Best Car Seats of 2021

We spent days digging up safety data on popular car seat models to help you make easy comparisons.
Best overall
CYBEX car seat
Cybex Aton 2
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    Rear-facing only
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    Load leg
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    Machine wash cold, line dry
Best convertible car seat
Britax Boulevard Clicktight ARB
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    2-in-1
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    Anti-rebound bar
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    Dryer-friendly fabric available
Budget safety pick
Chicco KeyFit
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    Rear-facing only
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    No anti-rebound device
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    Machine wash cold, line dry
Best 4-in-1 car seat
Graco 4Ever DLX
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    4-in-1
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    No anti-rebound device
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    Machine-washable padding
Extended rear-facing pick
Evenflo Gold SensorSafe EveryStage
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    4-in-1
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    No anti-rebound device
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    Dryer-friendly fabric

The Cybex Aton 2 ticks all the boxes for the ideal infant car seat. It performed well in third-party crash tests, is easy to install, has machine-washable padding, weighs less than 10 pounds, and attaches to over 25 strollers. The best part? It’s under $300.

But we know every parent has different priorities, so we rounded up the best-of-the-best for various categories. Check out each of our top picks plus essential car seat dos and don’ts.


Best car seats


Also in this review


Compare the best car seats

Car seat
Price
Type
Head injury criteriaIcon Tooltip  Dark
Chest accelerationIcon Tooltip  Dark
Anti-rebound device
Learn more

Best overall

CYBEX car seatCybex Aton 2
Infant340 44 g-units Load leg

Best convertible car seat

Britax Boulevard Clicktight ARB
Convertible28951 g-unitsAnti-rebound bar

Budget safety pick

Chicco Keyfit 30
Infant330 51 g-unitsNone

Best 4-in-1 car seat

Graco 4Ever DLX
4-in-136443 g-unitsPremier model only

Best extended rear-facing

Evenflo Gold SensorSafe EveryStage
4-in-1Not specifiedNot specifiedNone

Anti-rebound pick

Primo Viaggio Nido
Infant430 51 g-unitsLoad leg
Anti-rebound bar

Easiest to clean

Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air+
Infant39853 g-unitsNone

Easiest to use

UPPAbaby Mesa
Infant51160 g-unitsNone

Lightest pick

Nuna Pipa Lite
Infant43160 g-unitsLoad leg

Best for stroller conversion

Doona
Infant60360 g-unitsNone

*Amazon.com price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

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

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How to avoid counterfeit car seats

Did you know that some online retailers sell dangerous counterfeit car seats?1  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.

Best car seat reviews

1. Cybex Aton 2: Best overall

Best Overall

*Amazon.com price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

We love the Cybex Aton 2 because it’s one of the few affordable car seats with a load leg. This simple device significantly reduces the car seat’s movement during an impact. This means your baby is much less likely to be injured.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Excellent performance in crash tests
Pro Bullet Relatively lightweight infant carrier (9.3 lbs.)
Pro Bullet Machine-washable lining
Pro Bullet Easy to use
Pro Bullet Compatible with over 25 strollers
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Not great for extended rear-facing
Con Bullet Compatible strollers are expensive

We’d be willing to bet that the load leg is responsible for the Aton 2’s chart-topping third-party crash test results.2  It performs over 25% better than the federal standard in terms of chest acceleration and about 65% better in terms of head injury criteria.

The Aton 2 uses SensorSafe technology to alert you to unsafe conditions in the car seat—such as hot or cold temperatures or an unclipped buckle. It features linear side impact protection and a five-point harness.

Ease of use score: 4

The Aton 2 earned an overall score of four out of five on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) ease of use report.3  Most of the evaluation comments refer to the need to rethread the harness straps and the fact that the manual’s seatbelt section isn’t very thorough.

Not great for extended rear-facing

The Cybex Aton 2 accommodates children up to 30 inches tall and between 4 and 35 pounds. Most children will outgrow the height restriction by their first birthday, which makes this an impractical choice for long-term use. From a price standpoint, you’ll get more bang for your buck by choosing a convertible  or all-in-one  car seat.

But the Cybex Aton 2’s expiration date is six years, which means you can save it and use it for another kiddo or two without compromising on safety.

