LAST UPDATED: October 13, 2019
Best Car Seats: Keep Your Child Safe and Secure
Travel with the whole family with these comfortable and safe car seats
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON October 13, 2019
If you’re a parent and plan on taking your child somewhere in your vehicle, you need a car seat for safety. With so many options available, choosing the best one for your son or daughter can be a hassle. We’ve compiled a list of some of the safest car seats to consider if you aren’t sure which one to choose.
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All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Why Buy a Car Seat?
- Secure your child. The standard car seat belt is designed to secure anyone who’s at or above 4 feet 9 inches tall. Most children under 12 years old will have the seat belt right above their head, or sitting uncomfortably on their face or neck. Including a car seat will help to redirect the safety belt so that the rear seat’s lower anchor can securely hold the car seat, while the straps that are on the car seat secure the child.
- Safety. Car seats sold in the United States are designed to meet federal safety standards for protecting children from injury in case of impact. Most of these car seats are strong enough to cushion your child from head or side impact.
- Keep your child comfortable. Car seats can help make the car ride more comfortable. Most have extra padding, cup holders so that they can enjoy a drink, and pockets for storing snacks and toys.
Types of Car Seats
Infant Car Seat
Infant car seats can either be installed rear-facing or forward-facing. Rear-facing seats are designed to support newborns, and that’s why they come with shoulder and neck positioning pillows. It’s ideal for your child’s first ride home. Forward-facing seats are for children who have surpassed the height or weight restrictions of the rear-facing seat, but are too small for a booster seat.
Booster seats are for children who have outgrown the infant car seat, but aren’t tall enough for the vehicle’s seat belt to fit correctly across the shoulder. It gives them a slight boost so that the seat belt doesn’t slide over their face. There are high back and backless booster seats. A high back booster is used in seats with low seat backs or ones without headrests. A backless booster only has base support and is used on vehicles with headrests.
Convertible seats are expandable options that are designed to accommodate a growing child from the infant phase until they are tall enough to safely use the vehicle’s seat belt. It comes as a rear-facing seat and can be converted to a forward-facing seat by expanding the head and base support. As the child grows, you can convert it to a high back booster seat, and then finally, you can detach the back support and only remain with the base.
When Graco was founded in 1942, it mainly specialized in manufacturing machines and car parts. Russel Gray and Robert Cone decided to diversify its product line by designing automatic baby swings, and that’s how it gained recognition as a leading brand in baby care products. It’s currently headquartered in High Point, North Carolina, and produces numerous baby products, including car seats and strollers. The Graco 4Ever DLX Car Seat and the Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat are some of its best infant car seats.
Evenflo was started in the 1920s and is a subsidiary brand of Goodbaby International Holdings Limited. It’s currently based in Ohio, and designs childcare products that make life easier when feeding or traveling with the baby. Some of its best car seats for long drives include the Evenflo Big Kid Amp High-Back 2-in-1 and the Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat.
From its headquarters in Chertsey, England, Britax designs childcare products using the latest safety technologies. It was founded in 1996 and currently has a wide line of products, including car seats, strollers, and travel accessories for children. If you would like to try out some of its products, check out the Britax Boulevard ClickTight Convertible Car Seat or the Britax Grow-With-You Booster Car Seat.
Baby Trend was founded in 1988 and is a subsidiary brand of Alpha Group Co., Limited. It constantly reinvents its products to improve their safety and to meet the ever-growing demands of new parents. Its product line includes high chairs, strollers, and accessories. The Baby Trend Expedition Jogger Travel System and the Baby Trend Secure Snap Tech Infant Car Seat are some of its best-rated car seats.
Car Seat Pricing
- Under $150: Car seats within this price range have basic designs and offer basic comfort to your child. They include extra features like cup holders, but the lower-priced options may only come with one cup holder. Unfortunately, most start to show signs of wearing out after a few years, if not months.
- $150 and up: If you buy a booster seat within this price range, you will most likely be paying for extra comfort and frills such as cup holders, toy pockets, armrests, and a padded harness. Also, you can expect to find high-back booster seats and convertible car seats higher in this price range.
Height and Weight Limits
Most car seat manufacturers provide height or weight limits for their car seats. These restrictions are put in place to ensure that the child can comfortably fit in the car seat, and that the harness system can secure them. It’s important to adhere to these restrictions for the safety and comfort of your child.
Review the material used to design the car seat and ensure that it promotes comfort and safety. It should also be durable. Look out for high-quality materials such as a steel frame, energy-absorbing foam, plush seat covers, and dishwasher-safe cup holders.
- Safety Standards: Before buying any car seat for your baby, ensure that it meets the federal standards. Car seats are supposed to be crash tested to ensure that they can cushion the child from sudden impact.
- Ease of Use: You don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to get your child in or out of the car seat. This can get frustrating, especially when you need to use the car seat frequently. Look for a simple design paying attention to features like the safety harness and how it attaches to your vehicle’s latch system.
