Definitely, one of the most important decisions new parents can make is purchasing the right and safe car seat for their kid. Should it be rare facing or front facing, how tight is tight enough for it, and how this important life-saving equipment should be installed correctly? To make a list of the best and the safest car seats for children we have spoken to a dozen of parents all across the country, studied thoroughly a whole bunch of customer review websites, including Consumer Reports and Baby Gear Labs, which perform their independent crash tests. We have also consulted with several car seat safety installation experts, including Lorrie Walker, the safety and training specialist at Safe Kids Worldwide; pediatrician Ben Huberman, who participates in writing the official American Academy of Pediatrics policies dedicated to child passenger safety and Jonathan Gorchek, an expert from one of the leading crash-testing sites.
It should be noted that all experts we have talked to pointed out that every car seat, represented on the market has passed the same strict safety testing standards, therefore, all of them are equipped enough to protect your kid during a car crash at least at the minimum level. The choice of the appropriate car seat for your child depends on several factors: the child’s age, the child’s weight (for more information about this there is a guide provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), the model of the car you are driving, and features which make car seats easier to install properly and, therefore, safer. The best car seat parents can choose for their child is the model that fits the kid, fits the vehicle, and the one that they can install and use correctly each time when they need it. Though there is no model that would fit all sizes and, at the same time, match all other important criteria, we have asked our experts for their recommendations that would fit most car models and make car seat installation safe and easy.
Best everyday infant car seats
Jen Braxton, the founder of the service company, which specializes in car seat cleaning and installation, as well as child passenger safety technician since 2009 recommends the model from Nuna Pipa. Because of its lightweight, safety and simplicity in use, he advises this car seat for infants above any other option from this category. This car seat is easy to install due to its rigid lock system, which holds the seat firmly. Moreover, equipped with a load leg, this model is very safe. The load leg is a feature, developed exclusively for infant car seats, which is connected down into vehicle’s floorboards. Since it has been successfully tested for preventing forward motion during the car crash, Huberman and Gorchek also recommend it as an added feature. When the stability load leg is applied, the crash is evenly dispersed through the steel frame of the car. This feature reduces the forward motion, which occurs in the car crash by 40 percent.
Uppababy Mesa is another car seat for infants, which was recommended by parents, like Mary L. Sparkey from Family Entourage blog. This option has a no-rethread harness. Walker strongly recommends this feature for easy installation, as kids grow up. It a very comfortable feature, because you do not need to rethread the harness when your kid grows bigger. You just have to pull the tabs to get it tighter. The harness slides down till it gets right over the kid’s shoulder. So, one day you can place a tall child in the car seat, which will fit perfectly, and the next day you can put a very tiny kid in it with the same perfect fit.
If parents want to buy something which more affordable in $200 range here is the car seat from Chicco KeyFit. Because of its easy installation, it is also one of the favorites among parents we talked to. Allyson Downey, who manages a consumer review website for child essentials, bought the Chicco KeyFit for her firstborn for its excellent reviews after she has done substantial research. A leading car seat specialist from one of Washington Pediatric Clinics says that this model is a very popular choice among those parents she works with. She is sure that this is because the manufacturer of these seats has a YouTube video, which gives detailed instructions on proper installation.
There is only one model in this category, which is recommended by Braxton. We are talking about Britax B-Safe 35 car seat for infants. The producer has added a side impact protection, as well as rigid steel frame and a safe center latch installation system. The center pull straps are used to fasten the car seat base easily and securely into the vehicle seat.
Best everyday convertible car seats
The next step up from the infant car seat is convertible seats. The seat from this category can be easily converted from rear-facing to front-facing. Diono Radian is Braxton’s favorite model in this category. Having a steel frame, this seat has a longer lifetime of 10 years, compared to the average seats with plastic molded frames, which have lifetime of only 4 years. Due to its narrow body, you can place three of them on the back seat of your car. It’s a good advantage if you have a growing family. The research results suggest that rear-facing children compared to front-facing, have lower risks of injury in a car crash. Therefore, child safety specialists recommend that kids should be kept rear-facing as long as possible. And this car seat model has a higher weight limit of 45 pounds for its rare-facing option.
Another option that is within the same price range is the Britax Marathon, with its Click Tight system, which makes the installation in the car very easy. That is the reason of Britax popularity among parents from our survey. One of our experts says that he swaps his car seat from car to minivan all the time, and due to the extreme simplicity of installation this process is a piece of cake for him, which takes him about half a minute to complete. Instead of going through a complicated process, like you need to with an average car seat, you just lift up the inside seat, like on a hinge, pull the seat belt over and just fasten it. This model has the no-rethread as well to fit your kid as he grows up. If you need more protection in a car crash you can also purchase an attachable Britax’s anti-rebound bar, which is applicable its convertible rear-facing car seats.
Best everyday combination car seats
Among the combination car seats, the ones that transform from front-facing mode with five-point harness into a booster seat, Braxton highlights the Britax Pinnacle, because of its Click Tight system, described above. This car seat has an added side impact and safe-cell impact protection features. They are made as honeycomb protection structures, built into the base of the seat. They lower the gravity center, as well as reduce the forward motion in a car crash. It is made with the firm steel frame and can handle kids up to 120 pounds in booster mode.
From the convertible category, our experts also recommend the Graco lightweight car seat, which was placed at the top of Consumer report’s list, after performing their crash tests. It is equipped with easy to adjust harness system and supports children up to 40 pounds in a rear-facing mode.
