The Right Car Seat for your Forward Facing Child

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Our Facebook page and our Facebook group are home to many, many questions from caregivers. One of the most common questions is how to choose the right car seat. In many cases, the child in question is well over 2 years old and rides forward facing but is not yet ready for a booster.  Sometimes a great deal on a convertible car seat seems too good to be true and our users don’t want to pass up what seems like a great deal. The catch is that the convertible or multimode car seat on sale might not be the best value for a child who is already forward facing. That very common scenario begs the question: what type of car seat — convertible, multimode, or combination is best for this kiddo?

First, let’s define the types of seats that might be safe choices for this child:

Convertible Car Seats

Chicco Nextfit

Chicco Nextfit

Convertible car seats have 2 modes: rear facing and forward facing. This type of car seat can hold a rear facing child through toddler age, then a forward facing child in a harness through age 5 or even longer, depending on the seat model.

Multimode Car Seats

Graco Milestone

Graco Milestone

Multimode car seats are essentially convertible car seats with one or two extra modes: high back booster and, for some, backless booster as well.

Combination Car Seats

Britax Frontier

Britax Frontier

Combination car seats have 2 or 3 modes: forward facing with a harness, high back booster, and in some cases, backless booster. This type of seat tends to have higher harness slots than convertible or multimode seats and is longer lasting in booster mode. This type of seat does NOT rear face.

Now that we’ve defined the types of seats, let’s discuss the criteria we use to determine which seat is the right choice.

Overall Value

Many of the convertible seats we recommend can be used rear facing from birth and are not outgrown forward facing until the child is around 5 or 6 years old. That’s six years of use for the price! Purchasing the same seat for a 3.5 year old means half the lifespan for the same price. If price and value are the biggest concern, a convertible car seat isn’t the most cost-efficient choice.

However, there are a number of reasons families choose a convertible car seat for a child who rides forward facing. Let’s look at some of the most common reasons:

Graco Contender fit this 8 month old model well

Graco Contender fit this 8 month old model well

Graco Contender has plenty of room to grow for this model!

Graco Contender has plenty of room to grow for this model!

This model is 5 years, 4 months old, 45 pounds and 45 inches tall

Graco Contender: 5 years, 4 months old, 45 lbs and 45 inches tall

This model is 5 years, 10 months old, 49 inches tall and 52lbs

Graco Contender: 5 years, 10 months old, 52 lbs and 49 inches tall

Where will your purchase fall on the convertible car seat use timeline?

To use a metaphor familiar to those of us who grew up with network TV – buying a convertible car seat for a child who already rides forward facing means joining your car seat program already in progress.

In contrast, combination car seats can be used from the time a child is ready to ride forward facing until the child outgrows either the high back booster or the backless booster, depending on the modes available on that seat.  These harnessed car seats forward face only and can be converted to a booster for older kids.

Choosing a combination car seat for the same 3.5 year old mentioned earlier is like starting the car seat show at the very beginning and watching it all the way through. Or, if the television metaphor is too 20th century — you get far more use for your money buying a product that your child can use for the next six years.

Another Option: Multimode Car Seats

While multimode seats may seem to do better in the ‘value’ category than convertibles as they last longer, sometimes they are more expensive in the long run.  For example, the Graco Turbobooster retails at $50, and the Graco MySize retails at $180.  Put them together and you get the same functionality as a Graco 4ever… which retails for $300.   Before making a purchase, add up the cost of the individual components for any multimode car seat you consider.

Passing Down the Car Seat

If you have a baby who still fits safely in her rear facing only car seat, but your older child needs a new car seat, a convertible car seat for the older child may make sense.  A convertible car seat initially used by a forward facing child can be passed down to a younger sibling, and maybe again to a third child.  However, all car seats do have expiration dates. There is only a finite period of time in which one can pass down a car seat.


Maxi Cosi Pria 70 installed reclined forward facing for 22-40 lbs

The Maxi Cosi Pria 70 installed reclined forward facing for 22-40 lbs (top) and upright for over 40 lbs (bottom).

Some convertible and multimode car seats allow for a recline when installed forward facing.  Some common reasons children might benefit from a more reclined forward facing car seat are:

  • The child’s comfort
  • The child has outgrown her car seat in rear facing mode but has a medical condition that requires more recline


Graco Extend2Fit 5 years old forward facing

Graco Extend2Fit 5 years old forward facing

Convertible car seats tend to be more padded and shaped to the child’s body.  Some children do better with more padding in a seat, while others enjoy the upright and more rigid feeling that many combination seats provide. This model is forward facing in a Graco Extend2Fit comfortably at 5 years old. He is close to outgrowing this specific seat but there are plenty of taller harnessed seats available if he is not mature enough for a booster soon.

If a convertible car seat keeps your child happy and comfortable, it can be worth the extra cost for the right seat, even if it will be outgrown sooner rather than later.


Rolling a Graco Contender through the airport

Rolling a Graco Contender through the airport

Sometimes, money is not the deciding factor – the weight of the car seat is! Several convertible car seats are good lightweight options for travel, including the Graco Contender, the Evenflo SureRide, and the Cosco Scenera Next.

Overall Thoughts

If price is the most important concern, a combination car seat is usually the best value for a forward facing child.  But if that’s not the case, the right seat might be in another category. Evaluate the criteria above and then browse our recommended seat lists to find the right seat for your little!