Most of the time, we field questions from caregivers who have children in their care during in-person car seat and booster seat checks or via our Facebook Group. That proximity to the child helps us gather enough information to help those caregivers select the right car seat for their situation. But during busy travel and gift-giving seasons, we see a lot of questions from family members who are expecting young guests or from well-intentioned gift givers who’d like to give a car seat as a gift.
If this is you, we’ve got answers! Let’s start with the basics — how old is the child? How much does the child weigh? How tall is the child? That information can go a long way toward helping us help you find the right car seat. While not all car seats fit into every vehicle with ease, the car seats listed below are a good bet for a wide variety of vehicles and budgets.
Rear Facing Only Car Seats
Age range: Birth-roughly 1 year old
This type of car seat is also known as an infant car seat. It may be sold with a stroller — that’s called a travel system — or by itself. It will include a base, which is installed in the car while the carrier portion of the car seat can be lifted in and out of the car.
If you’re buying a seat for an infant, here are some options:
Summary: The Cosco Light ‘n Comfy DX has a weight limit of 22 pounds and a height limit of 29 inches tall so it’s not as long-lasting as some the other options we’ll mention here.
Pros: It’s very budget friendly and easy to install and use.
Cons: It may require a tightly rolled towel or pool noodle to achieve the proper recline angle.
Tip: Some rear adjust versions of the Cosco Light ‘n Comfy DX are still sold as part of a travel system. The front adjust model that we’ve linked here is significantly easier to use.
Pros: It’s easy to use and adjust as well as simple to install.
Cons: Some rear adjust versions of the SnugRide are still sold as part of a travel system. The front adjust model that we’ve linked here is significantly easier to use.
Summary: The SnugRide SnugLock 35 has a weight limit of 35 pounds and a height limit of 30 inches. The SnugLock base is stunningly easy to install. This seat is an excellent option for someone who has never installed a car seat before.
Pros:It’s easy to use and adjust as well as simple to install. The SnugLock base is among the easiest bases to install!
Cons: Higher price point than some others.
Summary: The Chicco KeyFit 30 has a weight limit of 30 pounds and a height limit of 30 inches tall. This well-loved seat is easy to install and use properly.
Pros: Installing the KeyFit with the vehicle seat belt or lower anchors is pretty simple.
Cons: The rethread harness must be manually adjusted as the child grows.
Tip: The bottom portion of the infant insert must be removed when the child weighs 11 pounds.
Convertible or Multimode Car Seats
Age range: Birth-6 years old
Convertible and multimode car seats have 2 or 3 modes. Convertible car seats have a rear facing mode and a forward facing mode, while multimode car seats have a rear facing mode, a forward facing mode, and convert to a transitional booster seat. We list the top forward facing harness height on this type of seat since that’s the most consistent indicator of when these seats are outgrown.
If you’re shopping for a toddler or preschooler, this is likely the type of seat they’ll need. We advocate that children ride rear facing until they’re roughly 4 years old so the seats we suggest here should allow for that in most cases.
Summary: The budget-friendly Evenflo Sonus convertible car seat has a rear facing weight limit of 40 pounds, and a rear facing height limit of 40 inches tall. Forward facing, the weight limit is 50 pounds with an 18 inch top harness slot.
Pros: It’s reasonably priced and will last most children until they’re ready for a booster seat. It installs without too much trouble using either the vehicle seat belt or lower anchors.
Cons: The Sonus has one recline angle for rear facing. This limit means that the Sonus take up a little more front-to-back space in the vehicle when installed rear facing than some other seats. The 50 pound weight limit is lower than most convertible and multimode car seats on the market but will last most average-sized children until they’re ready for a booster seat.
Summary: We’re big fans of the Contender. It’s a convertible car seat that rear faces to 40 pounds and 49 inches tall, then forward faces up to 65 pounds with a 17.5 inch top harness slot. One CSFTL model outgrew the Contender at 7 years old and 48 inches tall!
Pros: The Contender is easy to install with a vehicle seat belt and the no rethread harness makes it easy to adjust the harness to fit the child properly. It fits well in a lot of different vehicles. With a no rethread harness, the Contender is a nice option when more than one child shares the seat.
Cons: The lower anchors can be tricky to release when uninstalling the Contender. We tend to work around this by installing the Contender with the vehicle seat belt.
Summary: The multimode Safety 1st Grow and Go has a rear facing mode, a forward facing mode, and converts to a transitional booster seat. It has a rear facing weight limit of 40 pounds and 40 inches tall. The top harness height is 16.75 inches.
Pros: It installs fairly easily in most seating positions and fits most children well in all three modes as they grow or as other cousins come to visit. It can be installed fairly upright for older children who ride rear facing.
Cons: The seat’s weight limit indicates that it can accommodate a child who weighs up to 100 pounds in booster mode, but in almost every case the booster mode will be outgrown before the weight limit is reached.
Combination Car Seats
Age Range: Roughly 4-6 years old
This type of car seat is sometimes called a harnessed booster and has 2 or 3 modes: forward facing with a harness, high back booster, and — sometimes — backless booster. We list the top harness height on this type of seat since that’s the most consistent indicator of when these seats are outgrown.
Summary: The lightweight, budget-friendly Graco Atlas has a forward facing harnessed weight limit of 65 pounds with an 18.25 inch top harness slot. It converts to a high back booster and the harness stores conveniently on the seat.
Pros: It installs without too much struggle using the vehicle seat belt and top tether. It has an 18.25 inch top harness position so it’s long-lasting in harnessed mode. It’s quite lightweight so it’s a nice option for travel or moving between vehicles.
Cons: The lower anchors can be tricky to release when uninstalling the Atlas. We tend to work around this by installing the Atlas with the vehicle seat belt.
Summary: The Britax Frontier combination car seat is a forward facing harnessed seat with a 90 pound weight limit and a 20.5 inch top harness slot. It converts to a highback booster seat. The ClickTight installation system makes installing the Frontier quite easy.
Pros: The ClickTight installation is among the easiest type to use. This seat is an excellent option for someone who has never installed a car seat before.
Cons: Higher price point.
Age range: 5-12 years old
A booster seat helps position the vehicle seat belt across the strongest points of a child’s body. At CSFTL, we advocate that children be at least 5 years old before moving from a harnessed car seat to a booster seat. There are two types of boosters: high back and backless. Both of the options we suggest have a high back and a backless mode.
All booster seats are not created equal; some require head support behind the booster’s headrest, and some have lower anchors.
If a school-aged traveler is headed your way, a high back booster seat is often the best option.
Summary: The Evenflo Big Kid’s weight range is 40-110 pounds with a 19.5 inch top shoulder belt guide.
Pros: It’s a lightweight booster that offers a consistent vehicle seat belt fit and converts to a backless booster.
Cons: It doesn’t have a lot of extra padding. The seat’s width/shape make it a bit challenging for the child to buckle themselves in on recessed vehicle seats.
Summary: The Graco TurboBooster is a time-trusted budget-friendly booster. It has an extremely consistent belt fit, sets up without much fuss, and has two cupholders! This high back booster’s weight range is 40-100 pounds with a 19.25 inch top shoulder belt guide.
Pros: It’s a well-fitting booster seat that offers a consistent vehicle seat belt fit for most children and converts to a backless booster.
Cons: Wider children may not fit as well in the TurboBooster as other booster seats.
Tip: Some models of the TurboBooster require screws to be installed in the arm rests before use.
These car seats and booster seats are by no means the beginning or end of what’s available. But if you’ve got a visitor coming or you’d like to give the gift of car seats, hopefully these options will help you shop!
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