A top-class car seat shouldn’t just be a one-click pony. Our Geeks set out to find the best rated all-in-one car seats that can adapt and adjust to your growing child. On this page, you’ll find our picks for the safest and best convertible car seats based on comfort, safety technology, and consumer feedback. We’ve also provided some helpful car seat tips to maximize comfort and safety.
Best Convertible Car Seats Overall
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible
Estimated Price: $340 – $400
The words “Italian-made” carry the promise of masterful engineering, sleek design and elegant final touches. But don’t be fooled into thinking those rules only apply to sports cars, fashion lines and food. Italy’s own Peg Perego has created a convertible car seat that not only will keep your child safer than most other designs but also has an edgy look that complements most vehicle interiors.
This car seat can be used in both forward-facing and rear-facing modes, allowing it to accommodate children as they grow. Up until around 2 years (or older if your child still falls under the 45-pound weight limit), your little one should be restrained in a rear-facing position to distribute the force of a collision throughout the entire body. In a forward-facing position, your child’s head is thrust forward during a collision, subjecting his or her spine to more strain.
Newborns and infants’ bones are still developing, so their spines are more vulnerable than those of adults or older children. As a result, even a minor crash can lead to severe injuries and possible paralysis.
The Primo Viaggio is designed to be just as safe in a forward-facing position, so you won’t have to buy a new seat when your child is ready to make the transition. The seat is suitable for infants and toddlers up to 65 pounds.
Installing the Primo Viaggio, whether setting up the seat in a rear- or forward-facing position, takes just a few minutes, though customer reviews indicate that the seat can be difficult to attach to the straps of a car’s LATCH system in less spacious vehicles. However, the straps are quick to tighten, and the built-in level helps adjust the seat to the right position.
Have more than one vehicle? At just 21 pounds, the Primo Viaggio is light enough to carry and transfer between cars when necessary, which saves you the cost of forking out for extra seats. The Primo Viaggio has also been rigorously crash tested to meet federal standards. The seat’s side-impact protection is adjustable, allowing you to pick one of 10 different positions to ensure your child’s head, neck and spine are properly shielded from potential crash forces.
The seat is lined with energy-absorbing foam throughout the shell and head panel, providing another layer of protection and comfort. Plus, a shock-absorbing foam (built into the seat just under the shell) is designed to crumple in a crash, siphoning off even more stress from your child’s shoulders and neck.
A contoured steel back plate helps minimize potential flexing and puts the brakes on even the slightest sign of forward movement. And finally, when the seat is switched to a front-facing position, a sturdy front tether hook helps provide extra stability when used in conjunction with the included strap.
Our Geeks were blown away by the sheer amount of safety tech Peg Perego has managed to cram into this convertible car seat. But it doesn’t come at the cost of comfort. The shell is covered in a high-quality fabric that stretches to hide the seat’s hardware. The result: a sleek seat with rounded corners that will comfortably restrain your infant.
The bottom line: feature-packed and brimming with comforting luxuries, the Primo Viaggio is one of the best convertible car seats under $425.
Clek Foonf Rigid Latch Convertible Baby and Toddler Car Seat
Estimated Price: $425 – $475
Marketed as the mother of all car seats, the Clek Foonf – one of very few infant car seats equipped to carry children up to 50 lbs in a rear-facing position – makes big promises and still manages to overdeliver. lek’s engineers have pushed the capabilities of a car seat to new extremes, packing first-class comfort and convenience into a seat that aces crash tests with ease.
One potential downside to this seat is its large size. While that extra weight bolsters its safety rating and leaves a little room for added luxuries, our Geeks recommend against using the Foonf in anything smaller than a medium-sized sedan. That said, installing the seat is quick and painless.
The Foonf can be connected to the LATCH anchors or via your car’s safety strap. The seat’s Rigid-LATCH connectors will save you even more time during installation.
Once your seat is secure, you can adjust the structural headrest to accommodate your little one. It’s the most versatile headrest we’ve seen, providing the same level of comfort and security for newborns as it does for children who have almost outgrown the seat.
While the seat is large, Clek has managed to carve down the Foonf’s width to just 17 inches. Not only does this accommodate three-across seating (mandatory if you have a bigger family), but it also enables you to install the seat in the center-rear position of your car.
