Brilliantly engineered to compress in the event of a crash, lowering the child's center of gravity to keep him/her safe. Easy installation.
Does not have a built-in cup holder like some other top-shelf car seats do, although it does come with a clip-on.
Deep head-wings lined with EPS foam protect from side impact, and a removable infant insert provides even more protection.
Some owners report disappointment that the cup holder cannot accommodate a 12 oz. sippy cup.
Air Protect cushioning protects rear-facing and front-facing passengers. Thick seat padding and cup holder. Accommodates up to 70 lbs.
Challenging to install, and the straps are difficult to adjust. Some parents gripe about the plastic components feeling "cheap."
Provides the same basic safety features as its competitors for a much lower price.
Some users report that this seat is a bit difficult to install.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Parents make numerous important decisions during their 18+ years of child rearing. Finding the best car seat for an infant and/or toddler is one of those decisions.
Here at BestReviews, we wanted to help our readers learn more about this critical piece of equipment. So we enlisted the help of Jonas Sickler, a published author of baby books and our resident expert on all things related to child safety.
Jonas currently serves as marketing director for ConsumerSafety.org.
The first thing Jonas helped us understand is that there are three types of car seats from which parents can choose:
An infant car seat includes a detachable carrier and a base that buckles into your vehicle. These models can accommodate babies up to 30 pounds.
A convertible car seat can face either the front or the back, providing a seamless transition for children as they grow. New parents set it up in a rear-facing position initially and a forward-facing position later on.
A 3-in-1 car seat has no rear-facing option. These seats are built to fit small toddlers while using a seat insert, large toddlers without an insert, and preschoolers in a backless configuration. Some will even accommodate young schoolchildren.
In this shopping guide, we will focus on convertible car seats, the best of which have passed all federally mandated safety tests and provide passengers with a secure and convenient mode of travel.
We tested convertible car seats at our BestReviews headquarters in order to get a hands-on feel for how these devices work. Through our testing sessions, conversations with Jonas, and additional product research, we comprised a shortlist of the five best convertible car seats on the market today.
You can read about these seats in our product matrix, above.
Rest assured that we do not accept free product samples from manufacturers. Rather, we use our own funds to purchase the same “off-the-shelf” products that you do. And when we wrap up testing, we donate these products to charities and other non-profit organizations that can use them.
Please read on to learn more about our top convertible car seat recommendations.
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.
First and foremost, all convertible car seats in our product matrix have passed or exceeded the minimal safety standards mandated by the federal government. That said, different manufacturers go to different lengths when it comes to the quality and degree of their safety features.
The restraints in a rear-facing seat must be located at or below the baby’s shoulders. If they are positioned above the shoulders, they must be adjusted — or the seat should not be used. You should never place an object under your baby to make the fit more snug.
All car seat models, convertible and otherwise, are subject to state laws regarding their safe use. Before car seat installation, parents and other caregivers must understand the regulations that apply to their state. What follows is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a great place to start. After all, nothing is more important than the health and safety of your precious cargo.
Rear-facing car seats should never be used in the front passenger seat. While it may seem convenient to have the child right next to you in the front seat, officials discourage this practice for several reasons:
The passenger side air bag is designed to deploy during a moderate to severe impact. This could be fatal for an infant in the passenger seat.
Most cars have “crumple zones” to minimize the energy of a crash. A baby or toddler in the front seat is in the middle of such a zone. Even a minor accident could severely injure the child.
Parents should never skip the booster seat stage after convertible car seat graduation. Most states allow parents to switch from a front-facing convertible car seat to a belted booster seat after the child has outgrown the convertible seat harness or has reached age four. This booster seat phase is very important in terms of safety and seat design. It should never be skipped in favor of a regular seatbelt.
Police can and will enforce car seat laws as a secondary offense. Harried parents and other caregivers may decide that a quick trip to the grocery store or local park doesn't require bundling the child in a rear-facing car seat and harness. But in the eyes of the law, there are very few excuses for putting a child at such risk. Drivers pulled over for minor traffic infractions can also be ticketed for violating child seat laws if the officer notices an improperly restrained child.
How easy a car seat is to install, remove, and navigate inside a vehicle are all important considerations when deciding on a purchase. Other important factors include harness reliability, the weight/bulk of the seat, and how much space the seat takes up in various car models.
Installing a car seat in a tight-fitting backseat can be tricky. The instruction manual supposedly helps, but many parents discover there’s still a lot of gray area when it comes to actual installation.
Because convertible car seats require a bit of “elbow grease” to install and remove, Jonas advises that if you plan to alternate driving obligations with someone, you might consider buying more than one convertible seat. This would cost you a bit more upfront, but the time and frustration you save would likely be worth it.
Here are some tips to help your installation process run smoothly —
Push the front seat forward as much as possible to make room for the car seat. Front seat adults may be a little inconvenienced, but proper installation is much easier when you have lots of maneuvering room.
