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Best Car Seats - SafeWise Buyers Guide

The top booster and car seats of 2018

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.

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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.

product lineup

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.

Model

Price

Type

Features

Pros

Cons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Britax Marathon G4.1 Convertible Car Seat

Britax is one of the most well known car seat companies. This particular model is a bestseller and is compatible as a rear-facing car seat with babies 5-40 pounds and as a front-facing seat for children who are 20-60 pounds. With a unique cushioning system, Safe Cell Impact Protection, this is one of the best car seats out there for infants and young children.

Enhanced Impact Protection. Britax uses its own patented construction: Safe Cell Impact Protection. It includes a steel frame, energy-absorbing base, and impact-absorbing tether that decrease frontward motion during a crash.

Adjustable. Change this seat from a rear-facing to front-facing so you can use it longer.

Top Safety Pick. Bloggers and Amazon customers give this car seat great reviews.

Multi-Point Harness. This has a 10-position harness and 2-position buckle so it can grow with your baby.

Expensive. This is an expensive seat and retails for $289.

No Booster Seat. You'll need a separate booster seat once your child is over 60 pounds.

Graco SmartSeat All-in-One Car Seat

Graco is a popular car seat company that makes a variety of baby accessories. NHTSA recognized this model with the highest ranking for “Ease of Use.” The Graco SmartSeat is an all-in one model that takes your child home from the hospital and can shuttle them to elementary school. It works as a rear-facing seat for babies up to 40 pounds, a front-facing seat for kids up to 65 pounds, and a booster seat for kids up to 100 pounds.

All-In-One. You can adjust this seat from rear to front-facing to booster seat to last you longer.

Great Reviews. Amazon, NHTSA, and parenting blogs have given great feedback on this car seat.

LATCH Compatible. Can clip into your car’s LATCH system.

Flip-Up Armrests. This offers more comfort to your growing child.

Impact Protection. EPS foam offers more safety to your child during a collision.

Adjustable. This comes with a 5-point reclining capability and 6-point headrest customization.

Very expensive. It retails for $299.

Lower Weight Thresholds. Other booster models accommodate kids up to 120 pounds, so depending on your child’s size, you may outgrow this model before it’s safe to do so.

Orbit Baby G3 Toddler Convertible Car Seat

Orbit Baby is recognized as a top safety pick for car seats. The G3 Toddler Convertible Car Seat is also one of the more unique models on the market. With its SmartHub rotating base, you can load your toddler into the car facing you. That will allow you to clip them in and make sure everything is secure without awkwardly leaning into the car. Then, you can rotate it into locking position to face forward.

Impact-Protection. Orbit has included 360 degree impact protection in this car seat.

Works With Stroller. This is the only convertible car seat that you can use in a stroller. It even has a sunshade for that purpose.

Good Reviews. Amazon reviews and parenting blogs sing high praises of this car seat.

Baby-Safe Fabrics. Orbit uses clean certified fabrics by Oeko-Tex.

Rotating Base. You can load your child from the side and then face them to the front so it’s easier for you to buckle them in.

Easy Installation. All you need to do is turn a knob to tighten the car seat to secure it.

Pricey. This car seat is one of the more expensive models—at about $380 retail.

Essentially One Function. It’s compatible with a stroller, but only works as a front-facing car seat in the car.

Graco Nautilus 65 LX 3-in-1 Harness Booster

For toddlers and up, this is a great car seat. It comes with the ability to work as a front-facing car seat, high back booster, and backless booster seat for children 22 to 120 pounds. That’s one of the largest weight ranges in the industry and will take your child from toddler-dom to 10 (depending on your child’s growth rate).

Long Lifespan. This takes your kid from toddler to pre-teen. Use as a front-facing, backed booster, or backless booster car seat.

Large Weight Range. This works with children who are 22-120 pounds.

Affordable. At around $170 on Amazon, this is an affordable seat compared to others that are hundreds more.

