What the best stroller has
- Updated safety features. On traditional and umbrella strollers, look for a five-point harness, one-touch linked brakes, and a secure buckle. A bumper (belly) bar is a nice extra, and canopy hinges should not scissor. For jogging strollers, look for a model that also has a hand-operated brake if you'll be running frequently, a wrist strap, and a front wheel that is either fixed or lockable if it swivels.
- Car seat adaptability. The ability to accept a car seat is a necessity for most families with infants. This is a feature most seen in traditional strollers – most umbrella strollers can't support the weight of a car seat. Some jogging strollers also have car-seat adapters, but experts recommend against actually jogging with babies until they're about 6 to 8 months old and have full head control, so stick to walking until then.
- A seat that reclines. If you don't have a car seat adapter for your stroller, you'll need a seat with a full recline if you want to stroll with a newborn up until about 3 months of age. For older babies, you may still want a seat that partially reclines for on-the-go naps.
- Easy-to-use features. Car seats and other accessories should change out easily, and it should be easy to access the child. The stroller should fold and clean up easily.
- A locking frame. There's nothing more irritating than folding a stroller, trying to pick it up, and having it unfold on you. Be sure the stroller you're buying has either an automatic or manual lock when folded, although an auto lock is best.
- Sturdy construction. The stroller should not tip easily in any direction, and the wheels should not wobble. Pay particular attention to umbrella strollers -- since they're lighter, they are also more prone to tipping. Test for stability by hanging a bag over the back handle of the stroller and gradually adding weight -- without the child in the seat, of course.
- A big canopy. Canopies not only protect children from the sun and elements, they protect babies from prying eyes and poking fingers. UV-protected fabric is a bonus.
- Compatible accessories. Extras like parent and child consoles or even a rain shield can be nice to have if you'll be using a stroller frequently. While we stick with official accessories in our reviews, we recommend looking at generic products that will also fit the stroller but get better reviews, and usually are cheaper.
Know before you go
The dimensions of your trunk or closet. Whether you live in the city or suburbs, the stroller has to be stored and/or transported. Measure the trunk of your car or closet so that you can be sure the stroller fits inside. Jogging strollers can be particularly bulky, but you may be able to remove the wheels for easier storage. Folded specs are available for virtually all strollers on the manufacturer's website or by calling customer service. If you're shopping in person, take a tape measure.
Your strength. Be sure you know how much weight you can lift and whether you can comfortably lift that weight multiple times in a day, if necessary. Umbrella strollers are fairly light, but jogging strollers and some traditional strollers are definitely not. City folk may want to be sure they can carry 17 or more pounds in one hand, while cradling an imaginary infant in the other as they pretend to get on a bus or walk upstairs. Also, be sure there is some comfortable way to carry the stroller -- a strap, handle, etc.
Number of years you expect to own the stroller. The upper and lower weight ratings on a stroller tell you when you can start using your stroller and how long you can use it. Some strollers won't accommodate an infant without a car seat or bassinet, so the stroller seat may not be able to be used until 3 to 6 months. If your children tend to be taller or larger, look for a higher weight rating and more head clearance so they won't outgrow it as soon.
Frequency and duration of stroller usage. If your child is going to be in the stroller a lot, look for comfort features, such as a well-padded seat for older children. Infants should not be in a car seat for long periods of time, so look for a bassinet or a full recline. If your children are closely spaced, an optional standing board is a great feature so the older child can ride along.
Your environment and circumstances. Traditional and umbrella strollers work best on smooth terrain. If you have to walk over gravel, in light snow, on playground mulch or through grass, look for a stroller that does well on more challenging terrains -- generally sturdy, hard rubber or foam wheels that can lock. Jogging strollers typically have these features. If you take your baby on a lot of errands, choose a more compact stroller with a narrow wheel base that is easy to maneuver even in smaller shops -- an umbrella stroller may fit the bill. If you walk long distances on sidewalks, look for all-wheel suspension for baby and an easy push for you. If you take public transportation, be sure you can fold and lift the stroller easily with one hand. A standing fold would be a handy feature for public transport as well.
Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it
A stroller can cost a big chunk of change, but it's easier than ever to recoup part of your investment. While you can always go the traditional resale route via a children's consignment sale, online options such as Craigslist and Facebook resale groups may be even more convenient. If you want to increase your chances of making back some money on your stroller, here are a few tips:
Choose your fabric carefully. Neutral colors will work for both a boy and a girl, while darker shades won't show wear as easily.
Store your stroller inside. If you have space in the garage or closet, it's best to protect your stroller from the elements when it isn't in use.
Perform any recommended maintenance. Your manual may specify certain steps you can take to give your stroller a tune-up. For instance, wheels may need to be lubricated, or if they're air-filled, you'll want to regularly check the pressure.
Clean it thoroughly before resale. Vacuum all cracks and crevices for goldfish and graham-cracker crumbs, and scrub the frame and any plastic consoles. A magic eraser may help eliminate scuffmarks. Wash the fabric if your manufacturer allows; if not, you may be able to spot-clean marks with a gentle dish detergent.
Take clear photos. If you're selling your stroller online, take some care to get good photos. Make sure you have ample light -- outdoor photos are usually preferable. Take pictures of the stroller folded and unfolded. Include close-ups of any special features, as well as any defects.
Don't buy or sell a recalled stroller. The industry has seen its fair share of recalls, and most consignment sales or stores bar you from selling recalled baby products. Double-check the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website if you're unsure.