Use your full body weight to ensure a tight fit. Don’t just use your hands and arms to press the seat into position. Use a knee or your stomach to bear down on the seat before cinching up the first strap. If two people are available, put one on seat-pressing duty and the other on cinching-and-latching duty.
Use a swaying/rocking motion to wedge the car seat between the upper and lower cushions. Simply pushing the back of the car seat into this gap will not secure it. Rock the seat back and forth as you bear down on it. Some people find it useful to position themselves directly in front of the seat for this task, using their belly as leverage.
Get help if you need it. There’s no shame in asking for professional help installing a car seat. In fact, it’s quite common for parents to seek help, and it’s easy to find a technician who will help you. The searchable technician database at SafeCar.gov is a great place to start.
If the child is two years old and has not reached maximum height for the seat, many experts advise parents to continue using the chair in a rear-facing position for as long as needed.
All seats on our shortlist provide a supportive transition from rear-facing to front-facing mode as the child grows. The amount of body weight a car seat accommodates in both modes is an important consideration, as is the seat's ability to recline, its portability, and its cup holder system.
If your child’s car seat has been in an accident — or even a drop or hard fall — throw the seat away. It may appear to be structurally sound, but a latch or internal mechanism could have sustained hidden damage.
All car seats should bear a printed expiration date for the owner’s reference. In many cases, this expiration date will be around six years from the date it left the factory.
Avoid buying a used car seat which has no visible expiration date or an expired one. Because most children are ready to switch to a booster by age four, this expiration date shouldn’t be problematic for new car seats. But it does encourage parents to upgrade to a new model for a second child.
You may be wondering why a perfectly adequate seat that you paid good money for would expire. Here are the primary reasons:
Car seat materials wear down over time. The plastic and metal parts of a 10-year-old car seat aren’t as sturdy and safe as the plastic and metal parts of a brand new car seat. And since a quality car seat could potentially save your child’s life, it’s important to have the best.
Car seats are designed with “best practices” in mind, but these standards evolve over time. What was considered safe in 2000 is not necessarily what’s considered safe today. To ensure the best for your precious cargo, it’s wise to stay on top of the best technology.
Rescue workers prefer to extract children from independent car seats rather than integrated car seats. That’s because the rigid outer shell of an independent car seat can serve as a temporary backboard after an accident.
Convertible car seats range in price from under $100 to over $800. Seats at the higher end tend to offer a glossier look with more bells and whistles, while seats at the lower end tend to zero in on basic functionality and safety without the extra frills.
We love that it comes equipped with durable and environmentally friendly EPP foam (as opposed to the less durable and less "green" foam in some of our other models) and the fact that SafeCell technology actually lowers a child's center of gravity in the event of a crash.
As mentioned above, a convertible car seat is just one of several options you have as a parent.
You could purchase a rear-facing infant car seat for your child and later, when he or she is about two years old, switch to a front-facing seat.
But some people like convertible car seats because they follow the child from babyhood to about age four.
Here are some pros and cons to consider before investing in a convertible car seat —
The Britax Advocate scores major points with us because it is one of the easiest convertible seats to install. Latch connectors make the process simple and quick, and the seat can be just as quickly uninstalled with the push of a button. The Britax is a larger seat that takes up quite a bit of space in rear-facing position; potential buyers should note the size of their backseat bench before purchasing.
Q. I recently moved to a new state. How can I find out the laws and regulations concerning child car seats?
A. Almost all laws concerning child car seat usage are written at the state level, so you would most likely find the information you seek by searching the official state website and using the keywords “car seat laws” or “child car seats”.
Q. I bought a used convertible car seat at a thrift store. The expiration date is still good, and it looks undamaged. How can I tell if it has been recalled?
A. Jonas strongly discourages the purchase of a used car seat unless the buyer is fully aware of its history and previous ownership. “There are many items that you can and should buy pre-owned,” Jonas says, “but a car seat is not one of them. Without the instructions, you might install the seat improperly.”
Furthermore, Jonas says, “There’s no way for the company to notify you of a recall.” That’s because many companies only issue recall information directly to registered owners. Some product safety organizations may have a master list of recalled products, but it is often up to the buyer to arrange for a repair or replacement. Without proof of an original purchase, you’d likely be better off disposing of the recalled model and buying a safer seat.
Q. Why should my child face backwards while riding in a car? I would like to see his face once in awhile.
A. Rear-facing car seats are designed to protect the fragile skeletal and muscular structure of their occupants. When an infant or toddler faces forward during a crash, the head snaps forward, causing softer neck and spinal bones to separate. This is an injury worse than whiplash. A rear-facing car seat is designed to cushion the head and prevent those whiplash-like injuries. Parents may want to have face-to-face time with their children, but safety should be a larger concern when transporting a fragile young passenger in a vehicle.
Q. We’re considering purchasing a new van with an integrated child seat. Is this kind of pre-installed car seat safe for a newborn?
A. In terms of meeting safety standards for a child car seat, most integrated car seats pass the test. They are just as safe for older toddlers as a separate car seat. However, they are not designed for infants and young toddlers who need to be in a rear-facing car seat until at least the age of two.