Research shows that securing your little ones in the rear seat of your vehicle reduces their chance of death or injury by 30%. When sitting in the center-rear seat, your child is also shielded from potential side impact.
The seat is equipped with advanced side-impact collision in the form of the adjustable headrest. Our Geeks loved the headrest’s deep side wings and series of crash force-absorbing foam layers. As mentioned earlier, this is a heavy seat – it weighs 33 pounds – but that extra mass translates into extra safety for your child in the form of a solid metal substructure and endless inner and outer energy-absorbing foam-layers.
In rear-facing mode, the seat’s anti-rebound bar (you won’t find this on many other seats at this price point) prevents it from rotating and exposing your child’s head and neck to crash forces. The anti-rebound bar rests against your vehicle’s seat back, creating more precious legroom for your little one. Clek wasn’t lying when they said this seat is built like a tank.
The design is intended to merge optimal safety with maximum comfort. Our favorite feature: the generous smooth recline function, which can be configured with the push of a button to achieve peak comfort for your infant.
Bottom line: it may be heavier than most, but innovative features and high-quality materials make this the safest convertible car seat under $500.
Graco Modes LX Click Connect Travel System
Estimated Price: $420 – $550
Your children are most vulnerable in the first few months of their lives. It’s a scary truth that is at the very foundation of Graco’s car seat designs. The Modes Travel System does far more than protect your child; it also provides a convenient, versatile and beautiful complete travel system at an unbeatable price point.
So what’s in the box? The Graco Modes Travel System includes the SnugRide Click Connect 35 Infant Car Seat and a 3-in-1 stroller with 10 riding options from infant to toddler.
The SnugRide seat is the meat of this offering, accommodating newborns and infants up to 35 pounds. While other seats have higher maximums and thus will give you better mileage in the long run, the Graco Modes Travel System is priced accordingly and is packaged with an award-winning stroller that you’ll be making frequent use of for years.
The seat’s base is LATCH-equipped and easy to attach to your car. Our Geeks were impressed by its large easy-to-read level indicator, which helps position the seat once it has been secured. Unlike many other units, there is little guesswork involved with setting up the SnugRide, but as always, we recommended contacting a trained technician to come assess your vehicle and your car seat installation.
Graco’s seat has been rigorously crash-tested and exceeds federal safety standards. Lined with energy-absorbing foam, every part of the seat has been designed to siphon the stress of crash forces away from your child. Plus, the five-point adjustable harness helps you achieve a no-sweat snug fit for your child before every trip.
The seat is equipped with newborn head support, providing added cushioning and protection for your child’s head during his or her first months. This inlay is removable, opening up room for your little one to grow.
Removing the car seat from the base is a simple as pressing a button. The SnugRide carrier weighs just 7 pounds – making it the lightest on this list – and connects to Graco’s 3-in-1 stroller using the company’s ClickConnect technology.
Transitioning from car to stroller or vice versa is every bit as simple and fast as Graco promises. Bottom line: you won’t find a better complete travel system than this.
Cosco Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat
Estimated Price: $50 – $85
Safety and comfort for your little one for the same price as a night out at a fancy restaurant; Cosco’s $50 convertible car seat is a sleeper hit that’s a great option if you’re on a shoestring budget.
Built to carry children from 5 to 40 pounds and 19” to 40” in height in a rear-facing position and from 22 to 40 pounds and 19” to 43” in height in a forward-facing position, you will still be able to get a fair amount of use out of this cost-saving carrier.
This lightweight seat is certified for aircraft use, making it an ideal solution if you’re planning to travel with your little one. And where many cheaper units take a spartan approach to added features, the Scenera isn’t cutting corners. Not only does the buckle support three different positions, but the harness can also be set to five different heights to accommodate your growing child.
Installing the car seat using the LATCH attachment system was simple enough. However, you may need to prop up the seat in a rear-facing mode with a pool noodle or two to ensure a safe recline position for your little one.
While this seat meets federal safety standards, it is not equipped with added side-impact protection or bolstered with EPS foam layers like some of the more expensive seats we have reviewed. If you don’t want to compromise on extra safety and comfort features for your little one, our Geeks recommend increasing your budget.
Bottom line: this seat is a cheaper ticket to a safer ride that isn’t short on luxuries.
