Are you shopping for a car seat? If so…take a deep breath.
This seemingly tricky process can appear complicated. But the truth is, it’s not. And here’s the good news: we will get through it together.
You may be looking for an infant seat to bring your new baby home from the hospital. Or a convertible seat for your fast-growing toddler. Regardless of your child stage in life–you’ve come to the right place.
Choosing a car seat for your child is one of the most important decisions you can make. The right car seat keeps your child safe and comfortable. The wrong one can be dangerous. That’s why it’s critical to understand the different types of car seats available. This way, you can choose the best seat for you and your child.
Fortunately, once you understand a few key components, choosing the best car seat becomes a painless process. And it all starts with this guide. So, let’s get started and learn more about the 4 different car seats available.
Different Types of Car Seats
When it comes to car seats, there are many different laws in place. Because of this variety, you should check with your local government for the laws in your area. For example, in the United States, the Federal government allows each state to enforce its own laws. Click the link below for the most recent laws broken down by state.
Within each law, you’ll find age, height, and weight restrictions. They usually separate the regulations between rear facing and front facing car seats. As well as booster seats and seat belt systems.
If all this sounds confusing right now, don’t worry, this section will provide a bit more clarity. Plus, the laws aren’t the only criteria to consider. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have their own set of recommendations. They believe children should stay in their seat for as long as possible. For example, let’s say the state you live in requires a child to be in a forward-facing car seat until they weigh 40 lbs. Well, the AAP recommends staying in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until reaching the height and weight limits. And many car seats can hold children up to 65 lbs. For a list of AAP recommendations, click the link below.
So now that you have an understanding of how the laws and recommendations work, let’s move on. Keep reading to learn more about the 4 different types of car seats available. These types are best categorized as Infant, Toddler, Booster, and All-In-One.
Infant/Baby Rear-Facing Car Seats
Rear-facing car seats designed for infants. The term “rear-facing” refers to the position of your child. Its when your baby’s back is facing the front of the car. An infant car seat comes with a “base” that hooks to the back seat of your vehicle. The car seat then clips into the base. The base itself stays in your car; the seat can be taken out for your convenience.
Infant seats also come with a handle for carrying. As you can imagine, this is convenient for transporting your child in and out of the car. If you buy a stroller that’s compatible with your car set, then you can hook it into the stroller. This is something to look into before purchasing.
Infant seats are usually built for babies up to two years old and up to 40 lbs. These specifications range between models. Overall, this is the first stage car-seat for your child. It’s designed to keep your infant safe and secure while driving. And at the same time, convenient for parents to handle.
Convertible/Toddler Car Seats
Once your child outgrows his or her infant seat, its time for a convertible car seat. What’s convenient about this type of seat is that it’s used for both rear and front facing. Typically, your child starts rear-facing in a convertible car seat, eventually switching to front-facing. It comes with a five-point harness wrapping around each shoulder and between the legs.
You will find that convertible type car seats are bulkier than the infant. To avoid an excessive arm work out, plan to keep this one in your car. It doesn’t come with a base or carry handle anyway. So removing the car seat is much more involved.
One advantage is they allow your child to stay rear facing for longer. Sometimes up to 50 pounds. Your child will remain in the convertible seat longer than the infant seat. Because of this, choose a comfortable one that’s safe and easy to maneuver. Especially if you plan to swap it around between cars.
Our children sure do grow fast. Don’t they?
At this point, your child outgrew his or her infant and toddler car seat. So what’s next? Well, the next step is a booster seat. This is a big step for your child because, with a booster seat, you no longer use the provided harness. Instead, your child will use the car seat belt system. That’s what “BOOSTER” is referring to. It ‘boosts’ your child up so you can ensure proper fitment when using a seat belt. Booster seats come in two styles: high back and cushion.
When your vehicle doesn’t have a rear seat headrest, or the seat sits low, the High Back booster seat is your best option. That’s because the high back comes with a headrest. This way, your child doesn’t have to rely on the car’s headrest. Simply put, this type of booster seat provides support for behind your child’s head while driving. It’s also an excellent choice for long drives where you expect your child to fall asleep. Even more, in a high-back booster seat, the back is adjustable, so its changeable as your child grows.
