The Best Car Seats For 3-Year-Olds (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
Keep your child safe while you drive with these top-rated car seats for 3-year-olds
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BY Corrina Murdoch / LAST UPDATED ON November 20, 2020
Driving comes with some inherent risks. Safety equipment (like seat belts) are there to keep you secure during your drive. Kids, however, have neither the height nor the weight required to use this safety feature alone. That’s why finding a suitable car seat is essential. Different ages and developmental stages require unique protections. Three-year-olds use a forward-facing car seat.
When they get a bit older and taller, you can switch them over to a booster seat. The size requirements for each type are very specific. Only once your child reaches these milestones can they switch to a booster. You want something with a secure harness, a solid back, and sufficient padding. To help you track down the best car seats for three-year-olds, we’ve curated a list of the top options along with some tips on how to find the right fit. Let’s get started with the search.
Featuring a sturdy structure and a lot of protective parts, this car seat can handle weights up to 65 pounds.
- Chair has a lot of padding
- Base and headrest are very comfortable
- Comes with two cup holders for optimal convenience
- It can be challenging to maintain the seat
- Fabric isn’t waterproof and can absorb spills
Comfortable and lightweight this car seat includes a five-point harness. You can convert it to a booster seat for added utility.
- Seat includes a very stable headrest
- Easy to adjust and the straps provide even force dispersal
- It’s a process to clean the exterior
- The lighter colored fabric is prone to staining
This hybrid booster and car seat is a great way to keep kids safe on the road. It has a good harness and a strong design meant to last.
- Strong frame and a proven design
- Seat can handle up to 50 pounds
- Booster function works with weight up to 110 pounds
- Seat has relatively limited padding
- Some children may be less comfortable on longer drives
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Benefits of Car Seats For 3-Year-Olds
- Safety: The key benefit of a car seat is that it keeps your child safe while you’re on the road. It protects him or her from all types of accidents and injuries. The harness absorbs the shock of quick braking and any potential impact.
- Convenience: Getting a good car seat makes travelling much easier. Many models include cup holders so you don’t have to reach into the back seat to get them drinks and food. It’s quick and easy to buckle kids in and get to driving.
- Long-Term Utility: Most car seats for 3-year-olds work both as a forward-facing seat and a booster seat. This means you can use it both while the child is 3 years old and as they age.
- Comfort: A quality car seat includes a lot of padding that keeps the child cozy while you drive. It helps to absorb the vibrations from bumpy roads. The padding also keeps kids from getting uncomfortable on the drive.
Types of Car Seats For 3-Year-Olds
A forward-facing car seat is designed for younger 3-year-olds and those who weigh less. There is a backrest, as well as neck support. You can adjust the height of the headrest to optimize safety. It should be at the ear height of your child. When the child weighs at least 20 pounds, they can use a car seat. Upon reaching the 60-pound mark, the child won’t require the five-point harness or the back support and can move to the other type.
Many car seats can be turned into a booster seat after you are done using them as a forward-facing model. Designed for when kids reach between 60 and 65 pounds, these seats are just a base and armrests. Some have a tall back, though, and these are ideal for comfort. Booster seats rely on the seat belt system in your vehicle to restrain the 3-year-old.
Opening its doors in 1926, this American company grew from a family-run business to an international name. It offers a range of safety equipment for children, ranging from strollers to car seats. A top option is the Graco 4Ever Car Seat.
After starting operations in the 1990s, this popular brand took less than a decade to become a leading provider of child-safe supplies. This business became iconic for creating the well-known “Baby-On-Board” signs. One of its leading products is the Safety 1st Grow and Go Car Seat.
Car Seats For 3-Year-Olds Pricing
- Under $100: Car seats in this range are available in both forward-facing and booster seats. The seat will include a harness, neck support, and side-impact protection.
- Over $100: Within this range, you will find car seats with extra padding. Most will convert from a forward-facing seat to a booster seat.
Every car seat needs some sort of restraining. Kids that are 3 years old vary a lot in size and height. Smaller children benefit from a harness with at least three points. Five point options are also available. This component spreads out the force upon an impact. Some 3-year-olds size into booster seats. These use the seatbelt as a restraint system, simply supplementing the size.
Though booster seats (the backless ones) won’t have neck support, most selections will have some sort of protection there. The headrest needs to be adjustable so you can position its halfway point at ear height. This ensures that, if there is an impact, the child is protected. Check for a neck support that has padding and some side safeties as well.
The key to car seats is protecting children in the event of a collision (or even quick braking). The structure should have a tough frame. Most feature steel interiors. Padding should be constructed using a foam that absorbs shock. If a car seat suffers an impact, this feature is effectively used up. It won’t perform the next time and thus requires replacement.
Padding offers a lot of benefits. On the one hand, it keeps the child comfortable from bumps and vibrations on the road. It can also prevent them from getting sore with frequent braking. It also makes staying seated a lot cozier. Some options have minimal padding, making them better suited for shorter trips. Padding is helpful for longer treks.
- Maintenance: Keep an eye on the maintenance needs of the car seat you’re investigating. Does the fabric stain easily? Is it prone to issues on the seams? Think about whether you can remove the cover and machine wash it. This adds a lot of ease to cleaning. See if the cupholders are removable and dishwasher friendly.
- Size: You need to balance the amount of wiggle room and plush the child gets with the amount of space you have in the back seat. Figure out if you need to have multiple car seats in the back at any given time. If you do, it might be better to choose a more compact seat. If not, you can opt for bigger selections.
- Style: Over time, you are going to see a lot of the car seat. Choose something that matches the car’s interior if you want a more subtle look. If your focus is keeping kids engaged, opt for something with bright colors or popular children’s’ characters. This often makes it easier to get kids into the seat.
- Features: Finally, take a look at the features included. How many settings does it have? Can the seat recline? Is the headrest easy enough to adjust? How about the harness? Think about the performance abilities of the seat and whether it only works in one setting. Many work as either a rear- and forward-facing car seat. It’s common for forward-facing selections to transition into a booster seat.
Best Car Seats For 3-Year-Olds Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Ensure a proper fit every time you use the seat. Children grow and settings need adjusting before you can safely use the car seat.
- Use the harness to ensure the knees can bend over the end of the seat. This is necessary to prevent impact injuries.
- If you use a blanket to keep the child warm, use it over the harness instead of under it.
- The headrest’s center must be lined up with the child’s ears to get the head protection needed.
- Practice proper maintenance to avoid premature wear and tear. If the cover is removable and machine washable, ensure that you air dry it to prevent shrinkage.
Q: What is the safest car seat for a 3-year-old?
The safest car seat will depend on how heavy and tall your child is. Those up to 65 pounds need a forward-facing car seat. This gives sufficient side and head protection. Once kids surpass that weight and are stable enough, you can use a booster seat.
Q: How long can a 3-year-old stay in a car seat?
Just like with adults, 3-year-olds need breaks from time to time. If the seat is comfortable, the child can sit comfortably for hours in a lot of cases. When you opt for the most long-lasting seat, check for hybrid options that can convert into a booster seat.
Q: How much is the best car seat for a 3-year-old?
The best seat for a 3-year-old child can range anywhere from under $75 to a couple of hundred dollars. Those which convert to booster seats tend to last longer since they are inherently two-in-one products. High-end options are usually at least three figures.
Now that you’re familiar with the nuances of car seats for 3-year-olds, you can make your pick. It might be the Graco Tranzitions Harness Booster Seat or the budget-friendliness of the Chase Harnessed Booster. There’s an option for everyone. Have some experience with car seats? Share your story in the comments below. Happy driving!