A car seat is one of the most important purchases as new parents or soon-to-be parents. Your child’s life is going to be held in this device every time you drive, so you’re going to want to make absolutely sure that you’ve got the right one for your particular needs. Not only do you need to keep safety in mind, but your child’s comfort is also of the utmost importance.
In order for just about every parent out there to find the best car seat on the market for their child, we’ve created a guide and list for you to follow while you’re looking at what to purchase. While our top pick is the Evenflo Maestro Booster Car Seat, there’s also our step-up pick, budget option, and specialized choices. We even included a list of the competition for the number one spot, so you can see the other car seats that almost made the number one or step-up spot, but fell just shy.
Not only do we give you a list of all excellent choices for your child’s car seat, but we also provide the answer to some frequently asked questions about car seats, tips for how to install a car seat, how to choose a car seat, and much more. This is a complete guide that contains roughly everything you’ll need to purchase the right car seat for the right stages in your child’s life, and more.
Different Types of Car Seats and Their Uses
There are different models of car seats for different stages in your child’s life. We like to cover all of our bases, so a run-down of the different models is in order.
Infant Car Seat
Designed for newborns and infants, the infant car seat is, generally speaking, going to be the first car seat you ever get for your little one. It’s recommended that you have your infant car seat installed rear-facing; in fact, some states actually require it. Fortunately, most of the infant car seats on the market make it readily easy to install it rear-facing.
Toddler Booster Seat
This forward-facing type of car seat is designed for children who only meet the appropriate weight, height, and age requirements to sit facing forward. The toddler booster seat is a more affordable option to the convenient convertible seat, which we’ll also brush on.
All-In-One Car Seat
As the name implies, this type of car seat is an all-in-one purchase that is designed to carry your child from birth to booster. Unfortunately, most all-in-one car seats are made of poor quality, they’re large and heavy, or lack some other quality that makes them a recommended purchase.
A convertible seat is somewhere in between an infant car seat and a booster seat. It’s designed to help guide your child through that awkward stage in between the two. Depending on your child’s weight, height, and age by the time you switch to a convertible seat (though it’s recommended that it’s purchased no later than the child’s first birthday), you can install it either rear-facing or forward-facing.
The booster seat is the final stage before your child finally transitions to a regular seatbelt. They’re designed to position the child at the right height with the booster. Some don’t have backs, so the child can lean back into the regular seat in the back of the car. Others, on the other hand, have backs designed for comfort and relaxation.
It’s vital that you get the right model of car seat for the appropriate stage in your child’s life. This will allow you to optimize their comfort and put their safety in your hands. Remember, children can use some type of car seat up to twelve years of age, so make sure you’re using a car seat that’s also based off of the child’s height and weight.
Handy Terms to Brush Up On
As a new parent, it’s always good to have some insight as to what people will be talking about when they’re referring to parts of your car seat. This is good information to know for that and so that you can know what you’re getting at the time of your car seat purchase. Knowing these terms will help you better understand what goes where on a car seat and how to get it actually latched into a car faster.
Using the recline indicator is going to be vital in your rear-facing stages of car seats. The indicator will tell you if the car seat is angled correctly with a bubble or ball indicator. It’s important to ensure you have the car seat at the correct angle for your child’s age. For example, an infant that doesn’t have a reclined enough car seat could have their breathing obstructed throughout the drive.
Vehicles built after 2002 have latch anchors installed. This allows you to use the car seat’s latch connector to better lock the car seat into place. The connector will be a hook-style, push-on, or rigid lower anchor that easily clicks into place with the anchor.
Most car seats are going to have an adjustable harness system. The important thing to keep in mind is that the straps have to be located correctly on the child’s chest, so you’ll need to adjust it based on the child’s height and weight. For forward-facing car seats, the rule of thumb is to keep the straps at or above the shoulders. For rear-facing car seats, the straps to be at or below the shoulders.
Top Tether Strap
Car seats that have a harness and are forward-facing also usually have a top tether strap on the back of the seat. The strap is designed to latch onto the vehicle seat, locking into place the shell of the car seat. This helps to significantly reduce the risk of head injuries.
Different Add-Ons and Accessories
There are different cushions, pads, and covers that are adjustable and have a variety of different features allowing the ride to be completely comfortable for the little one on board. It’s important to remember that if you’re getting a particular car seat accessory, just make sure it’s approved for your particular car seat model by the manufacturer.
Tips to Keep in Mind About Car Seats
You’re going to want to keep at least some of these tips handy when car seats are concerned, so that you can ensure your child’s proper safety and care while using one. Whether you’re a new parent or preparing for another, it never hurts to brush up on the tips to keep in mind about car seats, especially where safety is concerned.
Keep Your Child in the Backseat
Any child twelve years of age or under should be sitting in the backseat whether they’re small enough to use a car seat, they’re using a booster seat, or they’re just using a regular seatbelt. Under twelve years of age, the backseat of the car is generally the safest place to be in the event of a crash. Be proactive and always put safety first by ensuring that your child rides in the backseat until they’re of age to switch to the front with you.