Best Convertible Car Seats for 1 Year Olds
Chicco NextFit iX Convertible Car Seat
Estimated Price: $240 – $400
No two kids are the same. But too often, car seats are built with just one child in mind, resulting in restrictive harnesses and stubborn and unforgiving recline settings. The NextFit iX doesn’t have these problems. Designed to switch between nine recline positions and fixed with an infinitely adjustable headrest, you can customize this seat to your heart’s content to ensure your child is safe and comfortable on every ride.
In its rear-facing mode, this seat can accommodate newborns and young toddlers up to a maximum of 40 pounds. Then, when your child is ready, switch the seat to its forward-facing position, which can accommodate older kids up to 65 pounds.
Chicco’s SuperCinch tech makes light work of connecting the seat’s LATCH connectors to the anchors in your car, whether you’re setting up the seat in a rear- or forward-facing position. Then, use the large bubble-level fixed to the seat to ensure the NextFit is positioned correctly.
Chicco’s car seat has been rigorously crash tested to meet federal safety standards. It packs all the safety features you would expect, plus a steel-reinforced frame and exterior to minimize flexing and prevent forward movement during a crash. The seat’s one-pull harness can be tightened and loosened with minimal effort.
Thick padding throughout the seat and even along the harness provides added comfort and safety. However, our Geeks’ favorite feature is the seat’s nine-position recline, which smoothly transitions to a comfortable sleeping position for your little one. Bonus: the newborn inlay packaged with the seat helps accommodate both newborn and prematurely born babies.
The seat’s cover is easy to remove and is machine-washable, saving you time scrubbing away over a sink. Bottom line: for safety, comfort and convenience, this is one of the best child car seats under $425.
Diono Rainier All-In-One Convertible Car Seat
Estimated Price: $250 – $415
Most convertible car seats can be rigged up in either a rear- or forward-facing position. The Rainier, our designated overachiever, not only supports both modes but also can be transformed into a standalone booster seat when your child is no longer an infant. This seat is designed to squeeze more out of every dollar you’ve spent, and – no surprises here – it’s our Geeks’ favorite car seat under $425.
The downlow: in rear-facing mode, this seat can carry children between 5 pounds and 50 pounds. In forward-facing mode, it can accommodate older infants and toddlers between 20 pounds and 65 pounds, and when switched to the booster mode, it supports older children up to 120 pounds. In theory, provided it isn’t damaged in a crash (fingers crossed), this seat should serve your children until they are ready to use your car’s own seats and seat belts.
The Rainier has been subjected to rigorous crash testing and meets federal safety standards. Its full steel frame prevents the seat from buckling or flexing in a collision while the 12-position adjustable head protection is designed to absorb high-velocity crash forces. Deep side walls help shield your child from potential side impact and provide a comfortable cavity to nestle your little one and encourage sleep.
Take note: this seat does not come equipped with recline functionality; however, it supports two-across seating and can be set up in the safest center-rear seat.
The Rainier’s cover is made from a high-quality, machine washable material that can be removed from the shell within seconds. We recommend drying the cover on the line, although it is safe to dry in a dryer.
Bottom line: this versatile all-in-one seat will give you years of use without breaking the bank.
Best Convertible Car Seats for 2 Year Olds
Britax Boulevard ClickTight Anti-Rebound Bar Convertible Car Seat
Estimated Price: $230 – $410
Your child may be older and stronger, but their bones are still developing and therefore are still vulnerable to the potential damage caused by extreme forces in a crash. Britax’s car seat is designed to put as many layers of protection between your child and the dangers of the road, employing innovative tech and doubling-down on proven safety features to give you peace of mind whether you’re on the school run or trekking across the country.
Capable of carrying children up to 65 pounds, this high-mileage car seat is a breeze to install. Featuring the company’s ClickConnect technology, securing the Boulevard is as easy as opening the front of the unit, buckling your vehicle’s safety strap across and clicking the seat shut. Customers have reported the installation taking just 11 seconds from start to finish.
Once the seat is in place, a handy spirit level built into the design helps you adjust the seat to the safest position for your little one, whether you’re using the Boulevard in the rear- or forward-facing mode. Another indicator on the harness lets you know exactly when your child is safely and snugly buckled in.
