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Which Car Seat To Buy: Making Sure Your Little Ones Stay Safe On The Road (2022)

A good car seat is the most important tool you have to keep your child safe on the road.

When it comes to the littlest of passengers, it doesn’t matter how many built-in safety features a vehicle has.

Safety devices in cars are designed for adults, and the smaller a child is the less effective those safety devices become.

Car seats fill in the gap between a child’s small size and the safety features of a car.

Child seats provide all of the safety mechanisms for small children your car can’t, on a miniature-sized scale.

A good car seat cushions your child on the ride, holds your child in place, and protects your child from impact in case of accident.

The type of protection required, like many things, changes as your child grows.

That’s why it’s so essential to make sure your child is in the right type of car seat for their age and size, and that the car seat they’re in is properly installed.

Car Seat Weight Limits (And Height Limits)

father buckles baby in car seat

Car seat weight (and height) limits vary depending on their intended usage.

Car seats designed for newborns and infants, for instance, hold less weight than those designed for toddlers.

Car seats may also have different weight limits depending on their manufacturers.

There is really quite a wide variety of car seat makes, models, and weight limits, some of which are designed for only a short period of use, and others that are designed for extended use as your child grows.

Infant Car Seat Weight and Height Limits

Infant car seats are designed for use from birth/newborn to one year of age.

These seats are typically designed in a base/carrier style, making it easier to strap the youngest babies in and transport them to and from the car.

Unless they are convertible, these seats are designed to be installed only rear-facing.

Most babies will need to be switched from an infant to a convertible car seat by one year old.

  • Infant Car Seat Weight Limit: 20-40 pounds
  • Infant Car Seat Height Limit: 30-35 inches
  • Infant Car Seat Age Limit: 1 year

Toddler Car Seat Weight and Height Limits (Convertible Car Seats)

Toddler car seats, better known as convertible car seats, are not solely for toddlers.

Convertible car seats have low minimum weight limits, and can be installed rear-facing, providing ample protection even for the youngest of babies (including newborns).

When a child outgrows the rear-facing weight and height on the seat, the seat can be turned around and installed front-facing, providing another year or two of protection.

  • Convertible Car Seat Weight Limit: 65 pounds
  • Convertible Car Seat Height Limit: 49 inches
  • Convertible Car Seat Age Limit: 2-4 years

Many states require rear-facing car seats until age 2, after which they require a car seat OR booster for younger children.

But many children will be small enough to ride in a convertible car seat until age 4 or 5.

For their safety, you should keep them in a car seat as long as possible before switching to a booster.

Toddler-Booster Seats (Convertible Boosters)

When your child reaches 65 pounds and 49 inches, they have outgrown a car seat.

But that doesn’t mean your child is ready for a regular seat belt.

Booster seats are the final step before your child makes the big leap to a regular belt.

While you can buy a dedicated booster seat, you can also buy a convertible toddler (front-facing car seat) to booster seat.

A toddler-booster convertible is the perfect option for someone who wants the convenience of an infant car seat when a baby is first born, but would like to buy only one additional piece of equipment before their child reaches seatbelt age/weight/height.

  • Convertible Booster Seat Weight Limit: 80-120 pounds
  • Convertible Booster Seat Height Limit: 52-63 inches
  • Convertible Booster Seat Age Limit: none

Booster seats are designed to keep children under the safe seatbelt height (4’9″) safe.

As such, children should ride in a booster through a height of 4’8″ for their safety.

Though there are boosters on the marketplace with lower height limits, a good booster seat should have a maximum height of at least 57″ (4’8″).

All-In-One Car Seats

And, lastly, you have the car seat that does it all.

An all-in-one car seat is the only seat you’ll need to get your child from infancy to a regular seatbelt.

Well-made, all-in-one seats offer proper protection at every stage of your child’s development.

The only downside is that they do not have the carrying capabilities of an infant seat.

  • All-In-One Car/Booster Seat Weight Limit: 80-120 pounds
  • All-In-One Car/Booster Seat Height Limit: 52-63 inches
  • All-In-One Car Seat Age Limit: none

Again, some companies sell all-in-one car seats with lower height limits, but a good all-in-one car seat should have a maximum height of at least 57″ (4’8″).