- Comfort: The best car seats feature plenty of cushioning and a cradle-like design to enhance comfort. Extra comforts usually come at a price, but they are usually worth it since they can help your child enjoy a peaceful sleep as you drive home.
- Extra Features: Any extra feature on the car seat should be a welcomed advantage so long as it doesn’t compromise the safety or comfort of your child. Features like cup holders, snack pockets, and foldable tray tables are quite convenient, especially for long rides.
Best Car Seat Reviews & Recommendations 2020
The Graco 4Ever car seat is a 4-in-1 car seat that only needs slight adjustments to accommodate a growing child. It provides 10 years of use, and you can start using it as a rear-facing seat (4 to 40-pound carrying capacity), a forward-facing car seat (22 to 65-pound carrying capacity), a high back booster seat (40 to 100-pound carrying capacity), and finally, a backless booster seat (40 to 120-pound carrying capacity). It can recline to six positions to keep your child comfortable as he or she grows, and the headrest and harness system can be adjusted to 10 different positions to ensure that your child is constantly secured. Graco’s In-right Latch System allows for easy installation and makes an audible click when the seat is secured. You don’t have to worry about your child making a mess on the seat since the cover is removable and machine washable. In addition, it includes two conveniently positioned cup holders.
One of the few drawbacks of this car seat is the quality of the cover. It shows scrapes easily, and the material may thin out when washed frequently. Also, attaching the car seat may not be easy for everyone, especially when it comes to integrating the vehicle’s latch system.
Graco has a budget-friendly, convertible car seat that’s designed for infants and toddlers. It can be used as a rear-facing infant seat (accommodates 4 to 50 pounds) or a forward-facing toddler seat (accommodates 22 to 65 pounds). It has an extension panel for increasing the legroom when used as a rear-facing seat. The panel offers five inches of extra room and can be adjusted to four positions. As with most Graco car seats, the Extend2Fit headrest can be adjusted to 10 different positions and includes a six-position recline. It also has two cup holders and a removable and machine-washable seat pad. What’s more, this car seat has been put through a rigorous crash test to guarantee that it will protect your child from front, side, rear, and rollover crashes.
Unfortunately, the harness is somewhat stiff, and it may take some time before you can secure it. Another downside is that the shoulder strap covers, which are designed to protect the baby’s neck, come off easily.
The Baby Trend Expedition Jogger Travel System is a unique car seat that can be used in a stroller. It’s designed with EPS energy-absorbing foam that keeps your child comfortable and provides protection from side and head impacts. A five-point safety harness helps to secure your child in the seat, and the base can be adjusted by up to four positions to accommodate a growth spurt with the simple push of a button. A delta multi-grip handle will help you safely transfer the car seat from your vehicle to the stroller, and the seat release can be easily operated with just one hand. The car seat comes with a stroller that has large bicycle wheels that can easily roll over any surface.
However, we are disappointed that the seat material isn’t durable, and the foam may thin out with frequent use. Generally, the overall build of the car seat isn’t the best and may not last long. This is probably because it leans more toward the cheaper side.
The Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 car seat is a game-changer for families that are constantly on the go. Unlike many travel systems, it’s just one unit and not bulky. The car seat is specially designed to accommodate your growing child. The rear-facing seat accommodates 5 to 40 pounds, the forward-facing seat holds 22 to 65 pounds, while the belt-positioning booster holds 40 to 100 pounds. The harness holders make it easy for you to put your kid in and out of the car seat. The QuickFit harness also allows you to adjust the headrest in one quick step. The car seat comes with baby pillows that enhance its comfort. Its three-position recline promotes easy installation. This 3-in-1 convertible car seat will be with you every step of the way—from the day you take your baby home to the day you take him or her to soccer practice (and every amazing moment in between).
But it has some flaws worth pointing out. The anchors at the bottom are flimsy and may snap after a short while. And if you don’t want it to wobble, you must install it at a slight angle.
One of the top causes of child injury are motor vehicle crashes. But NHTSA states that car seats can help keep children under the age of five safe. If you're looking for a car seat that accommodates both younger and older kids, your search may stop here. The Britax Boulevard ClickTight Convertible Car Seat can be used as a rear-facing or a forward-facing car seat. The rear-facing seat holds 5 to 40 pounds, while the forward-facing seat is ideal for kids weighing 20 to 65 pounds. The car seat's patented ClickTight feature makes installation as easy as buckling a seatbelt. The 14-position harness and the two-position buckle allow the seat to fit your child comfortably as he or she grows. Seven recline positions enhance your child's comfort and make for the best installation angle. The car seat has a steel frame, an impact-absorbing base, and a layer of side-impact protection. You can choose from 19 different color combinations.
