Gear

Best Car Seats for Babies and Infants

by Kitty O’Callaghan


Best Car Seats for Babies and Infants
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Selecting the best car seat for your baby is kind of like finding the best pair of post-partum pants: To avoid frustration, you have to remember that one size does not fit all. These seats are made to protect your child through periods of exponential growth, from the little cuddly lump with no neck or core strength to the rambunctious preschooler who sings “Wheels on the Bus” while kicking the back of your seat. Clearly, each phase requires different safety considerations and ergonomic designs. Luckily, you do not have to choose among all car seat models at once, because your baby is not all ages at once. Don’t get ahead of yourself. First, research what your baby needs now based on their weight, height and developmental age. Here we break down the most common type of car seat into three main categories so that you can identify where your baby fits in:

 

 

Best Infant Rear-Facin Car Seats (Birth to 12 Months +): Chicco Keyfit

Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 Platinum XT EvenFlo Embrace Select

Best Convertible Car Seat:

Britaz Marathon ClickTight Cosco Scenera Next Nuna Rava
  • Best Booster Car Seat:
EvenFlo Maestro Graco TurboBooster Highback LX Matrix Booster Safety 1st back Store N' Go Booster EvenFlo Big Kid AMP Car Seat Booster

 

 

Rear-facing Infant Car Seats

These infant car seats are designed specifically for newborns up to 1 year and at least 20 pounds (although safety experts stress that it is always best to keep children rear-facing as long as the manufacturer’s guidelines allow). The seat generally has lots of padding surrounding the head and on either side. It rests in a reclined position and often snaps into a plastic base, which stays anchored inside the car with either a LATCH system or a seat belt restraint. Once a baby reaches the top recommended height and weight for this type of car seat, it’s time to move up to the next category.

 

Convertible Car Seats

This category of infant car seat straddles both the rear-facing and forward-facing car seat options. It is a car seat that can start as a rear-facing seat for smaller babies before it “converts” to a forward-facing seat as baby outgrows the rear-facing guidelines (generally when a child passes 35 inches). Since convertible car seats are, in effect, two seats in one, you’ll find they are usually much heavier and pricier than rear-facing infant car seats.

 

Booster Seats

Finally, there are booster seats, which are always forward-facing. More expensive boosters come with a harness system and high back, which are sometimes removable as your child grows. But even school-age kids still need a little boost under their behind to get them to the correct height for safety reasons. The added inches allow a seat belt to hit the proper areas across your child’s body for maximum safety. Boosters are ideal for airline travel, as they are lightweight and narrow.

 

Now that we’ve identified what category of car seat would fit your baby, it’s a good idea to look for a model that fits other things, namely:

 

        • Your car

          It seems obvious that a car seat should fit into your car’s backseat (and yes, they must always go in the backseat), but parents rarely ask that question before buying a car seat. It’s important to research this compatibility before you buy, check the return policy or, if you are shopping at a brick-and-mortar store, ask if you can test a model in your car. Also, don’t forget to size up your caregiver’s or grandparents’ vehicles.

 

        • Your lifestyle

          Where you live and how you get around each day is a big factor in how much you love or hate your car seat. For example, a city parent with a newborn who lives in a fourth-floor walk-up apartment might want to narrow her choices down to lightweight, rear-facing car seat models. On the other hand, a suburbanite with a toddler might opt for a bigger convertible seat that never leaves the car.

        • Your travel plans

          If you fly home for family visits, remember that you will be toting more than a laptop through security. Car seats can be a real pain in the arm, neck and back, especially when you try to buckle one into those ever-shrinking airline seats. Look for car seats that are lightweight and have a narrow base. It’s still a pain, but every little bit helps.

 

In short, the best car seat should fit your baby, your car and your lifestyle. Finally, after careful consideration of these factors, you can enjoy exploring all of the accoutrements, such as car seat canopies, sun visors and easy-up handles, that will help baby enjoy the ride.

 

But wait! What about safety, you say? Shouldn’t that be the first order of business? Yes, of course. Fortunately, all car seat manufacturers must meet minimum federal safety standards. Unless a car seat has been recalled, the car seats you see at the store should meet crash safety requirements. The rest, however, is up to you. See Safety section below for more information, and read on for our picks of the best car seats for babies.

