If you’re in the market for a new car seat — whether it’s for an infant, a soon-to-be toddler, or a young kid — I put the newest, highest-rated car seats to the test. And while I’m not a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST), I consulted with local experts, did endless research, and tested seats on a variety of ages.
Read on for my favorite car seats for every age, lifestyle, and budget — PLUS sneak peeks at car seats soon to hit shelves:
TOP PICKS FOR INNOVATION 1 of 25The smartest problem-solving car seats that are reinventing the traditional car seat
Clek Foonf 2 of 25
Clek — well known for their popular booster seats — entered the car seat arena this year with their game-changing design inspired by luxury car engineering. And beyond all of the safety and convenience features, it has such a cool, sleek, modern look.
Age/Weight Limits: 14 to 50 LBS. (and up to 46") rear facing — making it the highest weight capacity in a rear-facing position I've seen — and 20 to 65 lbs. (and up to 49") forward facing.
Best for: Parents looking for the latest safety innovations, an impressive rear-facing capability, and/or a car seat to last as long as possible. It's also a good option for parents who need to fit three car seats in the back seat, considering the Foonf is, at most, 17-inches wide.
Not best for: Parents on a tight budget. Also: anyone looking for an infant car seat from birth. (The Foonf is suitable starting around 6 months.)
Key features: Clek's REACT (Rapid Energy-Absorbing Crumple Technology) safety system uses the "crumple zone" protection found in cars — which absorbs energy from a forward-facing collision — in their car seat design. The Foonf's crumple zone system does the same thing: reducing collision forces by up to 40% in a forward-facing crash. Yet even with this revolutionary safety feature, the safest position for children is still rear-facing — which is why the Foonf has one of the longest-lasting rear-facing capabilities (up to 45 lbs.), an anti-rebound bar (to stabilize and protect your rear-facing baby), energy-absorbing foam layers (for side-impact protection), and a reinforced structure made from steel and magnesium.
While the safety features give peace of mind, as a parent, it's the practical features that sold me. The Foonf is incredibly easy and quick to install, and it has easy-to-clean fabrics. They also added magnets to the sides of the car seat so that the buckles and harnesses stay open when you're putting in your baby — which is genius. I also really appreciate the fact that Clek offers a recycling program, limiting the amount of baby gear tossed into landfills. It can also be used on airplanes.
Buy from giggle, $450
Orbit Baby Toddler 3 of 25
Orbit Baby's convertible car seat is one of the most innovative on the market. Not only does it have key installation, safety, and user-friendly features, but it's the only convertible car seat that can be clicked in and out from the car to the stroller — just like an infant car seat.
Age/Weight Limits: 15 to 35 lbs. (rear-facing) and 25 to 65 lbs. (forward-facing).
Best for: Parents who use the Orbit Baby system, and anyone looking for the most eco-conscious buying choices.
Not best for: Parents looking to keep their child rear-facing for as long as possible, considering the weight limit is a good 5 10 lb. less than other convertible car seats. That being said, most children should be able to stay rear-facing in the Orbit Baby Toddler for a good 2 years, which is the recommended age span.
Key features: There are three main features that are completely unique to Orbit Baby: 1) The ability to dock the toddler car seat into the stroller, making it into a travel system; 2) The brilliant "back-saving rotation," which spins the rear-facing car seat around to easily get kids in and out; and 3) non-toxic fabrics on a recyclable frame.
Beyond those stand-out features, Orbit Baby has used plenty of side-impact protection — although it doesn't feel quite as hefty as, say, a Britax.
Buy from giggle, $380
Diono RadianRXT 4 of 25
Diono — formerly known as Sunshine Kids — is revolutionary in that it transforms from an infant seat to a convertible seat, and then finally into a booster seat, with no added conversion kits. Unlike most baby gear purchases, this is a safety investment that lasts. Plus, it folds flat!
Age/Weight Limits: An impressive 5 to 120 lbs.: up to 45 lbs. rear facing, up to 80 lbs. as a convertible forward-facing seat, and up to 120 lbs. as a booster seat.
