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Car Seat Buying Guide

Posted in: Car Seat Buying Guide

Which car seat should I buy?

This is one of the most common questions we get asked. It might even be the most commonly asked question. There is no easy answer, unfortunately. The safest and best car seat is the one that will install securely in your vehicle, that fits your child’s age, height, and weight, and that you can operate correctly every time. Looking at safety ratings is not enough–if the seat rated “safest” doesn’t fit securely in your vehicle, or if you can’t figure out how to operate it, it is NOT the best seat for YOU. All car seats are safe and will protect your child if properly used.

If you’re in the market for an infant car seat, you’re in luck as we’ve got a comprehensive infant car seat buying guide here (we’re working on one for convertible seats & forward-facing seats).

There are so many factors that go into picking the best car seat, here are some things to consider.

Will it fit in your car?

A great car seat for you will install easily in the center position of your vehicle–since passengers sitting in the center are 43% safer than passengers on the side, it is safest to get a car seat that will work in the center. Many car seats unfortunately are difficult or even impossible to install in the center of many vehicles, largely because the center seat of most vehicles does not come equipped with lower latch anchors – not to mention the center is typically very narrow with a more rigid seat cushion. You can read more about installing a seat in the center on our Using Latch in the Center page.

While we can’t make a specific recommendation about which specific car seat will work in your particular vehicle without speaking with you, we can recommend that you look for a car seat with a built-in locking device for the seat belt. These car seats typically yield a secure installation in the center seat using the vehicle’s seat belt in conjunction with the built-in locking device. When using a built-in locking device, you don’t have to switch the shoulder belt into its locking mode… a locking mode that typically causes most rear-facing seats to tilt on their sides due to all the tension being upwards in the shoulder belt.

Will it fit your lifestyle?

A car seat has to work for YOU. If you travel a lot and are constantly installing and uninstalling your seat, you need to buy one that is easy to install. If you need to take taxis or use rental cars frequently, buy a seat that is easy to install using the seat belt and doesn’t require lower anchors (so you don’t have to dig around the seat bottom of strange cars). If you walk everywhere, the car seat needs to fit on your stroller–but you should base your stroller purchase on the car seat, not vice versa, since the car seat and not the stroller may one day save your child’s life (see our Stroller Compatibility page). If you plan on having a second child soon, buy a car seat with a long lifespan, so that you can pass it down to the next child, and buy one that can be installed in multiple locations in your vehicle, since a second child may change your seating positions. Good car seats for taxi travel can be found on our Using Taxis seat selector page; good seats for airplane travel on our Airplanes page.

Will the car seat fit your child?

Car seats are expensive! Buy a seat that has high height and weight limits. This will allow you to use the seat for longer and will push off your next purchase for as long as possible. An infant or convertible car seat with high height and weight limits will allow you to keep your child rear-facing for longer, and since rear-facing is 5 times safer than forward-facing, it’s the best way to keep your child safe in the car.

Will the car seat fit your budget?

As we said above, car seats are expensive! However, they are also the one baby item that could one day save your child’s life. They are well worth the money when considered in this light. You do not need to spend hundreds of dollars to get a safe car seat, but if you have to pick one item to splurge on, we (obviously) think the car seat is the one.

41 Responses to “Car Seat Buying Guide”

  1. Kristy says:

    I have a 2008 Equinox. I have 2 children in carseats, my 2 year old who is forward facing and my 5 month old so I would not be using the center seat, only the 2 side seats. My question is what carseat would be best for my younger daughter once she outgrows her infant seat? My 2 year old is currently forward facing in a Safety 1st – Alpha Omega Elite Convertible Car Seat. I originally picked this seat because it could do it all, rear face, forward and booster. Is this car seat still a good choice for my second daughter or what do you recommend?

    • Kristy says:

      Oh a couple more things: we use the latch system and also my 2 year old daughter just recently exceeded the rear facing height requirements for her seat so that is why we just turned her forward facing.

      • Why not get a seat with a much higher rear-facing capacity – give the new seat to the 2 year old and put the child back rear-facing… and save the Safety 1st for the baby. Take a look at the Chicco Next Fit, Graco 4Ever (great 4-in-1 seat), and Graco Milestone (great 3-in-1) as options for higher rear and forward facing capacities than the Safety 1st you have, while not being super expensive.

  2. R.A. says:

    We have a 1996 Volvo 850, an older child who’s not quite tall enough to ride without a booster, and a toddler just outgrowing the infant seat. Among convertible seats with built-in seat-belt lock-offs, do you have a specific recommendation for our car? Do you know if there is a convertible seat that would fit in the middle seat (as the infant seat did) with a booster on one side?

  3. Danielle says:

    I want to keep my 3.5 year old rear facing but she has outgrown the weight limit on her Britax seat. She is also quite tall, could you recommend a seat that will allow me to keep her rear facing longer?

