Best Convertible Car Seats (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
Save money and space with these safe and efficient convertible car seats.
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BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON November 12, 2021
One of the surprising things about parenting is the sheer amount of stuff you need when you have a baby. One of the most important items you’ll need is a car seat and if you’re looking to save money and not add a lot of extra equipment to your repertoire, a convertible car seat is a great option. Convertible car seats are designed to grow with your child, minimizing the need to purchase brand new equipment each time your child grows past a certain height or weight. If you’re in the market for a new convertible car seat, we’ve got you covered with our list of top picks and a handy buying guide that will have you confidently choosing the best option to suit your needs.
Approved for use in children ranging between 4 and 120 pounds, this seat may be the only one you ever need to buy.
- Designed to grow with your child through all stages
- Cover is easy to remove and machine washable
- Harness if fully adjustable without having to uninstall the seat
- Cup holders don’t accommodate larger cup sizes
- Neck support could be improved for infant stage
This seat is an affordable option that’s a bit more compact in size than some other competing models, so it’s a great option for vehicles where space is a premium.
- Straightforward, user-friendly features
- Cover is machine washable
- Only has one cup holder
- Won’t be appropriate for the entire duration of your car seat needs
This car seat is a great option if you have a taller child whose feet are always crammed into the seat in the rear-facing position.
- Offers extra legroom in the rear-facing position
- No-rethread quick-adjust harness setup
- Easy to clean dual cup holders
- Only good for children up to 65 pounds
- Only offers six recline positions
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
When it comes to convertible car seats, The Drive’s Gear staff have a lot of parents on the masthead, including Managing Editor Jonathon Klein, who has gone through his fair share of car seats. When it came to offering up our favorites, we used that hard-earned knowledge of bruised knuckles, Cheerio-encrusted covers, and LATCH usability to select the products below. We stuck to the name-brand offerings, kept the price within reason, and ensured that safety was our highest priority in terms of offerings. And if you’d like more about our selection criteria and methodology, check out The Drive’s Gear About page.
Best Convertible Car Seat Reviews & Recommendations
Our Verdict on Convertible Car Seats
If you’re looking for the ideal combination of safety, comfort, user-friendly design, and price, our top pick for the best overall convertible car seat is the Graco 4Ever DLX 4 in 1 Car Seat. Approved for use in children ranging between 4 and 120 pounds, this seat may be the only one you ever need to buy. And if you’re looking for a great budget-friendly option that will still provide you with reliable protection and safety, check out the Evenflo Tribute LX Harness Convertible Car Seat.
What to Consider When Buying a Convertible Car Seat
Not all car seats are created equal. When purchasing a reliable and safe convertible car seat, there are so many options on the market that it can be difficult to pull the trigger and decide which one best suits your needs. The following buying guide will help you prioritize what’s most important as far as features and options so that you can quickly weed through the choices and select one with confidence.
Types of Convertible Car Seats
Infant seats are intended for babies that weigh between 4 and 40 pounds. Infant seats are rear-facing, have carrying handles, and are attached to the car via a stationary base. You can move the base from one car to another, or even latch it into a stroller system. The major benefit is that the carrier itself is highly portable and doesn’t require you to take the baby in and out of it whenever you want to go anywhere.
Convertible Car Seat
An easy-to-install convertible car seat is designed for toddlers and babies in both rear-facing and forward-facing positions. A good rear- and forward-facing convertible car seat may have the ability to convert to either a highback booster seat or backless booster seat. The weight limit is usually between 65-120 pounds, depending on whether the convertible seat can be transitioned into a booster seat.
Booster seats are designed for children who no longer need a forward-facing, five-point harness seat. These seats enable your child to safely wear a vehicle's lap and shoulder belts. There are a variety of booster seats on the market, some having high backs, while others are backless. A few feature a harness option.
Convertible Car Seat Key Features
This type of protection varies from model to model. For example, you can find seats with single-layer protection, double-layer protection, and side-impact absorbers. A good convertible car seat will have been subjected to rigorous impact and crash testing to ensure that it provides maximum protection for your child in the unfortunate event of an accident or crash. However, side-impact protection could add bulk to the seat and make it more expensive. You have to decide whether a seat with this feature suits your needs.
The most common types of energy-absorbing foam are expanded polypropylene (EPP) and expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), which are both water-resistant, high-density, closed-cell foams that decrease the amount of energy your child absorbs in an accident. The foam is placed in the sides, bottom, and back of the seat. EPP and EPS perform very well in an accident and help protect your child.
If you purchase a less expensive car seat, you may need to adjust the height of the shoulder harness by manually rethreading it through the holes on the back of the car seat. More expensive seats have a no-thread harness that adjusts with the click of a button. Some car seats offer just a few harness positions, while others may offer up to 14 or 15 different harness heights, giving you virtually unlimited options for comfort and customized fit.
