- Car seats are one of the most critical pieces of gear parents with young kids need, but they’re also one of the most overwhelming items to buy.
- We’ve cut through the myriad options to find the best ones for kids of all ages. In choosing the top picks for the best car seats and boosters, we considered both expert tests and reviews as well as parents’ actual experiences.
- Our top pick is the Chicco KeyFit 30, which is reasonably priced, easy to install, and fits babies up to 30 pounds.
All car seats sold in the US have to meet the same federal safety standards, but that’s where the similarities end. Some are better than others for taller kids, some are more comfortable for long-haul trips, and some are much easier to install. It’s crucial to have the right car seat because a poorly installed seat can compromise your child’s safety. Add all that to the fact that many car seats are expensive, and choosing the right one can feel impossible.
Few baby and kid products are subject to as much scrutiny as car seats, so we had plenty of expert tests and reviews to look at while making our picks. Of course, it’s also important to consider real-world use from parents who aren’t lab testers or child passenger safety technicians. That includes my own experiences – I’ve been through six car seats and counting between two children.
All of that feedback led to our picks: an ultra-easy-to-install infant seat, a similarly easy-to-use convertible for older toddlers and preschoolers, a harness-to-booster that can keep kids safe before they’re completely ready for a booster, and a versatile booster that might be the last car seat your child needs. We also chose alternative car seats in each category that are less expensive for parents on a strict budget.
Here are the best car seats:
- Best infant car seat: Chicco KeyFit 30
- Best budget infant car seat: Graco SnugRide Click Connect 30
- Best lightweight infant car seat: Nuna PIPA Lite LX
- Best convertible car seat: Chicco NextFit Zip
- Best budget convertible car seat: Evenflo Triumph LX
- Best harness-to-booster seat: Britax Frontier ClickTight
- Best budget harness-to-booster seat: Evenflo Maestro
- Best booster seat: Graco Affix Booster Seat
- Best budget booster seat: Harmony Youth Booster
Prices and links are current as of 2/19/20. We are currently testing new products, so we’ll update this guide soon.
The best infant car seat
The Chicco KeyFit 30 is a breeze for nervous new parents to install, it’s easy to use, and fits even the tiniest babies well.
Got a tiny baby? A chunker? Either way, no worries: The Chicco KeyFit 30 accommodates babies from four to 30 pounds. A plush, full-body newborn insert is included with the seat to fit smaller babies and is recommended for use up to 11 pounds. The height limit is 30 inches or whenever your baby’s head is an inch from the top of the seat’s shell.
The secret sauce of the KeyFit is extreme ease of use. This is not a car seat you’ll have to do battle with during installation, and I can vouch for that, as it installed quickly and simply for both my sons. As CarseatBlog notes, the instructions are very clear whether you’re installing the seat using LATCH connectors or a seat belt (choose one or the other – never both). The base is easy to adjust to change the seat angle, and there is a built-in bubble level to tell you when you’ve got it just right.
I also loved being able to leave the handle in any locked position, up or down, while driving. Some car seats stipulate that you put the handle down, which is just one more thing for an overloaded parent’s brain to remember. I never had to fuss with the smooth-to-adjust harness, and the seat cover is extremely easy to wipe down. It can even be detached and thrown in the washer after that inevitable diaper blowout.
One long-standing criticism of the KeyFit that the Baby Gear Lab mentions is that it has a skimpy sun canopy compared with other infant seats. That’s true, but it’s also easy to rectify the issue by draping a very thin muslin blanket over the handle in bright sunlight. The KeyFit also isn’t the lightest car seat at 9.6 pounds, though it is a pretty average, weight-wise, for infant car seats these days. An easy-to-use stroller frame like the Chicco Keyfit Caddy can be an arm-saver if you want to stroll for a while.
Pros: Very easy to install, fits all sizes of babies well, machine-washable cover, padding is plush, harness is easy to adjust, reasonably priced compared with other high-end car seats
Cons: Smaller canopy, heavier than some other infant seats
The best budget infant car seat
The Graco SnugRide Click Connect 30 is affordable, lightweight, and has ample padding and a large canopy to ensure your baby’s comfort.
Like the Chicco KeyFit 30, the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 30 can accommodate babies from four to 30 pounds and up to 30 inches long. It comes with a newborn head support to keep a small baby’s head stable, but not full-body support like the one that comes with the KeyFit. Because of that, CarseatBlog notes that you may need to add rolled washcloths outside the harness to stabilize a very small baby in the seat.
