The first time you placed your little one into the car seat for that ride home from the hospital was nerve-wracking, but you got over it. You grew confident.
Now you’re noticing that the snug, safe fit is just…tight. Those chubby toddler legs are scrunched up against the seat, and your baby’s head is approaching the seat’s height limit!
Time to start shopping for a bigger seat. We reviewed the 9 Best Toddler Car Seats.
Below is the list from highest to lowest price. For rankings and details, see below. Since prices change all the time, this is an approximate list.
|Maxi-Cosi Magellan Max All-in-One Convertible Car Seat|
|Britax Advocate Convertible ClickTight with Anti-Rebound Bar|
|Britax Boulevard Convertible Car Seat with Anti-Rebound Bar|
|Britax Marathon ClickTight Convertible Car Seat Verve|
|Graco SlimFit 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat|
|The Chicco NextFit Zip|
|Graco 4Ever Convertible Car Seat|
Our Top Pick: Costco Scenera – Best Budget Seat
This incredibly low-priced seat gets consistently good reviews, especially as an air travel seat.
professional seats examiners and bloggers alike consistently sing the praises of this streamlined, extremely lightweight seat.
At under eight pounds, this seat makes traveling easy and could work well as a second seat that needs to be moved between cars, too.
If you are looking for an airplane seat, this is safe and really easy to install in rear-facing mode on an airplane, too,
- Approved for air travel
- Easy to install rear-facing
- Seems flimsy
- Weight limit to 40 lbs.
- Use as rear-facing only for safest results.
Safety: (4.1 / 5) Ease of Cleaning: (4.1 / 5) Durability: (3.0 / 5) Pricing: (5.0 / 5) Average: (4.1 / 5)
Our Second Pick: Maxi-Cosi Magellan Max All-in-One Convertible Car Seat – Cutest Convertible Cart Seat
The Magellan is just so beautiful that we really want it to rank well, but it is missing crucial elements: a no-rethread harness, and an easy-install system. With its high price tag, it should lack for nothing.
That said, it is an incredible super seat that you can use for the time that your child is 4lbs up to 120 lbs. That’s a cradle to middle school seat!
It’s durable, has a lot of little comforting touches like a soft cover over the crotch buckle, and has a ten-year product life-span.
The only problem is that some complain that they just cannot get it installed as tight as it needs to be, and it doesn’t have a no-rethread harness.
- 10-year shelf-life
- Very cute seat
- Does NOT have a “no rethread harness
- Difficult to tighten
- Buttons hard to push
Safety: (3.0 / 5) Ease of Cleaning: (4.1 / 5) Durability: (5.0 / 5) Pricing: (4.1 / 5) Average: (4.1 / 5)
Our Third Pick: Britax Advocate Convertible ClickTight with Anti-Rebound Bar -Best Convertible Car Seat
Britax is a trusted brand with a long history of safety innovation.
In fact, Britax is part of the team the developed what came to be known as the LATCH system.
It’s a touch ironic that they have developed a system that makes it easier to use the seatbelt than the LATCH anchors, but ClickTight is widely regarded as game changing.
- Anti-rebound bar
- 3 layers side impact protection
- Impact absorbing material
- Easy installation
- Expensive – just below $400
Safety: (5.0 / 5) Ease of Cleaning: (4.1 / 5) Durability: (5.0 / 5) Pricing: (3.3 / 5) Average: (4.4 / 5)
Our 4th Pick: Britax Boulevard Convertible Car Seat with Anti-Rebound Bar (ARB) – The Safest Bet
The Britax Boulevard should, by all rights, be the best seat on the market, but the Advocate has that one extra layer of safety foam on its SICT wings.
Still, the Boulevard is right up there with the best, and it is between $20-$40 less than the Advocate.
This is a durable, long-lasting seat with excellent safety ratings and a patented easy-install feature. Highly recommended.
- Has a 65 lb. maximum.
- steel-reinforced frame
- side-impact protection
- High side “wings” to block debris
- Very expensive
- ClickTight hard to turn for some
- Harness belts hard for men to adjust
Safety: (4.5 / 5) Ease of Cleaning: (4.1 / 5) Durability: (5.0 / 5) Pricing: (4.0 / 5) Average: (4.4 / 5)
Our 5th Pick: Britax Marathon ClickTight Convertible Car Seat Verve – Most Comfortable
The third convertible car seat in the Britax ClickTight line has a lower price while still maintaining important safety features.
Owners of this seat find it a little difficult to install due to hand strength demands and the weight of the seat.
While the other ClickTight seats have extra wings as a safety feature, it can be advantageous not to have them, as on the Marathon.
The seat is still very safe, but it’s also easier to climb in and out of – or to lift a child out of.
Finally, the Marathon has plenty of reclining angles so that your child gets proper support, plus it has 14 quick-adjust headrest positions.
If you love Britax, want a seat that is made in the USA, but want to keep your purchase under $300, this seat is for you!