Buckle the Harness Snugly
Another safety tip to always keep in mind is that the harness being snug will determine how safe your child is if you do get in a wreck. If the harness is not buckled snugly enough, you could risk enough give to have your child be severely injured during a crash.
Always Read the Manual
Your child’s life is of the utmost importance. As such, always make sure you read the user’s guide or manual to any car seat your purchase. Ensuring that you understand fully how to use the car seat will fully optimize the safety of your child when they’re in the vehicle with you.
Be Hesitant With Hand-Me-Downs
Understandably, if someone were to give you a hand-me-down for baby items, it would save your money so that you don’t have to go out and buy it yourself. However, accepting a used car seat isn’t recommended. This is because safety technology improves so frequently that it’s preferred that you just get a new car seat instead. Getting a new car seat instead of a hand-me-down ensures that your child is going to be the safest.
Pay Attention to the Base Before Buying
If you have a smaller car, a car seat with a large base may not be the best option. In fact, it may not even fit properly at all. Ensure that you’re getting a car seat that’s compatible with your car model before wasting money on a car seat you can’t use.
How We Picked the Best Car Seat
It’s no easy task to find the best car seat on the market in the sea of so many potentially excellent options. It was a feat for us, which is exactly why we also listed some of the competition. Just listing one car seat would be an injustice to all the other top-quality car seats on the list. However, there are a number of variables we used to decide on the Evenflo Maestro Booster Car Seat Thunder as our number one choice.
First, we found all of the car seats that we might even consider for the number one slot. We looked at each of them, in turn, and scanned over their reviews and ratings. We also looked at how many answered questions each of the products had, and how relevant the questions were to the product itself.
The next step is comparing the prices. We aren’t looking for the cheapest car seat, but we also aren’t looking for the most expensive. The best car seat is somewhere right in between, at a reasonable rate that most can afford unless they’re on a stricter budget.
It’s vital that you look at the safety tests the car seat passed, what the reviews are saying, and how safe the car seat is in general. Doing this will ensure that you have a car seat safe enough for your child while still letting it retain a proper amount of comfort.
Our Pick for the Best Car Seat
Evenflo Maestro Booster Car Seat
Deciding on the Evenflo Maestro Booster Car Seat was no easy feat. In fact, it took hours of contemplation and research before we could ever come to this decision. There are a number of reasons that this booster car seat made its way into the number one spot.
The price of the Evenflo Maestro Booster Car Seat doesn’t hurt its case, of course. It’s easy to see why it’s such a hot item. On top of the outstanding price, it also has free returns in case you decide it’s not the car seat for your little one.
As your child grows, this car seat can convert from a 5-point harness to a normal vehicle seatbelt going through it. To give you some reassurance as to the safety of the car seat itself, it has a belt path that is automatically adjustable, so it fits to your child every time. It also has cup holders that have been integrated, minimizing the space the car seat takes up while still adding convenience to the overall situation.
Adding to how safe the car seat is, it’s been tested at energy levels two times that of the federal standard crash test. It has an expanded zone of protection, even from side impact, so you can feel better about your child being in the vehicle with you for extended periods of time. It also comes in three design options, since every child is different.
Our Second Pick
Britax USA Advocate ClickTight Convertible Car Seat
While we have good reasons for choosing Evenflo Maestro Booster Car Seat as our number one, there’s got to be a car seat that also makes the second place spot. The Britax USA Advocate ClickTight Convertible Car Seat is a phenomenal car seat that deserves recognition for its quality and popularity.
The Britax USA Advocate ClickTight Convertible Car Seat is a comparable item to the Evenflo. It even has three different design choices like our number one choice has, too. It’s a highly rated, highly reviewed item that a lot of new parents love.
There is a downside, of course, or it would’ve been our number one choice. We couldn’t look past the price, though.
Budget Car Seat Option
Disney Pronto Booster Car Seat
When you’re in need of a good-quality car seat but you’re also on a strict budget, the Disney Pronto Booster Car Seat is always a preferred option. It has an adjustable headrest, as well as a belt-positioning booster for different heights.
It has two different design options, a Minnie Mouse design or a Mickey Mouse design. It also has two modes of use, which include either a backless booster for children that weigh between 40 and 100 pounds, and a backed booster that supports children that weigh between 30 and 100 pounds. The slide-out cup holder is just a bonus feature.
There may be a particular type of car seat you’re looking for. We created this list for all parents, though, so we like to accommodate those on a specific mission as far as a car seat goes. Here are some specialized options that are always great choices depending on your needs.
Best Car Seat for Infants
Evenflo Embrace LX Infant Car Seat
A leading consumer magazine rates the Evenflo Embrace LX Infant Car Seat as the “best buy,” with a four to 35-pound harness rating. The automatic belt guides are perfect for use without a base, and it’s got three shoulder harness positions. This car seat is specifically designed to keep infants safe while you travel to wherever you’re driving.
