A car seat is one of the most important items you MUST have as a new parent. If you want to take your baby with you in your car, it’s a must-have and most hospitals won’t discharge you without one. But with so many different models, it can be hard to find the right model that will fit your needs.
We consulted parents and our own team of experts to make sure we recommend the best ones in the market to you to make your decision easier.
What is a car seat?
A car seat, sometimes called an infant safety seat, child restraint system, child seat, baby seat, or a booster seat is a seat made specifically to protect children from injury or death during vehicle collisions.
These seats are purchased and installed by car owners, but car manufacturers may integrate them directly into their vehicle’s design and generally are required to provide anchors and ensure seat belt compatibility. (source)
What types of car seats are available?
There are four types of child car seats, including:
- Rear-facing or infant-only.
There are also seats and harnesses made specifically for special needs children.
Each type of seat has specific features that work for the stage of life your child is currently in. Different seats also have different weight restrictions and limits. Make sure you always look at the manufacturer’s information that comes with the seat before purchasing a car seat. These instructions will help you know what seat is best for your child at any stage of life. (source)
- Infant-only seat: Infant-only seats are also known as rear-facing seats. Rear-facing occupants are safest. For the best possible protection, keep your child rear-facing in the back seat of the vehicle for as long as possible. It’s recommended that children remain rear-facing up to 2 years of age.
- Convertible seat: Convertible seats are essentially two car seats in one. They are placed in the back seat and face the back of the car until your child is about 2 years of age and at least 20 pounds. Following that, the seats are turned around to face the front of the car. Forward-facing harness heights should be set just above your child’s shoulder level.
- Combination seat: Combination seats face the front of the car and are intended for children who are at least 1 year and older and weigh approximately 20 to 40 pounds. These seats can also convert into a belt-positioning booster seat when your child weighs at least 40 pounds or more and is at least 4 years of age. These seats should not be used rear-facing.
- Booster seat: Booster seats are intended for children who are 4 to 8 years old and are at least 4’ 9”. Your child should start using a booster seat when he or she grows out of his or her car seat (when his or her ears are higher than the back of the car seat, and his or her shoulders are higher than the top strap slots), or when the weight limit for the seat is reached. Booster seats are usually used until your child is at least 8 years old and 4’ 9” tall. They are then ready to use a regular seat belt.
Car seats placement
A study of car crash data from 16 U.S. states found that children under the age of 3 were 43% less likely to be injured in a car crash if their car seat was fastened in the center of the back seat rather than on one side. Results were based on data from 4,790 car crashes involving children aged 3 and younger between 1998 and 2006. According to data, the center position was the safest but least used position. However, economist Steven Levitt has demonstrated that car seats do not reduce fatalities when compared to regular seat belts.
The move from having car seats in the front passenger seat to having them in the back seat, facing backwards, may make it easier for a busy, distracted parent to leave an infant in the car. Each year, between 30 and 50 infants die of heat illness and hypothermia in the United States after being left in a car.
What to look for when buying a car seat?
First of all spending less money on a car seat doesn’t mean it is not safe. It mandatory that each car seat sold in the United States meet the same federal standards set by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
Here are some factors to take into consideration when choosing a seat:
- Fits in your car: Car seats range in size and shape. Some are a better fit for larger or smaller cars.
- Ease of installation: Many car seats can be installed using the regular seat belt or the LATCH system, which is an easier way to secure the car seat using built-in anchors and tethers.
- Safety indicators: Some car seats come with built-in leveling systems and indicators to signal they’ve been correctly installed.
- Fabric: Besides looking for a style of fabric that suits your taste, consider its durability and how easy it’ll be to wash.
- Safety extras: Some car seats include additional shock absorption, padding and higher quality materials.
- Stroller compatibility: You can snap infant car seats into many strollers or stroller frames. A stroller and car seat that come as a set is called a travel system.
- New vs used: Used car seats might be damaged and may not be up to snuff when it comes to current safety regulations.
Car Seats (The 6 Best, Updated For 2020)
Best Overall: Britax Marathon ClickTight Convertible Car Seat
When it comes time to picking a car seat its first most important to check out the car seat guidelines to make sure you are adhering to the AAP’s recommendations.