 

Best Infant Rear-Facing Car Seats (birth to 12 months +)

Image Credits: Amazon

Chicco KeyFit

Price:$159.00

This rear-facing infant seat gets top marks for crash safety, according to Consumer Reports, and is designed for easy installation. An adjustable car seat base with bubble level indicators on both sides of the car seat allows you to see when you’ve hit the correct seating angle, and there is a convenient single strap to tighten the base to your car’s LATCH system. Once that’s in place, it’s just a matter of click and go. If you want a travel system that allows you to move from car to stroller, the KeyFit is compatible with Chicco’s CaddyFit Stroller. A couple of caveats: The sun shade is tiny, so you’ll want to attach your own car seat canopy or visor. Also, this car seat’s weight limit tops out at 20 pounds and 30 inches tall, so the whole system will reach the end of the road sooner rather than later. (For a higher weight class, we recommend the Chicco KeyFit30, which goes up to 30 pounds.)

Specifications:
Secures baby from 4 to 22 lbs. and up to 30”.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
“The easy fasten feature is really great. I hate fastening car seats, and this one is super easy. Just push the ends of the straps into the vehicle's LATCH anchors, and they click. Then pull the end of the strap, and you're done. This alone is worth $$$$.”

“We LOVE this car seat! We got the KeyFit Caddy stroller frame and we always get compliments on both :) the car seat base is SO easy to strap in and the seat itself just clicks in very easily and securely. Our son is always comfortable in there.”

“The base was incredibly easy to install. This is my fourth baby and third infant car seat and this one is by far my favorite.”

Image Credits: Walmart

Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 Platinum XT

Price:$228.00

It’s all about that base. This lightweight rear-facing infant car seat boasts a base that is easy for anyone to install and adjust using either a LATCH system or your car’s seat belt. Once secured, the base offers four recline positions and level indicators to quickly match the angle of the car seat base with your car’s back seat. Another great feature is the Simply Safe Adjust System that allows you to use one hand to adjust the harness and the headrest height without rethreading the straps. The car seat is also compatible with all Graco ClickConnect compatible strollers, including its FastAction Fold Jogging Stroller. These are not only convenient car seat features but also practical ones, as this SnugRide SnugLock accommodates babies up to 35 pounds and 32 inches tall.

Specifications:
Secures baby from 4 to 35 lbs. and up to 32”.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
“My husband appreciates that the base is much easier to detach from the van seat anchors when we switch vehicles. I love the one hand button to adjust the car seat handle. There's so much I love about this seat!”

“I love the colors of the fabric, and it fills so soft. It has lots of support for baby. I love the one touch handle, and the canopy covers very well.”

“Let me tell you, the SnugLock Technology is a game changer! I no longer have to climb on top of the base and pull with all my strength to get the straps tight enough. With SnugLock, I pull the strap as tight as I comfortably can (no straining) and then snap the SnugLock arm in place.”

Image Credits: Walmart

Evenflo Embrace Select

Price:$79.00

For an economical rear-facing car seat, the Evenflo Embrace Select checks off a surprising number of boxes. In terms of safety, it offers an adjustable base with a recline indicator, a front harness adjust, and three harness positions to hold babies comfortably up to 35 pounds. It is also very lightweight, offers a large canopy, as well as buckle pockets. What, you’ve never heard of buckle pockets? Well, they are just what they say they are — places to tuck in the buckles when they are not in use. And if you’ve ever had to root around underneath your baby’s backside in order to excavate the buckles so you could strap her in already(!), then you will appreciate these little time savers. Speaking of which, this car seat can also be used without its base, which is ideal for airline or Uber travel.

Specifications:
Secures baby from 4 to 35 lbs. and up to 30”.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
“The buckle holders are my absolute favorite feature! No more digging for the straps. I never realized how much of a pain digging for straps is until I no longer needed to!”

“I love, love, love the headrest, as my sons head seems to stay put if/when he falls asleep and I don't have to worry about him hurting his neck.”

