Best Car Seats - SafeWise Buyer’s Guide

The top booster and car seats of 2017

Your kids are undoubtedly your most precious cargo. Are you confident that their car seats are keeping them safe? In 2013, 638 children under the age of 12 died in car crashes and more than 127,250 children were hurt. Of those who died, 38% weren’t buckled up in any way. We don’t mean to scare you, just to demonstrate the importance of properly restraining your child, toddler, or infant while they’re in the car. That’s why we’ve compiled important car seat safety information and the securest car seats on the market. Give this resource a read to ensure that your kids are the safest they can be while riding in the car.

Car Seat and Booster Seat Regulations

Car seats can prevent your baby, toddler, and kid from being injured in a car accident. Car seats aren’t just recommended, they’re mandated by law. Every state has slightly different regulations, but all require child restraints and certain car seat models at different phases of life. For instance, most require children under the age of two to be buckled into rear-facing car seats while not all states require booster seats once your child is older. Find out more about your state’s specific laws to make sure your seat complies and you’re doing all you can to keep your child safe.

Car Seats Types

All car seats are designed based on age and height. Here are the main types of car seats you can purchase and who they best protect:

Rear-Facing Car Seat (For newborn to 2-years olds)

These car seats are buckled into the back seat of your car and face backwards. They’re meant for newborn to two-year old children. While some professionals say rear-facing car seats can be upgraded to front-facing seats when a child turns one, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping your child in a rear-facing seat until they are two.

Scientifically, this is because of the way a baby’s body is formed. Unlike adults, babies carry most of their body weight in their spines due to the heft of their heads. Adults carry 6% of their body weight in their heads while a nine-month old carries about 25%. In a front facing car seat, children under one are 1.79 times more likely to get a serious injury than those in rear-facing models. For kids between one and two years-old, the odds were 5.32 times higher for serious injury.

When you get into a car accident, your body moves toward the impact site. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your neck and spine. Babies, who have fragile spines, are better protected during accidents if their weight moves backwards. Instead of having the force course through your baby’s body, the shock is more evenly spread out on the car seat—better protecting their delicate frames.

Front-Facing Car Seats

Once your child turns two, it’ll be time to change them over to a front-facing car seat (unless they’re small for their age and under 40 pounds). By this stage, your child will be very alert, talking, and wanting to view the world around them. You’ll also be able to see your child better if they’re playing with anything in the car.

Booster Car Seats

Booster seats are designed to raise your child up to safe seat belt height. The CDC says that booster seats are 45% more effective in reducing risk of serious injury in kids 4-8 than seat belts alone. You can purchase booster seats that are backless, convertible, or have high backs for more support and passing. You can choose what’s right for your child, but you’ll mostly likely need to pick something because they’re mandatory in 48 states and all U.S. territories except South Dakota and Florida.

Seat Belts

These obviously come standard with your car and aren’t something you need to purchase. However, once your child is at least 4 feet 9 inches and between 8 and 10 (some kids are smaller or larger for their age, so this could vary slightly), they should be ready to graduate to a seat belt. Important questions to ask when you get to this stage are:

  • Does my kid’s back rest on the back of the seat?
  • Do my kids knees bend at the seat edge?
  • Does the seat belt rest comfortably across his/her lap?
  • Does the shoulder strap rest on his/her chest?
  • Can my kid stay seated while buckled for an entire car ride?

If your answers are “yes” to all of these questions, they’re your child is probably ready for a seat belt. Since seat belts save over 13,000 lives each year, it’s an important final safety regimen to maintain for the rest of your child’s life.

Car Seat and Booster Seat Features

Not every car seat is the same. With most every model, you’ll find different features that will impact your convenience, budget, and most importantly, the safety of your child. Here are some features you should look for in a car seat:

All-In-One

These models can do it all—transitioning from a rear-facing car seat for infants, to a front-facing seat for toddlers, to booster seats for young kids.

Convertible

Convertible car seats are multi-functioning, but don’t normally include functions for children of every age. One may work as a front and rear-facing car seat, and another may transform from a front-facing car seat to a booster seat.

5-Point Harness

Front-facing car seats normally come with a 5-point harness system. They clip in at both shoulders, hips, and the crotch. The point of this system is to reduce the risk of your child slipping out of his/her seat.

Twist-Free Straps

Wide straps are best for keeping your child restrained and comfortable. Twist-free straps guarantee that they won’t get tangled and cause harm or discomfort to your child.

Multiclip Chest Straps

Most car seats come with a chest clip, but they’re not something that’s mandated by law in America. They help secure your child in their car seat and keep straps from moving around.

Built-In Lock Clips

Lock clips keep your kid’s car seat from tipping over. Instead of selling a separate piece of metal, now most car seats include these locks within the seat itself so they’re easier to install.

LATCH System

This stands for “lower anchors and tethers for children.” All cars since 2002 have been mandated by federal law to include these systems. For cars that don’t have it, car seat companies offer LATCH System kits. They’re designed to better secure front and rear-facing car seats. They eliminate the need to use a car’s seat belts to anchor a car seat and give greater stability to a car seat.