    • Clek Foonf has a 43 inch or 50 pound rear-facing weight limit. Diono Radian RXT goes to 45 pounds rear-facing, Diono Pacifica & Rainier go to 50 pounds rear-facing – all have similar height capacities as the Foonf. The harness straps are much easier to tighten on a rear-facing child in the Foonf than the Diono seats. The Foonf has built in locking devices for the seat belt – which enables it to yield a secure installation with the seat belt in almost any car which the Diono can’t do rear-facing in quite a few cars. However, the Foonf sits quite high which can be a driver visibility issue in some cars – the Diono seats sit quite low.

  4. Mandi says:

    I have a very tall 6 month old and he has already grown out of his infant car seat. What are the best options for taller infants/toddlers that will fit as he grows? I’d just like a convertible one and not the booster as well.

    • Here are some convertible seats that have very high seated heights. Please note that some of these may not install securely in your particular car – so try before you buy. Clek Foonf, Clek Fllo, Chicco Next Fit, Graco 4Ever & Milestone & Size4Me, Britax Boulevard Click Tight & Advocate Click Tight (make sure it says Click Tight), Diono – all Radians, Olympia, Pacifica, and Rainier, Evenflo Sure Ride.

  5. Janet says:

    I have a 2013 Ford Explorer with inflatable seatbelts. Looking for a new convertible seat, I know I’ll use latch up to 40 lbs which is long away, so really won’t use seatbelt until,later if seat lasts that long. Is a britax marathon a good fit?

  6. Cathy says:

    I am trying to fit three seats across the third row seat of a Suburban. A 7 year old in a booster and two almost 4 year olds in harnessed seats. The twins are outgrowing their Britax Marathons by height. I have Frontiers, but with two Frontiers in the back I cannot fit a booster. Can you offer any suggestions?

    Also, if I make an appointment for consultation and installation, are we pretty sure we can find seats that would work? I don’t want to waste time and money if there are just no seats that are going to work for us.

    Thanks!

  7. Joe says:

    how can I tell if my son is too big for the combi coccoro? he is 3 years old and 38″ tall and about 34 lbs. we need a seat good for travel.

  8. jessica says:

    I have a 92 toyota camry and a 93 subaru impreza what would be a rear/front facing carseat to fit in either of these cars. my daughter ust turned 1 and looking to buy a new seat. thank you

  9. francie says:

    I have a 2006 prius, and am looking for a convertible car seat for my growing 4.5 month old (27.5″ tall). Looking at the Boulevard clicktight or the Clek fllo or foonf. Safety first, but it would be great to have as much additional space in the car as possible for other passengers, etc…any advice (or other seats to look at) would be great. Thanks!

    • I’d get a Foonf and put it in the center. The baby will get a great view out the back window rear-facing and the other people sitting on the side will have a good amount of room. Please note that the child must be able to sit unsupported to go in the foonf.

  10. ajohnson says:

    My daughter is going to be 2 in a month. She’s currently in a rear facing seat, but is at the last height level and constantly pushes her feet into the seat as if to say she wanted to stretch. I have a 2006 Saturn Vue, and she sits in the middle using the latch system. Should I look at moving her forward facing? I’m a single mom on a very tight budget and don’t really know what kind of seat to buy next.

    • If she is in an infant seat (one with a handle), she is almost certainly way too big for this. Rear-facing toddlers, like her, need convertible seats – seats that start out rear-facing and then go forward-facing. The pushing her feet – she’s doing that because it is something to do. Have you ever been on an airplane with a young child in the seat behind you who pushes on your seat and kicks your seat… they’re not doing it because their legs hurt or need to stretch – they’re doing it because it is fun and something to do. Take a look at the Evenflo Sure Ride & Graco My Ride 65 as budget friendly options with high rear-facing capacities (the Evenflo Sure Ride has a higher forward-facing capacity than the Graco).

  11. Karen says:

    My daughter is five and a half. She is 45 inches tall and weighs 43 pounds. She has a very long torso and already tests the heighest harness slot on every seat we have tried. Is there a five point harness seat that will allow for her height and not cost so much? She really isn’t ready for a booster. Thanks.

  12. Sarah Raser says:

    My husband and I are going on our first trip with our little one in February and will need to rent a car. We have a Chicco Keyfit 30 and do not plan on bringing the base with us on the trip (the Chicco Keyfit 30 can be installed without, right?). When looking for a rental car, anything you would recommend? How can we make sure the car seat will fit? We would like to go with the least expensive car – Hyundai Accent – but don’t want to get there and find out the car seat won’t fit. Thanks for your help!

  13. Liz says:

    My husband and I are looking for a new car seat for out 13 month old. He is just a little guy at only 19lbs but I feel that he has out grown he infant car seat and want the safest one out there for him. We have looked at the Britax Boulevard click to connect and the Recaro Performance ride. I drive a 2010 Prius and I would like to keep him in the center seat but both of them look fat and Im not sure if anyone would be able to seat in the back with him. Are either of these ones we would be considering or should I be looking at some others?

  14. Ruth says:

    I have a Jeep Wrangler what would be the best car seat for an 8 month old who is 29″ long and weighs 24lbs? He is on his last days of his Graco snugride 35, time for something new.

    • For a very big baby you need a high capacity rear-facing seat – take a look at the Clek Fllo (the Foonf likely sits too close to the metal roof bar in your Wrangler if you have the new 4 door version).