One of the best car seats you can buy today is the Britax Marathon ClickTight Convertible Car Seat. It can be used both as a rear and forward-facing car seat, depending on your child’s height and weight.
This car seat has the patented click tight installation system, a layer of side impact protection, and safe cell impact protection for peace of mind while you are on the go with your child. Car seat installation is easy as buckling a seat-belt thanks to the click tight installation system.
It also has a safe cell impact protection system, which includes a steel frame, energy-absorbing base, V-shaped tether to minimize seat rotation, and staged release stitches that slow and reduce forward movement in the event of a crash.
Some parents say that Britax Marathon system is a little hard to use in certain cars such as sedans, but most agree that it is a great car seat for a growing child and it is safe to use.
Best Car Seat-Stroller Combo: Doona Infant Car Seat & Latch Base
Doona’s infant car seat and stroller combo was designed to provide parents a safe and practical solution for their baby, both in and outside of the car. It provides a complete and fully integrated travel system, allowing you to move from car seat to stroller in seconds.
The latest collection makes a bold and on-trend statement with six vivid colors, an updated all-black inner seat cover and a sleek charcoal aluminium frame. This collection answers the needs of fashion-conscious families.
- Infant Car Seat & Stroller •
- LATCH Base
- Infant Insert
- Head Support
- Vehicle Seat Protector
Best Budget: Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat
Car seats can be very expensive, but this model is very affordable and deliver the same important safety features.
The Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat holds a rear-facing infant from 5 – 30 lbs. (height: 19 – 37 inches) and a forward-facing toddler from 22 – 40 lbs. (height: 28 – 40 inches).
It meets all applicable Federal Safety Standards, as well as Evenflo’s Side Impact Test Standard for structural integrity, which uses energy levels approximately 2 times the Federal Crash Test Standard for multiple-shoulder harness positions.
The 4 shoulder strap positions on the Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat allow it to accommodate growing children longer, and the easy to access upfront harness adjustment and buckle release makes it convenient for simple harness adjusting.
Best for Toddlers: Graco SlimFit 3 in 1 | Infant to Toddler Car Seat
The Graco SlimFit seat saves space in your backseat while giving your child plenty of room to grow.
The rotating cup holders simply rotate away, making the seat 10% slimmer to save precious back seat space. It’s a rear-facing (5-40 lb) and forward-facing (22-65 lb) car seat, as well as a belt-positioning booster (30-100 lb).
The simply safe adjust harness system means you can easily adjust the harness and headrest together, to accommodate your growing child with ease.
With 4-recline positions, you can keep your child comfortable, while the InRight Latch system makes installation easy with a one-second attachment.
Best Convertible: Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat
Convertible car seats are designed to be used rear-facing and then converted for forward-facing (and sometimes booster) use. This means that, in theory, you could buy a single seat to last through all of your child’s car seat years. Of course, convertible car seats are also designed to remain in the car.
You can use the Grow and Go as a rear-facing car seat for children 5 to 40 pounds and 10 to 40 inches; as a forward-facing seat for kids 22 to 65 pounds and 29 to 52 inches; and as a belt-positioning booster for children 40 to 100 pounds. Plus, it includes two comfortable cushions for small babies, as well as a three-position recline to ensure it fits in your car. This convertible car seat has a QuickFit harness that adjusts both the harness and headrest in one simple step, and the seat pad is machine-washable for easy care.
Best for Small Cars: Chicco NextFit Zip Convertible Car Seat
If you have a small car this is the best car seat you can find. This 2-in-1 car seat provides superior protection thanks to its deep rigid shell and energy-absorbing foam, and it’s small enough to comfortably fit in compact cars.
The NextFit Zip accommodates infants and growing toddlers in rear-facing position then transitions smoothly to forward-facing position for older children. A removable newborn positioner provides a proper fit from 5-11 pounds, and a nine-position headrest and padded, no-rethread harness comfortably accommodate growth from 5-65 pounds.
DuoGuard provides two layers of side-impact protection with a deep rigid shell and EPS energy-absorbing foam. The seat shell is also reinforced with a steel frame. For convenient machine washing, the NextFit Zip features a zip-off seat pad.