Best for: Parents looking for one car seat to last from beginning to end of the car-seat years. It's also best for traveling, and for fitting three car seats in the back seat.
Not best for: As an infant car seat, the Diono isn't best for parents looking for a travel system.
Key features: The best features of the Radian RXT — besides the fact that it transforms into a booster seat — is that it 1) has a LATCH installation up to 80 lbs. (which is practically unheard of); 2) it's only 17-inches wide, so you can fit three car seats across; and 3) it folds flat for travel and storage.
As far as safety, the Radian RXT has an energy-absorbing harness and foam panels, reinforced head support, and a heavy steel alloy frame with aluminum reinforcements. And like the Britax, this car seat has a rear-facing tether (for more stability) and rubber bottom grips (for easier installation and upholstery protection). Also cool: It comes with a cup holder — hallelujah — and you can add up to four cup holders (on the new 2012 model).
Note: Diono has a Radian R100 model for a lower price point, and the only real difference is that it has a slightly lower weight limit — up to 40 lbs. rear facing, up to 65 lbs. forward facing, and up to 100 pounds as a booster. Yet you'll clearly be able to get plenty of use, up to 100 lbs.!
Buy from Diapers.com, $210 - $272
Safety 1st Go Hybrid 5 of 25
If you can use your infant car seat for the recommended two years (such as with the Graco Click Connect 40), this might be a smart buy — considering you'll never have to buy another car seat or booster.
Age/Weight Limits: 22 65 lbs. (up to 52") as a forward-facing car seat; 40 100 lbs. (up to 57") as a backless booster.
Best for: On-the-go families and/or parents looking for a forward-facing toddler seat that eventually transforms into a booster. It's also a smart option for part-time caregivers, frequent taxi riders, and frequent travelers.
Not best for: Infants and rear-facing toddlers. The Go Hybrid is designed as a forward-facing car seat for kids age 1 and over, although the AAP recommends rear facing until age 2. It's also not the easiest installation without the LATCH system.
Key features: For a big-kid car seat, it's not too heavy (around 10 lbs.), and it's nice and portable for frequent travelers. It also has an impressively generous weight and height limit, ensuring that this is the only car seat you'll have to buy after the infant stage. Keep in mind, however, that it's not FAA approved for airplane use (although kids 2+ don't really need a car seat on an airplane — especially when you can use a CARES harness). It's also a more affordable option, under $200.
Buy from Amazon, $169.99
TOP NEW CAR SEATS 6 of 25The newest car seats getting buzz right now
Britax 3G 7 of 25
Britax recently released a new generation of even safer 3G car seats, from the Marathon ($289.99) up to the Boulevard ($379.99).
Age/Weight Limits: 5 to 40 lbs. rear facing, and up to 70 lbs. and 49".
Best for: Parents willing to splurge on a seat.
Not best for: Parents on a tight budget.
Key features: Across the board, the new Britax 3G improvements include SafeCell Technology built into the harnesses (in addition to the SafeCell technology built into the seat, which absorbs energy and prevents kids from flying forward in a crash), as well as a new EZ-Buckle System (which prevents kids from sitting on the buckle — which, we all know, is an annoying part of the car seat process).
And as always, the side-impact protection improves as the price increases, although all Britax car seats are lined with energy-absorbing EEP foam for side-impact protection, plus more built-in safety features. Britax seats are also some of the easiest to adjust and securely install thanks to their push-button LATCH connectors and easy-to-adjust, no-rethread harness.
See the entire Britax 3G line
Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 8 of 25
Graco's newest car seat has the highest weight limit of any infant car seat — designed for the first full two years.
Age/Weight Limits: 4 to 40 lbs. and 40"
Not best for: Parents who use travel systems, unless you choose a Graco Click Connect stroller.
Key features: Although I haven't tested this new seat just yet, the features look promising: a one-handed, no-rethread harness and headrest adjustment, an adjustable base for growing toddlers, 8 recline positions, and energy-absorbing foam. And although it's a little on the heavy side, it's still a manageable 9 lbs.
Buy from Babies R Us, $219.99
Maxi-Cosi Prezi 9 of 25
Maxi-Cosi's newest infant car seat is sleeker and safer than ever.
