Best Car Seats of 2021

With so many types of car seats on the market, how do you choose? We selected the top five seats for infants and toddlers that give your little ones the best ride possible.
Best overall
Graco 4Ever DLX 4 in 1 Car Seat
Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 Car Seat
  • Icon Pros  Light
    10-year lifespan
  • Icon Pros  Light
    120-pound weight limit
Luxury pick
luxury car seat
Peg-Pérego Primo
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Shock-absorbent foam device
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Machine-washable upholstery
Best for infants
Infant car seat
Chicco KeyFit
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Lightweight 9-pound design
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Compatible with a selection of strollers

Bottom line: Graco 4Ever DLX is reliable from cradle to classroom

When buying a car seat, safety is the priority. In our search for car seats, we made sure our top picks meet federal compliance guidelines, and we looked into essentials like steel-reinforcement, seat size, ease of installation, lifespan, and weight range.

The car seat we found with all the best of those features and more is the Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 Car Seat. With a 10-year lifespan and convertible positions, it’s the one-time purchase that can protect your kids from the first day home to the first day of school. Plus, it has a steel-reinforced frame and moves easily between cars.

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How to avoid counterfeit car seats

Did you know that some online retailers sell car seats that are counterfeit and dangerous? To ensure your car seat is federally compliant, look for a label reading, “This child restraint system conforms to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).” Also, register your seat's serial number with its manufacturer to confirm validity and receive future safety/recall information.



Compare the best car seats of 2021

Best overall

Luxury pick

Best infant seat

Best for traveling

Spill-proof pick

Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 Car Seat

Peg-Pérego Primo Viaggio:

Chicco KeyFit

Graco SnugRide

UPPAbaby MESA

Price

$299.99

$349.99

$143.99

$153.99

$299.99

Weight range

4–120 lb.

5–65 lb.

4–30 lb.

4–35 lb.

4–35 lb.

Maximum height

Not specified

49 in.

30 in.

32 in.

32 in.

Expiration date

10 years

7 years

6 years

7 years

7 years

Steel reinforced
Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Icon No  Light

No

Icon No  Light

No

Icon No  Light

No

Cupholders
Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Purchase separately

Icon No  Light

No

Icon No  Light

No

Icon No  Light

No

Learn more

*Amazon.com price as of 09/25/2020 at 2:00 p.m. (MT). See full disclaimer.

How we picked the best car seats

Your children’s safety is important to us, so we worked hard to come to these results. We started by surveying over 50 parents about safety, convenience, price, and common features in car seats. This helped us align our priorities with those of many parents and caregivers.

Once we had all the data we needed, we compared top product lists with the features parents want most. The best car seats matched parents’ priorities and got high marks on professional reviews. From there, we compared features, read user reviews, and reviewed NHTSA standards for car seats.1 Find out more about how we review in our full methodology.

Looking for booster seats? Check out our review of the top booster seats on the market.

Best car seat reviews

1. Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 Car Seat: Best overall

Graco recently launched the Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 Car Seat, (AKA the convertible car seat of your dreams, and we're impressed. This new-and-improved seat has a rubberized harness. And it has fabric that can be removed in 60 seconds for machine washing (no need to uninstall the whole seat on laundry day).

It also has a steel-reinforced frame and 10 different harness and headrest positions to keep your kiddo safe and comfortable. We even found a review from a customer saying their child survived an accident without injuries thanks to this Graco seat.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet 10-year lifespan
Pro Bullet Weight range capacity 4 –120 lb.
Pro Bullet Steel reinforcement for added safety
Pro Bullet Machine washable cushions
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Not compatible with strollers
Con Bullet Steep price

Proper installation is essential to your child’s safety in a car seat. Thankfully, this seat is easy to install in any position. The Graco 4Ever can use your car’s LATCH system, adult seat belts, or both.

The Graco 4Ever DLX convertible car seat is pricey, but it’s a one-time payment for four stages of car seats. We were most impressed by its weight range (4–120 pounds) and its ability to shift between rear-facing, front-facing, high-backed booster, and backless booster seat positions.

Top that off with a 10-year lifespan, and this may be the only car seat your child needs until they fit an adult seat belt.

