouTube properly installing these seats and they went in with much swearing. The seats are properly and securely installed in our vehicle, but we do not pop these things in and out. It is a process. This would not be the car seat I choose as a Navy wife flying by myself with children, like I did with our first son. It is awkwardly heavy and incredibly difficult to install, especially in a vehicle that isn't your own-- usually what you drive when traveling. That is the negative side to the Diono seats and pretty much the only negative side (well, outside of the cost). The plus side is they are super narrow and take up hardly any room. With a Diono in our 2nd row of the mini van, we can put in the jump seat and the captain's seat and carry 2 additional passengers, plus whoever is riding in the passenger seat. My mini van can now carry 4 children (3 in 3rd row, 1 in 2nd row) and 4 adults (2 in 2nd row, 1 in passenger seat, and the driver)! What! They are easy to clean and a breeze to buckle and unbuckle as the parent. They basically buckle in the correct 5-point harness positioning (chest clip at armpit level). Once you get them installed properly, those seats aren't moving anywhere. They are low on the seat and so our preschoolers can easily get in and out of them themselves. I really love their ease while buckling and unbuckling. I just never plan on taking them out of the mini van. Those things are installed, man.
The EvenFlo Booster seat is great. No complaints. I do recommend the memory foam padding. It is ridiculous because our 1st grader's seat has LED lights and memory foam padding and cup holders, but whatever. His seat is more comfortable than when we had the basic highback booster with no memory foam padding, especially now that he is heavier. It is narrow and easy to buckle. Good to go!
The last things I will recommend when dealing with children + car seats are a couple accessories.
We have the Diono Stow'N'Go Car Organizers. They cost under $10 each. We do not use them as seat organizers, but as seat protectors. Our children are always using the seat backs to push off of when they get in their seats and they protect the back of our seats from children's shoes. They do have nifty pockets, though all our kids ever put in them is trash. We did have the Thirty One back of the seat organizer. That thing works great and completely covers the seat, but it is $40 a pop-- definitely not what I want to spend for each seat back in our mini van.
I love the Diono Ultra Dry Seat. This fits in your Diono car seat. If I baby #4 gets crumbs and dirt all over his seat, all I have to do is pop this little thing out and shake it off (or wash it) instead of dismantling the entire car seat to wash that. It would have been super helpful during the potty training times with twins, I can tell you. We also bought the Diono Angle Adjuster for our rear facing Diono seat. We have never bought angle adjusters for other car seats-- employed the towel method instead-- but this was worth the $9. It made installing our Diono seat just a smidgen easier (only a smidgen though).
My final recommendation, no matter how old your baby is and no matter what car you drive, is some sort of seat protector. Car seats are really hard on your vehicle, especially when kids are involved dropping crumbs and liquids down under your tight installation, no matter how strict your food rules are. This was not something we thought of when putting our first son's car seat in and we regretted it (cloth seats too-- yeah, tears were shed).
What are your favorite car seats? What are your favorite car seat accessories? How did you decide on the car seats you bought for your vehicle?
(Note: Any bashing comments will be deleted.)