Convertible car seats are one-seat wonders that fit all sizes of baby, from newborns to toddlers to preschoolers (depending on how big you grow ‘em). Here’s how they work: For a younger baby, a convertible car seat offers lots of padded support and can be installed in a rear-facing, semi-recline position. As a baby outgrows the rear-facing seating arrangement, a convertible car seat can be turned around and installed in an upright, forward-facing position. Some convertible car seats can even be changed into booster seats for elementary school kids who graduate to using a seatbelt. (See Safety section below)
The obvious logic of the convertible design is to help parents save time and money: one seat, many miles. But note that packing so much convenience into one car seat makes these models heavier and bulkier than infant car seats that don’t “convert” to fit a larger child. The large size of a convertible car seat is not a problem in itself, because they are meant to stay put in your car. However, if we’re keeping it real, at some point during your travels you will want to remove your newborn from your car without removing them from the car seat. This requires a car seat with a carry handle (convertible car seats don’t have that) and a lightweight frame (again, not happening with a convertible). So while parents might appreciate the amazing longevity of a convertible car seat, they still end up buying two or more types over the course of baby’s childhood.
- Best Convertible Car Seat/Booster To Grow With Baby: Graco 4-In-1 Car Seat Featuring TrueShield Technology
- Best Convertible Car Seat For Newborns: Cybox Sirona M Sensorsafe 2.0
- Best Lightweight Convertible Car Seat: Combi Coccoro
- Best Splurge Convertible Car Seat: Nuna Rava
- Best Convertible Car Seat For Multiples: Diono Radian 3RXT
- Best Convertible Car Seat For Air Travel: Cosco Scenera Next
- Best Convertible Car Seat For Toddlers: Britax Marathon ClickTight
- Best Convertible Car Seat For Easy Clean-Up: Chicco Next Fit IX Zip
When Do I Need a Convertible Car Seat?
Deciding when you want to start using a convertible car seat really depends on your baby’s age, how often you are in and out of your car, and your budget. To help you narrow down your choices and find the best convertible car seat for you, check out the following categories.
A Note About Car Seat Safety
There’s no question that car seats save lives, which is why all seats must meet federal crash-test safety standards and why their use is required in all 50 states. (Check here to see your state’s regulations.) Legislation alone is not enough to save lives, however, as car seats are only effective when properly used. That means it’s up to parents — the vast majority of whom are not certified in car seat installation — to close the safety gap. It’s not an impossible learning curve but it IS a learning curve. Here are a few things you need to know when you are installing a car seat.
Follow all manufacturer’s instructions. While this seems too obvious to point out here, we’re going to point it out here. All car seats come with a booklet that spells out everything from proper installation angles to how to contact customer service. Some models even allow for a storage area for this manual right with the car seat so that you never lose it. It’s that important. However, if you do lose it, many companies post PDFs of the instructions online or you can contact them directly for a new copy.
Watch supplemental videos. In addition to reading the instruction manual, most national brands, including Evenflo, Britax and Graco, offer helpful videos online to demonstrate the proper installation for their specific models.
Register your make and model with the company. The car seat will come with a registration/warranty card. Fill it out and send it back immediately or register online so that you will be notified of any future recalls or fixes.
Check expiration dates. All car seats now come with expiration dates (usually between 6 and 10 years), which you can find stamped on a manufacturer’s label at the side or base of the seat. Since convertible car seats can be used for a very long time (in some cases, from infancy up to 120 pounds), it’s important to take note of the year you need to retire your seat. And if you are given a car seat or intend to buy one second-hand, check the date of manufacture and make sure it’s still “fresh.” (Also, verify that the car seat has not been in a crash or structurally compromised before you start using it.)
Even if you believe you have installed your car seat like an expert, it’s a good idea to consult an actual expert to check your work. You can locate a car seat safety technician who has been certified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at NHTSA.gov. And don’t forget that you are not your baby’s only chauffeur. It’s important that caregivers and family members also follow the same rigorous path for safe installation and proper car seat use. If you know ahead of time that your dad will resist (“What? Back in my day we didn’t even need car seats!”), then make sure you are armed with a ready-made solution. Namely, that you will get the seat installed and inspected.
Finally, take a little time to surf around the NHTSA web site. It offers a wealth of information about car seat safety, from the height and weight requirements to vehicle compatibility to recall information.