Safety is a big consideration when you’re choosing a car seat. You’ll want to research the safety features of the seat itself—things like side impact protection and harness fit—along with how the seat fits in your particular vehicle.
Which car seat is the safest?
This is probably one of the most common—and most important—questions Babylist parents ask us when trying to decide on a car seat.
All car seats in the United States pass the same minimum standard testing. While some more expensive car seats may include features that go above and beyond what’s required, when it comes to car seats + safety, it all comes down to fit and installation. The safest car seat is the one that: – Fits your child correctly (is the right size for your child’s age, weight and height) – Fits your vehicle – Can be installed correctly by you every time
Car seat safety features
Here are the safety features to pay attention to when you’re shopping for a car seat.
A five-point harness: This type of harness consists of two shoulder straps, two waist straps and a between-the-legs strap that all meet in a middle buckle. Five-point harnesses are safer than three-point harnesses because they spread the force from a crash over more areas of the body. They also hold your baby in place, preventing them from wiggling into an unsafe position.
Easy harness adjustment: A harness can’t do its job unless it’s properly fitted, and you’ll have a much better chance of getting it right if it’s easy to adjust. Look for a no-rethread harness if possible; that means you’ll be able to move the seat’s shoulder straps up and down without having to manually reroute them.
Higher rear-facing weight limit: As we mentioned above, riding rear-facing is safer for your little one than forward-facing. Choose a seat with a high rear-facing weight limit for extended use.
Side-impact protection: In about a quarter of crashes, your car is hit from the side rather than the front. Currently, side impact protection is unregulated, so the National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA) is researching how to test side-impact protection and what laws should be passed. You definitely want something that advertises side-impact protection, but be skeptical of claims that one brand has “more” than another because there’s no objective testing standard yet.
Tempted to save money and buy a used car seat? We don’t recommend it. Used car seats may be damaged and may not meet current safety regulations. If you do decide to buy used, buy from someone you trust so you know the seat’s history. Look up the seat’s expiration date and research if that particular model has ever been recalled. And be sure to follow the manufacturer’s rules around how to safely clean it.
Safest placement in your car
Not all car seats fit in all cars. We recommend using a retailer that accepts returns or permits you to test-install the car seat you’re interested in before you commit.
If you have a small car, don’t pick a seat with a large base. When in doubt, measure your car’s back seat and compare it to the measurements of the car seat’s base.
Besides making sure the seat physically fits in your back seat, the angle of your seat and the placement of your seat belts can also affect whether a car seat will be a good fit for your car. In most cars, the middle of the back seat is the safest spot; however, if you’re dealing with two car seats at the same time, there might not be room in the middle. Some cars also only have LATCH on the outside seats, so you’ll have to choose between a LATCH install or a middle seat.
Consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual for any special instructions. And don’t hesitate to reach out to a Child Passenger Safety Technician (AKA a trained car seat expert) to check your work.
Car seat safety tips
Keep these safety tips in mind when installing and using your car seat.
- Make sure your car seat is installed tightly. The seat should be unable to move more than one inch side-to-side or front-to-back.
- Use the correct harness slots. Harness straps should be positioned at or below your baby’s shoulders for a rear-facing seat and at or above your child’s shoulders for a forward-facing seat. They should also pass the pinch test: if the harness is snug enough, your fingers will slide off, but if it’s too loose, you’ll be able to pinch the webbing between your fingers.
- Find the correct recline. The car seat should be reclined to a safe angle so your baby’s head doesn’t fall forward. (Car seats have guidelines and adjustments to make sure you get the right incline depending on weight, height and age.)
- Car seats + winter coats don’t mix. Never strap your baby or toddler into their car seat while they’re wearing a winter coat or other heavy layers. (You won’t be able to get the harness straps tight enough and your little one won’t be safe in the event of a crash.) Instead, dress your little one in a few light layers or use a blanket over the car seat straps.
Best Infant To Toddler Car Seats (Top 5 Updated)
Below we selected the best infant to toddler car seats to share with you:
Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat is one of the best infant to toddler car seats you can buy on Amazon. The Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat grows with your child from rear-facing harness (4-50 lb) to forward-facing harness (22-65 lb).
It features a 4-position extension panel that provides up to 5” of extra rear-facing legroom, allowing your child to safely ride rear-facing longer. With Extend2Fit, the adjustable extension panel and 50 lb rear-facing weight limit allow the seat to grow with your child, providing extended rear-facing use.
Key Features of the Graco Extend2Fit convertible car seat
- 50 pound rear-facing weight limit
- 4-position leg extension which adds an extra 5 inches of legroom
- 10-position headrest
- No-rethread harness
- Buckle pockets
- 6-position recline
- Two removable integrated cupholders
- 10 year expiration
- InRight LATCH system with push-on connectors
- 1 year standard Warranty
Parents love that this seat is still affordable even though it has a large feature set. They also appreciate that even with the leg extension the car seat is streamlined and not as bulky as you’d think it might be.
One of the biggest complaints some parents had involved removing and replacing the cover when washing it. There are a bunch of little loops that hold the cover on, and some of the hooks are small and in hard to reach areas. This is probably the most disappointing aspect of this seat. When you have babies and young toddlers, having an easy to clean seat cover is a huge time saver.