Some models of convertible car seats can be installed using just the seat belt. Other seats use the LATCH or ISOFIX systems, which attach to the frame of your car’s seats. In general, car seat manufacturers recommend you use one system only, except when installing a booster seat. To keep your vehicle's upholstery in good condition, you also have the option of buying seat protectors.
Some children get very sweaty when traveling in a car seat, and oftentimes, it’s the fabric that’s the cause. Look for seats that feature breathable material so it is more likely to keep your baby cool. You really don't want your child to be uncomfortable or overheated in the vehicle.
This feature is intended to protect your child in a rear-end collision. Specifically, it's designed to reduce whiplash, neck, and spinal injuries. Seats with this feature are much more common in Europe than in the United States. They are not required but are intended to offer additional protection in a crash.
Benefits of Convertible Car Seats
The best transition car seats can be used throughout your child's development. You can use them the day you leave the hospital until they are big enough that they no longer need one.
The best toddler convertible car seat may cost more than a regular child safety seat or booster seat; however, it's cheaper to buy baby convertible car seats than both a car seat and a booster seat separately.
Some recommended convertible car seats can be used for as long as 10 years before they expire. This is particularly convenient if you have more than one child or you are a babysitter and watch children of different ages.
Brands To Know
Graco, based in Atlanta, Georgia, was initially named Graco Metal Products before engineers Rex Thomas and David Saint (who had nine children) started dreaming up baby products in the mid-1950s. Graco employs over 1,500 employees worldwide.
British company Britax has been around for over 70 years and produces childcare products such as car seats and strollers. It launched its designs in America in 1996.
Safety 1st is a brand of Dorel Industries Inc., which is a Canadian company based in Montreal, Quebec. The company launched the well-known "Baby on Board" sign over 30 years ago.
Evenflo, which dates back to the 1920s, initially manufactured products related to baby feeding. The company is headquartered in Ohio and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Goodbaby International Holdings Limited.
Convertible Car Seat Pricing
When it comes to convertible car seat pricing, you can get a great seat ranging in price from $75 to upwards of $400. On the lower end of the spectrum, convertible car seats will provide basic level safety and cushioning. They’re not usually designed to suit the full needs of your child’s car seat requirements, but will likely have to be upgraded at some point as your child continues to grow. In the $100-$250 range, you will start to see better-made car seats that may grow through all the stages with your child. You can also get a greater selection of styles, padding, and colors in this price range. Above $250 is where you will find the crème de la crème of convertible car seats with the best methods of adjusting, padding, features, and safety standards.
Tips and Tricks
As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and convertible car seats. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.
- It is critical that you follow installation instructions as well as weight limit guidelines so you know when you need to change seats or adjust your convertible car seat to a different mode.
- Make sure to put the user manual for the convertible car seat in a place where you can easily access it. A few models contain pockets for storing the manual so you will always have it on hand.
- Before purchasing a top-rated convertible car seat, measure the interior of your car and make sure the car seat will fit. The best convertible car seats for small cars may be compact enough to fit in a tiny car, but they may lack accessories and other features.
- Never leave a child alone in the car unattended. If necessary, purchase a car seat alarm or download an app to ensure that you don't leave your child in his or her seat.
- Do not put bulky clothes on your baby before placing him or her in a car seat. In the winter, take his or her coat off before strapping him or her into the seat because the harness won't properly function.
- If the seat and the child combined weigh more than 65 pounds, do not use the LATCH system. Instead, attach the car seat with a seat belt.
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!
Q: What’s better: an infant seat or a convertible seat?
It's a personal preference. Both types are safe for your child, and they are both required to meet federal safety standards. An infant seat tends to be less expensive, but your child will grow out of it sooner than they will a rear-facing convertible seat.
Q: How do I know if I properly installed the car seat?
Check the installation by visiting a certified car seat technician. Your local fire station and pediatrician can also offer guidance, and they will make sure it's properly installed. You can also check the manufacturer's website.
Q: Do convertible car seats have removable bases?
Convertible car seats have a permanent base that allows the seat to recline to a specific angle, depending on how it's installed. The base and the seat are attached together.
Q: Can a convertible car seat be attached to a stroller?
Convertible car seats are generally designed to stay in your vehicle and are not meant to be portable. Some infant car seats, however, may be affixed to certain, recommended strollers.
Q: Is it okay for my child to sleep in a convertible car seat?
Children can sleep in a convertible car seat as long as it is properly installed and the harness is correctly adjusted to the child's height and weight. However, children should not sleep in the seat when it is outside of the vehicle.