Car Seat Weight Chart (+ Height & Age)

Car Seat Weight Chart
InfantConvertible
(Infant-Toddler)
Convertible Booster
(Toddler-Booster)
All-In-One
Weight Limit20-40 lbs.65 lbs.80-120 lbs.80-120 lbs.
Height Limit30-35″49″52-63″52-63″
Age Limit1 year2-4 yearsnonenone

Best Car Seats By Type/Age Range

And now, our top picks for best car seat by type/age range, based on safety and ease of use.

Best Newborn Car Seat

Chicco KeyFit Infant Car Seat – Encore

Chicco KeyFit Infant Car Seat - Encore
  • Consumer Reports Crash Protection Rating: Best
  • Consumer Reports Ease of Use Rating: 5/5
  • Consumer Reports Fit-to-Vehicle Rating: 5/5

Why we like it: The Chicco KeyFit Encore performs splendidly in safety tests and is easy to install and to use.

In fact, the KeyFit Encore performs as well in safety tests as infant car seats twice its price.

Incredible value without sacrificing safety.

Note: There is also a Chicco KeyFit 30 which holds more weight, but did not perform as well in crash tests. So, be aware of that while shopping.

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Best Infant Car Seat

Chicco KeyFit Infant Car Seat – Encore

Chicco KeyFit Infant Car Seat - Encore
  • Consumer Reports Crash Protection Rating: Best
  • Consumer Reports Ease of Use Rating: 5/5
  • Consumer Reports Fit-to-Vehicle Rating: 5/5

Why we like it: The Chicco KeyFit Encore performs splendidly in safety tests – tied as one of the safest infant car seats – and is easy to install and to use.

It’s incredible value without sacrificing safety.

Downside for Infants: The one issue with the Chicco KeyFit Encore for infants is that its weight limit is only 22 pounds. While this covers average growth in the age range (0-1), it won’t cover all babies.

If you have a heavier baby at birth, you’ll likely have to switch to a convertible seat sooner.

Note: There is also a Chicco KeyFit 30 which holds more weight, but did not perform as well in crash tests. So, be aware of that while shopping.

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Best Convertible Car Seat (Newborn-Toddler)

Chicco NextFit Zip

Chicco NextFit Zip Convertible Car Seat
  • Consumer Reports Crash Protection Rating: Best
  • Consumer Reports Ease of Use Rating: 5/5
  • Consumer Reports Fit-to-Vehicle Rating: 5/5

Why we like it: The Chicco NextFit Zip, like its infant seat counterpart, performs splendidly in safety tests and is easy to install and to use.

It’s more expensive than the Chicco KeyFit (almost double), but will get you through many more years.

The average child will fit the 49” height limit on the KeyFit until around age 7.

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 Best Toddler-Booster Seat (Convertible Boosters)

Evenflo Maestro Sport Harness Booster Car Seat

Evenflo Maestro Sport Harness Booster Car Seat
  • Consumer Reports Crash Protection Rating: Best
  • Consumer Reports Ease of Use Rating: 4/5
  • Consumer Reports Fit-to-Vehicle Rating: 4.5/5
  • Consumer Reports Booster Fit Rating: 3/5

Why we like it: While it takes a tumble on belt-positioning once converted to a booster, the Evenflo Maestro Sport Harness Booster Car Seat still gets the highest marks in crash tests (performing better than far more expensive models).

It’s quite decently priced for a convertible, and the height/weight limit will get you through to legal seat belt height and age in most states – 4’9” or 8 years old.

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Best All-In-One Car Seat

Graco TrioGrow SnugLock LX 3-in-1 Car Seat

Graco TrioGrow SnugLock LX 3 in 1 Car Seat, Infant to Toddler Car Seat
  • Consumer Reports Crash Protection Rating: Best
  • Consumer Reports Ease of Use Rating: 4/5
  • Consumer Reports Fit-to-Vehicle Rating: 5/5
  • Consumer Reports Booster Fit Rating: 5/5

Why we like it: As far as protection for value, this all-in-one car seat is almost impossible to beat.

It gets top marks in crash tests, and, if you don’t need the infant carrier, it’s the only car/booster seat you need from birth to legal seat belt age.

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Car Seats By Age

Here are our top picks for car seats for babies, toddlers, and younger children broken down by age.

Car Seat For 6 Month Old

Chicco KeyFit Encore (best overall rating)

Chicco KeyFit Infant Car Seat - Encore

Why we like it: The Chicco KeyFit Encore performs splendidly in safety tests – tied as one of the safest infant car seats – and is easy to install and to use.

It’s incredible value without sacrificing safety.