This Connect 30’s biggest strong point: Unlike the KeyFit, it’s very lightweight at only seven pounds (without base), so you won’t break your back hauling it from the house to the car. It’s also compatible with Graco’s large Click Connect line of strollers and many non-Graco strollers, owing to its popularity. The cover is machine-washable, and it has a large sun canopy that offers more coverage than the KeyFit, too.
On the flip side, its downfall is a lack of ease of use. It’s not a hard seat to install, but it’s definitely not as easy to manage as the KeyFit. It has harder-to-use hook-style LATCH rather than push-button connectors. There is no level indicator to tell you when you have the seat at the proper installation angle, so you’ll have to eyeball a single line on a seat label instead. However, reviewers say adjusting the harness during day-to-day use is smooth and easy, and this seat also allows the handle to be left in any locked position while driving.
Pros: Inexpensive, very lightweight, compatible with many strollers, large canopy, machine-washable cover, easy-to-adjust harness
Cons: Not as easy to install, skimpy infant insert
The best lightweight infant car seat
- Steven John/Business Insider
The Nuna PIPA Lite LX infant car seat can accommodate babies weighing up to 32 pounds, yet it weighs just 5.7 pounds itself.
Try picking up a ten-pound weight and carrying it around for a few minutes – you’ll probably find the task no big deal. Now swap out that weight for a car seat that you have to lean over at an awkward angle to keep level, and then add a couple-dozen pounds of kid and then see how you do. Ten pounds is a pretty average weight for infant car seats and having used one weighing that much with my son, I can tell you that what seems like a tolerable weight at first becomes quite a load as your kid grows.
And for the record, I’m a 6’2″ man who weighs 180 pounds, and yes, I still found our old heavy car seat a burden. For our newborn daughter, my wife and I switched to the Nuna PIPA Lite LX infant car seat. We did so partly because it’s compatible with our Nuna DEMI Grow stroller, but mostly because the PIPA Lite isn’t joking around with its name.
This infant car seat weighs less than 6 pounds, and that’s with inserts. Even when our kid passed her two-month mark, I can still lift the thing in and out of a car with one arm extended and with a 45-pound preschooler in my other arm to boot.
The safety stats of the Nuna PIPA Lite LX are stellar. Also, it has a good sun shield, it pops into and out of the base or onto the stroller with ease, and it has an adjustable handle. The light weight is the true selling point here, but there’s one more godsend to highlight: On either side of the seat is a little slot into which you can tuck the buckles while settling or retrieving your kid, thus keeping the straps and hardware out of your way. If that seems like a pointless flourish, then you have not spent much time dealing with babies in car seats.
CarseatBlog calls the Pipa Lite LX an “outstanding rear-facing-only seat” in terms of safety and ease of use, and called it “so light you can literally carry it with one finger.” – Steven John
Pros: Amazingly lightweight, quick installation, easy to get baby in and out of seat
Cons: Very expensive for category
The best convertible car seat
The Chicco NextFit Zip convertible is one of the easiest-to-install convertibles, and its high height and weight limits mean you can keep your toddler safely rear-facing for a longer time than with other seats.
If you’re thinking about skipping the convenience of an infant seat with a base and going straight to a convertible, the Chicco NextFit Zip has you covered. It can be used for babies and young children from five to 40 pounds rear-facing, and 22 to 65 pounds forward-facing. It also includes a newborn insert for infants from five to 11 pounds. There is a 49-inch height limit. Still, this seat can keep kids rear-facing for a while, and many kids will also be able to stay in it forward-facing until they’re ready for a booster, notes CarseatBlog.
Like the Chicco KeyFit 30, the NextFit is almost mind-bogglingly easy to install. It features a “SuperCinch” LATCH system that is simple to tighten, eliminating that annoying side-to-side seat wiggle that means your installation needs work. The NextFit also has nine recline positions that make getting the proper installation angle a sure thing in any vehicle. You can double-check that you’ve got it right using the convenient bubble level.
The Chicco NextFit Zip has a zippered seat cover that can be removed in a flash. Finally, the harness height can be adjusted from the front of the seat, which is a great feature. It means you won’t have to uninstall the seat to tinker with it when your kid grows a foot overnight.
What’s not to love about the NextFit? Like many premium convertibles, it’s quite heavy at 25 pounds. While you won’t be walking around with it like an infant seat, that’s still worth considering if you know you’ll want to move the seat from car to car. It’s definitely too heavy for convenient travel – dragging this seat through the airport will leave you hating life.
The seat is bulky, with side-impact protection panels that come up too far, making it more difficult to get a growing child in and out. As Car Seats for the Littles notes, the harness can be hard to tighten on smaller babies.