Upgrade to the Cybex Aton M

The Cybex Aton M adds a few features to the Aton 2:

  • Headrest that adjusts to 11 positions
  • Extra-large foldaway sun canopy
  • SafeLock base

If you’re interested in these features, consider the Cybex Aton M (about $350 on Amazon).

2. Britax Boulevard Clicktight ARB: Best convertible car seat

Best convertible car seat

*Amazon.com price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

We love that the Britax Boulevard Clicktight ARB offers extended rear-facing use for kids up to 49 inches tall or weighing up to 40 pounds, includes an anti-rebound bar and two layers of side impact protection, and performed extremely well in the head-impact-criteria portion of third-party tests.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Extended rear-facing
Pro Bullet Excellent crash test results
Pro Bullet Easy to use
Pro Bullet Anti-rebound bar
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet No removable infant carrier
Con Bullet On the expensive side
Con Bullet Hand-wash only for this model
Con Bullet No cup holders

The Britax Boulevard Clicktight ARB doesn’t have a removable infant carrier, which might be a deal-breaker for some parents. But it does transform into a forward-facing seat to accommodate toddlers up to 65 pounds.

Our hack for machine-washable padding

The ARB model doesn’t include washer-friendly padding, so here’s a workaround for an easy-to-clean car seat: purchase the slightly cheaper Britax Boulevard Clicktight without the integrated anti-rebound bar and choose a SafeWash fabric. That way, the padding can go in both the washer and dryer. Then, purchase an anti-rebound bar accessory and attach it to the Boulevard Clicktight. Problem solved!

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What parents are saying

“For me it comes down to how confident I am that I can properly install the seat. Clicktight installation is amazing!”

Other responses:

  • Straps don't tangle
  • Easy-to-work-with base
  • Adjustable
  • Takes up a lot of space
  • No cup holder for older kids

Britax Boulevard vs. Advocate vs. Marathon

Britax offers two other very similar convertible car seats: the Britax Marathon Clicktight and the Britax Advocate Clicktight. They differ in terms of price, side-impact technology, and third-party crash test performance. We chose the Boulevard because it offers the best blend of value and safety.

3. Chicco Keyfit 30: Budget safety pick

Budget safety pick

*Amazon.com price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

You won’t sacrifice safety for affordability with the Chicco Keyfit 30 (about $200). Compared to all other infant car seats on our list, the Keyfit 30 performed best in the head-injury-criteria portion of the third-party crash tests. Its chest acceleration result (51 g-units) is about average.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Excellent crash test results
Pro Bullet Relatively lightweight
Pro Bullet Good stroller compatibility
Pro Bullet Machine-washable padding
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Babies outgrow it quickly
Con Bullet Instruction labels sometimes unclear

The carrier weighs 9.5 pounds, making it neither the lightest nor the heaviest infant car seat on our list. It’s compatible with at least eight strollers, which is pretty good. The padding can be washed on a cold cycle, but it should be hung up to dry.

We’re disappointed that the Chicco Keyfit only works for babies weighing 30 pounds or less. That means your baby will outgrow this model quickly, and you’ll be in the market for another car seat before you know it.

There’s also room for improvement in the Keyfit’s NHTSA ease of use score.4  Overall, it earned four out of five points. Most of the report’s comments refer to poor or missing instruction labels.

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What our surveyed parents are saying

“I like the extra padding to make it comfortable for infants that can be removed as [your] baby gets bigger and the removable sun shade!”

4. Graco 4Ever DLX: Best 4-in-1 car seat

Best 4-in-1 car seat
Graco 4Ever DLX
$209.99
🔥 $100 off

*Amazon.com price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

The Graco 4Ever DLX is a 4-in-1 car seat that’s meant to protect your child from infancy to around the age of 10—or whenever they reach the maximum booster weight of 120 pounds. Given its long-lasting lifespan, the Graco 4Ever’s price is one of the best on the market. It’s also extremely popular among parents and performed well in third-party crash tests despite no anti-rebound device.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet 4-in-1 car seat
Pro Bullet Supports rear-facing up to 49 inches and 40 lbs
Pro Bullet Machine-washable padding
Pro Bullet Good crash test results
Pro Bullet 2 cup holders
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Ease of use up for debate
Con Bullet 1-year warranty on a 10-year product

We love that the Graco 4Ever accommodates children up to 49 inches and 40 pounds in a rear-facing position. It’s not the highest we’ve seen (check out the Evenflo EveryStage)  but it’s definitely above average.