Age/Weight Limits: 4 30 lbs., up to 29".
Best for: The stylish parent who wants her gear to look good. (Although I haven't seen it in person yet, it has the same modern design and vibrant colors as the Cybex Aton — which is also Maxi-Cosi compatible.)
Not best for: Parents looking for a travel system outside of Quinny or Maxi-Cosi. It's also not best for bigger-than-average babies, considering the Prezi has a shorter-than-average height limit.
Key features: The Prezi features new G-Cell HX technology (a rebounding foam in hexagonal shapes) and Air Protect side-impact protection, with a built-in rebound bar for added protection in front and back collisions. It also has an "easy-out harness" so parents won't have to dig out the harness straps from underneath their baby, and a 5-position no-thread headrest and 5-position adjustable base.
Plus it comes in six gorgeous colors, including Envious Red, Courageous Green, and Passionate Pink.
Buy from Amazon, $289.99
UPPAbaby Mesa (SPRING 2013) 10 of 25
UPPAbaby — one of my all-time favorite, best-value stroller companies — made a huge announcement at a recent trade show: They're introducing a car seat, set to hit shelves in March 2013. So if you're expecting a Spring baby, keep this travel system in mind.
Key features include side-impact protection, a no-rethread harness, one-push seat release, an SPF 50+ canopy, and little pockets for the harness buckles to A) keep them cool from the scolding sun, and B) keep them out of the way when you're plopping Baby into the seat. The coolest feature, in my opinion, is its innovative SMARTSECURE System, which is the easiest, fastest installation method I've ever seen. That, and this car seat works as a travel system with UPPA's popular Vista and Cruz strollers without any additional adapters.
The car seat is expected to retail for $279.99 through UPPAbaby
Chicco NextFit (SPRING 2013) 11 of 25
Although this won't be available until Spring 2013, this is a huge release for Chicco. After so many accolades for their Keyfit30 infant seat, Chicco is finally coming out with a convertible car seat!
Notable features include one-handed headrest and harness adjustments, 9 recline positions, an innovative SuperCinch LATCH system, and EPS foam for side-impact protection. It also has a high weight limit — up to 40 lbs. rear facing, and up to 65 lbs. forward facing.
If their convertible seat is as good as their infant, this might be one to wait for. The NextFit is expected to retail for $279.99 through Chicco
TOP PICKS FOR TRAVEL SYSTEMS 12 of 25My favorite seats for infants
Cybex Aton 13 of 25
When you're looking for an infant travel system, you're most likely looking for a recognizable stroller/car seat brand like Chicco, Graco, and Evenflo. A brand that will be easy to match a stroller and car seat together — and how many strollers are compatible with a Cybex infant car seat? Turns out, a lot. The Cybex Aton is compatible with any Maxi-Cosi stroller adaptor — so with a little research, you can find a top-notch stroller (like, say, Bugaboo, UPPAbaby, Quinny, etc.) to go with your top-notch car seat.
Age/Weight Limits: 4 32 lbs. or 30"
Best for: Families looking for the safest yet easiest car seat to use — and one that looks good, to boot. It's also one of the very best options for cars without a LATCH system, or for installing in a taxi without the base.
Not best for: Families on a tight budget.
Key features: First of all, this might just be the best-looking infant car seat ever — from its sleek shape to the multi-colored options. It's also one of the most praised infant car seats to ever hit shelves, from parents and CPS techs alike. It's lightweight at 8 lbs. (hooray!), has an impressive 32-lb. weight limit (double hooray!), and the installation? So, so smart. Out of all the car seats I've ever tested, this was the easiest, snuggest base to install with a LATCH — plus we were able to get a firm install without even using the base (which is a must for urban public-transportation-using parents). And besides being compatible with Maxi-Cosi stroller adaptors, I should also mention that Cybex has a fantastic line of lightweight strollers.
Buy from Pish Posh Baby, $249.95
Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat 14 of 25
The Chicco KeyFit 30 is one of the most recommended car seats for infants — and it's the one that I chose for my baby.
