The Best Car Seats for 3-Year-Olds: Dependable and Safe Transportation

Keep your toddler comfortable and secure in one of our favorite car seats.

byLisa Conant| UPDATED Sep 19, 2022 1:47 PM
The Best Car Seats for 3-Year-Olds: Dependable and Safe Transportation
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Every parent knows that using an approved car seat for children is not only important for your child’s safety, it’s the law. Every parent who’s transported their child in a car seat knows that comfort and protection are key when it comes to having an enjoyable, stress-free car ride—for your child and for you. As children grow, their car seat needs change. While there are plenty of choices on the market when it comes to car seats for 3-year-olds, not all of them can stand up to the wear and tear that a toddler can inflict. I’ve come up with a list of top-quality recommendations as well as some helpful guidelines to ensure you get a durable and comfortable car seat that your 3-year-old will be happy to ride in.

Best Overall

Britax Grow with You ClickTight Car Seat

Summary
The ideal combination of comfort, durability, safety features, design, and a good price, this is the last car seat you’ll need to buy.
Pros
  • Large weight range for kids of all sizes
  • Easy to wash cover designs to choose from
  • High-strength steel frame prevents crumpling on impact
Cons
  • Clips that hold the cover on are flimsy and break easily
  • Initial install can take some fiddling
Best Value

Graco Affix Highback Booster Seat

Summary
An ideal budget-conscious choice that allows your child to see his or her surroundings with ease.
Pros
  • Affordable
  • Lightweight and easy to install
  • Affords a lot of side vision for your child
Cons
  • Less side cradling and protective padding than others
  • No five-point harness
Honorable Mention

Evenflo Maestro Sport Harness Booster Car Seat

Summary
This lightweight and durable car seat has a straightforward design without unnecessary bells and whistles.
Pros
  • Large suitable weight range
  • Simple, clean, straightforward design
  • Five-point harness for smaller children
Cons
  • Cover and padding aren’t thick and durable
  • Car seat base can dig into upholstery
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.

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Our Methodology

When it comes to choosing the best car seats for 3-year-olds, I wanted to provide you with a good variety of reputable manufacturers that provide high-quality, reliable products. I included a wide range of price points to suit any budget. I focused on car seats that use the latest technology and advanced safety features for the ultimate protection and comfort. For more information on the selection criteria, click this link to The Drive’s Gear About page, which explains our methodology further.

Best Car Seats for 3-Year-Olds Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • Harness type: 5 point
  • Minimum weight: 25 pounds
  • Maximum weight: 120 pounds

Pros

  • Large weight range
  • Easy to wash cover designs to choose from
  • High-strength steel frame

Cons

  • Clips holding the cover on are flimsy
  • Initial install can take some fiddling

In terms of the best combination of comfort, durability, safety features, design, and a good price, my top overall pick is the Britax Grow with You ClickTight Car Seat. This is one of the newest offerings from a well-respected and widely known car seat manufacturer. It is the last car seat you’ll ever need to buy for your child. This model easily transitions from a forward-facing five-point harness to a simple belt-positioning booster seat.

This model is built to install simply and confidently. You just open the seat, thread the seat belt, click it, and close. This seat also features two adjustable recline positions and two layers of side impact protection for extra cushioning of your child’s head and neck. It comes in a variety of removable covers that are easy to machine wash and dry for quick cleaning. While this seat is generally easy to install, it takes a lot more fiddling with than some other Britax seats. It also loses some love for having flimsy plastic clips holding the cover to the seat base that tend to break easily.

Specs

  • Harness type: Three point
  • Minimum weight: 40 pounds
  • Maximum weight: 100 pounds

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Lightweight and easy to install
  • Affords side vision for your child

Cons

  • Not a lot of protective padding
  • No five-point harness for smaller kids

The Graco Affix Highback Booster Seat is an ideal budget-conscious choice that lets your child see his or her surroundings with ease. This seat features the relatively easy and very secure one-hand, front-adjust Latch system to keep it firmly in place. Able to accommodate kids weighing between 40 and 100 pounds and up to 57 inches tall, this seat will easily support most children.

