The Best Car Seats of 2018
Purchasing a new car seat for your little one? Not sure where to start? We can help you! We considered more than 100 products before narrowing down the competition to 26 of the top seats to include in our tests. We purchased each seat and put them through a rigorous side-by-side test process that included crash testing and practical everyday use to help you find the perfect seat for your baby and your lifestyle. Making a final choice can be difficult given the vast array of options on the market. Whether your newborn needs their first car seat or your baby is getting older and is almost ready to transition to a convertible option, our detailed information, and analysis, will make it easier to find the seat that works for your budget and is best for your family. Let us help you with the information contained in this review.
Updated — January 2018
This comprehensive review has been updated to include new information concerning any changes or updates to products included in our award winners. We make every effort to bring up to date information to our readers to ensure you receive accurate information.
First, Our Favorite Infant Seats
You must have an infant seat to leave the hospital, so you'll find our favorites below (our favorite convertible seats are further down). These standout products earned more points overall in our Infant Seat Review and in key metrics like ease-of-installation than the competition which makes great choices for any family. Each seat is a little different offering a variety of choice for different needs.
An infant seat is the type of seat you need for infants and young babies from birth to 9-12 months.
Best Overall Infant Seat
Chicco KeyFit 30
The Chicco KeyFit 30 is one of our favorite infant options and the one we feel is the good choice for most families. The Keyfit 30 impresses with the second highest crash test score and a good score for ease of installation using the LATCH method, thanks to a cinch assisted strap that takes the hard work out of getting the seat tight and properly secured. The Chicco is easy to use and looks nice with a list price that is $100 less than several other top scoring seats in the review, and it is only $40 more than our Best Value winner for infant seats. While the Chicco is a great seat, it isn't the best for city dwellers as we found it harder than most to install without the base and it is relatively heavy to lug around town compared to the lighter competition. However, the Keyfit 30 is compatible with the largest range of strollers, making it a good choice for parents looking to create a travel system and want a wide variety of strollers to choose from. This seat works with the majority of the strollers including some of our favorites for car seat use like the UPPAbaby Cruz, the Chicco Keyfit Caddy, and the Bugaboo Bee3.
Easy to install using LATCH
Better crash test results
Hard to install without the base
Read review: Chicco KeyFit 30
High-quality Infant Seat
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 is a quality, high-end seat that earned the second-highest crash test score, indicating an additional margin of safety when properly installed and used correctly. We think this sleek looking seat is super easy to install without the base, making it a good choice for parents who frequent public transportation, and it is almost as easy to install using the vehicle belt with the base. The Peg Perego features an anti-rebound bar at the foot of the base, offers nice padding and fabric for a comfortable ride, and is easy to use. Unfortunately, the Peg has a higher price tag than most of the competition and it isn't compatible with very many strollers outside of the Peg Perego brand. However, if it works with your budget and you don't mind have limited stroller compatibility or you aren't interested in combining it with a stroller, then the Primo Viaggio 4-35 could be a great fit for your family.
Easy to install without the base
Above average crash test results
High quality and comfortable
Harder to install using LATCH
Read review: Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
Easiest Infant LATCH Installation
The Chicco Fit 2 is a high-end Chicco seat with an impressive score for LATCH installation (a perfect 10!) making it a good choice for anyone worried about correct seat installation. This plush choice is easier to use than most and has additional padding and features for comfort. While we would recommend this Chicco to a friend, it isn't a good choice for families on a budget or for those who hope to carry their baby regularly in their seat. This seat has a higher than average carrier weight and most parents won't want to tote this choice for very long, despite it being easy to install without the base. This product is relatively new, so it isn't currently compatible with most strollers. If your goal is to combine an infant seat with a stroller you may want to look elsewhere since we aren't sure when or if this compatibility issue will change.
Super easy LATCH install
Easy to use
Good quality and comfort
Difficult to carry
Limited stroller options
Read review: Chicco Fit2
Best Bang for the Buck in Infant Seats
Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is a budget-friendly choice that has a higher performance than the cheaper infant seats we tested. This seat has above average crash test results and is easy to install using the vehicle belt and without the base. Outside of being easy to install, this seat is fairly average with no real standout features, but it doesn't have disappointing functionality either. For parents on a budget, this product is easy to use with better crash test results (something many parents are understandably concerned with). The real drawback to the Safety 1st is the lack of compatible strollers. None of the full-size strollers we tested work with the Safety 1st attached, making it a poor choice if you hope to create a travel system. However, if you have a limited budget and aren't interested in using the seat with a stroller, then this is the seat we would recommend and one any parent can feel good about given the better than average crash test results.