On the road, this seat’s two layers of side-impact protection will divert potentially lethal forces away from your child’s head and neck. The seat’s adjustable headrest can be set to 14 different positions to accommodate your growing child. It also features an anti-rebound bar designed to prevent the seat from rotating in a crash.
Bonus: a 10-year expiration date outstrips the competition, giving this seat added mileage and use if you plan to have more children. Bottom line: you won’t find a seat that’s easier to install or boasts as many safety features as the Boulevard. A must-have for any parent at this price point.
Evenflo Symphony Elite All-In-One Convertible Car Seat
Estimated Price $175 – $260
Evenflo promises that this is the “only car seat you’ll ever need.” The Symphony Elite is designed to carry your child from infancy to the final hours of adolescence. It transforms from a rear-facing infant car seat to forward-facing seat with booster capabilities. As a result, we’ve divided this review into three separate sections.
In its rear-facing mode, the Symphony Elite can carry infants from 5 to 40 pounds. It’s a cinch to install, taking just under 60 seconds to secure and position using the LATCH anchors.
But Evenflo hasn’t just simplified the setup. The seat’s infinite slide harness can be adjusted on the fly without having to rethread or reposition parts of the seat. It’s a feature that will pay dividends as your child grows, saving you time on every single trip. Switch the seat into a forward-facing position, and you now have a car seat that can carry your toddler up to a weight limit of 65 pounds.
In both rear- and forward-facing positions, the seat is equipped with three layers of side-impact protection, which the company claims reduces crash forces by up to 50%. An energy-absorbing foam liner throughout the seat’s shell provides added protection and comfort. The seat is well-padded and will both support and cushion your little one’s body.
Switching the Symphony Elite to its booster setting buys your child years of safety. Booster mode can carry children up to 110 pounds.
Bottom line: this versatile seat morphs with just a press of a button to keep your child safe and comfortable from day one, making it the best all in one car seat under $275.
Best Convertible Car Seats for 3 Year Olds
Graco Contender 65 Convertible Car Seat
Estimated Price: $125 – $170
Step into the ring, we have a real Contender. This seat has dominated the market for years, leaving its competitors in the dust with rock-solid safety features, convenient installation innovations and luxury additions that both you and your little one can appreciate.
Graco’s safety seat can carry infants up to 40 pounds in a rear-facing position and toddlers up to 65 pounds in a forward-facing position. As usual, our Geeks would like to remind you that you should take advantage of this seat’s generous rear-facing limits for as long as possible as your child will always be safer restrained facing the back of your vehicle.
Installation, whether you use the car’s seat belts or the lower LATCH strap, is a first-round knockout for the Contender. With an estimated installation time of under a minute, this seat is neck-in-neck with the speediest seats on this list.
The Contender may be fighting fit, but it isn’t a heavyweight. The convertible weighs in at just 24 pounds, which is a small blessing if you’re lugging this aircraft-certified seat around the airport or moving the unit between vehicles.
Graco’s seat is no slouch when it comes to safety. Not only does the seat meet, and often exceed, U.S. federal safety standards, but it also has undergone additional side-impact testing to ensure there is not even the smallest chance that your child can be flung from the Contender in a crash.
Bonus: the eight-position adjustable headrest slides to accommodate your growing toddler, ensuring that your child is snugly nestled safely in the seat’s shell at every age. Bottom line: there’s a reason why this seat has held onto the title as one of the best; it’s affordable but punches way above its price point. This is one of our best rated car seats under $180.
Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65 Convertible Car Seat
Estimated Price: $350 – $425
You and your child have survived the “terrible twos,” and now it’s time to see why three is a magic number. Your child will start to speak in full sentences, tell you stories, answer simple questions and say his or her own name.
It’s a rewarding time as a parent. Reward your child with the best comfort and safety money can buy.
The Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65 is an all-in-one car seat designed to carry your kid from infancy to late childhood. This seat can accommodate children up to 40 pounds in a rear-facing position, up to 65 pounds in a forward-facing position, and up to 100 pounds in booster mode.
In a rear-facing position, this seat features a removable infant lumbar cushion designed to support and envelope your newborn. The unit is equipped with thick and comfortable side-impact protection and is lined with energy-absorbing foam throughout the shell.