Of the car seats that made our final list, the Graco 4Ever boasts the best chest acceleration and the third-best head injury criteria score from third-party tests.

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Upgrade for an anti-rebound bar

For added safety, consider the  Graco Premier 4Ever DLX. It’s more expensive and a little bit harder to find, but it has an anti-rebound bar.

Hard to install in a vehicle in rear-facing mode

In the NHTSA’s “ease of vehicle installation” category, the Graco 4Ever scored just one point out of five when tested in the rear-facing configuration.7  The report noted these major areas of concern:

  • An average-sized male hand may have difficulty routing the seatbelt through the LATCH system.
  • Padding must be moved to route the seatbelt.
  • The seatbelt may interfere with the 5-point harness crotch strap.
  • Labels do not explain how to use the LATCH system or show an image of a child correctly positioned in the seat.

What our surveyed parents are saying

Graco was the most common brand owned by the parents we surveyed. Many parents praised its ease of use:

“I like that the straps are easily adjustable in the front, it's easy to clip into my car, and it has a cup holder.”

“It's extremely easy to take out of the car.”

“I like the button release feature to get the car seat out. Other car seats have clips to secure it to the backseat, and they can be really difficult.”

5. Evenflo Gold SensorSafe EveryStage: Best extended rear-facing car seat

Best extended rear-facing car seat

*Amazon.com price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

The Evenflo Gold SensorSafe EveryStage is an all-in-one car seat that transforms from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat and booster seat. Children can safely ride in the rear-facing position until they’re over 48 inches tall or weigh more than 50 lbs. If your baby follows average growth and development patterns, they can travel rear-facing—the safest way to go—until they’re about 4 years old.5,6 

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet All-in-one model for infants to 10-year-olds
Pro Bullet Easy to use overall
Pro Bullet Machine-washable padding
Pro Bullet Two cup holders
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Booster configuration less easy to use

We couldn’t find test result data for this particular model, but the Evenflo company self-reports that the EveryStage performs twice as well as the federal minimum standards. Another Evenflo model—the Tribute —earned impressive marks on third-party crash test ratings, so we’d like to think the EveryStage offers similar safety standards.

Like the Cybex Aton, the Evenflo Gold EveryStage works with SensorSafe technology to help you monitor your little one on the road. It’s not unheard of for babies to undo their harnesses, and SensorSafe will tell you when this happens.

Easy to clean and dry

The Evenflo Gold EveryStage is one of the few car seats with removable padding that you can throw into the washer and dryer. Just be sure to run a cold water cycle and to keep the padding in the dryer for no more than 10 to 15 minutes.

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Did you know?

Car-seat fabrics often include flame retardants to meet federal standards. Improperly washing and drying them ruins the flame-retardant properties. Dryer-friendly car seat padding is made of naturally flame-resistant materials.

Two cup holders

Not every forward-facing car seat has this nifty feature: cup holders. The Evenflo EveryStage has two.

One of the parents we surveyed had this to say about this seemingly simple accessory: “Not having a place for him to put cups or snacks is more annoying than we expected.”

With the EveryStage, drinks and snacks won’t spill or scatter, so there won’t be any whining about out-of-reach Cheez-Its . . . at least in theory.

6. Primo Viaggio Nido: Anti-rebound pick

Anti-rebound pick

*Amazon.com price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

Made in Italy and retailing for about $350 (or higher, depending on the color), the Primo Viaggio Nido costs a bit more than the average car seat but includes a load leg and an anti-rebound bar. Its built-in sunshade will also keep your kiddo cool and comfortable inside the car and out.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Good performance in crash tests
Pro Bullet Relatively lightweight carrier (10 lbs.)
Pro Bullet 7-year expiration
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Average ease of use score
Con Bullet Poor stroller compatibility
Con Bullet Hand wash only

In third-party tests, the Primo Viaggio Nido exceeded federal standards for head injury criteria by about 55% and exceeded chest acceleration standards by over 20%.

The Primo Viaggio Nido suits children up to 35 pounds or 32 inches tall. It’s relatively lightweight as an infant carrier, weighing around 10 pounds.