2. Peg-Pérego Primo Viaggio: Luxury pick

Chic, sleek, and safe, the Peg-Pérego Primo Viaggio is the Italian sports car of car seats. It’s fashionable, but also has several unique safety features other car seats skipped.

This car seat has adjustable side-impact protection, a contoured steel back plate, and expanded polystyrene to absorb energy in a crash. It’s also got a shock-absorbing foam element (SAFE)—a crumpling device under the seat that absorbs force in a crash.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Reversible rear-facing and forward-facing options
Pro Bullet Energy-absorbing foam and crumpling device
Pro Bullet Luxurious, machine-washable upholstery
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Steep price tag
Con Bullet No level indicator
Con Bullet No built-in cupholder

All of this is lined in machine washable jersey fabric to keep your little ones comfy during long rides, hot summers, and cold winters.

If you’re willing to drop a bit of cash on a high-quality car seat that will last for years, the Primo Viaggio is a safe and stylish choice.

3. Chicco KeyFit: Best infant car seat

The Chicco KeyFit is a popular choice with parents and critics alike for how easily it clicks into the base and compatible strollers. It’s a light nine pounds, so it’s easy to transport baby from one car to another.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Easily transferrable from stroller to car
Pro Bullet Compatible with a fleet of strollers
Pro Bullet Ultra light
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Suitable only for infants
Con Bullet Not steel reinforced

It’s easy to install in your back seat too. The base secures by LATCH connectors or the adult seat belt in the back seat. Once the base is stable and level, just click the seat into the base and secure baby in. The easy-pull straps and five-point restraint system keeps your infant snug and secure for the whole ride.

It’s a great choice for an infant car seat, but with a max height of 30 inches and max weight of 30 pounds, your baby might outgrow it quickly. It has a six-year lifespan, so you can reuse it if you have a new baby in the family after your toddler outgrows the KeyFit.

4. Graco SnugRide 35: Best for traveling

Best for Traveling

Busy families on the go shouldn’t be tied down by bulky car seats. If you plan to travel with your baby often, the Graco SnugRide is safe on the ground and in the air. This travel car seat is easy to move from stroller to car seat base and is Federal Aviation Admission (FAA) approved.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet FAA-approved design for planes
Pro Bullet Easy to move from stroller to car
Pro Bullet Reasonably priced
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet 35-lb weight limit

While your child may outgrow its 35-pound weight limit in a couple of years, it’s reasonably priced for the life you get out of it.

5. UPPABaby MESA: Spill-proof pick

Spill-proof Pick

If you want a safe car seat with a few extra features, the UPPABaby MESA is a good place to start. It has a canopy, machine washable cushions, and compatible strollers for when you head to the park or zoo. We really like the stain-resistant fabric that repels liquids like milk, juice, and inevitable accidents.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Stain-resistant fabric
Pro Bullet Strap tightness indicator
Pro Bullet Machine-washable cushions
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Steep price tag

It also has a tightness indicator on the strap and pockets on the side to tuck the buckles in while you settle baby in. All this comes with a steep price tag for a baby car seat, but it’s one small way to make parenting a little easier.

Things to consider before you buy

According to a 2016 report from the NHTSA, 49% of car seats and booster seats are used improperly.3 To us, that means the best car seat isn’t just safe, it’s easy to install. Seats with fool-proof installation will be less likely to malfunction or fail no matter how many other features they have.

Your child should also fit within the car seat’s weight and height requirements for the best installation and safety results.

You’ll also want to look at lifespan. Car seats typically expire in about six to ten years. This is long enough for your child to outgrow their car seat or grow into their adult seat belt in time to pass down to a sibling.

FAQ

Follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines for both cleaning (removing germs, dirt, and impurities) and disinfecting (using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces).4 Use disposable gloves.

  1. Remove the car seat. Shake it upside down and vacuum to remove all crumbs.
  2. Check your manual for which parts can be removed or machine-washed. Don’t machine-wash the harness.
  3. If machine-washing is off limits, scrub cloth surfaces with detergent or warm soap and water. Don’t use bleach. Avoid soaking materials enough to risk mold or rust.
  4. Wipe all plastic and metal surfaces with disinfecting wipes.
  5. Clean the straps and buckle with warm water and gentle soap. Avoid vigorous scrubbing or harsh chemicals, as both can compromise strap strength.
  6. Air dry all pieces of the car seat completely before reinstalling it in your car. 