Our Geeks were impressed by the seat’s high-quality, five-point harness system, which can be tightened and relaxed with just one hand. However, the unit’s limited recline, which can only be set to one of three different positions, leaves a little to be desired.
Fortunately, the seat packs bonus comfort features such as armrests that can be rotated and stowed away, a removable cup holder that can be washed in the dishwasher, and a pillow for longer rides or the trip back from the park.
Bottom line: at just under $450, this extended-use seat provides years of safety without breaking the bank.
Best Convertible Car Seats for 4 Year Olds
2015 Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 Convertible Car Seat
Estimated Price: $220 – $250
The Pria 70 entered the market several years ago but is still one of the world’s top-selling car seats. It supports both rear-facing (up to 40 pounds) and forward-facing (up to 70 pounds) modes. Equipped with one-click LATCH installation and swift recline adjustment, installing and positioning the Pria 70 takes just a few minutes. Both the harness and headrest can be repositioned to accommodate your growing child.
The seat features advanced side-impact protection, employing Air Protect to create a safe buffer between your child and crash forces in a collision. And while this seat checks off every safety requirement you would expect, our Geeks were blown away by its smart and sensible comfort features.
The seat is covered in self-wicking fabric, which deodorizes and repels moisture. As a result, your child won’t be trapped in a padded sauna if you live in warmer parts of the country.
Plus, the seat’s cover – which is removed and reattached with a simple snap-on snap-off clip system – is machine washable and can be either dried on the line or in a dryer. This high level of convenience will save you precious minutes, which are far better spent with your little one at your destination.
The seat weighs just 19 pounds, making it lighter than most of the seats listed here. A lightweight seat is mandatory if you have more than one vehicle or often use taxis to get around the city. Bonus: it supports three-across seating, propelling this seat right to the top of the list for bigger families.
Bottom line: if you’re looking for a seat that is simple, sleek and safe, look no further than the Pria 70.
Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 Rachel Zoe Jet Set Special Edition
Estimated Price: $390 – $425
Car seats and fashion lines don’t often share the same runway. But Maxi-Cosi’s Pria 85, the brainchild of one of the world’s best car seat companies and one of America’s top fashion designers, is proof that your child’s safety can be both glamorous and guaranteed.
Merging premium cognac leather and eye-catching, hand-stitched detailing, this car seat mirrors the luxury interior of a classic car. But it’s more than just a looker; brimming under the surface, you’ll find the full arsenal of Maxi-Cosi’s proven safety features.
Designed to support extended seating, this seat raises the bar on the competition, carrying infants up to 40 pounds in a rear-facing position and toddlers up to 65 pounds in a forward-facing position. In both modes, the Pria 85 is equipped with bolstered side-impact protection, which employs Air Protect tech to expand the buffer between your kid and crash forces in a collision.
Air Protect is a modern safety innovation that helps reduce the potential danger of a collision by diverting crash forces away from your child’s head and neck. The forces are absorbed by the headrest instead. This air-release system is a massive departure from the foam-lining designs employed by most of the Pria 85’s competitors, and it has been shown to be far more effective at slowing down an impact.
The seat features one-hand harness height adjustment with multiple positions, enabling you to tailor the perfect fit for your little one. The result: improved safety and unparalleled comfort that accommodate your child at every age.
The Pria 85 packs a hefty price tag, but straight out of box it is clear that this seat is in a different class to the rest of the pack. Made from high-quality materials and equipped with convenient features you just won’t find anywhere else, this cover model car seat is worth every penny.
Themed Convertible Car Seats
Disney APT Convertible Car Seat
Estimated Price: $50 – $65
Parents often forget that while safety and convenience are king, your child needs to love his or her car seat as much as you do. Disney’s APT Convertible Car Seat aims to please both parties, combining great safety features and comfort with a kid-friendly aesthetic that will have your little one excited to travel safely from day one.
It takes less than a minute to install the car seat using LATCH anchors. Buckling in your little one is simplified by the front adjustable five-point harness, a must-have if you want to skip the stress of achieving a snug fit.
The APT Convertible supports both rear-facing and front-facing modes (up to 40 pounds). And while that weight maximum is mediocre when compared to many others, it’s important to remember that this seat weighs just 13 pounds and is designed be light and transportable during the most dependent stage of your child’s life.