However, the car seat has a few shortcomings. For starters, the harness frays easily and the straps are very short. Additionally, the size estimate is not accurate, and the car seat is not ideal for newborns.
The Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 Convertible Car Seat will accommodate your child from toddler stage to preteen stage. In rear-facing mode, it holds babies weighing 5 to 40 pounds; in forward-facing mode, it accommodates kids weighing 22 to 85 pounds. But unlike 3-in-1 convertible car seats, it has no booster mode. The Pria 85 is one of the car seats in Maxi-Cosi’s Pria line, which has existed for a couple of years. You can easily confuse it with the Pria 85 Max, but there are a few differences between the two. This one has a minimum weight capacity of 14 pounds and is not ideal for newborns. However, it is a good choice for those upgrading from an infant car seat. You can easily adjust the five-point harness from the front for a precise fit. Useful harness holders keep the straps out of the way for easy boarding. The seat pad is easy to remove and is machine washable.
However, the chest latch is made from low-quality plastic and detaches very easily. Also, the five-point harness is heavily padded and forces a kid’s legs to open uncomfortably.
This car seat is designed to surround your precious baby in safety and comfort—from the first day to preschool and beyond. It accommodates infants and toddlers in rear-facing mode then smoothly transitions to forward-facing mode for older children. It features a removable newborn positioner that provides a proper fit for newborns and a nine-position headrest for enhanced comfort. This car seat delivers the confidence of a secure installtion with an amazingly simple tightening and leveling system. Its LockSure belt-locking system and SuperCinch Latch Tightener make it easy to achieve a secure fit with a vehicle seat belt or a latch. The seat provides two layers of side-impact protection thanks to its energy-absorbing foam and deep rigid shell. The Chicco NextFit Zip Car Seat features zip-off padding that's machine-washable. It also has a dishwasher-safe CupFolder.
However, the fabric the manufacturer used to make it is not high quality, and you’ll soon start noticing fuzzballs. You'll also have a hard time making the seat latch tight.
Many parents love the brand Evenflo because of its high-quality products. The Big Kid Amp is no different. It is specially designed for older kids who are ready to start using a car's seat belt but still need an extra boost for safe sitting. It accommodates children who weigh between 40 and 110 pounds or are at least 4 years old. The car seat easily transitions from high-back booster mode to no-back booster mode. As your child grows, you can adjust the back to six different positions for a better fit. Even when you adjust the seat, the side and head supports will remain in the right position. Your kid will love the seat's comfortable padding that softly surrounds his or her head and body. You can keep juice boxes or small snacks in the elastic cup holders. The seat's energy-absorbing foam liner enhances your child’s safety and comfort. Its machine-washable pads allow you to keep it clean.
However, it lacks a vital safety restraint—it has no anchor that connects it to the car. It is also difficult to install, and your child may have a hard time getting in and out of it.
This car seat is a great option for parents who are ready to replace their convertible car seat with a booster car seat. It will safely transport your big kid (40 to 100 pounds). Its secure anchor ensures it stays in place even when it's unoccupied. Your kid will find it easy to buckle up. You can easily clean the plastic and metal parts with mild soap and water. One of the best features of the Graco TurboBooster Car Seat is its extreme ease of use. The front adjustment lets you quickly connect it to a vehicle seat. The car seat has undergone the most rigorous crash tests and offers protection on the front, side, and rear, and during rollover crashes. It is also able to withstand extreme car interior temperatures.
But unlike convertible car seats, it does not offer side or head protection in the event of a crash. What's more, it doesn’t fit older car models. Its padding is also very thin, and your child may become uncomfortable during long rides.
- Make sure that the seat’s shoulder straps are at or just below the child’s shoulders. They should fit snugly without any slack so your child is safe and secure.
- Consider a seat that comes with a built-in carrying handle. It should be adjustable, so you can lower it while in the car and raise it up in place when you need to cart away the car seat.
- If you have multiple cars and don’t want to uninstall and install the car seat each time you switch vehicles, you should consider buying several bases. Car seats each come with a base that can detach from the chair, so having several can make it easier on you and your back.
Q: How do I know what car seat is best for my child?
A: All car seats come with guidelines to show you a weight and age limit for the specific model. Experts suggest infants and toddlers ride in rear-facing car seats until they are two years old or outgrow the weight and height limits of the seat.
Q: Do car seats have an expiration date?
A: Most, if not all, car seats have an expiration date listed somewhere on the car seat. In general, car seats can last up to six years before they expire. This can mean, for example, that the material has lost its durability and is deemed too dangerous for use.
Q: Is it safe to use pre-owned car seats?
A: Parents should always buy brand-new car seats if possible. They are in the best possible condition and offer the most up-to-date safety features.
For one of the best and safest car seats for your child, consider the Graco 4Ever DLX Car Seat for its comfort and various features.
The Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat is a cheaper option to consider if you are working with a budget.