Few things are more exciting than preparing for the arrival of a new baby. Cribs, strollers, a diaper bag and those oh-so-adorable onesies—they’re all on everyone’s favorite-baby-gear the list. But shopping for a car seat? That’s more work than fun. Technical and not particularly cute, even the best car seats are hard to get excited about. Worse, the hundreds of options and often contradictory reviews make the task even more daunting. And yet, you won’t get your little bundle out of the hospital door without a car seat. Don’t fret. Our picks for the best car seats will make this shopping trip a breeze.
Car Seat Types
Car seats come in two versions: infant and convertible. Here’s what you need to know in order to choose one that’s right for you.
• Infant car seat. Always installed facing the rear of the car, infant car seats typically include head positioning pillows and are specially designed to support newborns. They work for baby from her first trip home until she’s 2 or surpasses the car seat’s specific height or weight limit. After that, you must upgrade to a convertible car seat.
• Convertible car seat: This car seat has two modes. Babies ride rear-facing until they outgrow the seat’s height or weight limits. Toddlers sit forward facing in a car seat with a harness for as long as possible, again until they get too big for the seat’s limits. After that, kids graduate to booster seats. The great thing about convertible car seats is that they can be used for a longer timeframe, but they’re typically much heavier than infant car seats.
Car Seat Safety Tips
Obviously, even the best car seats need to be installed correctly before it can protect your child. Not so obvious? What defines “correctly.” Brush up on key car seat safety tips before tackling installation.
BEST CAR SEAT STROLLER COMBO
The Doona Infant Car Seat/Stroller is a real game-changer for families constantly on the go. Unlike those bulky, multi-piece travel systems, it’s just one unit. The click of a single latch turns this car seat into a fully functioning stroller. Click again and the latch collapses the wheels back under the seat. Also making it one of the safest car seats, the Doona has a 5-point harness and 3-layer side impact protection.
What parents love: When it comes to the best car seats, practicality is key. And here, it’s unmatched—and indispensable when you’re running lots of errands. Plus, having a single unit frees up trunk space and the car seat can be securely used with or without the base.
In rear-facing mode only: from 4 to 35 pounds and up to 32 inches
Buy it: Doona Infant Car Seat/Stroller, $639, Amazon.com
BEST LIGHTWEIGHT CAR SEAT
At just eight pounds, the lightweight Maxi Cosi Mico AP is designed with self-wicking fabric that draws liquid away from the skin and deodorizes. That means baby stays dry and comfy for even long car rides.
What parents love: It’s a breeze to carry from car to stroller and easily installs without a base, making it perhaps the most convenient pick among the safest car seats for cab-hailing urban families.
In rear-facing mode only: from 5 to 22 pounds and up to 29 inches
Buy It: Maxi Cosi Mico AP, $168, Amazon
BEST CAR SEAT FOR EASY INSTALLATION
If the thought of installing a car seat makes you groan, you’ll be overjoyed to learn that there’s no need for tethers, latches or hard-to-figure-out anchors with the Britax Boulevard Clicktight XE Series Convertible Car Seat. Setup is as easy as buckling a seatbelt.
What parents love: The 14-position harness easily adjusts to your child’s height without the annoying step of rethreading the straps.
In rear-facing mode: from 5 to 40 pounds
In forward-facing mode: from 20 to 65 pounds and up to 49 inches
Buy It: Britax Boulevard Clicktight XE Series, $300, Target.com
BEST AFFORDABLE CAR SEAT (UNDER $100)
The best car seats don’t have to break the bank, and affordable car seats don’t mean you’re sacrificing safety. The low-cost Safety 1st Guide 65 Sport Convertible Car Seat is the favorite as far as cheap car seats go. It has all the standard features, like a 5-point harness and side-impact protection. Five harness heights and three buckle locations allow for the best fit.
What parents love: It’s surprisingly narrow, taking up just 18 inches of backseat space.