A booster cushion is just that–a cushion. So your child will use the headrest in the back seat of your car. You’ll find booster cushions to be less expensive than the high back. Here’s the only kicker–the cushion needs to be high enough for the child to use the headrest safely. If your backseat is too low, then it will not be acceptable.
It’s important to note that many high back booster seats convert to a booster cushion. Keep this in mind when you’re shopping around.
Overall, before you decide to put your child in a booster seat, make sure you check the weight and height limits. Also, you want to consider the maturity of your child. Remember, they will be using a seat belt instead of a harness. A seat belt can be taken off or altered with.
All-In-One Car Seats
If you are looking for one seat that does it all, then an all-in-one car seat is worth looking into. You’ll get every conversion from infant to rear-facing toddler, to front-facing and even a booster seat. Yes…all angles are covered.
The good news, as stated, its an all-in-one so you only need to buy one seat. The bad news is this: they are heavier, bulkier, and can’t be used as a carrier. Even so, it’s a great option if you don’t drive often with your child. Also, it’s a top choice for keeping things simple for Grandma and Grandpa.
What’s the Difference Between a Rear facing seat versus front facing seat?
When parents first begin shopping around for car seats, many questions arise. One of the biggest questions is “what’s the difference between a front facing and rear facing?” So let’s answer that right now.
Simply put, front-facing is when the car seat is positioned, so your child is facing the front of the car. It’s how you and I usually sit. On the other hand, rear-facing is when your child is facing in the opposite direction. That is, when their back is facing the front of the car. Please reference the image below for a visual difference.
Many car seats today allow for your child to sit rear-facing up to age 2 and beyond. This protects them for longer as rear-facing seats distributes force better. That’s because the impact is more widespread as compared to a rear-facing position. Keep in mind, infant seats are designed to be rear facing whereas toddler seats are designed for both.
When it comes to car seats, there is a lot of criteria to consider. Read on for the best tips when choosing a car seat.
Tips for Choosing the Best Car Seat
The majority of choosing a car seat comes down what TYPE is best for your child. That is, the stage. Fortunately, we already discussed the different types. The hard part is done.
So, in this section, you will receive a list of helpful tips to help you choose the best car seat for you and your child.
When it comes to choosing a car seat, you want to consider the size. The dimensions of your car seat are critical for two reasons. First, you want to make sure it will fit your child? Car seats aren’t cheap. As much as you want a safe car seat, you also want to be practical. That is, you want to get the max life out of your seat. Putting your child on the low side of their height and weight requirements will give you more usage. In other words, you’ll get your money’s worth.
The second consideration is the size of your car. More specifically, the size of your back seat. A common mistake that new parents make is buying a car seat without making sure it will fit in their car. That is that cars come in all different shapes and sizes. They are being built more compact by the day. That means the back seats are becoming smaller. So, make sure you measure your back seat and compare it to the base of the car seat you are considering buying. If they match, then you have a winner.
Next, you want to consider your lifestyle. There are many different types of parents. Some stay home with the baby all day, and some are always out and about. Some will need to transport their child on a daily basis to daycare or school, while others will have a babysitter or stay home. If you are paying for a car seat, then make sure it fits in YOUR lifestyle.
So first, consider how the car seat is installed. If you are always on the go, then you’ll appreciate a lightweight seat that’s easy to latch and adjust. Especially if you plan only to use one car seat between two parents.
If it’s an infant seat, consider the base. Can you buy multiple bases for multiple parents? Is your seat compatible with your stroller? Is the carrying handle easy to maneuver? For example, if you own a Graco stroller with a Graco infant car set, chances are the seat will attach. You’ll find this to be HIGHLY convenient as you go about your busy day.
Know your budget. There are car seats designed to meet everyone’s needs. Some you can find under $100, while others can be priced over $500. However, you will find the average to dial down somewhere between $100 to $250.
- Important Considerations
Harness – This is the strap+buckle that secures your child the seat. Make sure your car seat has a five-point harness. Also, you’ll appreciate one that can be easily adjusted and quickly latched and unlatched.
Head Support – This is the cushioning that surrounds your child’s head. You want a seat with the insert included. It will also help keep your child’s head straight when they fall asleep.