Easy to install without the base or using the vehicle belt
Above average crash test score
Hard to install using LATCH
Not compatible with most strollers
Harder to use
Read review: Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air
you might consider wearing your baby as an alternative. Wearing your baby close (in a carrier designed for this purpose) is a wonderful way to bond, and usually, keeps little ones calm and soothed cutting down significantly on crying or upsets in public. Most modern carriers also keep your hands-free so you can get things done with your baby on board!
Our Favorite for Urban Dwellers
The UPPAbaby Mesa is a stylish infant seat that is easy to install without the base, making it a good choice for parents that frequently use taxis or Uber. We really like the unique LATCH system that self-ratchets and takes the guesswork out of installation helping parents get it right every time with a color-coded indicator. We love the way this seat looks and how easy it is to use, but it has rough fabric on the seat bottom that could chafe bare legs. For parents considering creating their own travel system, the Mesa is also compatible with several award-winning strollers including the UPPAbaby Vista, UPPAbaby Cruz, and the Baby Jogger City Mini. This seat has a high-end price, so it isn't the best fit for families on a limited budget. However, the high-quality materials (including naturally flame retardant wool), ease of installation, and award-winning stroller compatibility indicates that the price is worth it if these features are important to you. Also, if you want a chemical-free fabric, then this is currently your only option.
Easy to install without the base
Easy to install using LATCH
Natural flame-retardant wool fabric
Average crash test results
Read review: UPPAbaby Mesa
Top Choice for Taxi Ease-of-Use
The Doona is a unique option that is a car seat with stroller components. This cool design makes the Doona the only option we've tested that allows parents to use public transportation safely with the ease of pushing baby from place to place with the attached wheels. The Doona is easy to use, can be installed quickly without the base, and meets a real need for parents in the city who may otherwise forgo a safety seat. This product is not the best option for all families thanks to a higher price and heavier carrying weight, but it can't be beaten for city parents that may otherwise avoid using a car seat in a taxi (it is not required in NY!) because seats are a pain to carry around town. We believe this is an excellent way to get your baby from your loft to an Uber, safely driving through town, and strolling to your destination with ease and enviable style.
Only stroller that is a car seat
Perfect for public transportation
Easy to use
Read review: Doona
Top Pick for Safety
Cybex Cloud Q
The Cybex Cloud Q has top crash test results when used with the included load leg. This high ranking product offers nice quality and comfort and is easy to install with the LATCH anchors and without the base. However, the higher than average carrier weight makes this a poor choice for urban families that may need to carry their baby for longer distances. This option has a cool futuristic look and feel and is the choice for parents seeking the absolute best car seat for potential crash safety (according to our crash test results). This seat is also not a good choice for families on a budget or those looking to create a travel system as there are only a few compatible strollers available and its price is higher than average.
Impressive crash test results
Limited stroller choice
Read review: Cybex Cloud Q
Our Favorite Convertible Car Seats
The products below include the seats that earned top points and awards in our Convertible Review. These seats are appropriate for older infants (around 9 months) and will last until your baby is a child around age 5-7 years.
Your baby will outgrow their infant seat's rated size and weight limits eventually, but it is safer if you plan to transition earlier, and we recommend moving to a convertible in 9-11 months range.
Best Overall Convertible Seat
Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB
The Britax Boulevard ClickTight is the perfect seat for parents who are worried about installing the seat correctly (arguably all of us), which is why we highly recommend this seat to friends. This convertible option earned perfect 10 of 10 scores for installation using both the LATCH system and the vehicle belt, making it a standout option and the only seat we feel is practically foolproof. This seat is easy to use with impressive comfort and quality construction. We think parents will love the look, feel, and features of this quality seat. The ClickTight has a slightly above average score for crash test results, but we remind parents that this means it exceeded the Federal requirements, and given that poor installation often translates to more injuries, we think the installation performance of this seat makes up for the average crash test results. However, if your concern is better crash safety scores, then you'll want to read about the Britax Marathon below.
Easiest to install
Easy to use
Average crash test performance
Read review: Britax Boulevard ClickTight
Crash Testing Stand Out
The Britax Marathon has the best crash test results, earning it the highest crash test score for convertible seats. Given the importance of this metric, we think the Marathon is definitely a finalist on most parent's lists. This seat performed well in our tests for installation, which is the co-contributing factor to keeping baby safe in a car. Across the board, it is hard to find anything not to love about the Marathon, which makes it one of our personal favorite go-to's. This seat features an easy to use non-rethread harness adjustment, it is comfortable and well made and is relatively light compared to other high scoring seats. With a reasonable middle of the road price, there are few families that won't happily find this option on their list of final top choices.
