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Car safety is hugely important for babies, and an infant car seat is one of the most important purchases you'll make for your new arrival.
As such, you shouldn't just leave it to chance, selecting the first one you like by appearance alone — this is an item you need to research and fully consider before you buy.
The good news: we at BestReviews have done exhaustive research for you, and our shopping guide includes everything you need to know on one page, so you'll be picking out your new infant car seat before you know it. We've tested products in our lab, analyzed data, talked with existing customers, and consulted our child development expert, Jonas Sicker, all so we can bring you a fair and thorough review to help you make an informed purchase.
The product matrix above features our top five infant car seat picks, and the guide below gives you all the information you'll need to pick out the right car seat for you and your growing family.
Read on to become acquainted with the features of infant car seats, and when you’re ready to buy, check out our recommendations.
What exactly is an infant car seat, and how does it differ from other types of car seat?
The main characteristic of an infant car seat is that it's rear-facing. In the event of a car accident, children under two are 75% less likely to be killed or injured in a rear-facing seat than in a forward-facing seat.
Most infant car seats have a base that's anchored into your car, and the main body of the car seat simply clips into the base. This means two-car families just need a second base, rather than a second car seat.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Chicco Keyfit 30
The Chicco Keyfit's engineers obviously put a lot of time and energy into designing a seat that safeguards precious cargo. Energy-absorbing foam shields infants from violent side impact, but the Chicco Keyfit's best safety feature is actually its ease of installation. A well-installed car seat is a safe car seat, and the Chicco comes with simple, push-button technology that ensures a proper fit each time. One owner who was in a rollover SUV accident told us that the Chicco Keyfit kept her five-month-old solidly planted in her seat throughout the entire upset. Parents of newborns don't have to worry, either; this product includes a body-hugging insert that cradles floppy babies and keeps them safe and snug.
Infant car seats have a carry handle, so you can get your baby in and out of the car without disturbing her — a lifesaver if she's gone to sleep in her seat and you don't want to wake her.
Avoid getting a used car seat as it could be a recalled product, could be damaged so its safety features don’t work, and will certainly not have any company guarantee.
Be wary of toys. Toys can injure your child in a crash, so be extra careful to choose ones that are soft and will not hurt your child. Secure loose objects and toys to protect everyone in the car.
Jonas has spent more than half of his life surrounded by children's products. He published a series of baby books called Indestructibles that are designed to take everything a baby can dish out. More recently, Jonas has taken on a role as Marketing Director for ConsumerSafety.org, where he oversees safety campaigns to inform consumers about recalled products. As a father and safety expert, Jonas has a critical eye for analyzing products, and is well-versed in CPSC safety regulations for baby products.
The lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH) system is designed to help you fit your child's car seat safely. Most infant car seats only use the lower anchors, which are located in the crease where the seat cushions meet — these anchors should be found in almost all cars (and other passenger vehicles) made from September 1, 2002 onward. You'll find two lower anchors, and two lower anchor connectors on your infant car seat or base — one on each side — both of which must be clipped to the anchors.
While this is a basic explanation of how the LATCH system works, always consult the manual that comes with your infant car seat to learn exactly how to fit your chosen model.
If your car is compatible with the LATCH system, you don't need to use the seatbelt to secure your baby's car seat at all. However, it's still possible to use a seatbelt instead of the LATCH system if you have an older vehicle that doesn't have anchor points.
If you find LATCH systems a hassle to install, then find carriers that make it easy. Never drive your vehicle without securing all tethers.
It's fairly standard for infant car seats to come with adjustable harnesses, so you can keep your baby safe and secure in her seat as she grows.
Most seats come with harnesses that can be placed in three different positions at the shoulders and between the legs, so your baby will fit from newborn right up to the maximum height limit.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Chicco Keyfit 30
The Chicco Keyfit is the easiest infant car seat to install out of all of the leading contenders. That's no small feat, considering how complicated (and frustrating) installation of an infant car seat can be. A push-button installation mechanism helps achieve the proper base angle. Two bubble-level indicators let you know when the seat is at the accurate angle. A one-pull LATCH indicator helps assure a tight and secure fit. If you're not mechanically inclined — or if you just don't feel like fussing with a complicated installation system day in and day out — this product is definitely worth your consideration.