Best everyday booster seats
The last stage in car seats, which usually starts around the age of 7-10 years old, is booster seats. The weight limit for this type of car seats is 110 pound, however, the experts strongly recommend parents to it for their kids if they can. Some booster seat models come only with a high back, some are backless, and some options can transform from high-back to backless. The Clek Oobr model is the one advised by Braxton. As she states, she always recommends a booster seat with lower anchors, which attach the seat to the car. This option has an easy to use rigid lock system and is crafted with foam that has a high energy-absorption coefficient. Another advantage is that the seat reclines and your kid can take a nap while you are driving. Moreover, this model has one of the highest crash test results, as well as a decent weight limit.
Check out another convertible booster seat that transforms from a high back to a backless. Its weight limit is 110 pounds. This model comes with an additional head and shoulder protection from side impacts and an easy to attach latch system to fix the sit in your car.
While the best and the most reliable car seat are usually sturdier, most of them are quite heavy. As a result, most parents often end up purchasing two seats for their children: one is for travelling by car, and the second one is for airplane flights. Rental seats may seem to be a solution, however, Braxton does not recommend to use them, because you never know their previous background. They can be expired, dirty, broken or damaged. In this section, we present several popular car seat models, which are lightweight and portable. Most of them meet the standards of Federal Aviation Administration. For those models, which do not match the standards we have indicated that in their description.
Best infant car seats for traveling
When parents come to purchasing the seat for airplanes and vehicles, they should search for lightweight options, as well as for the ones with the narrow basу to fit into the airplane seats, which are different depending on the airline (check out the Seat Gure to get the information about the exact size). The best model should also have a clip-in stroller. Renee McCane, who is the Injury Prevention and Safe kids coordinator with 20+ years of installation experience, advises the Graco Snugride seat. It has a narrow base and weighs only 7 pounds. It is also equipped with the stroller. This seat is rear-facing and can support kids up to 35 pounds. Moreover, constantly receives positive references online.
The Nuna Pipa, which was earlier recommended by Braxton, is a good choice for travelling because of the same reasons, mentioned above. It comes with the removable protection canopy for trips in sunny weather and weighs only 8 pounds. There is even a lighter travelling seat, suggested by this manufacturer, which is called Pipa Lite. However, you should use it with the base.
Here is another lightweight car seat for infants we recommend you to check out for car and airplane travelling. It is the Doona model, equipped with the stroller. One of our experts told us that he bought the Doona seat for his first child, and this purchase made his experience of being a parent for the first time much easier and smoother. When we asked him what was so special about it – the answer was “the perfect fit” for airplane seats. He also emphasizes that the Doona car seat is very easy to install for travelling by car, and it is supposed to click to indicate that the car seat is locked in properly. Even though it runs quite expensive (over $500 for the car seat with the stroller), it is worth buying to make your travel experience more comfortable and safer.
Best convertible car seats for traveling
Both McCane and Braxton recommend Cosco Scenera in the convertible category. Having only 8 pounds of weight, this model is represented in most retail stores. You can find it in Walmart for only $40. It is easily installed in most airplane seats, you can install it upright, and so your baby’s neck is under control. This seat comes in one-piece shell and contains no extra parts parents have to deal with.
According to McCane, the Safety 1st convertible car seat is another popular model for travelling many parents choose. Being only 14 pounds of weight, this option has a higher weight limit for rare-facing mode, and parents can keep their child rare-facing for a longer period.
Combi Coccoro with the stroller is another McCane’s recommendation. This option has very high rates among parents. Being the narrowest on the infant car seat market, this infant seat will definitely fit in any airplane. It is a seat, which has one of the lowest starting weight of 3 pounds, so, it can serve you and your baby from birth until the age for the booster seat.
Best combination seats for traveling
Immi Go is a direct to consumer brand, which makes car seats. Their products are the Uber’s choice and the recommendation of Braxton, as one of the best options for car trips. The installation experts from Car Seat Lady advise them as well. The issue that these seats can be folded in half is the reason why Uber prefers using them instead of any other. It can be used with the five-point harness, as well as with in booster mode. Drivers can easily keep this seat in the trunk of their car and it takes a very little space. As Braxton says, her friends always use this seat model when they go travelling because of its lightweight, so it can be carried easily. Made of leatherette, this infant car seat is easy to clean after any spills and dirt. In addition to its lightweight (only 10 pounds), this model is narrow enough to place three of them in the back seat. What can be more convincing? However, it is not certified by FAA, so would want to use it for the car trips, rather than airplane journeys.
Best booster seats for traveling
It’s hard to believe, but there are car seats so small, as well as lightweight you can carry it in your purse or backpack. Braxton and McCane pointed us the Bibblebum travel booster seat, which is inflatable and has huge popularity among parents. This car seat is as big as a balloon. Families use these seats for carpooling because it can fit in the pocket. Yet this type of seats is not approved for use in the airplane, however experts note that they are the ideal match for kids hopping in vehicles or Ubers.
Mifold, a former project of Kickstarter, is one more booster seat, which is foldable. It is very tiny, as big as an average sized book, and the same width. However, you shouldn’t worry about its reliability. Instead of lifting your child up it gives a path for the seatbelt that captures your kid at the right spot – low on the hips and across his shoulders.
If you are looking for a booster car seat with a high back we suggest the Evenflo Amp model. Costing about $40 and being only 8 pounds of weight it is a perfect option for travelling. It can be easily transformed into a no-back booster seat, has six adjustment setting to fit your kid’s height, and comes with built-in holder for cups.