Best Convertible Car Seats of 2016
Looking for a convertible car seat? In this review we took 11 of the top convertible car seats on the market and put them through a rigorous testing process in a side-by-side comparison process for crash test performance, ease of installation, ease of use, comfort and quality, and weight and size. You are about to discover which seats performed the best in our tests, which seats won awards, and information you need to narrow your options down to one. As with all our reviews, we purchased every product we tested ourselves, to remain unbiased and uninfluenced by manufacturers. Read on to find out which seats performed the best in our tests and won awards.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
It is worth noting that BabyGearLab's founder and Mom-in-Chief, Dr. Juliet Spurrier, who has her pick of any convertible seat, chose the Clek Foonf for use with her own children. She loves the seat's quality, finds it easy to use, and her kids love it too.
Analysis and Test Results
infant car seat, typically around 9-12 months of age, the next step is a convertible car seat, which you will use initially with your baby rear-facing, since this is the safest position for your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as well as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), both recommend you keep your baby rear-facing as long as as your seat allows, and at least until 2 years of age. Once your toddler will no longer tolerate or fit rear-facing, you can flip the convertible car seat to face forward. It is the ability to work initially rear-facing and then later convert to forward-facing position that inspires the name, "convertible" car seat.
Rear-facing Until at Least Age 2
Experts agree that you should keep your child rear-facing until at least age 2. A study published in Injury Prevention in 2007 showed that the rear-facing position resulted in 5.3 times lower risk of death or serious injury in a car accident compared to forward facing for children age 1-2 years old.
In this review we will provide you with all the information you'll need to make an informed buying decision on which seat to buy.
In order to collect this information, we have performed extensive tests on each seat over several months under the guidance and supervision of a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician. We developed a set of comprehensive tests derived from our infant seat review testing process and use these in conjunction with the crash test data to determine how well seats performed in daily use and in terms of the measured forces of impact recorded during crash tests.
Types of Car Seats
There are two basic types of seats: infant and convertible car seats.
When to get a convertible car seat
We recommend that parents use an infant seat from newborn until age approximately 9-12 months. We feel the infant seats are better designed for smaller bodies of young infants and offer an additional margin of safety with their rear facing configuration and increased recline. However, once an infant grows taller, a rear-facing convertible seat may offer better protection, and help prevent taller infants from hitting their head the back of the front seat in an accident. In December 2015, Consumer Reports published a crash-test study that advised transitioning to a convertible seat no later than 1 year of age. Their crash tests simulated a front seat placed close to the infant car seat, and demonstrated that as infants reach the height limit of their infant car seat, taller infants may have risk of head injury in an accident which a convertible car seat would protect.
Criteria for Evaluation
Each convertible car seat in our review was compared side-by-side in multiple metrics. They were all tested in an identical manner with every opportunity to shine if they had the features and ability to do so. While every seat available for purchase in the US has met the minimum safety guidelines outlined by the Federal government, not all of them are easy to install or use, or offered an additional margin of protection compared to the seat next to it in the store.
Crash Test Performance
BabyGearLab contracted with the same crash test facility that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses to perform convertible seat crash tests. The seats were all tested in compliance with the same protocol used by NHTSA and outlined in the FMVSS 213 standard.
We performed a detailed analysis of the crash test dummy sensor data collected from each car seat's crash sled tests to determine how each seat performed in comparison to the competition and the Federal safety standards of allowable performance. To help you understand a bit more detail about crash tests, we've included graphs comparing the actual crash test results in each product review, and have summarized them below.
So, what is the most important information from crash impact tests when analyzing results?
An analysis of auto crash injuries for children show that head and chest injuries are the 2 greatest risks of fatal or serious injuries.
All of the Tested Products Provide a Basic, Safe, Level of Protection
All of the convertible car seats we tested passed the Federal minimum safety standards. Therefore, every seat we tested provides the basic level of crash safety protection required by US Federal law. Our primary focus for crash test scores is to identify those seats whose crash test performance exceeded the Federal requirements a wide margin. These seats can be considered as providing an additional level of protection based on the data from their crash test sensors.
Understanding the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) Score
For each crash test, sensors are placed in the head and chest of a crash test dummy, and placed on a sled to simulate the forces in an actual car crash. We used a forward-facing Hybrid III 3 YO Part 572 P dummy (3 year old test dummy) in our commissioned crash tests because NHTSA crash injury studies have shown that the risks of injury are greater when children are forward facing, and the heavier 3 yr old test dummy provides a more strenuous test of the seats. The Federal safety standard developed by NHTSA uses a factor for scoring called the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score. This score is the likelihood of injury arising from an impact presented in a measurable way. All of the seats must obtain a HIC score of 1000 or lower to pass the Federal requirements. The further a score is below the Federal HIC maximum of 1000, the better it performed.