Impact Protection

About 40% of all car accident deaths of children under 8 are caused by side collisions. Impact protection uses EPS foam (types used in helmets) to add extra cushion around your child’s head.

Wings

This design enhances the safety of your child’s head during crashes. While wings help keep your kid’s head upright, they also provide cushion in case of a collision.

Recline

This feature is mostly used in rear-facing car seats since it can be dangerous in front-facing models. It gives your child more comfort for sleeping.

Car Seats

Based on all safety features and types of car seats, we found the best rear-facing, front-facing, booster seats, and multi-functional models on today’s market. Determine which car seat is best for your family by checking out the information below.

Best Car Seats

Model

Price

Type

Features

Pros

Cons

Britax Marathon G4.1 Convertible Car Seat

Read Review

Type

Convertible: rear-facing to front-facing

For kids 5-60 pounds

Features

10-point harness

2-point buckle

Enhanced impact protection

LATCH compatibility

Pros

Both rear and front-facing capabilities

10-point harness

Popular

Unique Impact Protection

Cons

Expensive

No booster seat

Graco SmartSeat All-in-One Car Seat

Read Review

Type

All-In-One

Reclining

For kids 5-100 pounds

Features

Recline

5-point harness

6-point headrest

5-point recline

Impact protection

Pros

All-In-One

Great Reviews/Accolades

Reclining

Impact protection

Cons

Expensive

Orbit Baby G3 Toddler Convertible Car Seat

Read Review

Type

Front-facing

Convertible with stroller

For kids 15-65 pounds

Features

5-point harness

Convertible

Impact Protection

Pros

Convertible

Highly Rated

360 degree rotation

Cons

Very Expensive

Only front-facing in car

Graco Nautilus 65 LX 3-in-1 Harness Booster

Read Review

Type

Convertible: front-facing to backless booster

For kids 22-120 pounds

Features

5-point harness

Convertible

Reclining

Pros

Reclines

Converts in 3 ways

Affordable

Cons

No rear-facing capability

Evenflo Chase LX Harnessed Booster

Read Review

Type

Front-facing and booster

For kids 20-110 pounds

Features

5-point harness

2-point crotch clip

Removable pillow-washable seating

Pros

Washable/removeable parts

Affordable

Works for kids 22-110 pounds

Cons

Less harness positions than others

No rear-facing capability

Britax Fontier Clicktight Car Seat

Read Review

Type

Front-facing and booster

For kids 25-120 pounds

Features

9-position harness

2-position buckle

Convertible: Front-facing to booster

Pros

Large weight range

Lots of buckling positions

Ultimate Impact protections

Top Rated

Cons

Expensive

No rear-facing capability

Graco Backless TurboBooster Car Seat

Read Review

Type

Backless booster

For kids 40-100 pounds

Features

Backless booster seat

Pros

Very cheap

Exceeds Safety Standards

Large weight range

Comfortable

Cons

No rear-facing or front-facing capabilities

No home automation

Disney Store Go Backless Booster Car Seat

Read Review

Type

Backless booster

For kids 40-100 pounds

Features

Backless booster seat

Pros

Cheap

Stylish

Low profile

Cons

Limited weight range

Not known for safety products

One function

No crash test ratings

Safety 1st Go Backless Booster Car Seat

Read Review

Type

Backless booster

For kids 40-100 pounds

Features

Backless booster seat

Pros

Affordable

Cup holder

Drawer

Cons

One function

Limited weight range

No crash test ratings

*SafeWise has conducted impartial research to recommend products. This is not a guarantee. Each individual’s unique needs should be considered when deciding on chosen products.

Car Seat and Booster Seat Tips

Have your car seat installed professionally.

Many police and fire departments now have officers/firefighters who are certified child passenger technicians. You can contact your local police force to ask. Otherwise, you can search for local car seat inspection centers and professional installers near you. The technicians will be able to verify if your car seat is safely installed and help you do it the right way.

Buy the right size seat.

As your kids grow, so will the need to keep up with car seat safety. For instance, when you bring a newborn home, they need to be in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat until they turn two. After that, they can move into a forward-facing seat and a booster seat down the line. Since car seats are all based on weight and length, you should plot your child growth. Even if your child is two, they might be smaller or larger than the average toddler. You can to your child's progress to make a smarter car seat selection.

Register your car seat so you get recall notices.

When you purchase a new car seat, be sure to send the manufacturer's owner information card provided with the seat. This makes it possible for the manufacturer to notify you if your model is recalled. Manufacturers are required to fix the problem free of charge.

Before you buy a new or used car seat, check the federal recall list by going to www.safercar.gov.

You can find more resources, including animated videos to help you install your car seat (available on mobile for those backseat moments) and a local search tool to find a child passenger safety technician in your area at BuckleUpForLife.org.

Do you have suggestions about car seats? We’d love to hear about your own experiences as a parent in the comments section below. Please share with us to help spread safety to everyone.

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