The headrest is adjustable to grow with your child. The seat utilizes energy-absorbing foam for support and protection, but it lacks some of the side protection that other seats offer in favor of allowing more side vision. Handy cupholders and a hideaway storage compartment are nice added touches. Where this seat loses points is in the padding. The padding is prone to breakdown and tears over time. The seat also lacks a five-point harness.

Specs

  • Harness type: Five and three point
  • Minimum weight: 22 pounds
  • Maximum weight: 110 pounds

Pros

  • Large suitable weight range
  • Simple, clean design
  • Five-point harness for smaller children

Cons

  • Cover and padding aren’t thick
  • Car seat base can dig into upholstery

The lightweight and durable Evenflo Maestro Sport Harness Booster Car Seat holds fast to a proven, straightforward design concept that doesn’t confuse you with unnecessary bells and whistles. The harness and adjustments are straightforward and easy to use. You get the five-point harness that’s better suited for many 3-year-olds that transitions to a three-point harness as your child grows. Suited for kids weighing 22-110 pounds, this is a versatile car seat choice.

The cushion material is easy to clean. If you do have to remove it and wash it, it can be done quickly and easily. The cover is machine washable and gentle on the skin but lacks durability. The padding is also not substantial, so this might not be the best option for long car trips. The bottom edges of the base of the chair tend to be a little sharp, so you may want to put a protective pad down to guard your car’s upholstery from tears and permanent indentations.

Specs

  • Harness type: Five and three point
  • Minimum weight: 25 pounds
  • Maximum weight: 100 pounds

Pros

  • Stable and sturdy armrests
  • Removable dishwasher safe cupholders
  • Extensive multipositioning system

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Only the seat pad is machine washable

The Chicco MyFit Harness Booster Car Seat takes car seat technology to the next level with innovative, sleek designs and top-quality safety features. The car seat base is substantial and is far more streamlined and forgiving on your upholstery than many other models on the market. The headrest is fully adjustable, yet blends in nicely with the design of the seat. This seat offers the added safety of the five-point harness for smaller 3-year-olds and the belt-positioning booster for bigger kids. One thing to really love about this car seat is the sturdy and more secure armrests that you won’t get with most other car seats.

The premium Latch connectors ensure an easy and secure fit, while the RideRight bubble system lets you ensure that the seat is properly level and positioned properly. This seat also goes above and beyond in the positioning department. You get a nine-position headrest and four-position recline, giving you plenty of options for personalized comfort. Two dishwasher safe cupholders are great for snacks and drinks. The drawback to this innovative car seat is the higher price tag. Also, the cover is not easily removable for machine washing.

Specs

  • Harness type: Five and three point
  • Minimum weight: 5 pounds
  • Maximum weight: 100 pounds

Pros

  • Grows with your child
  • Extensive and thick padding
  • Harness and headrest adjustable

Cons

  • Fabric is not moisture wicking
  • Sides of headrest don’t allow for viewing in booster position

If you want a one-and-done car seat that will do it all and grow with your child from infancy through school age, the Safety 1st Grow and Go All-in-One Convertible Car Seat is my top pick. It’s designed to protect and transport children weighing 5-100 pounds, meeting the unique needs of each stage of development. For babies from 5 to 40 pounds, use the rear-facing, reclined setup. Transition to forward-facing with a 5-point harness for 22-65 pounds, and the belt-positioning booster seat for 40-100 pounds.

This seat also doesn’t skimp in the padding department. It offers substantial side impact protection. The harness is also easily adjustable and features a handy open position so that it’s easy to get your kiddo in and out of the seat. The quickfit headrest and harness adjust together in one simple step. All covers are machine washable and can be removed easily with simple snaps. The fabric is almost too plush and not moisture wicking, however, so some kids might feel a little too confined. The sides of the headrest also don’t allow for much movement or side viewing in the booster seat position.