The graph above shows the actual G forces recorded on the head of the crash test dummy for the Evenflo Tribute LX (green line) and the Diono Radian RXT (black line). Both the Evenflo and the Diono results are under the NHTSA safety HIC score requirement of 1000. However, the Evenflo is the seat in this review that offers the highest margin of protection with an HIC score of 251 – this is the lowest HIC score for the 11 seats in our review. The Evenflo also shows lower G forces (with a max G force of 42.7 G's vs 53.2 G's for the Diono).
The chart shown above is the real crash test results for the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) scores. It also displays the percentage each score is below the NHTSA maximum of 1000 HIC. We focused on analyzing how large a margin of protection each product offers below the Federal maximum 1000 HIC. The car seats represented by the taller bars on the left could be considered as providing an additional margin of protection.
Understanding the Chest (g) Clip Score
The same crash dummies also include sensors in the chest region to measure impact forces in that area. The results acquired from the chest sensors were used to calculate the Chest (g) Clip score, which is a second score that attempts to measure the likelihood of injury to the heart, lungs, and other organs located in the chest area. In order to pass the Federal safety requirements, all of the seats must achieve a score less than 60 for the Chest (g) Clip.
The chart shown above compares the data for the Chest forces of the Diono Radian (black line) to the best performing product for this test, the Clek Foonf (green line). The Clek has a max G force score of 33.4 G's, this is significantly lower than Diono's maximum of 53.2 G's.
The chart shown above is a graphic representation of the percentage below the Federal max Chest (g) Clip score of 60 that was achieved by each seat in this review. As we did with the HIC scores, we focused on how large a margin of protection each product provided below the score of 60, Federal max Chest (g) Clip score. The taller bars on the left of the chart are further below the Federal max chest score and can therefore be considered as potentially providing an additional margin of protection.
Additional Safety Features
How well a seat performs in a crash test environment means little if it isn't installed correctly in your vehicle. A car seat that is installed incorrectly, or a harness that is not adjusted properly, can potentially result in injury or death in the event of an accident. It is a good idea to seek help from a professional car seat inspection technician when you purchase a new seat or move a seat to a different vehicle. You can also read our article on How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes for additional tips. While this article focuses on infant seats, much of the information is applicable to convertible car seats as well.
Best Seats Based on Crash Test Analysis
Using crash test report analysis we rated each seat relative to the competition using a 1-10 scoring system. This helps to better identify the seats that offer an additional margin of protection, in our opinion, over and above the basic level of protection found in all of the seats we tested.
The Britax Marathon earned our best crash test rating with a 9 of 10 score thanks to excellent Chest (g) Clip and HIC scores. While it did not have the best score in either category, it did have the best combined score when both Chest and HIC scores were considered. The Evenflo Tribute LX has the best (lowest) HIC score for the group, but its Chest Clip score was average, these results helped it earn the second best score in the group with an 8. The Clek Foonf has the best Chest Clip score in the group, but its HIC score is below average, which resulted in a 3rd place rank with an overall crash test score of 7 of 10, well above the average.
Ease of Install Using LATCH
Studies show that more than 7 of 10 car seats are not installed correctly, or the harness is not adjusted properly on the passenger . Because of this we consider the ease-of-installation and the ease-of-use of each car seat to be critical metrics to consider.
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia produced the video below; it is an excellent overview of the LATCH system, and how it should be used:
In our testing process, we discovered that some seats were easier to install with LATCH than the vehicle belt, but at least a third were easier to install using the vehicle belt over the LATCH method. Some testers had difficulty getting the straps on the LATCH anchors tight enough to secure the seat.
Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65 (right) has the clip style of LATCH connection that we found more difficult to use; this clip is harder to remove than clip on, but overall it is harder to use than the alternative. The Safety 1st earned the lowest score in the review for this metric with a 3. Both connectors are considered safe, however we found the style on the left to be easier to use.
Chicco NextFit were almost as easy to install earning 9s each for this metric. The Chicco has a unique installation for LATCH with a 2 step strap tightening system that is very easy to use and tighten, with very little strength required.
Center Seat Issues
It has been determined that the center of the rear seat is the safest spot to install your seat — studies of injury data show a 43% lower risk of injury if the car seat is placed in the center of the back seat. Now combine that information with the fact that LATCH connectors should be the easiest and safest way to install a car seat. What's the problem? Here's the rub. Most cars, SUVs, and trucks do not offer LATCH anchors in the center seat location, and even if the inner two LATCH anchors from the side positions are close enough to use, most vehicle and seat manuals do not allow the use of those LATCH anchors for installation in the center position.
An excellent overview of this issue can be read on The Car Seat Lady's article on Using LATCH in the Center of the back seat.
