LAST UPDATED: November 21, 2019
Best Toddler Car Seats: Comfortably and Safely Transport Your Kids
Keep your youngster comfortable and safe with one of these top car seats
The Review Team
How We Decided
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
PUBLISHED ON November 21, 2019
All small children are required by law to use a car seat. These seats come with a variety of features, but all of them have the same objective: keeping your precious little ones safe on the road. This buyer’s guide looks at some of the best toddler car seats currently available.
This seat can last for many years because it’s adjustable. It can work in harness mode for smaller kids and booster mode for older kids.
- This car seat has a four-position recline setting and nine-position headrest to ensure a snug fit
- Has dual cup holders
- This car seat can be difficult to install
- There are concerns about its long-term durability
This all-in-one car seat has a five-point harness system for extra safety and is subjected to rigorous crash tests to ensure optimal safety.
- Comes at a budget-friendly price
- Most of the parts are easy to clean with mild soap, water, and a damp cloth
- Has lots of cushioning for extra comfort
- This seat isn’t as slim as the name would have you believe
- There have also been complaints that the seat is difficult to install and that it only works well when forward-facing
This two-in-one car seat will save you money in the long run because it can be adjusted as the child grows bigger. It has lots of cushioning and is very comfortable.
- Has comfort pads to prevent the child's skin from rubbing against the harness
- Has a steel frame and two layers of side-impact protection
- This seat is very pricey
- Large and heavy, so it's not ideal for those who often move seats between cars
Why Trust Us
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.
Benefits of Toddler Car Seats
- Accurate fit. Children are too small to use car seat belts. They mostly end up across their necks or under their bellies. Baby car seats provide a perfect fit. They feature straps in just the right size to wrap around children's bodies.
- Protection against impacts. The main purpose of toddler car seats is to protect against impacts in case of accidents. They redirect the crash forces to hips and chest, the strongest parts of the body. Without a baby car seat or with the use of regular seat belts, the crash force is likely to distribute to the neck and internal organs.
- More support during rides. Babies have weak necks that are dangerously exposed to impacts. Child car seats keep babies safely snugged, providing the necessary support during daily rides and possible crashes.
- Safety on the go. Toddler car seats are highly portable. You should be able to transport them between different vehicles in a breeze. That will ensure protection for your baby at all times. You can even use a baby car seat when traveling by plane.
Types of Toddler Car Seats
Convertible Car Seats
These are versatile car seats that can be used for both infants and toddlers. One can place them either in the rear- or front-facing position. Due to the versatility, these seats are bulkier than the ones designed only for one position. They usually don't have a carrying handle and are harder to move between vehicles. Also, keep in mind that it's recommended to keep a convertible car seat in the rear-facing position until the child turns 2 years old or reaches the height and weight limit for this position.
All-in-One Car Seats
These are also called 3-in-1 or 4-in-1 car seats. They work as rear-facing, front-facing, and booster seats. Although they are budget-friendly, as you don't need to buy different seats over the years, they are also bulkier. All-in-one car seats are not perfect for small cars. They are also difficult to move once installed.
Front-Facing Car Seats
This car seat type is meant for children older than 2 years old or for those who have outgrown the rear-facing car seat. Although these days convertible car seats are the most common ones on the market, as they go both ways, front-facing ones have their benefits too. They are smaller in size and more portable. It's easier to move them between different vehicles or use them in planes.
Chicco, based in South Plainfield, N.J., was founded in 1958. Pietro Catelli, an inventor and developer of pharmaceutical devices, dedicated his life to producing high-quality baby products. Once he became a parent, he saw the necessity to find better product solutions for parents and babies. The company steadily developed into a widely popular brand that is highly valued across the world. One of Chicco's most popular products is MyFit Harness and Booster Car Seat.
Graco, based in High Point, N.C., was founded in 1942. First, it was the company focused on producing machine and car parts. Then Russell Gray and Robert Cone (hence the name) came up with the idea to make an automatic baby swing. Soon Graco became one of the most recognized and trusted baby product companies in the world. They produce a wide range of baby products, from car seats to play yards and bassinets. Graco SlimFit 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat is one of their most praised and purchased products.