However, this convertible hasn’t cut any corners. It features side-impact protection to shield your child’s neck and head from crash forces, and it is padded up with a thick foam lining that provides extra protection.
The seat is also equipped with two built-in cup holders. Bottom line: our Geeks loved this seat, and thanks to its color and design, your little one will love it even more.
Convertible Car Seat Tips
Always heed the expiration date.
In the U.S., federal safety standards do not require companies to limit the lifespan of a particular car seat. However, independent tests and those conducted by manufacturers have shown that expiration dates can save lives as they prevent the use of seats that may have degraded over time, are equipped with dated safety tech, or don’t meet the new safety standards set by authorities.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has even endorsed usage limits set by manufacturers. Typically, seats should not be used for longer than 10 years, but some companies suggest scrapping your seat as soon as six to eight years after the date you began using it.
Never buy a second-hand car seat.
You may be on a tight budget, but our Geeks suggest steering clear of the second-hand market. While a used seat may look like it’s in pristine condition, the naked eye cannot spot hairline fractures and structural faults that may have developed under the shell and will lead to catastrophic failure in a crash.
Your child should never wear bulky layers when restrained in a convertible car seat.
Even if the temperatures are dipping, remember that thick layers will compress under stress, causing the harness to slacken and leaving your child vulnerable to extreme forces in a crash. In many cases, infants bundled up in heavy layers have been flung from their convertible car seats on impact.
Instead, do this next time it’s cold: dress your little one in lightweight layers and buckle them in. To warm them up, spread a blanket over the seat and harness, and tuck the edges in on the sides of the seat. Alternatively, our Geeks recommend investing in specialized seat covers tailored to keep your infant both snug and safe.
LATCH has a catch.
Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH, is an attachment system for connecting your new car seat to your vehicle. It employs straps on the seat that connect to anchors in your vehicle. In most cases, a LATCH connection will be more secure than rigging up your car seat using the seat belt, but this is not always the case.
Experts suggest testing both methods to check which yields the tighter fit. Ensure that your seat does not pivot, seesaw, wobble, or tip over.
Car seats are built to fit most vehicles. But sometimes a seat just won’t suit your current setup. Brick and mortar stores will let you test to see if a seat will fit your car. However, you will save more money (and time) buying online through sites such as Amazon. Plus, most online retailers offer free and lightning-fast refunds and returns. Our Geeks recommend ordering a seat from this list of those reviewed above and then taking time to test if it fits your vehicles.
Not a good fit? No stress. Just return the seat and pick another.
Your car seat should never wobble.
Not sure you’ve installed your seat correctly? Remember this: once your convertible car seat is attached to the LATCH system in your vehicle (or via your car’s safety belt) and correctly positioned, it should not tip over, wobble, seesaw, or pivot.
If there is any sign of movement, consult the instruction manual included with your convertible car seat to double-check that you have followed each step word-for-word. Still no luck? Try attaching the seat using the safety belt rather than the LATCH anchors or vice versa.
If the seat is still wobbling, contact the manufacturer and explain what’s wrong. You may be required to purchase an adapter or additional parts to secure the seat to your car.
The front passenger seat is the most dangerous place in the car for your child.
It may be easier to tend to your little one’s demands when they’re sitting right by your side, but letting your child sit in the front passenger seat – whether they are using a car seat or not – puts them at greater risk of being injured or killed in a crash.
In fact, many states have laws prohibiting children from using the front seat. Why? In a head-on collision – the most dangerous type of crash – your child could be flung against the dashboard or even straight through the car’s windshield. Even the airbags can potentially kill your child, inflating with enough force to snap your child’s spine or damage their skull.
Always seat your child in the center rear seat of your car when possible.
The center rear seat of your car is the safest spot to install your new convertible car seat. While seating your child in any of the back seats as opposed to the front seat cuts his or her risk of injury or death in a crash by 30%, the left and right rear seats are still exposed to potential lethal side impact.
The center seat is situated as far as possible from every point of impact, whether it is from the front, back or side. Seating your child here will shield him or her from threat posed by a direct hit.
Keep your infant rear-facing for as long as possible.
Your infant, whose bones and connective tissue are still developing, is a vulnerable little creature. Even minor crash forces could lead to severe injuries or death. When your child is facing the front of the car in a head-on collision – both the most common and most dangerous type of crash – his or her torso is restrained, but his or her head and neck are at the mercy of extreme momentum.