Specs

  • Harness type: Five and three point
  • Minimum weight: 22 pounds
  • Maximum weight: 100 pounds

Pros

  • Fun character designs
  • Durable and dark material masks stains and wear
  • Can be installed via seatbelt or Latch system

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Padding is not thick and comfortable

For kids who have a favorite TV show or character, there’s the fun and functional KidsEmbrace 2-in-1 Harness Booster Car Seat. This seat features multiple cartoon characters and superheroes to get your 3-year-old excited to ride in the car. The sleek and clever design doesn’t sacrifice safety for fun. This seat features a weight range of 22-100 pounds and offers the five-point harness essential for smaller children and the three-point belt-positioning harness that protects bigger kids.

Each car seat meets or exceeds Federal Motor Vehicle Safety standards and comes highly rated. You get a three-position adjustable height headrest and durable energy-absorbing foam padding. It also offers installation via a regular seatbelt or the extra secure Latch system. The drawback to this car seat option is the higher price. The padding is also not very thick or comfortable for long journeys.

Our Verdict

If you’re looking for the ideal combination of comfort, safety, support, durability, and price, my top pick is the Britax Grow with You ClickTight Car Seat. This model comes in fun colors and patterns, and it easily transitions from a forward-facing five-point harness to a simple belt-positioning booster seat, making it the last car seat you’ll ever need to buy. For the best bang for your buck that won’t blow your budget out of the water, check out the Graco Affix Highback Booster Seat.

What to Consider When Buying a Car Seat for 3-Year-Olds

While there are many similarities between the best car seats for 3-year-olds, it’s not a one-size-fits-all consideration. There are several important factors to familiarize yourself with to ensure you’re getting the best for your child.

Key Features

Harness

While your 3-year-old won’t need a rear-facing car seat, most will still be required to use a five-point harness system. Look for harness systems that are easy to move and customize as your child grows. Many newer car seats no longer require you to uninstall the seat in order to change the harness setup. Once the child outgrows the five-point harness, your seat should have a three-point harness or seatbelt positioning system.

Safety Certifications 

Look for car seats that have been certified to meet or exceed federal safety or insurance standards. This ensures that your child’s seat has been rigorously tested to withstand serious impacts and accidents, giving your child the best chance at protection. Most of the best quality car seats feature steel-rod construction inside their frames.

Padding/Support

Look for car seats that offer substantial padding around the head and neck to protect them during a side impact. Thick padding on the base of the seat will help keep your kiddo comfortable during long trips. It can also create a cozy spot that promotes napping while driving, and who doesn’t love that? Also, look for padding and covers that are easily removable and machine washable for convenience. Look for soft, comfortable materials that aren’t scratchy or irritating to your child’s skin.

Pricing 

You can get a well-constructed, durable, and comfortable forward-facing booster seat for $80-$150. The lower end of the price point will usually feature thinner padding and slightly less rugged construction. If you want a top-of-the-line, ergonomically designed car seat that features ultra comfortable padding and lots of added features, expect to pay $200-$300 or more. Most convertible car seats will be in this price range as well.

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: Who certifies car seats for safety?

A: As with almost all products that are designed for use by children 12 years old and younger, car seats for 3-year-olds are tested for safety by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an independent third-party testing laboratory that ensures every car seat on the market complies with the latest federal safety standards.

Q: How long should you keep your child in a car seat?

A: Your child should remain in a car seat for as long as they fit within the manufacturer’s recommended height and weight ranges. If your child is younger than 12, they should always ride in the back seat to avoid spinal injury that can be caused by front airbag deployment. Children younger than a year old should ride in a rear-facing car seat.

Q: Do car seats have an expiration date?

A: Most reputable car seat manufacturers set a lifespan 10 years from the date of manufacture. This is usually listed on the base of the car seat. Others may offer an expiration date that begins with the date of purchase and extends a certain time past that.

Q: What is the two-hour car seat rule?

A: The two-hour car seat rule states that, during long trips, you should stop and take your child out of the car seat for a break every two hours. This is recommended for at least the first six months of your child’s life, until they have better head and spine control and can sit up and look around on their own, so it’s not really applicable for your 3-year-old.