Britax was founded in 1996. It's a reliable and highly popular company with headquarters in Chertsey, Surrey, England. Britax produces all kinds of childcare products, including car seats, strollers, and hair chairs. It's always introducing new safety technologies, and making sure children all over the world stay safe on their adventures. Britax Grow with You Car Seat is one of the best child seats this company has to offer.
Toddler Car Seats Pricing
- From $50-$100: At this price range, you can find either one-position baby car seats or smaller convertible ones. The budget-friendly car seats are compact, highly portable, but probably won't be suitable for all phases in the child's development.
- $100 and up: Pricier car seats are the ones that offer more versatility. Most all-in-one car seats can be found at this price point. They can convert from the rear- and front-facing positions to high back and booster ones. They are also bulkier and designed to last for years.
Before you even start looking into the toddler car seat's features, make sure that it meets federal standards. The seat should be crash-tested and provide information such as product name, model number, and the date of manufacture. It shouldn't have any cracks or missing parts. The safest option is to buy a completely new car seat that has never been used before.
Size and Weight Limits
A baby must be within the weight and height limits set by the car seat manufacturer. The car seat should fit snugly and prevent dangerous movements. Only then can it provide enough protection if the crash occurs. Most toddler car seats can accommodate children who weigh from 5 to 50 pounds or more if they are convertible. Still, check the size and weight limits before the purchase to make sure your child will be safe in the seat.
A baby car seat must be comfortable. Your child will spend a lot of time in it, and you want to be sure it won't cause any discomfort. Check the quality of the materials and the cushioning. The seat should be extra padded to provide enough support as well as breathable to prevent sweating. Also, check whether the harness is comfortable enough because sometimes it can dig into the skin and cause serious discomfort.
- Easy Installation. If you're planning to move a toddler car seat from one car to another, make sure it's easy to install. You should be able to detach and attach it all over again in a breeze. Still, you want to make sure that the easy installation doesn't come at the expense of security and stability.
- Portability. The size and the weight of the car seat are also important if you're planning to move it around frequently. Just keep in mind that a compact and highly portable car seat is often designed only for one riding position. All-in-one and convertible car seats are bigger and heavier, which means they are not very portable.
- Maintenance. You'll most likely have to clean a toddler car seat quite often. That's why it's so important to pick the one that has a removable and machine-washable cover. Spot cleaning can be very time-consuming. Also, make sure that the cover is easy to remove because sometimes it requires detaching the harness.
Best Toddler Car Seats Reviews & Recommendations 2021
This is a versatile baby car seat that works in both booster and harness modes. As a booster, the seat accommodates children who are 2 years old, tall up to 54 inches, and weigh from 25 to 65 pounds. The harness mode makes it ideal for children who are 4 years old, tall up to 57 inches, and weigh between 40 and 100 pounds.
The seat is made to keep your child safe in cars for years of growth. The Duo Guard shell and the steel-reinforced frame ensure side protection in case of crashes. The EPS energy-absorbing foam distributes the impacts and ensures safety during rides. You can recline the seat and adjust the headrest in four and nine positions. The LATCH and Lock Sure belt systems make it easy to install. The seat even features two cup holders that are dishwasher-safe.
Although the two locking systems should help with the setup, there are still some concerns regarding the seat installation. The seat is quite heavy, which makes it difficult to attach and detach. The weight might also influence the portability. Some users also worry about its long-term durability because they had issues with the quality of cup holders.
Graco SlimFit is an all-in-one car seat that easily transforms from the rear- and front-facing positions to the booster mode. It's versatile and suitable for all phases of your child's development. The seat is ideal for infants and toddlers who weigh from 5 to 100 pounds. It has a five-point harness system for superior protection, and it's crash-tested. The EPS memory foam makes it even safer and extra comfortable.
Graco SlimFit features a sleek design to save some space in the back of your car. The rotating cup holders can free up quite some space and make the seat even slimmer. The harness system allows for easy adjustments even in the headrest area, and you get to place the seat in four reclining positions. Additionally, the InRight Latch system is there to ensure a hassle-free installation.
