I've been putting off looking into the next level of car seat for D for months, figuring I had time b/c his current seat is supposed to be good till 26+lbs and he's barely 20-21lbs now. However his head's starting to poke out above the top back of the seat, and while there's nothing in the owners manual about a height limit it's started making me a bit nervous (and btw apparently it's illegal for us to use a European car seat in the US, woops). I love the side protection on his infant seat and in many ways it feels very secure and safe, but it's only a 3-point harness and at times I question how well those straps would stay on him in case of a crash.
So, I've spent the past couple days scourging car-seat.org and other sites, trying to make sense of the overwhelming smorgasbord of options, ranging in price from $40 to $300. By the way, while all car seats in the US market have passed the US's minimum safety standards, there are no published safety ratings to let you know if one car seat performed better than any other one. So parents get to get all bogged down pondering such things as EPS vs EPP foam and top tethering while rear-facing and seat recline without knowing whether any of these features make any significant difference in how well our children would make it through a crash. If anyone has a decent explanation of why the system is set up this way I'd love to hear it, because this makes ansolutely no sense to me whatsoever.
After reading multiple forum threads and amazon.com reviews I compiled a list of what seem like the most popular convertible car seat models, then went to Target and Babies R Us to get a look at them. Some of these things are gargantuan monstrousities that I don't know how people manage to fit into their cars. Then I noticed the Cosco Scenera, one of the cheapest models out there, and also one of the simplest-looking. I came back home to try to find some safety info on it (Is it any safer than comparable car seats? Is there a significant safety reason to choose a more expensive seat? WHO KNOWS!) then went back this afternoon to buy it. I actually like the design, it fits well in our car, and while it's not the most well-padded seat out there, well, it's got at least as much padding as the infant seat D's been using for the past year. I figure at $50 even if I decide I hate it it's not much of a loss to then buy a different one and use this as our spare if/when needed. Really, the biggest safety advise I kept finding was that any of the 5-point harness models on sale today is safe as long as it's installed correctly, the child is buckled in correctly, and is rear facing for as long as possible (this seat goes to 35lb). So we'll see how it goes, how D likes it, how safe and sturdy it feels (so far so good but I should take it in to get checked by professionals to be sure) and I can spend a bit more time looking into the other, more expensive models to see if they truly seem worth the extra cash. I wouldn't mind investing in one that can hold a child up to 65lbs, but it'll take some time to wade through the different options and try to figure out what extra features seem worthy, what kind of seats will work well in our cars, etc (it's mind-boggling, seriously).
But at least for now I feel better knowing D will be in a 5-point harness seat, well within both the height and weight limits.