Best Convertible Car Seat

Image Credits: Amazon

Britax Marathon ClickTight

Price:$310.00

This car seat is hefty, both in size and price, but it’s understandable, considering that it’s made with a steel frame and has two layers of side-impact protection. While it’s a bit of a beast to carry, the nifty “ClickTight” design secures the base without making you break a sweat. So if you plan on keeping this car seat in the car most of the time, it’s a great pick. Instead of struggling with threading a seat belt through the base, which might require long arms and even longer patience, this Britax convertible car seat allows you to lift the seat up from the base, getting the bulky bit out of your way for easy access to the belt path. Once the belt is laid down and secured into the buckle, you simply bring the seat back down and click it in place. Easy peasy. Other features that make this adjustable car seat a must-have include seven recline positions with a level indicator to verify the correct safety position and a 14-position harness that fits every size (up to 65 pounds).

Specifications:
Rear-facing from 5 to 40 lbs., Forward-facing from 20 to 65 lbs.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
“Perfectly tight install with NO FIGHTING. No scratches. No bruises. No sweating. No swearing! AMAZING.”

“It's big. I mean, real big. And heavy. But Britax is by far the industry's gold standard when it comes to performance and crash test ratings, which is what it's all about. We have our 5.5 month old, rear-facing in it. So, it is reclined, which makes it take up more room (from front to back). We have a 2015 Sorento, thank goodness, because this would not have worked in our Civic!”

“We've taken long trips (about 2 hrs) & he doses happily. I expect to be using this car seat for the next couple of years, as he has so much room to grow!”

Image Credits: Walmart

Cosco Scenera Next

Price:$55.00

Do you want to see a magic trick? Check out the Cosco Scenera, a convertible car seat that fits newborns up to 40 pounds but only costs around $50 and weighs 10 pounds. Mind. Blown. OK, this car seat is not an ultra-padded, luxury perch, but it does boast a high safety rating from Consumer Reports and a removable cup holder. All in all, it’s a great option for a second car seat to keep in Grandma’s car or to lug through an airport on your way to visit Grandma.

Specifications:
Rear-facing from 5 to 40 lbs., Forward-facing from 22 to 40 lbs. and up to 43”.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
“Have two of these. Lightweight, easy to install, and inexpensive. Also easy to remove fabric for washing. I like that the cup holder is a separate snap in piece since I don't need them. Fits perfectly in my truck and my daughter likes it.”

“Very light weight. I purchased 3. One for each car and then one for travel. Great value for price. Easy to install. I like the minimal packaging just comes out of the box ready to use.”

“This car seat is great for the value. I got it as a spare for my husband's car or if we're needing to leave it for a babysitter to use. It doesn't weigh very much and doesn't have a thick base so it's easy to put in and take out of the car. It is by no means anything fancy, but it'll get the job done!”

Image Credits: Nordstrom

Nuna Rava

Price:$500.00

This top-of-the-line convertible car seat, is a steel-frame luxury ride that will carry your baby safely from her first trip home from the hospital all the way to her “graduation” from kindergarten and beyond (the top weight limit is 65 pounds). But the main reasons you might want to splurge on this car seat are the less glamorous installation and adjustment features. A flip-up panel located behind the beautiful seat padding allows you to easily run the seatbelt through for a secure attachment. The Nuna Rava also offers 10 reclining seating positions, a 10-position headrest adjustment that you can move up with one hand, as well as a crotch strap and 5-point harness that do not require re-threading as your baby grows. Repeat: They do not require re-threading! As you should expect at this price point, the Nuna Rava cradles your baby with plush padding, a higher quality feel to the fabric, and two — count ‘em, two! — flip-open sippy cup holders.

Specifications:
Rear-facing from 5 to 50 lbs. Forward-facing from 25 to 65 lbs. and up to 49”.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
“The fabric of soft and cushy for my 9-month old. The holders for the straps are super convenient when putting baby in the seat. Very easy harness to tighten.”

“It so easy to adjust the straps. That alone made it worth the purchase.”

“Definitely worth the money. Super easy to install (I like my other one) and my daughter loves it. My husband and I joke that if we could, we would sit in it.”

Best Booster Car Seat

Image Credits: Amazon

Evenflo Maestro

Price:$80.00

This 2-in-1 combination booster seat is a forward-facing seat that fits babies to big kids (22 to 110 pounds). It’s lightweight, affordable and has a relatively narrow base, which is helpful to growing families that need to fit more than one car seat in their vehicles. The high back has an adjustable headrest and a 5-point harness that grows with your child. When your child is tall enough to ditch the harness and switch to using your car’s seat belt, the belt guide at the side of the headrest assures a proper fit across the shoulders. And, of course, no booster seat is complete without cup holders. The Evenflo Maestro design cleverly integrates them into the arm rests to save space and features a stretchy band that keeps all types of cups in place. Maestro Harness Booster Car seat protects harnessed children from 22 to 50 lbs. and belt-positioned children from 40 to 110 lbs. Recommended for kids at least 4 years of age.