Age/Weight Limits: Birth 30 lbs. or 30"
Best for: Anyone concerned about safety, considering Chicco has one of the best safety records in the car seat industry. It's also good for bigger-than-average infants, as it has a nice weight span for an infant seat.
Not best for: Those using an incompatible stroller — although most strollers have a car seat attachment for Chicco.
Key features: One of my personal favorite aspects of the Chicco KeyFit 30 is that it's incredibly easy to install and use — no difficult buckles or tricky installation issues. It's also a manageable weight to carry without feeling flimsy (9 lbs.), which is a huge issue for parents, because you're always carrying the car seat in and out of the car.
Chicco stroller + car seat travel system combos run from $299.99 to $349.99.
Buy from Babies R Us, $170
Orbit Baby Infant 15 of 25
The reason the Orbit Baby Infant car seat makes one of the best travel systems is because, not only does it have parent-friendly features, but the Orbit Baby Toddler car seat can be used as part of the travel system as well. The companion stroller is also one of the most coveted strollers on the market, making it a fantastic all-around package.
Age/Weight Limits: 4 to 30 lbs. — which is a higher weight limit than many other infant car seats.
Best for: Parents using the Orbit Baby stroller.
Not best for: Parents not using the Orbit Baby system. It's on the heavy side for an infant seat (10 lbs.) and it's not compatible with any other stroller system besides Orbit Baby. It's also one of the most expensive infant car seats out there.
Key features: Just like the innovative Orbit Baby Toddler car seat, the infant version features a 360-degree swivel, meaning you can dock the car seat at any angle, easily strap in your baby, and then just spin the seat around. (Genius, genius, genius.) It also has the non-toxic, Oeko-Tex Standard 100 fabrics and foam that make the entire Orbit Baby stroller system so attractive for chemical-conscious parents.
Buy from giggle, $440
You can buy the entire Travel Collection for $1,170
Britax Chaperone 16 of 25
Britax is consistently a top choice for parents looking for a safe, trusted car seat brand.
Age/Weight Limits: 4 to 34 lbs., up to 32".
Best for: Bigger cars and bigger budgets.
Not best for: Budget-conscious parents. If you're going to spring for a Britax, your money might be better spend on a Britax convertible car seat, considering you'll get much more use out of it. It's also not best for extra compact cars, or for parents who are constantly carrying around the car seat. At a hefty 10 lbs., this isn't exactly lightweight.
Key features: I'm a big fan of Britax — from their strollers to their car seats. I actually use the Britax Advocate for my forward-facing toddler, and I can't sing their praises enough. Some of my favorite features of the infant seat includes: Their safety record — for one — including an anti-rebound bar for front and back collisions; their no re-thread harness (meaning you can quickly adjust the car seat for your growing baby without taking the entire thing apart); their push-button LATCH connectors — which makes life so much easier; and their generous weight and height capacity. I especially like that the Britax Chaperone is available as a travel system with one of my all-time favorite strollers: the Britax B-Agile. Rather than choosing a travel system with a stroller that you sort of like, you'll be thankful for the maneuverable, easy-to-use, long-lasting B-Agile. You can buy the travel system set for $349.99.
Buy from Babies R Us, $195.99
Graco Snugride 35 17 of 25
We'd be remiss if we didn't include Graco in the Best Travel System category, considering Graco is one of the most common stroller adaptors for all types of strollers — from joggers to umbrella strollers, Graco to non-Graco.
Age/Weight Limits: 4 35 lbs. or 32" (impressive!)
Best for: It's obviously best for parents using a Graco stroller system — or parents looking for a car seat that's widely adaptable to most non-Graco strollers. Options! You want options!
Not best for: Those using a competitor stroller system, like Chicco or Evenflo. But that's a no brainer. Also: If you're on a tight budget and would rather buy a Graco stroller + car seat combo ($179.99 - $299.99), , they only include the Snugride 30 (which holds up to 30 lbs., not 35).
Key features: Well, first of all, if you're debating about which Snugride to buy for your baby, the Graco 35 has A) A higher weight and height capacity than most car seats — both Graco and non-Graco, B) a more comprehensive stroller adaptability, and C) Did we mention the higher weight capacity?