Additional Side Protection – Look for how much protection is built along both sides of the seat. The side barriers keep your child’s head, neck, and spine protected. Look up manufacturer information and safety report. Make sure you are comfortable with the amount of side protection offered.
Energy Absorbing Foam – Your child’s car seat is designed to relieve as much force as possible in case of an accident. That’s why energy absorbing foam is undoubtedly a useful add-on.
Now that you know how to choose a car seat, it’s time to choose one. Read on to find the best car seat for you and your child. Below is a list of reviews split up between infant car seats and toddler.
Reviews of The 6 Best Infant Car Seats
1. Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat – Best Choice Quick and Easy Installation
My family has used Chicco car seats in the past, and they are my favorite by far. Besides this particular seat being rated the #1 car seat in America, it’s super easy to use. Other car seats can be challenging to adjust. Their latching systems take a lot of effort to apply. Well, the Chicco Key Fit 30 is easy to use. It has a SuperCinch tightener that helps keep the base tight and secure. There’s a spring-loaded leveling foot along with a level indicator. This combination helps angle the base appropriately for your child’s size. You’ll really love how simple it is to pull and tighten the 5-point harness as well. Overall, this infant car seat is easy to install, easy to adjust, and with that… quickly made the number one spot on the list.
- The base is easy to tighten.
- Latch system is simple to use.
- Chest plate can be fastened and unfastened quickly.
- Chicco is a well-trusted brand.
- Removable new-born body support.
- Heavy for some.
- Not easy to reach your child from the front seat.
2. 2018 UPPAbaby MESA Infant Car Seat – Best Choice For Safety
The UppAbaby MESA infant car seat is built for safety. In fact, it’s even the first and only seat to meet industry safety standards without using fire retardant chemicals. One of the biggest problems with infant car seats is rarely the car seat itself, but how difficult it is to install. Well, this car seat comes with a SMARTSecure system. This is UPPAbaby’s way of combining auto-retracting connectors along with a visual indicator. You’ll find this makes installing the car seat not only easy, but accurate too. It’s rated for infants between 4-35 lbs and as tall as 32”. The design can appear to be uncomfortable. However, the soft material is super cozy. Overall, it’s a safe design for those who travel a lot.
- Easy to clean detachable fabrics
- Sturdy and safe.
- Can clip into Uppababy stroller
- Side impact protection for extra safety
- Storage pockets for buckles.
- Heavier than others
- Uncomfortable for some.
3. Britax B-Safe Ultra Infant Car Seat – Best Choice for Comfort
We always put extra clothing on our newborn. Onesies, gloves, booties, hats, blankets…you name it. And although it’s essential to keep your baby warm, the car seat can become uncomfortable after a while. That’s unless you have a car seat designed for comfort. That’s one of the best benefits of the Britax B-Safe Ultra Infant Car Seat. It has a cool flow ventilated mesh fabric designed to promote better airflow. The ventilation, plus the soft fabric, help your child remain cool.
This car seat is convenient for parents also. It’s lightweight, easy to install, and comes with a European belt guide. The belt guy allows for installation without a base. As you can imagine, this is great for those parents who rideshare or rely on grandparents during the day. It’s safe too with features like 2 layers of side impact protection and built with a steel frame. Definitely an excellent choice for any parent looking to keep their baby safe and comfortable.
- Lightweight for easy transportation.
- Easy to install
- Superior comfort.
- Removing padding for washing.
- Strap adjustment easy to use.
- Excellent safety rating
- Dark material can get hot quickly.
- Large design for some.
4. Graco SnugRide Infant Car Seat, SnugLock 30 Gotham – Best Choice for Your Budget
Graco did an excellent job providing a safe and reliable infant car seat at an affordable price. I’ve personally used Graco in the past, and have no complaints. With the Graco SnugRide Infant car seat, price isn’t the only benefit either. First, this seat is super easy to install. Place the base in your back seat, pull the seat belt across, and latch it in place, that’s it. Not bad…right? Especially since some car seats force you to study a manual before even beginning to think about installation.
