Only what you need for your baby. Really. (OK – and some fantastic things you don’t that are pretty cool.)
See also Car Seats: Overview and Car Seats: Buying
The NHTSB and it seems like every other organization in California, from the CA Highway Patrol to our childbirth class instructor, stresses having your car seat installed or, at the very least, inspected by someone official before you put your newborn in it. This is sound advice since the stats on infant injury/death because of wrongly installed car seat bases are alarmingly high. You’ll know why when you take on the installation task.
That said, getting assistance from the Powers that Be can be trickier than it sounds, at least here in San Francisco.
There is a rumor that you can stop by any fire station and an attractive fire(wo)man will hop out of the shiny fire truck and come to your rescue, but that is a myth here in the city. As is the story that any CHP officer can assist you. So don’t bother speeding past a motorcycle cop in the hopes that he will un-box and install the infant seat you’ve been carrying around in your trunk after he writes your ticket. Next call: my local police station. They sent me to AAA who, it turns out, doesn’t do help with installations in San Francisco.
What I’m getting at is that the simple instruction to get a cop, fireman or someone officially related to transportation to help you is going to take longer than you think and may involve an hour of phone calls and an appointment two weeks away, so plan ahead. I’m not a naturally patient person, so this kind of inefficient process drives me around the bend, but I still firmly recommend that, at least the first time you install that seat, you get official help. Not your uncle either. Someone who knows all the seats on the market, especially the new ones.
If at all possible, you and your partner should both go to the appointment, and do it once yourselves while you’re there so you know how to reinstall it when necessary.
Start this process at least a month before you’re due. I know it seems silly to clutter up your back seat with an empty car seat base several weeks before the baby arrives, but take it from someone who knows: when your baby comes four weeks early, sorting out a car seat installation is the last thing you’ll want to be doing from your hospital bed.
San Francisco: There is one CHP officer for the entire city of San Francisco who handles installations and getting him to call you back can take up to a week. That said, he’s supposed to be very thorough, it’s free and they offer other safety tips. Call the CHP phone line 415-557-1094. Officer Shawn Chase is currently in charge and appointments will be at the main police station at 8th and Bryant.
After several snafus and delays with Officer Chase, we ended up at Citikids on Clement Street. Ty, on-staff there but working independently, will install your seat for $20. He did a great job – the seat was immovable – and I’ve been back for help a couple other times. Call Citikids at 415-752-3837 and leave a message for Ty. He’ll call you back to set up an appointment time.
If you live outside San Francisco or elsewhere in the country, call your local police precinct for assistance. If they can’t help, stop by your local fire station and ask them where to go. If you’re a AAA member, try them as well: I understand their non-city offices may offer installation services.