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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.

Best Overall
GRACO Tranzitions Harness Booster Seat
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Summary
Summary

Featuring a sturdy structure and a lot of protective parts, this car seat can handle weights up to 65 pounds.

Pros
Pros
  • Chair has a lot of padding
  • Base and headrest are very comfortable
  • Comes with two cup holders for optimal convenience
Cons
Cons
  • It can be challenging to maintain the seat
  • Fabric isn’t waterproof and can absorb spills
Best Overall
GRACO Tranzitions Harness Booster Seat
Best Value
CHASE Harnessed Booster
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Summary
Summary

Comfortable and lightweight this car seat includes a five-point harness. You can convert it to a booster seat for added utility.

Pros
Pros
  • Seat includes a very stable headrest
  • Easy to adjust and the straps provide even force dispersal
Cons
Cons
  • It’s a process to clean the exterior
  • The lighter colored fabric is prone to staining
Best Value
CHASE Harnessed Booster
Honorable Mention
EVENFLO Maestro Sport Harness Car Seat
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Summary
Summary

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.

Pros
Pros
  • Strong frame and a proven design
  • Seat can handle up to 50 pounds
  • Booster function works with weight up to 110 pounds
Cons
Cons
  • Seat has relatively limited padding
  • Some children may be less comfortable on longer drives
Honorable Mention
EVENFLO Maestro Sport Harness Car Seat
The Best Car Seats For 3 Year Olds
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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

Forward-Facing

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. 

Booster Seat

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. 

Top Brands

GRACO

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.

SAFETY 1st

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

Key Features

Harness/Restraints

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.

Neck Support

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. 

Impact Protection

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

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. 

Other Considerations

  • 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

Best Overall
Graco Tranzitions Harness Booster Seat

When you want a good solution to keeping your child safe on the road, the GRACO Tranzitions Harness Booster Seat is a worthy choice. It has an effective harness with three points of attachment. It is easy to adjust and has reliable attachment clips. The seat comes with sufficient padding, particularly around the head. With small armrests, it gives a fair bit of support for the child’s arms. Since the headrest is critical to the function of the safety features, it helps that there are eight different settings. As for comfort features, it has two cup holders built into the structure to let you easily keep drinks with the child. Accommodating weights up to 65 pounds, you can switch it to a booster when the child reaches 40 pounds. 


Keep in mind that, though this seat is really useful and protective, it can be tricky in terms of maintenance. So long as you wipe it down regularly, however, it should be fine for quite some time. 

Best Value
Chase Harnessed Booster

For those who want to save without giving up on quality, the CHASE Harnessed Booster is a worthy candidate. You can use it either as a booster seat or a full-backed car seat, depending on the weight and height of the child. In the older setting, it can handle as much as 110 pounds. It comes with a strong harness, using five points of connection for the child. When it is set up with the full back, there is substantial head protection. You can adjust the height to ensure that the force relative to the ears is a good option. It’s relatively easy to install. Plus, since this type of car seat is meant to stay in one position, it has pretty low maintenance demands.


Keep in mind that while this seat is cost-effective, the cleaning process can be a bit tedious. You have to remove the cover, machine wash it, then replace it over the seat.

Best 2-in-1 Seat
EvenFlo Maestro Sport Harness Car Seat

Want to keep to the basics and the proven designs you know will work? Try the EvenFlo Maestro Sports Harness Car Seat. The material is gentle on the skin while also resistant to frays and broken seams. In terms of security, this seat has a harness that is fairly straightforward to adjust. It provides reliable protection against impact. The five points ensure that the force spreads out evenly, preventing the child from feeling the shock. For convenience, it includes two cup holders. While they are large enough to handle most containers, these cup holders don’t take up too much space. You can fit more than one in the back seat. Plus, when the child grows, you can convert it to a booster seat. 


Bear in mind that, despite the tough design and high level of protection, it doesn’t have a lot of padding. Depending on the child, they may have issues with comfort on longer treks.

Most User Friendly
Graco Affix Highback Booster Seat

The Graco Affix Highback Booster Seat touts an innovative design, focused on both comfort and utility. Starting at the headrest, the peripheral protections don’t impede vision. They don't, however, offer a lot of side protection. You can easily adjust it to the right height, and thanks to the distinct sides you can easily find the right setting. As soon as your 3-year-old hits 30 pounds, he or she is set to use this car seat. The well-padded shoulders and significant side protection let the child face forward without risk of injury. For added convenience, it comes with two cup holders (of different sizes) on each side. They are small enough to avoid taking up too much room in the back seat. With tough and absorbing foam, this seat is extremely safe. 