Specifications:
Maestro Harness Booster Car seat protects harnessed children from 22 to 50 lbs. and belt-positioned children from 40 to 110 lbs. Recommended for kids at least 4 years of age

What Reviewers Are Saying:
“My kids can easily climb into the seats and need me to fasten them in since we still use the 5-point harness system.”

“It is very nicely padded and the angle in the car is nice (not too steep or too upright), which makes for a comfortable ride.”

“This seat is great, especially for tall children. My two year old is the size of an average 4 year old and trying to find a 5 point harness that would accommodate him for at least a couple more years was difficult until I found this one.”

Image Credits: Kohls

Graco TurboBooster Highback LX Matrix Booster

Price:$80.00

This removable-back booster gets high marks for including a LATCH system for a super secure fit in your car; a rarity for big-kid car seats. The LATCH features a convenient one-handed front-adjust tab for ease of use and while the seat requires assembly, it’s a straightforward, no-tool job, with the main sections snapping together. The sides are generously padded and deep for side-impact safety and the headrest pulls up with one hand. Other perks to recommend this booster: it’s lightweight and has a narrow base (16 inches), which helps it play nicely with other car seats lined up in the back.

Specifications:
Secures baby from 30 to 100 lbs. and up to 57”

What Reviewers Are Saying:
“I love the new quick release on the front if we need to take the car seat out, I am not sweating and getting frustrated ready-to-rip-out the safety clips anchored to my car. Very comfortable for my daughter as well.”

“This seat has met all of my expectations. With a built in cup holder and actually holds the cups unlike the other style booster seat (same brand) that the cup holder isn't tall enough for a top heavy cup! Love that the seat attaches to the latch system.”

“I was able to assemble it myself. No tools required and instructions simple yet thorough and easy to understand. Installing the seat took only minutes with the latch system.”

Image Credits: Amazon

Safety 1st Backed Store ‘n Go Booster

Price:$60.00

Like many other removable back boosters, the Store ‘n Go is lightweight and grows with your child, from 40 up to 100 pounds, and works with your car’s seat belt restraint. Unlike other boosters, this Safety First model comes with a clever storage drawer built in under the seat, so your kid can bring along a favorite book. Or your iPad.

Specifications:
Secures baby from 40 to 100 lbs. and up to 57”

What Reviewers Are Saying:
“I bought 4 of these and needed a couple of them to sit side by side in the middle row (to keep the seat clear for those getting in the back row). They work well spacewise for our larger family.”

“I got the extension for the seatbelt and it helps in securing the child.”

“We (my son, wife, and myself) love the storage drawer, enjoy the pocket on one side, and a cup holder that doubles as another pocket on the other side”

Image Credits: Amazon

Evenflo Big Kid AMP Car Seat Booster

Price:$40.00

This booster is designed for kids big enough to wear a guided seat belt instead of a harness (30 to 110 pounds). The removable seat back offers comfortable foam padding on either side of the headrest, six height positions and seat belt guides for proper placement. While this isn’t a lap-of-luxury car seat — the straight seat back (no recline) means you may want to have a padded car seat belt cover or wraparound neck pillow for the inevitable naps — it does the job well. Big kids can easily climb in and out on their own and, more important, the Evenflo booster boasts good crash test scores, according to Consumer Reports. Note that this type of seat does not have an anchor system, like convertible car seats; It’s your car’s seat belt that will secure your baby in this booster.

Specifications:
Secures baby from 40 to 110 lbs.

What Reviewers Are Saying:
“Seats are comfy, super quick buckle up, cup holders are easy for my autistic twins to use. Three seats fit easily in my Ford Explorer.”

“The height adjustment is very simple with the release lever easily accessible for parent, located at the top center--important if using for multiple children/carpooling. This seat is lightweight and was easy to assemble out of the box. There is not much padding in the seat for child's tush, but for around town it is not an issue.”

“I decided on this one for my slim, average height (52") kid who rarely sleeps in the car... No real bells and whistles, but it gets the job done.”