While Graco recently released a new car seat that's usable up to a whopping 40 lbs., the Graco 35 is a compatible with more strollers — making it a better travel-system option. And most toddlers will be able to stay in the Graco 35 for a good two years anyway.
Buy from Babies R Us, $154.99
BOB B-Safe 18 of 25
This just might be my favorite travel-system collaboration ever: The Britax B-Safe Infant Car Seat + BOB Jogging Stroller
Age/Weight Limits: 4 to 30 lbs., up to 32"
Best for: Outdoorsy families who love their BOB stroller.
Not best for: Compact cars. Although the B-Safe has a slightly shorter depth than Britax's Chaperone (27.5" vs. 30"), it still takes up a good chunk of space, even in an ordinary sedan.
Key features: For anyone thinking about getting a jogging stroller (or even just a maneuverable all-terrain stroller), BOB is at the top of its class. And now Britax offers coordinating car seats to match your BOB, with the same features of the classic B-Safe.
Although the Britax Chaperone has better head-restraint protection for side-impact collisions, as well as the anti-rebound bar, the B-Safe is slightly lighter weight. And they're designed with similar safety measures and ease-of-use features. Also, the BOB B-Safe might be a better option for those with multiple strollers, considering it's compatible with both the BOB and the entire Britax B-Series of strollers.
Buy from REI, $199
MOST BUDGET-FRIENDLY 19 of 25The safest car seats under $150
Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Infant Seat 20 of 25
The best infant car seat for the least amount of money.
Age/Weight Limits: 5 35 lbs., up to 29"
Best for: A Quinny or Safety 1st travel system.
Not best for: Travel system users beyond Safety 1st or Quinny, considering it's not the most adaptable to other types of strollers. It's also not the best fit for shallow back seats, as it requires more room to install.
Key features: Considering it costs less than $100, the Safety 1st OnBoard is known to have high safety ratings across the board — which is the #1 concern with car seats. But expect to sacrifice some user-friendliness for the lower price — namely its heavier weight and trickier installation, although neither is unbearable or impossible. The only real drawback, in my opinion, is the shorter height capacity, which toddlers will outgrow before the 35-lb. weight limit — often within the first year. That being said, saving so much on an infant car seat might enable you to spend more on a convertible car seat, which can be used rear-facing for the recommended 2 years, and which you'll have to buy soon enough anyway.
Another reason why it's a great budget pick: You can get an OnBoard 35 car seat + a travel system stroller for only $199.99. (It's not the best stroller in the world, but it will make do if you're tight on funds.) You can also find a Safety 1st Snap â€˜N Go for only $62.
If you're willing to spend a little more, you can get the newer OnBoard 35 AIR for under $145 — which has pillow-like inserts for better side-impact protection, and it has an extended height limit of 32".
Buy from Amazon, $89
Evenflo Embrace 35 21 of 25
Besides having a car seat that costs under $90, you can buy the entire travel system — in their new fashion collection, Crayon Scribbles — for only $149, making it a fantastic budget choice.
Age/Weight Limits: 4 to 35 lbs., up to 30"
Best for: Parents looking for the most affordable travel system that's safety tested and trusted. It's also a good, affordable option for preemies.
Not best for: Longevity. It's also not best for cars without a LATCH system, and it's not best for grandparents who might have difficulty with a hard-to-press buckle. (My mother had trouble snapping and unsnapping the buckle.)
Key features: Weighing in at a mere 7 lbs., this car seat is wonderfully lightweight for parents to carry. And although there's not a lot of heft to the seat, its energy-absorbing foam gives it the side-impact protection that you want, and it feels surprisingly sturdy. On the negative side, the buckles and harness require a little more pressure to snap on and off, and the canopy isn't the best.
Buy the entire set for $149
Britax Roundabout 55 Convertible Car Seat 22 of 25
There's no question that Britax makes the most trusted car seats on the market — but they're also expensive. Like, over $300 expensive. But luckily their Roundabout is at a more affordable price point for those on a budget, although they don't have quite the longevity of their pricier counterparts.