- More affordable than other Britax
- ClickTight installation
- 14 position harness positions
- Very sturdy
- Pool noodle needed for infant install
- Very heavy
- Difficult to uninstall
Safety: (4.0 / 5) Ease of Cleaning: (4.1 / 5) Durability: (5.0 / 5) Pricing: (4.5 / 5) Average: (4.4 / 5)
Our 6th Pick: Graco SlimFit 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat – Best for Small Cars or Multiple Young Children
It’s a safe seat that’s a little lighter and a little slimmer than the Graco 4Ever, so children can stay rear-facing a bit longer.
Graco so carefully designs its seats for maximum convenience and comfort, and the SlimFit takes all of the best in Graco design but puts it into a narrow seat.
Most cars can fit three SimFit seats in the backseat! It even has cup holders that can fold in to make room for other seats or passengers for more room.
This seat can be used for children from 5 lbs. to 100 lbs.
- InRight™ Latch system (one-second attachment)
- Fit three across in your backseat
- Great price
- Only comes in four recline positions
- Plain design
Safety: (4.5 / 5) Ease of Cleaning: (4.1 / 5) Durability: (4.5 / 5) Pricing: (4.5 / 5) Average: (4.4 / 5)
Our 7th Pick: Graco Extend2Fit – Best Comfort for Longer Rear-facing
Currently, Amazon’s #1 Bestseller in Convertible Car Seats, because it’s a perfect combination of affordability, usability, and safety.
Has all of the safety features of the other Graco seats, plus an extension panel that adjusts to add up to 5” of leg room for rear-facing toddlers.
- Additional leg room rear-facing
- 50lb. rear-facing weight maximum
- Square cup holders
- Extension panel can’t extend in small vehicle
Safety: (4.5 / 5) Ease of Cleaning: (4.0 / 5) Durability: (4.5 / 5) Pricing: (4.5 / 5) Average: (4.4 / 5)
Our 8th Pick: The Chicco NextFit Zip – SuperCinch LATCH Tightener
Chicco’s NextFit Zip has elements familiar to some of you from the popular KeyFit infant seat, like the SuperCinch.
The SuperCinch is a force multiplier that makes it easy to tighten the seat’s tethers when they are attached to the LATCH anchors.
Elderly caregivers or people with arthritis can tighten the seat easily and make the fit firm – it’s an amazing innovation!
Additionally, this seat has side-impact protection and a steel-reinforced frame.
Although it’s light enough to use as a rear-facing infant seat, it doesn’t have a base, and those are so convenient that they’re practically a necessity in the infant stage.
The weight/age limit is 65 pounds, approximately “96 months.”
Plus, it’s comfortable, stylish, and the seat cover UNZIPS for easy removal. Highly recommend.
- SuperCinch LATCH Tightener
- LockSure seatbelt tightening system
- Unzip seat cover for easy cleaning
- Goes up to booster seat height
- Nine reclining angles
- Sturdy, durable
- Heavy, hard to uninstall
- Rear-facing mode only to 40 lbs. because of the seat’s weight
Safety: (5.0 / 5) Ease of Cleaning: (5.0 / 5) Durability: (4.0 / 5) Pricing: (4.5 / 5) Average: (4.6 / 5)
Our 9th Pick: Graco 4Ever Convertible Car Seat – InRight™ LATCH system
Amazon’s #1 Best Seller in 3-in-1 seats, this is the only seat you will ever need – really! Safe, comfortable, and it will take you from infant to late elementary age.
The Graco 4Ever has a Booster option that goes up to 100lbs., or 57 inches!
Smart, cost-effective alternative to the Maxi-Cosi Magellan.
Graco seats also feature the InRight™ LATCH system – the tethers make an audible “click” when they’re attached to the LATCH hooks, and then it’s just a matter of pushing on the center of the seat and pulling the belt tight. Check out a video demo here.
- Long life
- InRight™ LATCH system
- Headrest makes a rattling sound
- Some consumers think the shape of the headrest plus the angle of the seat make it an uncomfortable ride if kids are at an in-between height.
- Some children’s heads fall forward when sleeping
Safety: (5.0 / 5) Ease of Cleaning: (4.5 / 5) Durability: (4.0 / 5) Pricing: (4.5 / 5) Average: (4.5 / 5)
Buyer’s Guide: Toddler Seat Types
There’s no such thing as a “toddler” seat per se – it’s really a choice between a convertible, combination (booster/car seat), an all-in-one, or a harness booster.
This review excludes booster seats from the list because they’re more for ages 5 and up.
Safety: Federal Regulations and Tests
The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 213, Child Restraint Systems governs safety compliance for every car seat sold in the US, and the NHTSA ratings show how easy these already compliant seats are to install.
Ease-of-Use Makes it Easier to Install Properly
Since the safest seat is a properly installed seat, and since there are too many variables to be able to accurately rate effectiveness during a crash.
The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) rates car seats’ ease-of-use ratings rather than giving them “safety” ratings.