Note: Our original recommendation, the Chicco NextFit, has been discontinued. We have switched our recommendation to the Chicco NextFit Zip, which has a zippered seat cover and it now has a lower price.
Pros: High height and weight limits, also good for young infants, good side-impact protection, very easy to install, machine-washable cover, harness height can be adjusted from front of seat
Cons: Expensive, heavy, bulky, harness can sometimes be hard to tighten
The best budget convertible car seat
The Evenflo Triumph LX is very affordable, but it has many features you’d normally find on a much pricier car seat.
Budget-friendly convertible car seats keep kids just as safe as pricier ones, but they often skimp on comfort and convenience. The Evenflo Triumph LX requires no such compromise, offering a lot of the features of seats twice its price.
Let’s get one of the biggest downfalls out of the way early: The Evenflo Triumph LX is not going to last as long as other convertibles when it’s rear-facing. While you can use it from 5 to 40 pounds rear-facing and 22 to 65 pounds forward-facing – just like the Chicco NextFit Zip – it has a rear-facing height limit of 37 inches. That means this seat likely won’t get a taller kid rear-facing much past the age of two, so keep that in mind if you don’t want to turn your child around that early.
That said, there’s a lot to like about the Triumph LX. It uses thick, gel-infused padding, uncommon among less expensive seats. CarseatBlog loves the convenient buckle pockets, which mean you don’t have to dig around under your child’s back and rump for the straps when it’s time to buckle up. The reviewer also says the cover is easy to remove, and machine-washable to boot.
Testers with Car Seats for the Littles say installation is simple despite the older, hook-style LATCH. Its reviewers also love the Infinite Slide harness feature that means the straps can be adjusted up or down without moving the seat. Experts give this seat great marks for crash protection, too.
There are potential pitfalls, of course. Baby Bargains notes that the Triumph is wide, so look elsewhere if you’re short on space. There are also no strap covers, and the knobs used to adjust strap tension get mixed reviews – some say they’re stiff and can be hard to turn when the seat is rear-facing.
Pros: Good fit for small babies, easy to install, harness height can be adjusted from the front of the seat, thick padding, buckle-keeper pockets, machine-washable cover
Cons: Low rear-facing height limit, wide, no strap covers, knobs that adjust harness tension can be hard to use
The best harness-to-booster seat
With the Britax Frontier ClickTight, you can keep your child in a five-point harness for as long as you want, then convert the seat to a belt-positioning booster when your child is ready.
Big kids often move to booster seats before they’re mature enough to use a seat belt properly. The Britax Frontier ClickTight has an impressively long lifespan, which is why I chose it for my taller-than-average kids after they were out of their convertibles.
In harness mode, it can be used for children from 25 to 90 pounds (yes, 90) and 30 to 58 inches tall. Switch it to a booster, and it’s good from 40 to 120 pounds and 45 to 62 inches. It also has souped-up side-impact protection. In other words, this is the seat you want to buy if you hope to keep a bigger kid as safe as possible for as long as possible.
Another boon with the Frontier: It’s super easy to install, thanks to the Britax ClickTight system. You open a hidden panel in the seatback, thread the seat belt over the armrests and through the panel, close it, and voila – rock-solid install, no profanity necessary. For a demonstration, check out this video. It really is that simple.
Of course, the Frontier can also be installed using LATCH, but ClickTight actually makes a seat-belt installation easier. More ease-of-use goodness: The fabric is easy to wipe, there are two integrated cup holders, and you can adjust the harness height from the front of the seat without uninstalling it. That’s such a nice feature during those inevitable growth spurts. It’s also an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety “best bet” in booster mode, and it has gotten very good marks for crash protection in separate expert tests.
The Frontier isn’t without its downsides. Obviously, the high price is one. Next is weight: At 25 pounds, it’s a tank. The seat cover is not machine-washable, either, and although that’s not quite as crucial at this age, it’s still something to think about if you have a kid who gets carsick or constantly leaves crushed Goldfish crackers in their wake.
Pros: Very high height and weight limits, good side-impact protection, very easy to install, harness height can be adjusted from the front of the seat, dual cup holders, converts from harnessed seat to booster
Cons: Expensive, heavy, seat cover is hand-wash only
The best budget harness-to-booster seat
The Evenflo Maestro is lighter and slimmer than many bulky harness-to-booster seats.
No, the Evenflo Maestro can’t keep your kid harnessed to 90 pounds like the Britax Frontier ClickTight, but it will still keep most kids harnessed until age five or six, when parents often opt to switch to a belt-positioning booster seat anyway. It can be used in harness mode from 22 to 50 pounds and 28 to 50 inches tall. When switched to booster mode, it can be used from 40 to 110 pounds and 43 to 57 inches.