Despite being really effective, this seat’s fabric is subject to tears. Because of the multiple padding layers, it is likely to wear down with continued use. 

Honorable Mention
Cosco Finale Booster Car Seat

Looking for a car seat that will be easy to use and install? The Cosco Finale Booster Car Seat is worth a look. You can get it in one of four colors, each featuring a sleek design. The back is meant to be supportive while preventing discomfort on lengthy trips. It received high marks from relevant safety agencies, making it a reliable option on all types of roads. The relatively compact structure enables you to place up to three seats in the majority of vehicles. With a smooth fabric for comfort and removable cup holders, it is a popular seat. Easy to maintain and convert into a booster seat when the time comes, this option earns this honorable mention. 


It’s worth a mention that, though the seat is small enough to fit multiple boosters in the back, this does give the child a bit less wiggle room during drives.

Honorable Mention
Safety 1st Convertible Car Seat

Seeking a seat that prioritizes performance? Take a look at the Safety 1st Convertible Car Seat. It comes with a handy guide, designed to take you step-by-step through the setup process. This is especially useful for first-time parents. The seat is also really user-friendly. It has headrest protection, though it requires limited adjustment. This takes the guesswork out of getting it set up in the vehicle. There is substantial padding, serving dual functions. The first is that it keeps the child comfortable. The plushness prevents them from getting sore on the trip. It also adds an extra layer of security in the event of an impact. With a good harness and a weight rating of up to 65 pounds, this is a handy car seat. 


It’s worth a mention that this car seat won’t transition to a booster seat when the child gets older. Instead, it simply lasts until the child outgrows it, at which point you’ll need a separate booster.

Honorable Mention
Britax Marathon Convertible Car Seat

Looking for something that fits your 3-year-old and will eventually work for their younger sibling? Consider the Britax Marathon Convertible Car Seat. It works as both a rear and forward-facing option. It comes in many different colors and models. Each has multiple layers of protection to ensure the safety of the child. The main seat attaches to the base, which remains in the car. Facing forward for 3-year-olds, it has a solid harness to add comfort. It works for kids up to 65 pounds, making it a really handy choice for this age group. The main structure is made of steel, adding durability in the event of an impact. It reclines to seven different settings, letting you optimize comfort for the child. 


Keep in mind that this seat doesn’t convert into a booster seat. It is geared only towards younger children, ranging from infants to 3-year-olds.

Honorable Mention
Chicco MyFit Car Seat

Want to embrace the newer developments in car seat tech? Check out the Chicco MyFit Car Seat. It has a unique style, featuring more distinct lines and contrasting colors, to start. The headrest blends into the structure while still being adjustable. It is easy to maneuver, helping you find the optimal position for the child. The armrests are sturdy, lending support to the child while they sit. It also offers a higher level of security in the event of an impact. With a steel frame, it is tough against all forms of damage. The seat itself reclines over several settings. The strong harness adds to the overall function, spreading the force out evenly across the seat should a collision occur. 


Bear in mind that, though this is an extremely popular option with comprehensive features, it does come at a higher price point. However, since it converts to a booster, the investment makes more sense. 

Honorable Mention
EvenFlo Big Kid High-Back Booster Seat

The EVENFLO Big Kid High-Back Booster Seat is a good choice for those looking to embrace style. It is made out of high-grade materials, constructed to withstand both impact and wear and tear. This affordable car seat is suited to 3-year-olds who are at least 40 pounds. The headrest is comfortable, featuring multiple cushions to support the child. The same is true for the back, which helps them sit still on long rides. The handles are made out of polyester, along with most of the rest of the seat. It relies on the car’s seat belt system to keep the child in place. This seat supplements the height and size needed to be protected by the car's existing security measures. 


It warrants a note that, despite the stylish design and lightweight structure, it doesn’t have an actual harness or built-in restraints. So long as the child is developed enough to sit steadily, however, there is no issue.

Honorable Mention
KidsEmbrace Booster Car Seat

Need something that is safe and keeps your child engaged? The KidsEmbrace Booster seat has all the necessary safety features. It features a sleek design, coming with an option of three different Paw Patrol characters. This works to get kids excited about safety. It comes with a five-point harness setup, meant to keep their legs secure and spread the force over the child. It has a handy headrest, adjusting over three different settings. You can use it either as a forward-facing seat (for kids up to 65 pounds) or as a booster for older children. The seat comes with cupholders, adding convenience. Since the material is fairly dark, it won’t take on stains or get damaged. 


Keep in mind that, despite the sturdy design and stylish utility, this seat does come at a higher price point. So long as you use it both as a forward-facing and booster seat, though, it is a good option.

Tips

  • 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.

FAQs

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. 

Final Thoughts

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!