Could be easier to use

The Primo Viaggio Nido’s main flaw is that it’s not the easiest to use, at least according to the NHTSA.4  Its report mentions that some labels are missing and that some parts come loose during the rethreading process.

Without clear labeling, your family and friends run the risk of installing the base or car seat incorrectly—or even improperly securing your child—if they’ve never been trained to do it.

Hand wash only

We think a hand-wash-only car seat liner like the Primo Viaggio Nido is really inconvenient for busy and tired parents. But if you already have a routine for hand washing items, perhaps you’ll be undeterred.

Otherwise, skip on down  to our “easiest to clean” pick.

7. Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air+: Easiest to clean

Easiest car seat to clean

*Amazon.com price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

Retailing at about $156, the Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air+ is the most affordable car seat on our list. And we’re happy to say that it doesn’t sacrifice features or safety for the price. In fact, it has the third-best head injury criteria test results from third-party evaluations. We also deemed it the easiest car seat to clean because its padding can be tossed into both the washer and dryer.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Lightweight infant carrier (9.4 lbs.)
Pro Bullet Washer- and dryer-safe padding
Pro Bullet Good head injury criteria testing results
Pro Bullet Easy to use
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Poor stroller compatibility
Con Bullet Below-average chest acceleration testing results

We also love that the removable infant carrier weighs just 9.4 pounds, which is the same weight as the Cybex Aton 2  but still about 4 pounds heavier than the lightest car seat we could find.

The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air+ earned an overall score of five on the NHTSA’s ease of use evaluation—its only criticisms being that the harness must be rethreaded and that the labels lack some helpful diagrams.8 

Chest acceleration safety could be improved

Although the Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air+ passes the federal minimum standard for chest acceleration reduction, it still scores pretty low compared to the competition with a measurement of 53 g-units. That’s a little more than 10% better than the federal standard. On the other hand, this car seat scored 60% better than the federal standard for head injury criteria (398), which is exceptional compared to competitors.

We also like the 5-point harness, Air Protect side impact protection, and GCell HX energy-absorbing foam integrated into the Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air+.

8. UPPAbaby Mesa: Easiest to use

Easiest to use

*Amazon.com price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

The UPPAbaby Mesa stands out as the only car seat on the market with a perfect score on the NHTSA’s ease of use evaluation.9  If you’re dreading the thought of wrestling with a car seat, this is the one for you.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Perfect score on NHTSA’s ease of use evaluation
Pro Bullet Machine-washable padding
Pro Bullet Relatively lightweight infant carrier (10.4 lbs.)
Pro Bullet Compatible with around 10 strollers
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Average crash test scores

The UPPAbaby Mesa is a rear-facing car seat with a removable infant carrier weighing about 10.4 pounds. Children can use the UPPAbaby Mesa until they’re 32 inches tall or weigh 35 pounds, which is the most common height and weight limit that we found in rear-facing car seats.

With an expiration date of seven years, your UPPAbaby Mesa will be ready to go if you welcome another kiddo home in the future.

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What parents are saying

“The UPPAbaby Mesa infant seat had a shade that we liked for sun protection.”

“It has a nice base that the car seat plugs right in to.”

Average safety ratings

Like all car seats for sale in the US, the UPPAbaby Mesa passed federal safety standards. But compared to other car seats on the market, this model’s just average. It scored 511 in head injury criteria and recorded 52 g-units of chest acceleration in third-party tests. (Quick reminder: federal standards require a head injury criteria of 1,000 or less and a chest acceleration reading of 60 g-units or less.)

Decent stroller compatibility

The UPPAbaby Mesa works with select UPPAbaby, Thule, Mima, and Baby Jogger City strollers. These tend to be expensive brands, but the most affordable option is the Baby Jogger City Mini 2, which retails for about $250.

Machine wash cold, dry flat

The good news? The UPPAbaby Mesa’s padding is machine washable on a cold cycle. But you’ll need to lay it flat to dry. If you’re in solo parenting mode, that means you’re stuck at home while the padding dries.