The logic is that the easier a seat is to use, the lower the probability that it will be installed incorrectly.
At least 59% of seats are improperly installed, making them less effective or even dangerous in a crash. Signs of improper installation are seats that can be moved back and forth more than an inch either way or that move when a child moves.
Look for No-Rethread Straps
No-rethread strap adjustment is a huge plus because there is a lower likelihood that you will improperly rethread when adjusting.
Look for seats that allow for rear-facing longer
New federal guidelines recommend that children remain rear-facing until at least two years of age. The safest car seats are those that allow you to keep them rear-facing for longer.
Easy to Clean
These seats should last you a while. You don’t want some gross, stained seat, but you also don’t want a big hassle every time you clean it.
Read reviews and rating on the seat’s durability. A distant expiration date is a good indicator, plus material quality, the thickness of the straps and buckles, and sturdiness are good indicators as well.
Get the most for your money. Some $700 seats might well be worth the money, while some $140 seats are definitely overpriced. Make sure the quality matches up with price tag.
If you ever have trouble with any seat:
Take the seat to a nearby certified safety technician – check your local fire station, or look it up here.
Frequently Asked Questions
When can I use a booster seat?
Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible, then transition to a convertible or combination seat until about five years old, or 50 pounds.
Read here for booster readiness information.
What do the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s ease-of-use rating mean?
The NHTSA uses a 5-Star rating system: Excellent (5) to Poor (1).
Child restraints are assessed in each of its modes and rated according to attributes like readability of safety stickers, location of the instruction manual, and vehicle installation features.
Why can’t I keep using the LATCH system once the combined weight of the seat plus my child is over 65 lbs?
In 2014, new Federal guidelines went into effect stating that the LATCH system cannot be used if the combined weight of the child plus the seat is over 65 pounds.
The anchor system might fail over the 65 pound limit.
Where can I find a certified car seat safety engineer near me?
Go to this website and enter your location. It will generate a list of nearby technicians: https://cert.safekids.org/get-car-seat-checked
When can my kid stop using a booster?
Children’s bones are developed enough and should be the proper height and weight somewhere between 8-13 years of age. Regulations also change by location, so check your local laws.
Are used car seats safe?
A car seat that you find at a garage sale or some resale website like Craigslist is a real roll of the dice, and not a safe game to play. You need to know the history of the seat that you choose so you can avoid getting a faulty seat.
If you want to purchase or accept the gift of a used seat, follow these tips:
- No major accidents. The force from crashes put stress on the seat components and weakens them so that they behave unpredictably in a crash (translation: they could break apart, come loose from the restraints, and fail).
- The seat should also have all of its parts
- Safety stickers should be present and readable
- Instructions should be with the seat
- The car seat should not be expired.
If you absolutely must look at used seats, take a look at the tips here for a safety checklist.
I keep my kids’ coats on in winter when I strap them into their seats. That’s okay, right?
No, no, 1,000 times, no.
In a crash, the harness straps will push the extra air out of the coat, and the child will move around too much in the loose straps.
In cold weather, place a coat OVER the toddler once he or she is strapped in. Clothes only under harnesses – no coats or snow pants.
When can children ride in the front seat?
Children must be able to properly use the seat belts before they can ride without a booster, and be the right height for airbag deployment.
Most people are tall enough by about 14 years of age, or even 10!
I have too many young children to fit them all in the back seat. What can I do?
The best thing to do is to get a new car with multiple rows of seats, like a mini-van.
Otherwise, carpool or get a sitter. It sounds harsh, but it’s true.
It’s going to be tough until one of your older children is old enough to sit with a normal seatbelt. Once your child can sit with the belt properly placed (across the lap, not the stomach. Shoulder belt across the shoulder, not on the neck or head), then you could try to get the airbag disabled.
If you disable the airbag, push the passenger seat as far back as possible and keep your child’s seat upright.
Can car sets be installed with just the lap belts?
No. Seats with bases can, but other seats and boosters need shoulder belts.
Do I need a high back booster or a backless booster?
This will depend on the type of car you own. This is a great resource from the NHTSA:
Can I use my car seat on an Airplane?
Most of these seats are rated for air travel, but some are too heavy to be practical.
Is it really that dangerous to leave the kid in the car for a quick errand?
It only takes 10-20 minutes for a car to heat up enough to cause fatal heat stroke.
Children’s bodies are not as efficient at regulations temperature as adults bodies are, so they are more sensitive to temperature extremes.
Tip: Talk to your baby while you drive. It’s good for brain and language development, and it makes it harder to forget that you have a baby in the car!
For more information about heatstroke and other car dangers, see this page on the NHTSA website: https://www.nhtsa.gov/document/keeping-kids-safe-parents-guide-protecting-children-and-around-cars
There has never been a safer time for your child to ride with you. There are videos and tutorials all over the internet.
There are tons of reviews and answered questions on Amazon.com, Quora, YouTube, and through other retail sites like Target.com or Walmart.com. You have so many valuable resources. Use them to keep your family safe.