- Convertible baby car seat
- Has reclining feature
- Cheap-looking quality
- Not easy to clean or wash
- Super tight straps
The Fit4 offers four different stages for transition. The first is the rear-facing stage for infants between four and 16 pounds. The second is the rear-facing stage for toddlers between 12 and 40 pounds. The third stage is rear-facing for preschoolers between 25 and 65 pounds. The final stage is the booster for children between 40 and 100 pounds.
The car seat includes protection for side and head-impacts called DuoGuardA. A frame reinforced with steel, and energy absorbent EPS foam surrounds the torso and head for all stages. Nine different reclining positions are available with ReclineSure. Adjustments are quick and simple. The headrest offer 10 positions to help prevent the head of the child from falling forward during a collision or a nap.
- Both the seat and manual are color-coded for all four stages. This makes it much easier for parents to understand which mode is correct for the child to ensure safety.
- The Chicco Fit4 has been approved by the FAA for use on an airplane in harness mode only. The label showing approval can be found beneath the seat of the Fit4. The FAA has not approved any car seats in booster mode or actual boosters for use on an airplane. This is because both shoulder and lap belts are required for booster seats. Only lap belts are currently available on airplanes.
- According to the manufacturer’s label, the car seat has a lifespan of 10 years.
- Comfortable and perfect fit
- Easy to install
- Features DuoGuard’s side-impact protection
- Has short straps that are too tight
- A bit overpriced
- Too hard for comfort
The Cybex Eternis S is a popular choice for parents who prefer to buy an all-in-one car seat as opposed to buying separate car seats. While it may have some issues when it comes to adjusting and tightening the straps, the safety and comfort features outweigh the challenges.
The Cybex Eternis S is an all-in-one seat built for longer use as with an expiration of 10 years. Hence, making it the only child car seat you’ll need and can transition from newborn until he graduates into a booster seat. This seat is integrated with an adjustable Linear Side-impact Protection (LSP) system which helps absorb up to 25% more impact in case of a side collision.
The seat also uses a strong and durable steel reinforced frame for optimum protection. At the same time, it has a three-point reclining headrest to prevent your little one’s precious head from falling forward while he is asleep giving you peace of mind.
- This child car seat is suitable for kids from four lbs. up to 120 lbs.
- This all-in-one car seat can be used in three modes: rear-facing, forward-facing, and belt-positioning booster.
- The car seat’s five-point safety harness is integrated with Sensor Safe Technology in the chest clip which makes it convenient for parents to strap their child in the seat.
- It is built with an Integrated Linear Side Impact Protection System (LSP) which reduces the impact of a crash up to 25%.
- The seat has a three-position reclining headrest to make your child feel more comfortable during the ride.
- It is designed with a 10-position reclining angle for better flexibility.
- This seat is built with a magnetic buckle holder for ease of use.
- This child seat has an expiration of 10 years and can be used for a long time.
- Straightforward installation
- Sensor Safe Technology
- No-rethread harness
- Magnetic buckle holder
- 50-pound rear-facing limit
- Removable machine-washable cover
- Removable cup holder
- Straps are difficult to adjust
- LSP system interferes with the tightness of the seat belt
- Tightening the latch is difficult
- Materials do not feel premium
The Britax One4Life is a quality Britax option that is easy to install and easy to use. We like the padding and comfy fabric cover you can remove in 4 parts. This seat uses the ClickTight installation method that means you don’t need to tighten anything making installation a breeze. Unfortunately, this seat suffers in a critical category, crash test analysis. With disappointing results during crash testing, we feel this option is not one we’d recommend as you can find a better seat with better crash test results that costs the same or less than this option with similar scores overall.
Britax has been creating juvenile products for over 70 years. They design gear for families keeping fun and safety in view. The company began distribution in the United States in 1996 after becoming the best-selling car seats in Europe.
The One4Life has one of the lowest crash test analyses results in the group with disappointing results for the chest sensor data and better than average HIC results. Each seat in this review meets or exceeds the federal safety guidelines in the FMVSS 213. This Britax has lower results than most of the other Britax options in this review. We commission our crash tests using the same guidelines and the same facility used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
- Solid car seat
- Has 9 recline positions
- Can accommodate up to 123 pounds
- Can be used in three modes
- It may take some time to install
- Not easy to clean
The most unique thing about the Revolve360 is that it could be a one time installation for harness mode (rear and forward facing) since there is only one belt path.
In addition, the top tether anchor is attached to the base, not the seat’s shell. Since the lower anchors have a fairly low weight limit (35 pounds for rear facing, 40 pounds for forward facing), installing this seat with the vehicle seat belt is the preferred method. It’s entirely possible that caregivers who own this seat would only need to install it one time. Ever.
Of course, safety should always be front of mind when kids are involved, and Evenflo has ensured that you can trust the Revolve 360 with your kid’s life. This new car seat has been tested for structural integrity (at 2x the federal requirement), side-impact, temperature, and rollover. Of course, it passed all the tests with flying colors.
The seat part locks securely into the swivel base with Evenflo’s LockStrong system. With this, you can visually check to make sure the seat is securely locked to the base, not something you want to be guessing about.
- Spins 360 degrees
- Easy to put child in and out of seat
- Has three use-modes
- Soft and well-cushioned
- Nice fabric
- Difficult to install
- Buckles aren’t very comfortable
- Quite expensive