Best Car Seats: Keep Your Child Safe and Secure
Travel with the whole family with these comfortable and safe car seats
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
BY Scott Roepel / LAST UPDATED ON March 5, 2021
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.
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.
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
- 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.