So if your vehicle won't allow you to use the LATCH method in the center location, what is the best alternative? Should you use the center seat with a vehicle belt or the LATCH system on a side seat? One of the most important aspects of seat installation is that you ensure that the seat is securely and tightly anchored to the vehicle.
The questions on installation in the center seat are:
Using a vehicle belt to attach a car seat to the car is a perfectly safe and acceptable method of installation (and possibly only the option for center positioning), as long as you are able to get it secure and tight. If you can (and we were able to with many of the seats in this review), then use the center seat. However, if obtaining a secure fit in the center seat is difficult, then you should use the side seat location. It is far more important that the seat be installed securely, than it is that the seat be located in the center. If you have two children you may not have any choice but the side seat locations as most cars don't have enough room for a side and center installation at the same time. If your vehicle doesn't offer LATCH anchors for the center seat, but you are sold on center seat installation only, our next section on ease of installation with a vehicle belt can help you identify which seats are easier to install using a seat belt. Additionally, you can always locate an installation professional for assistance installing your seat using the vehicle belt.
The video above shows the installation of the Clek.
Ease of Install – Vehicle Belt
safest location to place the seat. Even if you don't plan to do this, most of the seats in this review have a limit on how large your child can be and still use the LATCH installation. Most are rated to about 40 – 50 pounds of child weight before the seat will need to be installed using the vehicle belt. Given that many of the seats have a weight limit from 50-80 pounds, you can easily see that your child could be using the seat for an extended period of time installed with the vehicle belt only.
However, there is no need to despair because we are going to tell you which seats were the easiest to install using the belt and give you information on installing them properly or where to get help if you are unsure or something doesn't seem right.
Find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station or Professional in Your Area
There is a wonderful FREE resource for parents nationwide that can quickly help you learn how to properly install any seat in any car. There are certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians who are available by appointment or on call. We highly recommend this service for all parents, even if you feel like you have this installation business all dialed in, just to be sure. Finding an inspection station or technician near you is easy; all you need to do is enter your zip code on this website. You may even find that your local fire station or police department has a CPS technician on staff to help you.
Simplicity is the Benefit of the Seat Belt Lock-Off
Five seats out of 11 in this review have a belt lock off located on the seat. All of these have forward and rear facing lock offs. Interestingly enough, all five of these seats ranked in the top product and had the highest scores for installation using a vehicle belt. Only the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible scored as well without the help of an onboard lock off.
Coincidence? We think not.
Some lock offs work a little better than others, but even those that are hard to manage still seem to offer a more secure installation in our tests than the seats that didn't have a lock off at all. We found that the seats with a lock off were every bit as secure installed with a belt as they were with the LATCH and some even more so. This can be a relief if and when you will need to install the seat with a belt, which is highly likely given the weight limit already discussed for the LATCH system.
While we found that any lock off would help a seat feel more secure once installed, some of the lock offs are easier to use than others. The Britax Marathon and the Britax Roundabout both have the same lock off and it is difficult to use. We had to use a screwdriver to open it, which isn't that handy. Alternatively, the Clek lock off is super easy to use, even though you need to lift the seat bottom to access the rear facing lock off. The Chicco is also easy to use and nicely located on the outside of the shell for easy access. So, if you're looking for a seat that is easy to install using a vehicle belt, it is pretty cool that no matter which one you choose, you'll be getting a high ranking seat with award winners to choose from.
The Clek is the second easiest seat in our tests to install using the vehicle belt. The lock off works smoothly and the belt is easy to thread. It earned a 9 in the metric, which is almost as good as its LATCH score and is better than the LATCH score of much of the competition. The most difficult seat to install using the vehicle belt is the Safety 1st. It doesn't have a lock off and during our testing we really struggled to get the belt tight enough and the seat feeling secure. With the exception of the Peg, as already mentioned, the seats lacking a belt lock off did not score higher than 7. The Evenflo and the Graco MyRide 65 LX both earned just 6 in this metric, but interestingly they were still easier to install with the vehicle belt than using LATCH where they earned only 5s. The Britax Marathon and Roundabout seats, the Chicco and the Peg all earned 8s in this metric.
The video above shows the installation of the Britax Marathon.
Having trouble finding the center seat belt?
Some SUVs, trucks, and wagons have a center seat belt located on the roof of the car. Given that many people rarely or never use their rear center seat you might not have used it before and it will be fully retracted. This helpful video from The Car Seat Lady shows a center seatbelt located on the roof of the vehicle, and how you use it. Consult your car's user manual for more information about your center seat restraint belt.
Ease of Use
The video below shows some of the features of the Clek. While not the highest ranking seat in ease of use, it did have some unique features.