9. Nuna Pipa Lite: Lightest car seat

Lightest car seat

One of the more expensive car seats on the market, the Nuna Pipa Lite also happens to be the lightest. It weighs a mere 5.75 pounds when it’s not equipped with the infant inlay and the sunshade. That’s nearly half the weight of other infant car seats. The Nuna Pipa Lite also has a load leg for improved safety.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Lightest car seat on the market
Pro Bullet Load leg
Pro Bullet Good head injury criteria score
Pro Bullet Compatible with around 15 strollers
Pro Bullet 7-year expiration
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Hard to find
Con Bullet Expensive
Con Bullet Not the easiest to use
Con Bullet Relatively poor chest acceleration score
Con Bullet Hand wash only

We only recommend choosing the Nuna Pipa Lite if having a lightweight car seat is your hands-down number-one priority and/or if you need to prioritize stroller compatibility. It falls flat in pretty much every other category, which is disappointing when you consider its price tag.

For starters, it has a lower weight limit than other rear-facing-only car seats (32 pounds) so your child may not get as much use out of it as another car seat model. Second, it meets but doesn’t exceed the federal minimum standards for chest acceleration in crash tests (60 g-units). It does fare better in terms of head injury criteria, testing over 50% better than the federal minimum with a score of 431.

Could be easier to use

Speaking of federal tests, the NHTSA noted that many of the Nuna Pipa Lite’s labels and instructions were missing, unclear, or incomplete and that it only had two reclining positions. The Nuna Pipa earned an overall ease of use score of four.10 

The padding material is hand wash only. We got a little riled up about this at first (who has the time?), but then we realized it’s also biodegradable, anti-bacterial, stain-resistant, and highly absorbent. All right, we’ll admit it: that sounds like a fabric worth taking care of properly.

Good stroller compatibility

We also like that the Nuna Pipa Lite is compatible with around 15 different strollers, which should give you plenty of variety for finding one that fits your budget and expectations.

10. Doona Infant Car Seat: Best for stroller conversion

Best for stroller conversion

*Amazon.com price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

If simple stroller conversion sounds like heaven-on-wheels to you, the Doona Infant Car Seat is really the only choice out there. The stroller wheels tuck up under the infant carrier, and boom—car seat. It’s also easy to use, earning an overall usability score of five from the NHTSA.11

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Machine-washable padding
Pro Bullet Car seat and stroller in one
Pro Bullet Easy to use
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Doesn’t dramatically exceed safety standards
Con Bullet Heavy

We’re disappointed to see the Doona barely squeaked past the minimum federal safety standards according to third-party testing. While it is technically safe because it does meet those standards, other car seats have performed better in crash tests.

Still, the Doona has some noteworthy safety features, including an anti-rebound bar to prevent the car seat from lurching toward the rear of the car. It also includes two layers of plastic and foam for side impact protection.

Good value: It’s a two-in-one product

Don’t let the nearly $550 price tag make you skip this one automatically. You do get two products in one for that price: a car seat and a stroller. You won’t want to use this car seat as a carrier, though, since it weighs a hefty 16.5 pounds. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem since it always has wheels ready to go.

Your baby can use the Doona as a car seat until they’re 32 inches tall or weigh 35 pounds. The padding can be washed on a cold cycle but shouldn’t be thrown in the dryer. 

More car seats we considered

Britax B-Safe Ultra

Although it exceeds federal safety standards, we weren’t impressed with the Britax B-Safe Ultra’s performance in third-party crash tests (598 head injury criteria; 57 g-units of chest acceleration).

This rear-facing-only infant car seat is also on the heavier side, weighing in at 10.9 pounds. Children can use it until they’re 32 inches tall or weigh 35 pounds, which are average specs. The padding has to be hand washed.

The B-Safe Ultra did score very well on the NHTSA’s ease of use test.12  We’re also happy with its stroller compatibility. It works with at least 10 different stroller frames, and some of them—like the $200 B Clever stroller—are pretty affordable.

All in all, there are better-performing and more affordable infant car seats on the market.

Britax Endeavours

The infant car seat Britax Endeavours performed slightly better than the Britax B-Safe Ultra in third-party crash tests (508 head injury criteria; 49 g-units of chest acceleration) despite having an anti-rebound bar and three layers of side impact protection.

The seat is heavy (11.3 pounds) and we only found two strollers compatible with this model.

Pretty much the only thing the Britax Endeavours has going for it is its moisture-wicking and machine-washable padding. We don’t think it’s worth the $315 price tag.