Each car seat attaches to your car differently, so it’s essential that you read all the instructions along with your vehicle’s manual. These manuals can make installation and adjusting the car seat easier for you and safer for your little one. You can also find important information like safety specs, compatibility with airline seats, and more. See “The 5 Keys to Car Seat Safety” illustration below.

If you need some help or just want confirmation you’ve installed the car seat correctly, you can take it to your local fire or police department to get help from a certified Child Passenger Safety technician. If there are no CPSs at your local emergency center, you can check the CPS registry to find one near you.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children ride in a rear-facing seat as long as possible.2 Most rear-facing car seats have a weight range up to 40 pounds and allow your kiddo to ride in this position until they’re roughly two years old.

The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH system, is designed to make car seats easier to install and more compatible with vehicles. Since 2003, all vehicles have been required to provide lower anchors in and on the back seats making it easier to attach strong clips from the car seat. It’s an easier alternative to threading seat belts through the frame of your child’s car seat.

Most infant car seats are compatible with FAA standards, but it’s best to check your manual. Once you convert a car seat into a booster seat, you may not be able to take it on an airplane since these seats need a cross-body belt to function properly.

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How long should kids use rear-facing seats?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible ("until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the seat's manufacturer").2 The Primo Viaggio follows allows children up to 45 pounds to fit in the rear-facing position. After, they can ride in the front-facing position until they reach 65 pounds. This should suit your kiddos for the seat’s entire seven-year lifespan.


Car crash stats: States with the highest (and lowest) child fatality rates

In 2017, vehicle crashes involving children happened every 32 seconds.5 While safe driving can certainly help prevent events like these, a properly installed child safety seat can reduce fatal injuries by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers in standard passenger cars.6

Reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed which states had the most (and fewest) child fatalities in vehicle crashes between 2013 and 2017. In honor of Child Passenger Safety Week, we took a close look at how you can prevent these incidences with the right car seat.

According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System database from the NHTSA, fatal car crashes involving children (ages 0 to 9) happened most (and least) frequently in these 10 states. The numbers shown are representative of every 100,000 children in each state. For example, for every 100,000 children in Wyoming, 6.44 were killed in a motor vehicle crash.

Findings

During our research, we examined a variety of sources including reports from the NHTSA from 2013 to 2017, state laws on child safety, and pediatric recommendations for the best safety practices for children up to 13 years old. While we didn’t find a direct correlation between lax state laws and traffic deaths, there were a few interesting findings worth mentioning.

  • For every 100,000 children nationwide, 2.1 children died in a car crash between 2013 and 2017. Overall, there were 3,704 deaths. 
  • In three years, Wyoming saw a 44% decrease in child traffic deaths. From 9.1 car crash deaths per 100,000 children in 2014 to 5.1 in 2017.
  • There was a 213% increase in child car crash deaths in New Mexico between 2015 and 2017. From 3.2 car crash deaths per 100,000 children in 2015 to 10 in 2017. 
  • Oklahoma’s fatality rate is nearly twice the national average at 4 deaths per 100,000. 
  • In Arizona, only one child needs to be restrained in vehicles where there’s not enough room for restraints for every child. 
  • Idaho allows children to ride out of their safety seat if held by an attendant for “nursing or to meet another immediate physiological need.”
  • Fatal vehicle accidents involving children have decreased by 58% since 1975.7

No matter where you live, we recommend following the proven safety standards like those set by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

How to keep children safe

The best way to prevent traffic fatalities is to drive safely and use the right safety restraint for your kids. The correct seat for your child will depend on their height, weight, and age. The best car seats are comfortable for your kids and easy for you to install.

Always read the instructions before installing your child’s car seat for the first time.

Always check to make sure your kids are secured tightly before every ride. The car seat shouldn’t move more than 1 inch from side to side.

Always register new child safety seats with the manufacturer. This will keep you updated on recalls and important brand news.

Always match car seat harnesses to their designated slots as shown in your car seat’s manual.

Always use the top tether when securing a front-facing car seat.

Always buckle up with your kids. It sets a good example and keeps you safe too.

Never let your kids ride in the car without a safety restraint.

Never let your kids ride in another vehicle without the right safety restraints.

