Just over a year ago Consumer Reports published an article that scared lots of parents. Everywhere I went on the internet (okay, maybe not everywhere...) I read about how infant seats were no longer considered safe after a certain age; I've even had parents tell me they're going to go and get a convertible right away - even though their child still fits well in their infant seat.
So let's back up a little bit. Consumer Reports changed the way they do their testing to more accurately reflect what it's like on the inside of an actual vehicle; they changed the demonstration seating used, added a front seatback simulator, and increased the rate of speed from 30mph to 35mph. Car Seats For The Littles has an incredible article detailing everything I'd like to say about this, so I'll send you there if you want to read about it. Bottom line: read the manual for your car seat, it will tell you everything you need to know about when it's outgrown.
But this post is about how and when to buy a convertible car seat. That's something you'll need to do eventually whether or not you read the Consumer Report article, so here we go!
I'm going to go on ahead and assume your baby is already here in this world and you've been using a car seat since they arrived. Well done! If so, please continue reading. If not, take what you need and leave the rest (just like everything else in parenting).
1) When your child is close to outgrowing their infant seat, start your research. Your seat's manual holds all the answers, so start there. The info may be on a sticker on the side of the seat, too.
2) Decide your budget. Remember that more expensive does not necessarily mean safer. Determine what you are comfortable spending and keep that number in mind when doing your research.
3) Think about what you like about your current car seat. Do the straps get tangled easily? Is the headrest easy to adjust? Do you have a difficult time tightening the harness? Does your child seem comfortable in the seat? Is it easy to use? Remind yourself of these strengths and downfalls when you're searching.
4) What is your child's growth curve? If your child is tall, take a look at harness heights of seats. If your child is heavier than average, take a look at weight limits. Keep in mind that most children will outgrow their car seats by height before weight, even if they are on the heavier side.
5) Try them out in your vehicle! Many stores will allow you to take their demo seats out to your vehicle to see if it fits, just ask! Car seats are not a one size fits all for children and that definitely holds true for vehicles as well. Remember to install the seat rear facing AND forward facing if you'll have that vehicle for a while.
If you're still confused and needing input, ask your friends what they like about their seats. Don't become swayed by those who will only rave about the brand name of their seat. Ask what they specifically like - and what they don't like. But remember that too much information is sometimes, well... too much. Remember that all car seats pass the same standards and go from there.