Babble Best Picks: Car SeatsThere might not be a more important baby product that you'll buy than a car seat. You can skimp on hand-me-down clothes, used toys or even second-hand strollers, but experts agree that car seats should be brand new - especially if you don't know the history of the particular car seat. There are two options for babies: First there's the standard infant car seat, which is fitted more securely for a baby and is also lighter and more maneuverable for parents. An infant car seat can easily transfer between multiple cars, as well as turn into a travel system by hooking onto a stroller or shopping cart. However, infant car seats only face backwards and have a relatively short weight and height capacity, meaning you'll need to buy a bigger car seat toward the end of your baby's first year. The second option is to just go with a convertible car seat from the jump, saving you money on the infant car seat and multiple car seat bases. Every convertible car seat that we tested can be used rear facing starting with newborns, although they generally don't have the best fit and features for the littlest ones. Convertible car seats are naturally much bigger and heavier than an infant car seat, and aren't as simple to move in and out of cars. Plus, you'll need multiple car seats for multiple cars, rather than just buying an inexpensive base (as with infant car seats). Yet once your baby hits around 30 lbs., a convertible car seat can last you until your child is 65-100 lbs., possibly making it the last car seat you'll buy. But with so many different features, manageability and price points, it can be hard to tell just which ones are the very best. So to give you a hand, we tested the most popular infant and convertible car seats to fit your lifestyle and budget.
BEST OVERALL CONVERTIBLE CAR SEAT | Safety 1st Complete Convertible Car Seat
You can easily see what sets the Safety 1st Complete Convertible Car Seat apart from the others just by looking at it: two air-filled pads protrude and frame either side of your baby’s head. Dorel Juvenile Group (owners of Safety 1st) teamed up with Kettering University’s Crash Safety Center to create this innovative side-impact technology, designed to not only cushion the blow, but also to transfer the energy of a crash away from your baby’s head with its unique air pockets. Since 1 in 3 fatal child car accidents are due to a side-impact collision – almost all of which involve head trauma – this is an appreciated effort.
At first we were concerned that the side shields would act as blinders for our little one, obstructing his view completely, but he’s been perfectly content after a year of using it (we personally bought this for our infant-turned-toddler). Plus, we have far less incidents of our son’s head slumping while he naps, as the comfy, air-filled pads also serve as pillows. This, combined with the light weight of the seat and the attention to safety details, and you have yourself the perfect car seat for frequent travelers – whether you’re taking road trips or checking in at the airport.
Besides the side-impact protection, one of the best features of the Safety 1st Complete Air is its longevity, as it can be used rear-facing from 5-40 lbs. and then forward-facing from 22-65 lbs. Plus, the head-restraint pads adjust easily up and down to accommodate taller babies, making it one of the longest lasting car seats in the bunch.
As for the more superficial, every day concerns, the car seat is easy to install, easy to clean and, most importantly, easy to adjust. You can adjust the strap heights without taking apart the entire seat (which we love), and the straps are very easy to tighten and loosen.
However, we wouldn’t recommend this car seat for small infants, as the side-impact cushions don’t fit quite as well around an infant’s head. But it’s perfect for bigger babies who outgrow their infant car seats and still need to face backwards. In fact, you can really face your child backwards past the two-year mark – which is technically the safest for your baby. Experts are now recommending that babies stay in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible, so the extended rear-facing capabilities simply add to the Safety 1st commitment.
Our only real complaint is that it’s a little more difficult to install in the rear-facing mode, only because we had to roll a towel and hoist it under the car seat for a better recline. (But that’s really splitting hairs.) Plus, it looks as though the newest models, like the Complete Air 65 LX, have a new 3-position recline, which we didn’t test.
Bottom line: This is a car seat we’d take on long road trips with peace of mind, thanks to its supreme safety features, comfort and ease of use. Plus, its narrower design and attractive price point make it a top pick.