Graco does free some space in the car, but it's not the slimmest car seat in the market by any means. Also, some users had difficulties with the installation, mainly with the LATCH system. They find the straps are hard to tighten and loosen up.
Britax offers a 2-in-1 booster seat that transforms from forward-facing to belt-positioning booster mode. It's a safe and reliable seat designed to last for many years and follow your child's growth. It has two layers of side protection and features an energy-absorbing foam for more safety. The foam-lined headrest provides extra support for the weakest parts of the body (head, torso, and neck).
The seat has a ClickTight system that allows for a super easy and quick installation. You'll be able to adjust it for a perfect fit within a few moments. The soft fabric is comfortable, looks great, and it's easy to clean. There are also comfort pads to prevent your child from rubbing the neck against the harness straps and keep it snug.
The main drawback of this seat is its price. You'll have to pay a pretty penny to get it, but it's a good investment for the years to come. Another possible drawback might be the size of the seat. It's quite bulky and heavy, so it's not ideal for small cars. It also might be hard to transport it between vehicles.
Graco provides another versatile seat that transforms from a rear-facing harness to a forward-facing harness. The seat accommodates up to 50 pounds in a rear-facing position, and up to 65 pounds in a forward-facing position. This allows children to ride in both modes for longer and enjoy the safety of the convertible car seat. This Graco car seat is designed to grow with children. It features a four-position extension panel for additional legroom and a fully adjustable harness and headrest. You can choose a perfect headrest height for your child from 10 available positions and switch between six reclining positions for enhanced comfort. Even more important, the Graco car seat is rigorously tested and ensures superior protection in crashes.
When it comes to drawbacks, this seat has very little of them. Parents only struggled with tightening the seat belt. There's a special procedure one needs to perform to tighten the straps and buckle the seatbelt. A removable cover is also tricky to put on the seat. Because the loops need to be threaded through super small holes to reach the fastening hooks, a crochet hook might be necessary for a hassle-free process.
The Safety 1st convertible car seat is a lightweight and quality model designed for all vehicle types. It transforms from a rear-facing into a forward-facing seat and belt-positioning booster, accommodating from 5 to 100 pounds. Therefore, the seat is ideal for both infants and toddlers and proves to be safe for long-term use. The seat features a thick and durable shell and has side impact protection to absorb shock and vibrations. Still, it proves to be very comfortable, thanks to the soft inner foam. There's also a QuickFit harness that allows easy adjustments of both the harness and the headrest. Parents will love the machine-washable and dryer-safe seat pad and two removable cup holders as well.
The installation can be a little tricky, especially for those who are putting the seat in a rear-facing position. It is recommended to take a peek at online instructions because most people struggle to finish the installation on their own. The straps are also somewhat challenging to adjust, so expect to spend some time figuring that out.
- New cars have LATCH anchors for toddler car seats, making them very easy to install and remove. Installing certain toddler car seats on cars without these anchors can be complicated.
- Regardless of the type of seat you choose, it should always be a snug fit for optimum safety. Everything, including the straps and boosters, should be tightly secured at all times.
- It is safer for kids to sit in a car seat when traveling by plane, and this practice is recommended by the Federal Aviation Administration. Forward-facing seats are better for planes because they are lighter.
Q: What types of toddler car seats are available?
You can choose between convertible seats and forward-facing seats. Convertible seats normally face to the rear and have an infant insert, which is then removed when the child gets older. The seat can then be turned around to face forward and be used by a toddler. Forward-facing seats only face forward and are only suitable for children over age two.
Q: When should I make the transition from a rear-facing seat to a toddler seat?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping your baby in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible. Seat manufacturers normally rate their products to weight limits instead of age, with some going up to 55 pounds.
Q: Which is better: a convertible or forward-facing seat?
Convertible seats are generally heavier, but you can save money in the long run because the same seat can be used as the child grows. Front-facing seats can only be used for older children, but they are lighter and easier to install.
Our pick for the best car seats for toddlers goes to the Chicco MyFit Harness and Booster Car Seat. It is one of the most comfortable options and can also last for many years because it’s adjustable and durable.
For a more budget-friendly option, take a look at the Graco Slimfit 3 in 1 Car Seat.