High crash test score
Easy to install using both methods
Easy to use
Hard to access belt pathway for installation using the vehicle belt
Read review: Britax Marathon
Best Budget-Friendly Convertible Seat
The Britax Roundabout is similar to the Britax Marathon with the exception of the harness adjustment style. This makes it a good option for parents on a tighter budget who still want a high quality, easy to install car seat. This option is lightweight and good for parents that need to carry or move their seat frequently, but it still manages to be comfortable and nicely padded for comfort. This Britax option is missing some of the frills found on its more expensive brothers and it sports the harder to use rethread harness adjustment system, but luckily you only need to mess with this occasionally when your baby grows taller. In the end, we don't think parents will miss most of these additions and the price savings of more than $100 will leave you smiling all the way through installation. Even better, the above average crash test results mean you aren't compromising potential safety for the sake of budget concerns. Which is something we can all smile about!
Easy to install using both methods
Above average crash test results
Rethread harness adjustment
Read review: Britax Roundabout
Best on a Tight Budget
Evenflo Tribute LX
The Evenflo Tribute LX didn't score that high in our review of convertible competitors, but what it did do is impress us in its crash test results. This put the Evenflo in a unique position of being the cheapest seat we tested and having some of the best crash results we analyzed. This seat won a Best Value award because it offers a higher margin of safety to families with even the tightest of budgets. The Evenflo is easy to use and the lightest option in the review, making it a good choice for parents on-the-go for travel or using public transportation. Unfortunately, that low weight and low price come at the cost of comfort and quality making the Evenflo not the most comfortable option for long road trips or babies that need more cushioning or support. However, the Evenflo would make a good second seat or budget-friendly primary seat that you can feel confident is as safe as they come.
Above average crash test results
Easier to use
Poor score for comfort/quality
Read review: Evenflo Tribute LX
The Clek Foonf is a unique seat with innovative features we didn't see in the competition. This is a great seat for parents looking for something a little different who aren't worried so much about the price. The Clek has a rigid LATCH system for forward facing installation that eliminates tightening and loosing of the belt. This innovative design makes it the easiest to install using LATCH in the forward facing position and trust us, after installing almost 30 seats we would know. The Clek also impresses for installation using the belt, and for comfort with a quality difference you can feel from its high-end fabric and steel frame shell (which is heavy) to its adjustable headrest and additional features for safety. While we love the Foonf (our founder, Dr. Spurrier, uses this seat for her children) it isn't the seat for everyone. The Clek is the most expensive option we tested (list price $450) and it is very heavy, which would be prohibitive for parents who plan to carry their seat around a busy city or on travel. However, if you have the means, Clek presents an interesting option in the Foonf that we think is cool, inspired, and very functional.
Best ease of Installation using LATCH
High quality, comfortable
Higher rear-facing weight limit (safer position for baby)
Harder to use
Read review: Clek Foonf
Seating Central: Narrow Your Options
With so many options to choose from, how do you decide which product is best for your baby? Asking yourself some key questions can help narrow your options by type, installation, and performance to help you determine which model is the best for your needs. When you are ready to make your purchase, you can simplify the process by breaking it down into easy questions.
First, do you need an infant or a convertible option?
Infant seats — refer to our Infant Car Seat Review for all the info on seats for newborns and younger babies. These seats have two portions, a base that installs in your car and a carrier portion baby sits in that can be attached to the base, a stroller, or simply carried. This product type is ideal for baby's body size and for simplified errands because you do not need to remove the baby from the carrier to take them with you.
Convertible seats — best for older babies who have outgrown their infant seat. Our Convertible Review includes the details you need to better understand this kind of seat and when to use it. Convertible seats install in your car fairly permanently and sit rear facing at first. When your baby is large/old enough, the seat can be "converted" to a forward-facing position. Some of these seats can also be used as booster seats when baby outgrows the 5-point harness (read the seat's manual).
Can one product do it all?
While many convertible style seats claim to work for babies from 5 lbs up to 50 and beyond, BabyGearLab doesn't think it is a good idea to make a one and done purchase when it comes car safety.
Infant style seats are designed with smaller newborn bodies in mind. These seats are sized and configured for baby's anatomy and allow for proper posture for optimal breathing and protection in the event of a crash. The harness design is narrower and more infant appropriate than a convertible seat that is really designed for older and larger babies but is somewhat modified to be acceptable for infants. Many convertible seats usually offer an infant insert to create a product more appropriate for smaller passengers. We think it is best to get the gear specifically designed for each age/size instead of opting for one product that can manage a baby, but isn't designed specifically to do so. If you want to save money on baby gear, we do not think car seats is the category to do so given the safety implications.