  15. Jodi says:

    Thank you so much for all of your help!

  16. Jessica says:

    I see you’re consistently recommending the Graco 4-ever. What about the Evenflo Symphony 65? What do you think of that seat? That’s the one my husband wanted to go with for our baby due in April. We have the Graco smart seat for our 2 year old son and I love it but my husband wanted to go with the Evenflo as it was cheaper. I researched it and it seemed like it got as good reviews as the Graco 4-ever. What are your thoughts on it? We also just bought a 2015 dodge grand caravan to be able to keep the kids rear facing as long as possible (our nissan versa wouldn’t work as there was no room in the front passenger seat). I also see you recommend the Honda Odessy but that was out of our price range so I hope the grand caravan is ok.

    • I am not consistently recommending the 4Ever (or any other seat). The Symphony is quite short in seated height for the rear-facing child, so is not a great option for extended rear-facing. The Graco Milestone is a cheaper option to the 4Ever, which will also last a long time rear-facing (neither have the most amount of leg room for the rear-facing child, but this is not a safety issue). The Grand Caravan unfortunately did poorly in one set of recent crash tests – http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/v/class-summary/minivans – so it would not have been a top recommendation if there were others in your budget range.

  17. Justin H says:

    What would you suggest for convertible car seat for a compact car (Chevy Aveo)? Suggestions I have seen seem to have an especially low weight limit for rear-facing. Our son is 12 months old and weighs 23 lbs. Thank you!

    • The Graco 4Ever & Milestone, Clek Fllo (when used without the anti-rebound bar), and the Diono seats when used with a Diono angle adjuster (sold separately) take up very little room into the front seat when rear-facing. The straps on the Diono seats are usually hard to tighten when the child is rear-facing.

  18. Claire says:

    Thanks for an awesome website. I have a Cybex Aton Q as a baby shower gift from friends. I drive a 2014 Dodge Durango which does not have the latch system in the center and has a slight rise in the floor which may interfere with the load leg.

    Which would you consider safer – center without the load leg using the seat belt system or side using latch system, load leg and telescopic side-impact protector of the Aton Q?

    • I’m not sure whether the center without the load leg or the side with the load leg is safer – especially since it depends on what type of crash you are in as the center is safer than taking a direct side impact. Luckily, both of your options are very safe options.
      One thing – the straps are VERY hard to tighten on the Q – so I’d suggest the 2 instead since the straps tighten more easily and this is something you need to do every time you put the child in the seat.

  19. Sarah says:

    Hello! Thank you so much for all of this great information here! I have a 2004 Chrysler Town and Country. I’m looking to transition my 8 month old into a convertible seat soon because his infant seat is getting too heavy for me to carry. Im looking at the Clek Foonf and Peg Perego. I was wondering if you could share which one allows for rearfacing longer based on torso length. Also, would both work in my minivan? I don’t live near a store where I can test both out in person. Thank you so much!

  20. Anna says:

    I have an 8 month old in a Chicco Keyfit 30 in a Mazda CX9. I’m looking to get him a rear facing convertible seat and will be handing the Keyfit down to my new baby coming in August. He’s about 22lb and 27″ tall now. He currently hates the Keyfit because he prefers to sit up and I think it’s no longer comfortable for him. I would like to use the center seat position but can’t when the new baby arrives because my SUV doesn’t have a center LATCH system and the manual says not to share. They measure 19.7″ apart so if I wanted to I could not use my Chicco in the center, but could a Britax if I read it correctly (until August). Overall I want something that’s super safe with extra side impact features, comfortable for the babies with possibly extra adjustability for the harness, easy to install, with multiple reclining positions, and leaves room for my long legged husband to have room to drive in the front seat. Budget would like to be in $200-$300 range but could splurge if needed…. As it’s a very important purchase that we’ll use for years. Suggestions? 🙂

    • For the baby who wants to sit up – and have a great view out the back window – the Clek Foonf is the seat you’re looking for… plus it is narrow enough to work in a 3-across scenario in a CX-9 (should your family expand again).

  21. Christine says:

    We have an Acura MDX fitting a 5 month old who is currently in a Chicco keyfit 30 that will expire this summer and a 2 1/2 yr old who is in a Sunshine kids seat that will not latch in the center seat. So we are looking for a new seat for the LO to grow into longer than infancy and also considering buying a new seat for the 2yr old and moving her to face rear again. (She’s 31 lbs) We are thinking of a graco SnugRide classic connect 35 so that it will fit on our graco ready to grow stroller and click in and out of the car while getting a convertible style seat for 2yr old that could then be passed down to LO when he’s ready. However, I think my daughter will be in the convertible long after LO is ready for the next step up. Should I just get 2 convertible style seats? And if so, what works best for the MDX sitting side by side? Thanks so much for all you do!

  22. Lindsey says:

    My parents are looking at getting a convertible car seat of their own to to use with my rear facing 23 month old son. They have a 2011 Ford Explorer and were wanting something that would fit securely in their backseat. Our Recaro Pro Ride is quite large and takes up a lot of space so we don’t want to buy another one of those. Do you have any other suggestions of car seats to look at for that vehicle? Thank you!