A good amount of padding is ideal in a car seat, both for comfort and to provide cushioning in case of an accident.
We recommend a seat with breathable padding, so your baby doesn't get too hot and sweaty in warm weather or when wearing layers of winter clothes.
Most infant car seats have an extra padded insert for newborns and young babies that can be removed as your child grows.
Consider also whether the padding and covering are removable, for easy cleaning.
Double check that the carrier is securely locked into the base by pulling it up, or opt for a carrier that 'clicks' when it's properly installed.
Infant car seats weigh anywhere between about 5 and 16 pounds. Choose one that you can comfortably carry — and don't forget to factor in the weight of your child. Our expert, Jonas Sicker, suggests, "If your carrier is too heavy, look for models that are compatible with a stroller to lighten the load on longer walks."
It's important to recline your infant car seat at the right angle, particularly for a newborn or young baby who can't yet support his own head. Sitting him in too upright a position could make his head flop forward, potentially obstructing his airway. Many infant car seats have recline indicators — a little like spirit levels — on the side to help you adjust them with the right degree of tilt.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Evenflo LiteMax 35
The Evenflo LiteMax 35's plush, padded interior keeps even the smallest of infants snug in place. However, its temperature-regulating fabric means your child won't overheat, even if you're in a hot climate, or your little one is bundled up in the winter months. Since the LiteMax is rollover tested, you can rest easy knowing the car seat will stay in place, even in a more serious accident. You'd be hard-pressed to find a superior infant car seat at such an affordable price.
Individual state laws may differ, but the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a child stay in infant car seat until at least two years of age, or until he outgrows the infant seats.
When adjusting the harness position, the shoulder straps should be level with or below your baby's shoulders, never above them, to keep her secure in case of a collision.
If your car seat gets damaged or your vehicle is in an accident, replace the seat right away, even if there's no obvious damage to it.
All infant car seats have an expiry date — usually about six years after manufacture— which should be on a label or molded into the plastic.
A properly-installed car seat shouldn't move more than an inch in any direction when secured.
Research shows up to 80% of child car seats are installed incorrectly, putting your little ones at risk. If you're unsure whether you've fitted your car seat correctly, you can find a certified technician who'll check your car seat via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
While an infant car seat isn't something you should scrimp on, you can find great options to suit a range of budgets.
Basic infant car seats cost about $60 to $90. They won't have all the bells and whistles you expect from high end models, plus they're unlikely to be as convenient and well designed — they may be harder to fit and less comfortable to carry. That said, you can find a few gems in this price range.
Mid-range infant car seats cost about $90 to $150. They tend to be more user-friendly than basic car seats and have a few added extras.
High-end infant car seats cost about $150 to $200. They tend to be extremely well-designed and easy to fit, with all the safety features you could desire.
Q. How long should my child use an infant car seat?
A. Although the connotations of the word "infant" might lead you to believe this type of car seat is only for small babies, it's recommended that your child uses a rear-facing seat for as long as possible. Rear-facing car seats are much safer in the event of a collision, so it's best to keep your child in one until he outgrows it. Most infant car seats can accommodate children of up to 35 pounds, so ideally he'll use a rear-facing safety seat until he reaches this weight limit or grows too tall.
Q. Is my child too tall for an infant car seat?
A. Your child can stay in an infant car seat until she's tall enough that the crown of her head sits one inch below the top of the seat's shell. Even before she reaches this height, she'll probably have to bend her knees or cross her legs to fit in the seat. Many parents worry that their child is uncomfortable or cramped in this posture, but the increased safety of a rear-facing car seat is worth the tradeoff.
Q. How will I know if my car seat has been recalled?
A. When you buy your car seat, you'll find a card enclosed asking you to register your purchase with the manufacturer. It's important that you do this, as that's how the manufacturer will know to contact you in the event of a recall.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.