The other advantage to infant seats is they are really handy. Infant seats have a base that stays installed in the car and a carrier portion that holds the baby with a handle for easy carrying from one location to another.
This means you can move a sleeping infant from car to stroller or car to carry with ease and without sleep disruption. This may seem like a small thing before your baby is born, but trust us, you will be doing this more than once and grateful for the carrier so you can get some quick errands in without waking a sleeping child.
What is more important, ease of installation or crash test results?
While many parents are concerned with crash test safety (as you should be), few parents know that improperly installing a seat, or not using it as indicated, is a significant cause of injury in car accidents involving infants. In our research for seat safety testing, safety engineers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) emphasized that improper use is a bigger safety concern than the differences in crash test performance results. In fact, a NHTSA study showed that 84% of infant car seats exhibited a critical misuse related to either installation of the seat or incorrect restraint of the infant, or both. Another study by Portland's top Children's Hospital followed 267 families as they left the hospital with their infants after birth. The study showed that "93% made at least one critical error — a mistake that put their infant at increased risk for injury in a crash — when positioning their infant in a car safety seat or when installing the safety seat in their vehicle."
Learn How to Safely Install Your Seat
We encourage parents to read our How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes article and contact a local certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians in their area to ensure proper seat installation.
Ninety-three percent is a huge number. This is why we feel that ease of use and installation are critical components of seat safety, possibly even more so than the crash test results themselves. So while crash test analysis is important, it should not overshadow how hard a seat is to use or install. Many of the award-winning seats are easy to install by at least one installation method. Some even have perfect scores and were practically foolproof, or at least as foolproof as a seat can be.
Infant seats, Chicco Keyfit 30 and the UPPAbaby Mesa both earned 9 of 10 for ease of installation using the LATCH method. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the UPPAbaby Mesa both earned 10 of 10 for ease of install without the base. The Britax Boulevard ClickTight earned 10 of 10 in both methods of installation for convertible seats. The Britax Marathon and Britax Roundabout each earned 9 for installation using LATCH and 8 for installation with the vehicle belt. The Clek Foonf earned 10 and 9 for these metrics respectively. Want the best of both worlds? The Britax Marathon earned a 9 of 10 for crash safety tests and has the impressive ease of installation performance to back it up.
All of the Seats Provide a Safe, Basic Level of Protection
All of the seats we tested, and for sale in the United States, have passed Federal safety standards for crash testing. Because of this, the seats we tested can be considered safe, and they provide a basic level of protection as required by US Federal law. With this in mind, our focus for crash test scoring is identifying seats with crash test performance that goes beyond the Federal requirements and exceeds the crash test performance of the competition in this review. As a result, those seats can be considered as providing an extra margin of protection based on their crash test performance.
Does my lifestyle matter?
When it comes to seat options, your lifestyle might be a consideration in your purchasing decisions. Suburban parents often have their own car and a place to install baby's seat in a semi-permanent way with few changes. Other parents may live in a large city where they frequent Uber and taxis, requiring their seat to be fairly mobile and installed repeatedly over and over. Having a lightweight easy to install seat will be more important to urban parents than it will be to others. If you won't be carrying your seat around, then your options are wider because the weight isn't a factor. If you will be carrying the seat from place to place, then some of the heavier seats may be out of the question.
The Clek Foonf (above left) is a heavy seat weighing in between 34-38 lbs. But convertible seat weight isn't a big deal for most people since it usually spends most of its life installed in your car. However, if you need to run to catch a cab carrying the seat with the baby in tow, you are likely to prefer the scant 9 lbs of the Evenflo Tribute LX (above middle). Don't mind carrying a little extra weight and want a few more features or higher performance scores than the Evenflo Tribute LX? The Britax Roundabout (above right) is about 16 lbs and has a reasonable middle of the road price.
When considering infant seats the weight of the carrier may play a role for similar reasons. Carriers can be heavy, and when combined with baby's weight, could be prohibitively heavy. If you plan to attach the carrier to a stroller, then weight may play less of a role, but if you plan to hold your carrier or you travel frequently, then weight may be more of a factor.
