More families are choosing SUVs over sedans these days, and the reasons couldn't be more obvious. While sedans may have a style advantage, families are more concerned with more practical matters, especially installing and removing child safety seats. In this test, SUVs win hands down thanks to their higher ride height, the additional headroom provided by the taller roof, and better overall interior space.

Not only is the use of child safety seats the law in all 50 states and federally, it's just an obvious choice parents should make for the safety of their children. A properly designed child booster seat or rear-facing infant seat can be the difference between life and death for your little ones, even in a minor accident.

However, when it comes to fitting child seats, not all vehicles' rear seats are created equally. Even though pretty much every new car with a rear seat uses the LATCH system -- it stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren -- it's obvious some manufacturers put more effort into incorporating LATCH into their cars than others. And it goes beyond sheer vehicle size. While minivans obviously are the kings of booster seats, even in those vehicles there can be wide variations between how the seats are installed, and how well they're integrated into the vehicle's overall function.

General Guidelines

When shopping for a new family car, bring your child seats with you to the dealership and install them in the car you're looking at. See for yourself how easy it is to get to those lower anchors and that upper tether. Can you access the third row with the booster installed? How easy is it to remove the seat after it's been installed? Be sure to check how much front seat legroom there is as well, especially in front of a rear-facing infant seat, since those tend to take up more space. While you're at it:

  • Check local laws for how long you need to keep your kids in a dedicated child seat, and what type. Note that some laws may have changed since you last learned of them. California, for example, now requires children to be in a rear-facing child seat until they're 2 years old.
  • Be sure you know how to properly adjust the straps and belts for your child. If you have any doubts, check the owner's manual. If that still leaves you unsure, contact your local highway patrol or state police office, as most will provide an in-person demonstration of what to do.
  • While we all want to keep our kids warm, be sure to remove that heavy winter coat BEFORE strapping your kids into their boosters. The puffy coat can reduce the effectiveness of the belts, allowing your child to slip out of them in an accident. If you're worried about warmth, tuck the coat over your child like a blanket after they're strapped in.
  • Keep federal guidelines in mind: Even after your kids have outgrown their boosters, you should still have them sit in the back seat until they're at least 12 years old.


Look into the Future

Even if you only plan to keep your next new family transport for just a few years, it’s important to consider how your needs will evolve as your kids grow into different car seats and different activities. And if you like to keep your vehicles for 6, 8 or 10 years -- extended ownership is typically a financially savvy move -- it may very well make sense to go full minivan even as you’re expecting your first child.

Just don’t buy any vehicle until you’re sure your car seat(s) fit well.

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