Car Seat For 9 Month Old

Chicco KeyFit Encore (best overall rating)

Chicco KeyFit Infant Car Seat - Encore

Why we like it: The Chicco KeyFit Encore performs splendidly in safety tests – tied as one of the safest infant car seats – and is easy to install and to use.

It’s incredible value without sacrificing safety.

Car Seat For 1 Year Old

Around one is when your child will need to make the important transition from an infant seat (if you’ve chosen to go that route) to a taller car seat.

Some babies will still be within the height range for their infant seats, while others will need to transition before they reach one years old.

The best seat for your child at this age depends on their height, but most one-year-olds will be better off in taller convertible or all-in-one seats.

Car Seat For 2 Year Old

Car Seat For 3 Year Old

Car Seat For 4 Year Old

Car Seat For 5 Year Old

Car Seat For 6 Year Old

Car Seat For 7 Year Old

Graco Trio Grow SnugLock LX 3-in-1 Car Seat

Graco TrioGrow SnugLock LX 3 in 1 Car Seat, Infant to Toddler Car Seat

Around seven is when your child will make the next important transition from a front-facing car seat to a booster seat. (On average. Some children will transition sooner, some later.)

At this stage, it’s good to have a convertible car-booster seat (or just a booster) at the ready.

Car Seat Age Limit

There is no age limit for car seats. As long as a child fits within the height and weight limits of a car seat, it is safe for the child to ride in it.

While the majority of children will grow out of maximum car seat weights and heights by the age of 7 or 8 (and 8 or 9 years old is the legal age to secure a child with a regular seat belt in most states), not all children will reach this milestone so early.

Many children will be small enough to be secured in a car seat (or booster) until 10 or even 12 years old.

While you are not legally required to secure your child in a car seat or booster once they reach standard seat belt age, the longer you keep your child in a car or booster seat, the safer they will be.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children ride in rear-facing car seats as long as possible (until they reach the height or weight limit), ride in front-facing harness car seats as long as possible, and then ride in booster seats as long as possible.

Once children reach 4’9”, which is the maximum height for most booster seats, they can safely ride with a regular seatbelt.

Most children reach this height between 8 and 12 years old.

Car Seat FAQ

When do you switch from an infant car seat?

Infant car seats are designed to protect most babies up to one year of age.

However, weight and height limits (especially height limit, which most children reach first) are more important than age.

Generally, your child should move to a convertible seat when his head is an inch below the top of the infant car seat or when her weight exceeds the weight limit on the infant seat.

When do you switch to a forward-facing car seat?

Rear-facing car seats are safer, because they absorb the impact of crashes and provide greater protection to children’s heads, necks, and spines.

This is especially important for babies and toddlers, whose heads are disproportionate to their bodies and who have less muscle control than older children and adults.

For the best protection, children should ride rear-facing as long as possible (until they exceed the height or weight limit for their rear-facing seat).

For most children, this happens between the ages of 2 and 3.

When do you switch to a booster seat?

For the best protection, children should ride in a front-facing car seat as long as possible (until they exceed the height or weight limit for their front-facing seat) before making the switch to a booster.

How do I know which car seat to get?

Perhaps, the most important question you’ll ask when buying a car seat is how do you know which car seat to get.

And it’s a tough question.

On one hand, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

As long as a car seat has good crash test results (in our opinion, you should always opt for a car seat that performs the best in crash tests), it will provide good protection for your child.

After that, which car seat you choose really depends on what’s most important to you.

If you want the best value for your money, a highly-rated all-in-one car seat like the Graco Trio Grow SnugLock LX 3-in-1 Car Seat will give it to you, while still maintaining quality protection.

But it doesn’t have the carrying capabilities of an infant seat.

If you do want those carrying capabilities when your baby is first born, you may choose an infant car seat to start, and then switch to a toddler-booster convertible, like the Evenflo Evolve Car Seat, for transitioning through your child’s toddler to early/middle childhood years.

You can also use a convertible car seat, like the Chicco NextFit Zip, from birth until it’s time to switch to a booster seat, and then opt for a stand-alone booster.

It’s really up to you which features are most important to you.

All that really matters when it comes to choosing a car seat is that your child is well-protected, and the car seats we have listed above offer some of the best protection on the market.

Disclaimer: These are some of the best-performing car seats on the market based on testing and market research. These recommendations are provided to aid you in your shopping for a child restraint system. Driving Geeks makes no claim to the safety or performance of these car seats under real-world conditions.

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