The base is also adjustable with 4 recline positions and a level indicator to confirm you’ve found the right position for your child. I personally like its lightweight feel and how it can easily be attached to a compatible Graco stroller. I used this set up for our first child, and it worked very well.
- Lightweight for easy handling.
- Great price.
- Multiple color options
- Compatible with Graco stroller.
- Slim base.
- Not too snug for infants.
- Harness strap only adjustable from the back.
5. Doona Infant Car Seat & Latch Base – Best Choice for Convenience
Along with a car seat, many first-time parents need to buy a stroller as well. Strollers can get pricey, especially when you are looking for one that’s compatible with your car seat (or vice versa). Plus, it takes time to unfold the stroller and clip the car seat into it. Well, the Doona isn’t your ordinary car seat. In fact, it’s a car seat and stroller in one. Within a few seconds, and with your baby still strapped in, you can turn it into a stroller and continue on your day without skipping a beat. It has a 5-point harness, 3-layer side impact protection, and has safety ratings out the wazoo. The price is on the higher side, but when considering the value, you will likely save money in the long run. It has a sleek and stylish design for a quick city stroll, and there’s even a 6-month financing option. If you’re looking for a safe and stylish car seat that does it all, then this is the car seat for you.
- turn into a stroll for extra convinience.
- Easy to maneuver the stroller with one hand.
- Slim design.
- Multiple color options
- Additional side protection for extra safety.
- High price
- Lack of storage
6. Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Nido Car Seat with Load Leg Base – Best Choice for Protection
In case of an accident, car seats are designed to absorb the most amount of force possible. The more protection, the better. That’s what the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Nido excels at most: protecting your child. Manufactured in Italy, this infant car seat is built of the utmost quality. With energy-absorbing EPS foam in the shell and head panel, extendable hood, energy management foot, and a built-in anti-rebound bar, your child will always be surrounded with the most shock-absorbing protection. Overall, it’s a stylish design that parents trust from all over the world. Installation can be tricky, so read the instructions and make sure you install everything correctly.
- Lifted position for proper head and neck alignment.
- Superior comfort
- Quick and easy to use harness restrainers.
- Breathable for warm weather.
- Extra protection
- Stylish design
- Installing has been confusing for some.
- Inconsistent base locking system.
Reviews of The 6 Best Baby Car Seats (Toddler)
1. KidsEmbrace 2-in-1 Harness Booster Car Seat, Marvel Spider-Man – Best Choice for Child Satisfaction
Not every child like sitting in a car seat. I can tell you from experience. One of my kids could sit in one for any length trip, the other one…SCREAMED. So, it’s nice to have a little leverage for the children who don’t love it so much. Well, that’s where the KidsEmbrace 2-in-1 Harness Booster Marvel Spider-Man Car Seat comes in. It’s literally designed like Spiderman. If your kids love superheroes, then they will LOVE this seat. It’s also available in Captain America, Black Panther, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hawk.
Don’t just buy this car seat for its design. You will find it to be sensible too. It works as both a forward-facing car seat and converts to a booster seat. So, you can use either use the latch system or your car seatbelt system depending on the conversion. It’s approved for children between 22 and 65 pounds and 29 to 49 inches in height in the forward-facing latch positions and 30 to 100 pounds and 38 to 57 inches in height for the booster position. It’s easy to install and even easier to use.
- It’s a Marvel, your kids will love it!
- An adjustable headrest as your child gets taller.
- Two cup holders great for drinks, snacks, and small toys.
- Lightweight, easy to swap between cars.
- Feels like someone is in your car when your child is not (kind of creepy).
- Tough to fully secure. Takes a little bit of wrestling with the latch.
2. Britax Frontier ClickTight Harness-2-Booster Car Seat – Best Choice For Ease of Installation
Not everyone buys multiple car seats for their family vehicles. Some move around one car seat between parents, grandparents, and baby sitters. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to find a car seat that’s lightweight and simple to install. Well, that’s what the Britax Frontier ClickTight Harness provides. A quick and painless install that’s manageable for any person, regardless of their car seat experience. Through its ClickTight Installation System, you lift up the seat, put the seat belt through, and shut it closed. No trying to wedge the seat belt behind the car seat or any other frustrating procedures. It’s quick, easy, and safe. The lower anchors lock into place by a push of a button. A few other features you will appreciate are the cup holders, 9-position harness, and multiple-position recline. It can take a great deal of effort to adjust the harness in place, but once you have it set, you’ll only have to adjust it as your child grows.