In rear-facing mode: from 5 to 40 pounds and 19 to 40 inches
In forward-facing mode: from 22 to 65 pounds and 34 to 49 inches
Buy it: Safety First Guide 65 Sport, $70, Amazon.com
BEST CONVERTIBLE BOOSTER CAR SEAT
If your car seat philosophy is one and done, look no further than the Diono Rainier Convertible Car Seat plus Booster. You can use it from the day baby comes home from the hospital until he’s ready for school. Plus, it has a long list of top-notch safety features like impact-absorbing foam and extra sidewalls that provide great side-impact protection.
What parents love: It’s the only car seat they will ever need.
In rear-facing mode: from 5 to 45 pounds
In forward-facing mode: from 20 to 90 pounds and up to 57 inches
In booster mode: from 50 to 120 pounds and up to 57 inches
Buy it: Diono Rainier Convertible Car Seat plus Booster, $250, Target.com
BEST CAR SEAT FOR COMFORT
A car ride can feel downright magical in the roomy, plush Nuna RAVA Car Seat, especially if your little one loves sleeping in the car. What’s more, it even exceeds American safety standards, which means baby will be as secure as he is comfortable in this luxury car seat. Ventilation panels and breathable fabric help keep baby cool in just about any climate. Better yet, the cover is washable. Now, how’s that for a best car seats pick?
What parents love: Laid back legroom and a 10-position recline and headrest adjustable at the touch of a button.
In rear-facing mode: from 5 to 50 pounds
In forward-facing mode: from 25 to 65 pounds and up to 49 inches
Buy it: Nuna RAVA Car Seat, $450, PotteryBarnKids.com
BEST CAR SEAT FOR SMALL CARS
Compact car owners: Look no further than the Combi Coccoro Convertible Car Seat. It’s so slim (15.5 inches wide) that three of them can fit side-by-side in most back seats. This best baby car seat also has impressive safety features, including deep side walls layered with EPS foam for superior crash protection.
What parents love: It’s so small, transferring between cars is a breeze. It can easily squeeze into a two-door too!
In rear-facing mode: from 3 to 33 pounds
In forward-facing mode: from 20 to 40 pounds and up to 40 inches
Buy it: Combi Coccoro Convertible Car Seat, $204, Target.com
BEST CAR SEAT TRAVEL SYSTEM
There’s a good reason why you see so many UPPAbaby MESA Infant Car Seats in your neighborhood. When you pair the car seat with the CRUZ stroller, you have one of the most versatile travel systems on the market. The combo can accommodate up to three kids: two in seats and one riding on a board. The slim design enables you to navigate the narrowest of spaces, making it perfect for city parents.
What parents love: A red-to-green indicator light lets you know the car seat is installed securely.
In rear-facing mode only: from 4 to 35 pounds and up to 32 inches
Buy it: UPPAbaby MESA Infant Car Seat, from $300, Amazon.com
Buy it: UPPAbaby CRUZ Stroller, $500, Uppababy.com
BEST TRAVEL CAR SEAT
At a mere 11.5 pounds and 17 inches wide, the Graco ComfortSport Convertible Car Seat is among the best car seats for long-distance travel. That said, it still has all the safety features you expect from the safest car seats, including impact-absorbing foam and a removable headrest.
What parents love: It’s a lightweight option that can accommodate their kid from newborn through toddler years.
In rear-facing mode: from 5 to 30 pounds
In front-facing mode: from 20 to 65 pounds and up to 49 inches
Buy it: Graco ComfortSport Convertible Car Seat, $90, Gracobaby.com
BEST ALL AROUND CAR SEAT
If your checklist for finding the best baby car seat includes easy to install, easy to use, and snug and secure, then pick up the Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat. It’s consistently top rated by both industry experts and parents, and NICU nurses reportedly love it because of the super-plush infant insert. Another cool feature: a smooth base that won’t damage your car’s upholstery.
What parents love: It is compatible with 12 different Chicco stroller models.
**In rear-facing mode only: from 4 to 30 pounds and 30 inches
Buy it: Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat, $200, Target.com
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