Best Car Seat for Toddlers
Graco Affix Youth Booster Seat with Latch System
For a step-up, the Graco Affix Youth Booster Seat with Latch System is a specialized choice for little toddlers who are at that in-between stage as far as car seats are concerned. Side impact tested and approved, it offers a secure connection while also keeping the booster part of the seat securely in place. As your child grows and becomes more independent, the booster is kept steady so that your child can self-buckle with ease.
Best Car Seat for Big Kids
Evenflo Big Kid Lx High Back Booster Car Seat
If you have a big kid, you need a big kid car seat. The Evenflo Big Kid Lx High Back Booster Car Seat, with seven different color options, is a recommended big kid car seat choice. It’s actually two seats in one, since it allows you to transition to a no-back booster by removing the back. It also has two integrated cup holders, one on either side of the car seat itself.
As we mentioned, we put together a list of comparable car seats that almost made the number one or number two position, but didn’t quite make the cut. We didn’t feel that it was fair to not mention them at all, so a section dedicated to other high-quality car seats is a better option.
Disney APT Convertible Car Seat
Whether you get the Mickey or Minnie color design of the Disney APT Convertible Car Seat, you’re still ensuring your child’s safety either way. The two modes of use allows for rear-facing and forward-facing, and the 5-point harness has an upfront adjustment that makes it easy and simple to get your child in the car seat securely.
Graco Nautilus 65 LX 3-in-1 Harness Booster
If it were just a little more affordable it would’ve easily landed a spot as our number one choice. For children between 22 and 120 pounds, it’s not designed to be the only car seat you ever use, but it is designed to last you for many stages throughout your child’s early development.
Britax Roundabout G4.1 Convertible Car Seat
With a side impact protection addition and the impact-absorbing base, the Britax Roundabout G4.1 Convertible Car Seat is a recommended option for those looking for integrated safety systems that take riding in the back of a car securely to the next level. The tangle-free 5-point harness is easy to use and completely adjustable. It comes in Onyx and Silverlake as the color options, so you’ll get to choose between a dark and light option.
Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 Car Seat
Built to last through three stages of your child’s life, the Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 Car Seat has a rear-facing mode between 5 and 40 pounds, a forward-facing mode for children between 22 and 65 pounds, and it also comes with a belt-positioning booster for children bigger than that. It’s designed to carry you through your child using car seats, or at least close to it. The integrated cup holders and overall design of the car seat had taking up less space in mind, which is why you get an extra seven inches of room in the front thanks to this car seat.
Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat
Meeting and exceeding all federal safety standards and tests makes the Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat an appeasing option, especially with it being side impact tested and approved, too. It’s designed around safety, but it also has enough cushion strategically placed to provide your child with the right comfort they need for long journeys. On top of the safety and comfort features, the Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat also comes in six different color options. There’s also the bonus of the detachable cup holder on the side of the car seat, as well.
Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite Convertible Car Seat
The Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite Convertible Car Seat is a convertible car seat that has three different modes of use including rear-facing. The 5-point harness system allows for easy strap adjustments and an infant head support cushion that is removable. Bonus features like a detachable cup holder, rotating arm rests, side impact protection, and the three-position recline that adjusts with just one hand are all just cherries on top of an excellent product.
Graco 4ever All-in-One Car Seat
All-in-one car seats are usually not recommended, but there are exceptions to every rule. The Graco 4ever All-in-One Car Seat is certainly one of those exceptions. Designed to give you 10 years of active use, it’s perfect for children between four and 120 pounds. The latch system in place makes for an easy, one-second latch attachment. Plus, this particular all-in-one also has integrated cup holders on either side of the seat. It comes in four design choices.
Commonly Asked Questions About Car Seats
New parents or even parents back at it again may have specific questions about car seats that haven’t already been answered. We’ve tried to uncover all of the other questions that might get asked that we’re able to answer on a general basis.
When Should a Child Switch to a Different Car Seat?
You’re probably going to be switching out your car seat multiple times throughout the stages in your child’s early development. The first switch is from infant car seat to the next stage up. The child should be no more than 35 pounds and no more than 32 inches tall before making the first switch. The next switch is going to be based more on the specific car seat model type and your child’s individual development with height and weight.
When Should a Child Switch to a Booster Seat?
If your child is at least 40 pounds and at least four years of age, they’re officially too big for a regular car seat. That’s the time you’re going to want to transition to a booster seat. From there, you’ll watch as they get big enough to not need a booster seat at all.
When Should a Child Switch to a Regular Seatbelt?
Children are to use at least a belt-positioning booster seat until they reach the height of the vehicle seat belt properly. Typically, this happens between the ages of 8 and 12, since the child needs to be about 4’9″ before they can use a regular seatbelt with no booster or car seat help.
Wrapping It Up
Whether you decide on the Evenflo Maestro Booster Car Seat, a different car seat on this list, or you use the tips we’ve shared to decide on a different car seat altogether, there are a few things to always keep in mind. One, never forget to properly adjust the straps of the car seat to fit accordingly with the child. Two, always double check to make sure all of the straps are secured correctly. Finally, make sure you’re using the right car seat for the right stage in your child’s life.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.