Britax One4Life

As a 4-in-1 car seat, the Britax One4Life’s main competition is the Evenflo Gold SensorSafe EveryStage . Both car seats have excellent extended rear-facing capabilities and machine-washable padding. But you’ll pay $100 more for the Britax One4Life, and we’re just not convinced it’s worth it.

Its other main competitor—the Graco 4Ever —scored better on third-party crash tests.

Graco SnugRide SnugLock

The Graco SnugRide SnugLock is a rear-facing-only infant car seat that scored quite well on the chest-acceleration portion of the third-party crash tests (46 g-units) but showed average results in the head-injury criteria portion (606).

We appreciate that it’s easy to use, can accommodate taller kids (up to 35 inches) and has machine-washable padding. But you can only use it with Graco or Joovy strollers.

For the price, you might as well spend a little bit extra and go for the Graco 4Ever. It will last nearly 10 times longer and offers even better crash-test results.

Clek Foonf

The Clek Foonf is meant for children weighing at least 14 pounds. This makes it impractical in our book because you’ll have to buy another car seat for your newborn anyway. And the Clek Foonf retails for about $530. It doesn’t make sense to pay more money for reduced use.

To be fair, the Clek Foonf does have the best third-party test results in terms of chest acceleration. If it also had the best head-injury criteria results, we’d have to give it a closer look. But many other car seats outperform it in that regard. We think your money would be better spent on a different car seat.

Car crash stats: How effective are car seats?

In 2019, 495 children under the age of 10 and 433 children ages 10 to 15 died in car accidents. Another 189,000 children from infancy to age 15 were injured.13 

Twenty-five years earlier in 1994, the numbers were even worse: 1,123 children under 10 and 1,133 children ages 10 to 15 died in car accidents.14 

While the overall decrease in fatalities can’t be traced back to a single cause, restraint systems play a role.

A properly installed child safety seat can reduce fatal injuries by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers in standard passenger cars.15  It’s estimated that at least 11,606 children under the age of four have been saved by car seats between 1975 and 2017.16 

But not everyone buckles in their kids for every trip. In 2018, 35% of all children under the age of 15 who died in car accidents were unrestrained.17   

Child car seat laws exist to encourage people to use the correct restraint systems for the longest possible time, but the specifications vary from state to state.

States that require rear-facing seats

Because rear-facing car seats provide better protection in front-end collisions, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing children in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible, only switching to a front-facing seat when the child outgrows the car seat’s rear-facing weight and height restrictions.5 

But if you live in one of the following states, you may be required by law to keep your kiddo in a rear-facing style until a certain age.18,19  This makes it even more important to choose an extended rear-facing model like the Evenflo EveryStage, Britax Boulevard, or Graco 4Ever.

State
Rear-facing seat required
AlabamaUntil 1 year or 20 lbs.
AlaskaUntil 1 year or 20 lbs.
CaliforniaUntil 2 years or 40 lbs. or 40 in.
ColoradoUntil 1 year or 20 lbs.
ConnecticutUntil 2 years or 30 lbs.
District of ColumbiaUntil 2 years or 40 lbs. or 40 in.
IllinoisUntil 2 years or 40 lbs. or 40 in.
IowaUntil 1 year or 20 lbs.
LouisianaUntil 2 years
NebraskaUntil 2 years and outgrown car seat’s height and weight limits
New JerseyUntil 2 years and 30 lbs.
New MexicoUntil 1 years and outgrown car seat’s height and weight limits
New YorkUntil 2 years and outgrown car seat’s height and weight limits
OklahomaUntil 2 years and outgrown car seat’s height and weight limits
OregonUntil 2 years
PennsylvaniaUntil 2 years and outgrown car seat’s height and weight limits
Puerto RicoUntil 2 years or 30 lbs.
Rhode IslandUntil 2 years or 30 lbs.
South CarolinaUntil 2 years or 30 lbs.
South DakotaUntil 2 years and outgrown car seat’s height and weight limits
TennesseeUntil 1 year or 20 lbs.
VermontUntil 1 year or 20 lbs.
Virgin IslandsUntil 1 year or 20 lbs.
VirginiaUntil 2 years and outgrown car seat’s height and weight limits
WashingtonUntil 2 years and outgrown car seat’s height and weight limits
WisconsinUntil 1 year or 20 lbs.

