Best Car Seats (Review & Buying Guide)

Keep your little one well-protected.

Best Overall

Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat

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Best Value

Chicco Keyfit 30 Car Seat

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Honorable Mention

Graco 4Ever DLX Car Seat

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When driving with children, car seats are their safety cages. If set up properly, they can save your child’s life in the event of a frontal, side, or rear-end crash by cradling their heads and bodies, absorbing all or most impact. Today, there are four types of car seats chosen based on your child’s age and size, including rear-facing, convertible, and all-in-one seats that can be modified to a booster seat as your child grows. Trying to narrow down the wide playing field to one or two car seats? We’ve got you covered with this comprehensive buying guide with top recommendations, features to look out for, top brands to consider, and answers to the most frequently asked questions. Let’s dive in.

Our Methodology

For this review, we researched more than 25 different car seats, evaluating them based on several criteria, including but not limited to the type, construction, height/weight limits, padding, and ease of use. We took into consideration all styles of car seats, including rear-facing only, convertible, booster, and 3-in-1 options for infants to school-aged children. Of the 25 car seats, we narrowed down our favorites to 10. To learn more about how we research and provide recommendations, be sure to visit About Guides & Gear, And The Drive’s Product Reviews Department

Best Car Seat Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall

Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat

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Best Value

Chicco Keyfit 30 Car Seat

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Honorable Mention

Graco 4Ever DLX Car Seat

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Best Convertible

Safety 1ˢᵗ Grow and Go Convertible Car Seat

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Safest Infant

Primo Viaggio Nido Car Seat

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Best for Smaller Babies

Clek Liing Car Seat

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Best Toddleru0026nbsp;

Chicco NextFit Zip Car Seat

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Most Adaptable

Cybex Aton 2

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Best All-in-One

Britax Boulevard ClickTight Convertible Car Seat

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Best Booster

Evenflo Big Kid Amp High-Back 2-in-1 Booster Car Seat

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Our Verdict on Car Seats

Our pick for the best car seat goes to the Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat. It performs well across all of our criteria, being a budget-friendly rear-facing infant seat and forward-facing toddler seat, and good for four recline positions, 10 headrest positions, and five inches of extra legroom to keep your little one comfortable. You can’t go wrong with a Graco and this one is the best. 

What to Consider When Buying a Car Seat

Infant Car Seat 

Made for infants up to 30-35 pounds, infant car seats are limited to the rear-facing position. They can also double as convertible car seats (forward-facing seat for a child age 2 or older), or a 3-in-1 car seat which works as a forward-facing, rear-facing, and booster seat. Once infants outgrow their infant car seats, parents are advised to place them in convertible or 3-in-1 car seats.

All parents are advised to place infants in rear-facing seats until maximum height and weight for their particular car seat is reached. Please consult with your car seat’s manufacturer to learn these height and weight limits.

Booster Car Seat

Booster car seats come in two styles: high back boosters and backless boosters. High back boosters offer proper head support and cushioning for sleeping children. Backless boosters do not have a back and generally offer less body support, ideal for older, taller children.

We highly recommend referring to your car seat’s owner’s manual to ensure your child meets height and weight limits for your particular car seat.

Convertible Car Seat

Convertible car seats first work as rear-facing seats before being switched to forward-facing. These car seats are reserved for toddlers ages 2 or older and have higher weight limits up to 50 pounds (for rear-facing) and up to 65 pounds for forward-facing.

Many parents may choose convertible car seats over rear-facing seats for infants to save money over the lifecycle of the seat. However, convertible car seats do not offer the same benefits as rear-facing infant seats, such as detachable bases or a plusher feel.

Car Seat Key Features

Height and Weight Limits

Height and weight limits for car seats vary depending on the type. Expect infant car seats (rear-facing only, convertible, and 3-in-1s) to work for children up to age 2 or up to 40 pounds. Forward-facing car seats should support up to 65 pounds, coming with harnesses and top tethers to keep your child well supported for several years.

For older kids, high back or backless boosters work, supporting children up to 8 years old between 40 and 120 pounds. Children ages 9 or over may continue to use a booster seat, depending on his/her height.

Construction

Car seats should be designed for maximum impact absorption. Look for car seats with advanced side impact protection that cradles the head using U-shaped headrests. Other features focus on comfort, such as extension panels that extend rear-facing legroom, plush seat covers, and dishwasher-safe cup holders. Newborn inserts can even provide an added layer of protection for preemies and undersized children. For comfort, look for moisture-wicking performance fabrics, which offer excellent breathability and make it easier for infants and toddlers to stay in their seats.

Other considerations include five-point harnesses to secure the shoulders, hips, and legs, as well as a chest clip that holds them in place.

Ease of Use 

We are big fans of car seats that offer little to no learning curve. Many car seat manufacturers offer features designed to activate in a second or less. For example, Geico’s InRight LATCH system allows parents to attach car seats to LATCH anchors in a second, producing an audible click when successful.

Others have adjustable extension panels that allow seats to incline or recline in record time without any pressure needed. Simply one touch and go.

LATCH/ISOFIX

Standing for “lower anchors and tethers for children,” almost all car seats use the LATCH system, which consists of lower anchor attachment on your car seat base’s left and right side. These lower anchors contain straps that connect to your seat’s anchors, locking the car seat firmly enough that it cannot move more than an inch in any direction.

Padding

We highly recommend car seats with plush padding, which can be achieved with a blend of polyester or cotton and a base of shock-absorbing foam. Some also come with an inner support pad or insert that keeps your infant’s body in prime position.

Expiration Date

All car seats have expiration dates, due to general wear and tear that affects how safe it is for your child. As a rule of thumb, expect infant car seats to expire roughly six years after the date of manufacture and convertible/booster seats to last up to 10 years after the date of manufacture.

For your car seat’s expiration date, please refer to your car seat’s manufacturer sticker or owner’s manual.

Safety Standards 

All car seats are required to pass rigorous federal safety standards. Some of the more notable distinctions include meeting or exceeding US FMVSS 213 standards for frontal crash tests. Safety even extends to how instructions appear on your car seat. All U.S.-compliant car seats must have instructions with the manufacturer’s name, contact information, and date of manufacture. This also helps parents confirm if the car seat is subject to a recall.

We do not recommend buying a used car seat under any circumstances, for obvious reasons.

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!

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. , Plus every single U.S.-compliant car seat comes with a manufacturer’s sticker that includes several key pieces of information: the manufacturer’s name, contact information, and the seat’s expiration date, which is generally 7-10 years from the date of manufacture.