The result: your child’s head is thrust forward, stretching the neck and putting immense strain on the spine. In a rear-facing seat, your child’s entire body, including the neck and head, are restrained in the safety of a padded cocoon.
Your child can switch to a front-facing seat at 2 years old; however, you shouldn’t be in a rush. Experts recommend keeping your child rear-facing until he or she outgrows the height or weight limits of the convertible car seat.
You don’t always need a tether.
This European invention comes bundled with most front-facing and convertible car seats. It is a strap fixed with a durable fastener and is used to stop forward-facing, convertible and booster car seats from tipping over in a crash.
You should always use a tether with your forward-facing car seat. However, you should never use a tether with your rear-facing car seat unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer in the accompanying instructions.
Everyone buckles up! Every. Single. Time.
Even the world’s best safety seat is worthless if your child isn’t buckled up. And because no car seat is escape-proof, you will need to enforce strict safety belt rules for everyone in your car.
Your goal: lead by example. Don’t turn the key in the ignition until everyone, including yourself, is buckled in. If your little Houdini manages to escape from their harness, bring the car to a safe stop and tell your child in a calm but firm voice that you will sit here and wait until he or she is back in the car seat before setting off again.
Switch seats to accommodate your growing child.
There are three types of car seats to choose from:
- Infant (or baby) car seats are rear-facing safety seats built to shield your little one from crash forces during the earliest stages of his or her life. These seats can carry children up to 2 years old, up to a maximum weight of around 35 pounds to 40 pounds, or up to a height limit of around 32 inches. Once your child has outgrown any of these limits, it’s time to switch to a rear-facing convertible car seat.
- Convertible car seats can transition between multiple modes such as rear-facing, forward-facing, and in some cases, high-back booster. The right convertible car seat can carry your child from infancy through late childhood. Just remember: it’s safer to keep your little one rear-facing for as long as possible.
- Booster seats are built to carry kids who are at least four years old and weigh over 40 pounds. These seats traditionally make use of the car’s regular seat belt, packing safety tech and comfort luxuries into the structure of the seat. Remember: you should only use a booster seat in a backless seat if your car’s own seats are equipped with adequate head support for your child.
Worry about the head, not the legs.
Don’t believe the myths; a child with longer legs isn’t at a higher risk of being hurt in an accident. Extensive studies and crash testing have revealed that children will naturally fold their legs into a more comfortable position when restrained in a rear-facing car seat.
However, there should always be at least 1 inch of space between the top of your little one’s head and the top of the headrest. Any room for movement, however slight, could have life-threatening consequences for your kid in a crash.
Our rule: double-check your child’s positioning every time you set off, and adjust the headrest accordingly.
How to Install a Convertible Car Seat
Ah, that new car seat smell! Unfortunately, the initial excitement is often short-lived, your hopes of having a stress-free afternoon dashed on the rocks of manuals and guides. No worries, we’re here to help you out:
- Understand your car. Was your car manufactured in the last decade? Good. Chances are it’s equipped with handy LATCH anchors and you can clip your seat in without a hitch. However, some cars, especially older ones, often don’t support modern car seats. You may need a special adapter or part. Read your car’s manual before, not after, you purchase a car seat to ensure it is compatible.
- Read the literature. Skip the guessing game and arm yourself with all the knowledge you need to install your new seat. Yep, you might think you’re a pro after setting up the last one, but each unit has its own snags that can leaving you cursing.
- Center it up. The center rear seat of your car is the safest spot in your vehicle. Bonus: it’s also the easiest spot to install your car seat.
- Attach the seat. Whether you’re using the LATCH anchors in your vehicle or just your car’s safety belt, ensure that your car seat doesn’t tip over, pivot, wobble, or seesaw once it’s been set in place. You may need to use a pool noodle to eradicate any movement.
- Adjust the seat. Your convertible car seat needs to be level in order to reduce the chance of your child’s head moving forward in a crash. Fortunately, most car seats come equipped with an indicator to track the seat’s position.
- Call in a technician. Once your seat has been set up, contact a trained technician to come assess your installation to ensure there are no safety hazards you have overlooked.