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

States with highest and lowest child car crash fatality rates

Stricter state car seat laws don’t strongly correlate with lower car-related child fatality rates.

According to the NHTSA, fatal car crashes involving children (ages 0 to 9) happened most (and least) frequently in these 10 states in 2018.17  The numbers shown are representative of every 100,000 children in each state. For example, for every 100,000 children in Alaska, 7.5 were killed in a motor vehicle crash.

Most fatalities

Montana (4.70)

Mississippi (4.10)

New Mexico (4.01)

Alabama (3.99)

Alaska (3.87)

National fatality rate: 1.70

Fewest fatalities

Washington, D.C. (0.0)

Connecticut (0.17)

Massachusetts (0.63)

New Jersey (0.74)

Hawaii (0.78)

Additional findings

While we didn’t find a direct correlation between lax state laws and traffic deaths, there were a few interesting national findings worth mentioning.

  • Overall, 1,038 children died in car accidents in 2018, which represents a 10% decrease compared to the previous year.17
  • Fatal vehicle accidents involving children have decreased by 61% since 1975.20
  • Idaho allows children to ride out of their safety seat if held by an attendant for “nursing or to meet another immediate physiological need.”18
  • Three children died while riding the school bus in 2019.
  • The use of car seats for children between 4 and 7 years old dropped from 91% in 2011 to 86.2% in 2019.21,22 
  • Of the children younger than 1 year old who died in motor vehicle accidents in 2018, 17% were unrestrained. The percentage of unrestrained children in fatal vehicle accidents increases to 25% for children 1 to 3 years old, 32% for children 4 to 7 years old, and to 43% for children 8 to 12 years old.17

How to keep children safe in the car

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.

Follow these car seat dos and don’ts every time.23 

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.

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.

mom buckling in daughter in car seat

Types of child safety restraints

As your little ones grow up, they need a car seat that fits them correctly.24  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.

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.

Car crash stats methodology

The SafeWise team evaluated car crash data 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. We also examined state laws on child safety and pediatric recommendations for the best safety practices for children up to 13 years old.

Final word

Our top pick is the Cybex Aton 2, but the other car seats on our lists are worth your consideration as well.

Every car seat passed the federal safety tests, but we love seeing extra features like a load leg or anti-rebound bar. And we know how important it is to have an easy-to-install seat with padding that washes up well.

That’s why we’re thrilled to see a variety of car seats that offer this blend of safety and convenience at different price points.

FAQ

Only infant car seats detach from the base, which means you don’t have to disturb your sleeping baby. But your kiddo will outgrow an infant seat in about one year, making it the more expensive choice in the long-run and unsuitable for extended rear-facing use.

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). 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.

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.5  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.

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.

How we reviewed the best car seats

  • 60 hours of research
  • 55 parents surveyed
  • 30+ car seat models scrutinized
  • 17 data points compared
  • 10 years of NHTSA data reviewed
  • 1 huge spreadsheet
  • 0 tears

We spent about 60 hours researching empirical data about car seat safety and usability, compiling it into a monster spreadsheet, and looking for stand-out winners for various categories. We also surveyed 55 parents and read hundreds of car seat reviews to understand how each model performs in the real world.

Understanding crash test results

The NHTSA conducts crash tests on car seats to determine if they’re safe enough to be sold in the US. If too much force is exerted on the dummy’s head or chest during the crash test, the car seat is deemed unsafe and never hits the shelves.

According to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 (FMVSS 213), too much force occurs if the chest area accelerates faster than 60 g-units within 3 milliseconds. The head’s acceleration is measured over the course of 36 milliseconds and run through a mathematical calculation to determine the “head injury criteria” (HIC). The resulting HIC number must be less than 1,000.25  

In other words, lower crash test numbers are better.

The NHTSA keeps its crash test data under wraps, but we found and compared third-party data to help you better compare the relative safety and performance of each car seat. Although there’s no guarantee that a child will be totally unscathed after a car accident in any car seat, we believe crash test data will help parents make more informed decisions.

Understanding the ease of use results

The NHTSA created an “Ease of Use” rating system for car seats and publishes its findings every year.