Recline. There are three reclined positions to choose from

Impact Protection. It’s been crash tested and exceeds safety standards.

No Rear-Facing Ability. You’ll need a separate car seat for that.

Evenflo Chase LX Harnessed Booster

Choose this extremely affordable front-facing and booster seat for kids 22 to 110 pounds. While others on the market accommodate larger children, this is still one of the best ranges available. With four buckle positions, this provides more comfort to your child as he/she grows. It even comes with a removeable pillow for added comfort and cleanliness.

Adjustable To Child's Height. This has an adjustable booster base to accommodate your child’s height.

Large Weight Range. Kids 22-110 pounds can fit in this seat.

Very Affordable. This only costs about $70 on Amazon. It’s one of the cheapest car seats available.

Good Reviews. Users on Amazon have rated this particular booster seat very well.

No Rear-Facing Capability. You’ll need to buy a different car seat for younger children.

Less Harness Positions. Some brands offer up to 10 harness positions. Evenflo only has four.

Britax Fontier Clicktight Car Seat

This carseat was given an award by NHTSA in 2015. With its SafeCell impact technology, 9-point harness positions, and large weight range, it’s a fantastic car seat. While it’s expensive, it will last you a while since it converts from a front-facing car seat to a booster seat for kids who are 24-120 pounds.

Long Lifespan. This Britax car seat can hold kids from 24-120 pounds, so it’ll be with you for a while.

Good Ratings. Parents, NHTSA, and buyers on Amazon rave about this car seat.

Easy Installation. This comes with a click-in system making it easy to install.

SafeCell Impact Protection. This unique construction protects your child better during collisions.

Expensive. This car seat retails for $329.00.

No rear-Facing Capability. You’ll need a different seat for children under 22 pounds.

Graco Backless TurboBooster Car Seat

Make your child feel like a “big kid” in this backless booster seat. If your child is 4-10 and 40-100 pounds, they can sit in this seat and ride safely (depending on if they’re at average growth chart ranges). With adjustable arm rests and padded cushions, it’s comfortable and low profile.

Affordable. This is a cheap option at just $25 on Amazon.

Long Lifespan. This booster seat works great for kids who are 40 - 100 pounds and up to 57 inches tall.

Low Profile. The back is lower, so “big kids” don’t feel like babies.

Top Rated. Graco Backless TurboBooster exceeds safety standards and is a bestseller.

Basic. This only comes with the booster and no side/shock absorption protection.

No Rear-Facing or Front-Facing Capability.

Disney Store Go Backless Booster Car Seat

Disney is known for their magical products that delight children. Now, you can bring a booster seat home featuring your child’s favorite characters. It’s an affordable and stylish option that works for children who are 40 to 100 pounds.

Design Options. Kids can feel special by riding in a seat featuring a design they love. Here’s another option.

Affordable. This seat is a cheap alternative to a whole convertable system. It costs about $30 on Amazon.

Cup Holder. Disney’s booster seat has a cupholder.

Low Profile. This will make kids feel less like they’re in a “baby seat” because it’s backless.

Not A Major Safety Company. Disney is not a known manufacturer of child safety devices.

More Limited Weight Range. This only works with children who are 40-100 pounds, unlike others that accommodate 22-120 pounds.

Safety 1st Go Backless Booster Car Seat

This brand isn’t as recognized as others, but this is one kid-friendly booster seat. It features a low profile with latching drawer and cup holder to hold your child’s things. It also comes with armrests and a padded seat for additional comfort. While there are better and safer models out there, this is exceptional in kid-friendliness.

Kid-Friendly. Comes with a built-in storage tray for your kid’s stuff.

Very Inexpensive. This booster seat only costs about $30.

Not Well Known. Other brands are more well known in the industry.

Smaller Weight Range. It holds kids 40-100 pounds, while others can work with larger and smaller children.

Slow Ship Time. If you buy this on Amazon, it can take one to two months to ship.

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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