The Ease of Use metric includes the features that you will use on a regular, if not daily, basis. These features include items like harness adjustment and buckles, cover removal and cleaning, and ease of tightening or loosening the harness. If your regular experience with a seat is frustrating, you might be tempted to avoid using it as described or you could end up unhappy with your seat choice.
Buckles and Chest Clips
Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 were easy to use one handed with sides that pop out when the button is pushed, others like the Diono Radian RXT are so hard you'll need two hands to operate it and your fingers might hurt once you are done. Most of the seats offer a middle of the road buckle that will be stiff when you push it, but won't require cuss words and painful fingers to use.
The Chicco offers a unique chest clip that has a 2 setting adjustable feature for fitting children of various sizes better. While it is interesting, we aren't sure why it is necessary and we think it makes using the clip a little harder because on occasion you might think you have unclipped it when really you just changed the width.
Harness Tightening and Loosening
Adjusting the Harness
There are two primary ways of adjusting the harness height on the convertible car seats. The simpler method is a non-rethreading design that adjusts by moving a headrest/harness shoulder strap assembly up and down the back of the seat. The more convoluted method requires detaching the shoulder straps from a back splitter plate and physically moving the straps from one level of slots to the next level. While not necessarily challenging the latter method takes more time, requires removing the baby from the seat, and if forward facing you will need to remove the seat from the car as well. Alternatively, the non-rethread option can be done with baby in the seat and as soon as you notice there is a need for an adjustment. We preferred the non-rethread version not just because it is simpler, but because we think parents are more likely to keep the harness properly adjusted as needed instead of putting off adjustment till a moment where they have more time. Our concern is parents will recognize the harness needs adjusting after baby is the seat and tell themselves they need to do that before they use the seat again, then they will forget and the next time they put baby in they will once again push off the responsibility to a more convenient time.
LATCH storage on infant style seats is very important because the straps could get in the way of attaching the carrier to the base if their storage options aren't adequate. Their storage might not be as critical for convertible car seats, but it is nice if the straps are not accessible by children and aren't flying around the back seat potentially causing injuries. Some of the seats had pockets or little cubby storage where the clips could be stored out of sight, while the more common storage option is the clips attaching to plastic loops on the back of the seat or each other.
The Chicco has side pockets where the clips and straps tuck into with a pocket for the tether on the back. It is one of the few in the group that really keeps the straps and clips out of the way. The Peg, Boulevard, and the Clek also both offer storage that keeps the clips out of the way. One of the least effective storage options in the group is the Safety 1st that has clip attachment points on the back of the seat with the straps that dangle.
Cover Removal and Cleaning
When it comes to comfort and quality the Chicco and Boulevard seats really stood out. These seats have exceptional padding and a seamless fabric to shell designs with a pockets and places for everything. We liked that the Chicco fabric is soft, the seat is self-contained, and it has an overall sleek look. The Boulevard is similar, with additional padding around the head area. The Evenflo on the other hand is a barebones seat that has the necessities without any of the extras that come with the other seats. Its lack of thick padding for comfort or advanced LATCH storage hurt its overall score in this metric, but it does get the job done and the cover is machine washable. The Clek and the Peg came in second place with 8s, and the Britax Marathon and Roundabout both earned a 7.
The Clek is the heaviest seat in the group whether it is forward or rear facing. For the rear facing configuration it is over 38 pounds thanks to the addition of the anti-rebound bar and recline attachment. The forward facing configuration isn't much better at over 33 pounds, and both are significantly heavier than the majority of the seats we tested. The Clek is narrow however at only 17 inches. This means you might be able to fit 3 seats across the typical back seat, or two seats and a person in the middle. The Evenflo is the lightest seat in the group at a little over 9 pounds; it is also 17 inches wide and together with the Clek they are the narrowest in the group of products we looked at. Unfortunately, the Evenflo required a towel for rear facing installation in our tests, so it still might not be the best for travelers because you will need to lug a towel on the road as well as the seat. The Britax Roundabout is the lightest high scoring seat with a weight of about 16 pounds. While significantly heavier than 9 pounds, at least you won't need to carry a towel or lug a monster about. The majority of high scoring seats were on the heavier side, presumably thanks to increased padding and a steel (or alloy) frame design that both add weight. The widest option in the group is the Maxi-Cosi and we think it will be difficult to use this seat with more than two across and an adult might not be able to sit between the seats.
For most parents weight is unlikely to be a deciding factor given that the seat normally remains in the car. However, the width might be something to consider if you have multiple children or a narrow back seat. In the event that the seat will live in your backseat for the majority of its lifespan, we urge you not to worry about weight and instead pick the highest rated model that will suit your needs.
Buying Advice article has helped you narrow down to a few top contenders that meet your needs.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD, Wendy Schmitz, and the BabyGearLab Review Team
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