We tracked down those reports and sifted through the data for you. Because the NHTSA recommends discarding car seats more than 10 years old, we only looked at data from the past 10 years.

The NHTSA evaluates child restraint ease of use across four categories:

  • Usability of labels
  • Usability of manual
  • Ease of securing the child
  • Ease of installation in a vehicle

Each car seat is given a category and overall rating on a scale of one through five, with one being the lowest and five being the highest. Ratings are weighted, which in this case means “ease of installation in a vehicle” is the most significant factor contributing to a car seat’s overall rating, and “usability of manual” is the least important factor.

Related articles on SafeWise


Sources

  1. Gravitz, Lauren, The Washington Post, “Knockoff Car Seats Are Infiltrating the Market, and They Could Be Deadly,” November 5, 2019. Accessed June 30, 2021. 
  2. Spurrier, Juliet, MD & Wend Schmitz, Baby Gear Lab, “Best Infant Car Seat with Crash Tests of 2021,” June 17, 2021. Accessed June 30, 2021.
  3. Alpha Technology Associate, Inc., National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Child Restraint Ease of Use Ratings 2020 Rating Year,” December 17, 2020. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  4. Alpha Technology Associate, Inc., National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Child Restraint Ease of Use Ratings 2019 Rating Year, Submission 1,” January 9, 2020. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  5. Hoffman, Benjamin D, MD, American Academy of Pediatrics, “New Child Passenger Safety Seat Guidance Advises Kids to Ride Rear-Facing as Long as Possible; Drops Age Criterion,” August 20, 2018. Accessed June 30, 2021.
  6. Waizmann, Hannah, Cincinnati Children’s, “Growth, Range of Height and Weight,” April 2019. Accessed June 30, 2021.
  7. Alpha Technology Associate, Inc., National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Child Restraint Ease of Use Ratings 2015 Rating Year, Submission 1,” June 9, 2015. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  8. Alpha Technology Associate, Inc., National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Child Restraint Ease of Use Ratings 2017 Rating Year, Submission 2,” October 2, 2017. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  9. Alpha Technology Associate, Inc., National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Child Restraint Ease of Use Ratings 2016 Rating Year, Submission 2,” February 7, 2017. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  10. Alpha Technology Associate, Inc., National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Child Restraint Ease of Use Ratings 2019 Rating Year, Submission 2,” February 27, 2020. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  11. Alpha Technology Associate, Inc., National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Child Restraint Ease of Use Ratings 2016 Rating Year, Submission 1,” September 20, 2016. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  12. Alpha Technology Associate, Inc., National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Child Restraint Ease of Use Ratings 2018 Rating Year, Submission 2,” March 5, 2019. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  13. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Traffic Safety Facts Annual Report Tables - Table 69: Vehicle Occupants Killed and Injured, by Age Group and Vehicle Type,” May 25, 2021. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  14. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Motor Vehicle Occupant and Motorcyclist Fatalities by Age Group, 1994 - 2019 - State : USA.” Accessed July 1, 2021.
  15. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Revised Estimates of Child Restraint Effectiveness,” December 1996. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  16. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts Annual Report, “Lives Saved by Restraint Use and 21‐Year‐Old Minimum Legal Drinking Age Laws, and Additional Lives That Would Have Been Saved at 100‐Percent Seat Belt and Motorcycle Helmet Use, 1975‐2017,” March 24, 2020. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  17. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Traffic Safety Facts, 2018 Data,” January 2021. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  18. Governors Highway Safety Association, “Child Passenger Safety.” Accessed July 1, 2021.
  19. State of Rhode Island State Police Department of Public Safety, “Seat Belt Laws & Car Seat Recommendations.” Accessed July 1, 2021.
  20. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “Child Safety,” April 2021. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  21. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Quick Facts 2013,” April 2015. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  22. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Quick Facts 2019,” May 2021. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  23. Mayo Clinic, “Car seat safety: Avoid 9 common mistakes,” October 21, 2020. Accessed July 1, 2021.
  24. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Car Seat Recommendations for Children.” Accessed July 1, 2021.
  25. Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute, “49 CFR § 571.213 - Standard No. 213; Child restraint systems.” Accessed July 1, 2021.

Disclaimer

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.

Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over seven years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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  • 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!