Are you an urbanite looking for an infant carrier? Then you might consider the ease of installation without the base when making your choice, as you are more likely to be installing the seat in an Uber sans base to save yourself the lugging around weight. This is perfectly safe to do, and the seats are designed with this in mind, but some are far easier to install without the base than others, so choosing the easiest, high-ranking option will make your life easier. The UPPAbaby Mesa (above left) scored well in our tests for installation without the base, and it also attaches to several popular and award-winning strollers, like the UPPAbaby Vista and UPPAbaby Cruz. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 (above right) also scored well for installation without the base, but it is compatible with fewer full-size strollers, so depending on your needs, the Mesa may be a better choice. Want to go for a stroll once you get where you are going? The Doona lets you install and stroll with ease thanks to the connected stroller parts that fold under the carrier when installing in a car.
Is a wider weight range better?
Infant style seats make claims of being appropriate for baby up to a certain weight limit, convertible seats have limits as well, only higher. Infant seats usually range between 4 lbs and a maximum weight of 30-45 lbs, while convertible seats are 5 to 55 lbs (or higher depending on the seat). Should this range be a consideration when you make your purchase? No, probably not.
Well, most babies will outgrow the height limits before they reach the weight limit for most infant seats, and the same can often be said of the convertible seats as well.
According to the CDC's infant boy age vs weight growth chart (pdf), a 95th percentile baby boy (which means a baby growing faster than 94 babies out of 100, that's one big boy!) will still weigh under 28 lbs and be close to 32 inches on their 1 year birthday. Most infants will transition out of their infant seat and into a convertible seat between 9-12 months based on height. You can see from the data that even the fastest growing boy will fail to exceed the maximum weight of the majority of seats in this review, but he could grow too tall for the seat, which will prompt the transition before his weight plays a role. So while having an idea of how long baby can use the seat is good, it is really only a vague estimate, and in the end, restrictions will have more to do with height than weight. For this reason, we wouldn't make a seat's weight range a deciding factor in your purchasing decision unless it is below 30 lbs for an infant seat. Even if your baby is super tall, you would just move to the convertible seat earlier, which is no big deal and still safe.
Your baby should stay rear-facing in their seat as long as possible. This will be limited by your baby's weight and the manufacturer recommendations for your specific model as not all seats allow for extended rear-facing time. The law in most places requires that your baby stay rear-facing until 2 years old, but it is ideal for baby to sit rear facing as long as the seat will allow. Even if your toddler's legs are bunched up, the rear-facing position is still the safest installation in the event of a crash. The Clek Foonf has rear-facing capabilities up to 50 lbs; this is the highest of any seat we have tested.
All of the top scoring infant seats we tested have height limits of at least 30 inches, and weight ranges from 4 to at least 30 lbs. Convertible seats have a height range of 46 to 49 inches or ears below the top of the shell and weight ranges of 5 to 40 lbs rear facing and 20 to 55 lbs forward facing (with several top-ranked seats working up to 65 lbs). The Evenflo Tribute LX is the exception with a forward facing limit that tops out at 40 lbs, which will necessitate an additional purchase before the competition.
What about travel systems?
Travel systems include an infant carrier and a compatible stroller to attach it to. These can come as a predetermined set or you can buy a seat and compatible stroller separately. We do not think parents should choose an infant seat based on a stroller, given the safety considerations. In addition, pre-determined sets often have slightly less impressive components for the seat or stroller than you'd get if you created a combination and bought them separately yourself. We think it is best for parents to decide on the right infant seat for their family and then determine the best stroller that works with the seat. With a few exceptions, like the Safety 1st onBoard Air 35, most infant seats are compatible with at least a few popular strollers with the purchase of an adapter. We found the Chicco Keyfit 30 infant seat to be compatible with the majority of the full-size strollers we've personally tested. Choosing this affordable, high scoring seat, will give you the most versatile seat for stroller compatibility.
Narrowing your options based on how you plan to use your seat and the ease of installation scores should provide you with a few top contenders. From there, you can make your purchasing decision based on crash test performance and/or budget-related concerns. The award winners listed here are all great seats with a wide variety of features and functionality to suit most parent and baby needs. They also encompass a wide range of price points providing a viable option for almost any budget. We think you should focus on the proper seat style for your baby's age group (infant or convertible) when narrowing the field, and we encourage parents to resist the temptation to buy a convertible product advertised for infants. Most importantly, don't forget to contact an expert for assistance with proper car seat installation no matter what style or model you choose. You can make a free appointment, get help fast, and feel confident your chosen seat is installed correctly to ensure maximum safety for baby! It doesn't matter how well your chosen seat performed during crash testing if you install or use it incorrectly.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & the BabyGearLab Testing Team
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