Other than its low price, its low weight is one of the Maestro’s best features, because it weighs just 12.7 pounds, making it only half the weight of the Frontier. This seat is a candidate for parents who need a seat that’s light enough to travel with or one they can frequently switch between cars.
As CarseatBlog points out, it’s also a fairly narrow seat that may work for families who have to squeeze three car seats into one row. There are dual cup holders – always a plus – and the seat cover is machine-washable. Like the Frontier, it also earns “best bet” certification from the IIHS for properly positioning kids in booster mode, and receives other experts’ nod for crash protection as a harnessed seat, too.
Though buyers might expect a cheaper seat like the Maestro to be a pain to install, reviewers say that’s not the case. Instead, one of the seat’s main limitations is comfort. The headrest can’t be adjusted, for instance, and cover-free straps can rub a child’s neck. The shell of this seat is not that tall, and once the tops of a child’s ears are higher than the top of the seat, they’re too big to use it – even if they are shorter than the stated 57-inch limit. That means they may yet need another booster after this one.
Despite the downsides, it’s still a great car seat for those who need a harness to booster setup.
Pros: Very inexpensive, lightweight, narrow, machine-washable cover, excellent marks for crash protection, converts from harnessed seat to booster
Cons: Lower height and weight limits, child may outgrow booster quickly, headrest can’t adjust as child grows, straps aren’t comfortable for some kids
The best booster seat
The Graco Affix gives you options, including a high-back version that converts to a backless booster and a backless version that’s easy to use and install.
Congratulations: Your kid is old enough for a booster seat. No more fussing with harnesses – just the regular old seat belt, which your child can learn to buckle on their own. The Graco Affix can keep your big kid safe from 30 to 100 pounds and 38 to 57 inches in high-back mode, or 40 to 100 pounds and 40 to 57 inches in backless mode. Graco says the seat is suitable for kids as young as three, but take note – experts at Car Seats for the Littles recommend children stay in a harnessed seat until age five at an absolute minimum.
One of the nicest features of the Affix is the LATCH connectors that secure it to the vehicle’s seat. That means the booster won’t slide around if you’re driving without your child belted into the seat. Even better, the connectors can be tightened with one hand from the front of the booster. The Affix also has a cup holder and a nifty slide-in storage compartment ideal for stashing small toys or snacks.
Car Seats for the Littles says the belt guide is wide and easy to use, and belt fit is good on a range of kids. It’s also an IIHS “best bet” seat. The headrest is fully adjustable, and the seat is lightweight – even with the back on, it’s shy of 11 pounds. Finally, the seat cushion is machine-washable.
Given their simplicity, there usually aren’t as many complaints about boosters. The Affix garners only minor criticism. It’s not the narrowest booster you can buy, so it might not work for some families who are short on space. And the belt guide doesn’t always keep the shoulder belt in place, making it hard for their kids to buckle up independently.
Pros: Available as high-back or backless seat, high-back converts to backless seat, LATCH keeps seat stable when not in use, good belt fit for most children, headrest can adjust as child grows, lightweight, machine-washable cover
Cons: Wider than some boosters, seat belt sometimes slips out of belt guide
The best budget booster seat
The Harmony Youth Booster is just what you need for an older kid who still needs a boost, but who also needs something easy to take along while carpooling to school or soccer practice.
Once your child is officially in big-kid territory, with gangly limbs, real friends, and after-school sports, it’s hard to resist the allure of an easy-to-carry, easy-on-the-wallet backless booster like the Harmony Youth Booster. The Harmony can be used for kids from 30 to 100 pounds and 34 to 57 inches tall, though it’s worth repeating that experts say kids younger than five typically aren’t ready for boosters. It also weighs only 2.5 pounds – yes, you read that right – so it’s a great option for an on-the-go family.
The Harmony isn’t just light, it’s also relatively narrow, experts with Car Seats for the Littles say. That’s helpful for packed carpooling situations or families who may need to squeeze their big kid in alongside younger siblings in bulkier car seats. It’s also an IIHS “best bet” for belt fit and gets good expert marks for crash protection. The seat belt is simple to route under the Harmony’s low armrests, and a seatbelt positioning clip is included for situations where the seat belt doesn’t fit well enough on its own.
Keep in mind that the Harmony Youth booster is quite basic, so you won’t be getting any extras. There are no cup holders, or LATCH connectors to keep the seat in place when it’s unoccupied. Padding is somewhat thin, so it might not be the most comfortable seat for a long trip.
Pros: Inexpensive, lightweight, narrow, good belt fit for most children
Cons: No LATCH, no cup holder, thin padding
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