- Quick and easy install.
- Cup holders for children.
- Clicktight easy to use
- Difficult to adjust the strap.
- Back strap rubs on the seat.
3. Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat – Best Choice For Shopping on A Budget
The Graco Extrend2Fit Convertible Car Seat is the best low-cost option you’ll find that still holds its quality. It ranges for children between 4 to 65 lbs. That is, 2-50lbs for rear-facing and 22-65 lbs. for front facing. Besides being an excellent car seat for shopping on a budget, it’s comfortable too. Soft fabric, extended leg room, and a 6 position recline + 10 position headrest will keep your child snug and protected. It’s easy to install and a cute design.
- Comfortable with the extended leg room.
- Comfy, cute and very safe.
- Affordable price.
- Easy to install
- Black label can heat up of fabric.
- Difficult to tighten strap.
4. Chicco NextFit iX Zip Convertible Car Seat
Okay…I’m just going to go out and say it. The Chicco NextFit iX Zip Convertible Car Seat has the best latch adjustment hands down. Seriously, it’s so easy to tighten. As you may know, some car seats make it difficult to adjust the seat firmly to the back seat. But I’m telling you, this system is S-I-M-P-L-E. You literally only pull two straps, and there’s no wiggle room at all. It’s their premium connectors and SuperCinch tightener that helps make the installation such a breeze. Washing is no problem easy. If your child drives around with you a lot, you know he or she will eventually spill something. The back of my car can look like a war zone after only a week if I don’t stay on top of it. Well, this car seat has a zip & wash seat pad that makes washing effortless. Overall, Chicco did an excellent job designing this convertible car seat, and I highly recommend it to any active, on-the-move parent. It’s not the cheapest car seat but its sturdy, easy to use, and will last if you plan on having multiple children.
- Super easy to install!
- Sturdy and safe…will last for years.
- Comfortable and cozy, kids love it.
- Easy to clean.
- High price
5. Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat – Best Low-Cost All-In-One Option
Most of the time, we buy 3 to 4 car seats as our children grow. From infant to booster each costing a few hundred dollars each. But is there another option? Yes, there is. Another option is buying an all-in-one car seat. And that’s what the Safety 1st Grown and Go 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat is, that is, an all-in-one car seat. It holds infants from 5 to 40 lbs. rear facing, 22 to 65 lbs. forward facing, and 40 to 100 lbs. in the booster conversion. If you are the “one and done” type of parent, then this car seat may be for you. Especially if you are shopping on a budget because it’s low-cost too. It can be a little tricky with all the conversions and tightening straps, but once you get to know the car seat, this becomes easier.
- All-in-one — only need to buy 1 car seat for your child…ever.
- Affordable price.
- Machine washable and easy to remove the cover.
- Cup holders
- Neutral color
- Cup holders are non-removable so tricky to clean.
- poor customer service.
- Tough to tighten down to seat fully.
6. Evenflo Symphony DLX All-in-One Car Seat – Best Quality All-In-One Car Seat
The Evenflo Symphony DLX All-In-One car seat is durable and sturdy in all its conversions. Whether you have it as a rear-facing, forward-facing, or booster seat, its safe, comfortable, and easy to install. It even has an auto-retracting SureLATCH connector, so it requires no pulling. I personally like the 5-point infinite slide harness. It makes adjusting your child to a safe and comfortable fit a breeze. It does lack some reclining positions, which could cause your sleeping child to fall forward, but overall, a high-quality all-in-one car seat from 5 all the way to 110 lbs.
- Many safety features.
- Easy to install.
- Superior comfort.
- Two cup holders.
- Durable, sturdy, and built with high-quality material.
- Crotch strap does not adjust
- Lacking number of recline positions.
- Not supportive headrest for sleeping child.
As you can see, buying the right car seat for your child doesn’t have to be a complicated process. There are many car seats on the market, but it only comes down to a few types. This is a very special time in your life. Having a good-quality car seat will ensure everyone’s safety.