Never secure a rear-facing car seat in the front passenger seat.

Never buckle in your child while they’re wearing a bulky coat or outerwear. You can use the coat as a blanket or throw, but thick outerwear can make the seat less effective.

Never let kids under 13 ride in the front seat. Avoid letting them ride in vehicles with no back seat or active front-seat passenger airbags.

Never use an expired, recalled, or damaged car seat.

Information pulled from Mayo Clinic's car seat recommendations.

If you have a car seat in your vehicle, visit a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician in your community to double-check that it’s properly installed. Find a car seat inspection station in your area or learn how to become a licensed car seat technician.

car seat with mother buckling in young daughter

Types of child safety restraints

As your little ones grow up, they need a car seat that fits them correctly. There are convertible car seats that shift and change with your child’s growth stages, or you can purchase a new car seat for every phase. Either way, the car seat needs to be easy to install and hold your child securely. No matter what stage your child is at, the best car seat is a properly installed car seat. Follow this guide from the NHTSA to know when to transition to the next car seat for your child.

Infants to 3 years old: Babies and toddlers need to sit in a rear-facing seat until they reach the weight limit on the car seat. You can find convertible car seats that fit from infancy to 3 years old. Infant car seats have a shorter life span, fitting babies up to 12 months, while convertible models can fit older children up to 35 pounds (depending on the car seat model).

4 to 7 years old: Once your child reaches preschool age, they can typically sit in a forward-facing car seat. These seats generally fit kids from 40 to 60 pounds. When installing these seats, it’s especially important to fasten the top tether of your car seat to the vehicle’s seat. This can reduce head and neck injuries in case of a crash.

8 to 12 years old: This is typically when your child can transition from a forward-facing car seat to a booster seat. Depending on your child’s weight and height, they can use a belt-positioning booster or a backless booster seat. These seats are best for kids between 40 and 80 pounds and up to 4 feet 9 inches. See our recommendations for the best booster seats.

12 years and up: Until your kids are 13, the back seat is the best place for them to sit. Once your kiddos reach 4 feet 9 inches, they are generally big enough to use an adult seat belt in the back seat of your vehicle. This could be the back seat’s lap belt or lap and shoulder belt.

Methodology

The SafeWise team evaluated car crash data from 2013 to 2017 from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to determine which states in the country had the highest and lowest numbers of child car crash fatalities per 100,000 children.

Related articles


Sources

1. NHTSA, “Motor Vehicle Occupant Protection: Children, Youth, Young Adult Facts,” March 2016. Accessed September 25, 2020.
2. Dennis R. Durban, AAP News & Journals Gateway, "Child Passenger Safety,” September 2018. Accessed September 25, 2020.
3. NHTSA, “Car Seats and Booster Seats." Accessed September 25, 2020.
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Cleaning and Disinfection for Households," May 2020. Accessed September 25, 2020.
5. United States Department of Transportation, “Child Passenger Safety Week,” September 2020. Accessed September 25, 2020.
6. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Traffic Safety Facts—Children,” May 2019. Accessed September 25, 2020.
7. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “Child Safety,” February 2020. Accessed September 25, 2020.

Disclaimer

Amazon.com list price as of 09/25/20 2:00 p.m. MST. Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

Certain content that appears on this site comes from Amazon. This content is provided “as is” and is subject to change or removal at any time.

Katie McEntire
Written by
Katie McEntire
As a renter, pet-owner, and woman living alone, Katie McEntire takes safety seriously. She’s tested devices like pet cameras, home security systems, and GPS trackers in her own home and devices in the name of safety. In addition to testing, writing, and reviewing for SafeWise, she also makes videos for the site’s YouTube channel. She’s been featured on publications like TechGuySmartBuy, Forbes, Healthy Moms, and Digital Care. Katie has a Bachelor’s degree in Technical Writing from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. She’s held previous writing positions at Overstock.com and Top Ten Reviews.
  • RideOnToysPlanet

    I’ve got to tell you, this article was so thorough and outweighing the pros and cons of each, and then cup holders, they’ve got cup holders now. That’s awesome. There’s a car seat for every type of family, and your article really allows one to know what is most important to them to have in a car seat. I thought it was excellent, thorough, and very useful.

    • Krystal R.

      Glad we could help!