Age/Weight Limits: 5 to 40 lbs. rear facing, and up to 55 lbs. and 46" forward facing.
Best for: Parents looking for a Britax that they can afford. It's also a better Britax option for compact cars.
Not best for: Small infants, although Britax separately sells an Infant Positioning Insert. It's also not best for longevity, considering all other Britax models can be used up to 70 lbs. and 49", rather than 55 lbs. and 46". It also doesn't have as much side-impact protection as the others — although it is lined with energy-absorbing EEP foam.
Key features: Easy installation — including press-button LATCH connectors, and built-in Lock-Offs for seatbelt installation without the LATCH. And although it doesn't have the heavy-duty side-impact technology found in other Britax models, it still has major safety features — like an energy-absorbing tether and built-in steel bars to prevent the seat from moving forward in a crash, as well as their much-praised SafeCell Technology, which also helps prevent the seat from propelling forward in an accident.
Buy from Amazon, $149.99
Safety 1st Guide 65 23 of 25
A compact, long-lasting convertible car seat that costs under $100? Yes, please.
Age/Weight Limits: 5 40 lbs. rear facing, and 22 -65 lbs. forward facing (up to 52")
Best for: Smaller cars and budget-conscious families. It's also a smart pick as a second car seat for part-time caregivers.
Not best for: Parents who like the bells and whistles.
Key features: For a budget car seat, it sure has plenty of cushiony padding to keep kids comfortable, and I especially like that it comes with a removable cup holder. Like most of these under-$100 options, you do sacrifice some of the bells and whistles for affordability, but it's still a safe car seat with an impressive weight and height capcity — which is really what's important.
Buy from Walmart, $79
Safety 1st Complete Air 65 Protect Convertible Car Seat 24 of 25
If your budget ceiling is the $150 mark, this is one of my favorite toddler car seats across the board. It costs the same as the Britax Roundabout, except it has a higher weight capacity (65 lbs. vs. 55 lbs.) — although relatively the same height limits — with better side-impact protection.
Age/Weight Limits: 5 to 40 lbs. rear facing, and 22 to 65 lbs. forward facing.
Best for: A long-lasting car seat with trusted side-impact protection. It's also one of my favorite options for car nappers, as the air-filled side-impact headrest serves as comfy pillows — meaning less head slumping.
Not best for: Although it can accommodate infants as small as 5 lbs. without an extra insert, it's still not the best fit for itty-bitty newborns, considering the side-impact cushions don't fit as well.
Key features: The car seat's Air Protect Side Impact Technology cushions baby's head, as well as easily adjusts for a growing toddler. The buckles are easy to get on an off (although they tend to tangle more than the Britax — or maybe that's just me), and it even comes with a removable cup holder.
Buy from Amazon, $149.99
Which Is Your Favorite? 25 of 25Do you have a car seat you love? Something you'd like to recommend? Leave a comment below and let us know!
In my extensive car seat research, I also came across these important tips:
- It’s always best to buy car seats new, because it’s impossible to know whether a seat has been in an accident (which compromises its safety), and there’s a chance that it could have been recalled. (Read on for 4 more Car Seat Buying Tips.)
- Car seats are not one-size-fits-all — it can depend on the size of your back seat. Always keep your receipt.
- The AAP now recommends that toddlers stay in a rear-facing car seat for the first 2 years, or as long as possible. Luckily car seat manufacturers have stepped up by making rear-facing car seats with higher weight and height capacities.
- Parents might be tempted to turn the car seat around because their baby’s legs seem squished. You actually don’t have to turn the seat around until your baby’s head is 1 inch from the top of the car seat — and leg space hasn’t been shown to have any bearing on comfort or safety. Remember: The safest position for your child is facing the rear, so it’s important to keep it that way for as long as you can. (See the Top 10 Car Seat Mistakes.)
- Always, always, always have your car seat installation checked by a local child passenger safety technician (CPST), which you can typically find by calling your local fire station.
- For expert advice on installation, check out The Car Seat Lady.
Read more of Michelle’s writing at Early Mama.
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