Searching for the best car seat for your little one? After spending tens of thousands of dollars on crash testing car seats in a certified testing lab, we discovered that not all car seats are created equal, despite their ability to pass basic federal crash test requirements. Since 2012, we've tested over 70 seats, including crash testing, to help you determine which car seat is the best for your baby, toddler, or child. We purchase each seat and conduct intensive side-by-side testing, including crash tests at the exact location used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). We combine crash test results with our extensive hands-on testing to analyze which competitors are the top performers. Choosing a safety seat can be challenging, but you can buy with confidence using our detailed test results and analysis to help you. Below is the list of our favorite award-winning seats across all categories.
Car seats come in three basic types based on the age and/or size of your baby (both height and weight). If you know the kind you need, you can check out our comparison test ratings on best infant car seats, best convertible car seat, and best booster seat. These reviews include more products in each category than you'll find in this comprehensive review.
Editor's Note: We updated this car seat review on November 7, 2022, including an overview of pricing and product availability.
The Chicco Keyfit 35 is a higher quality infant car seat with a ridiculously easy LATCH installation with the SuperCinch center pull strap. This option has a polished look with a rubbery grip handle and a headrest with a non-rethread harness adjustment. The Keyfit 35 earned better crash-test analysis than most infant competitors and worked well with various award-winning strollers.
The Keyfit 35 is somewhat heavier, which could be a deal-breaker if you plan to carry your baby in it. Overall, we believe this top-ranking infant seat is ideal for most families regardless of their infant seat goals, and it is compatible with various strollers from multiple manufacturers.
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 is a higher-quality product with impressive crash test results, indicating a potential additional margin of protection when correctly installed and used according to directions. We believe this stylish and comfy carrier is super easy to install without the base, making it a possible contender for those using public transportation; it is almost as easy to install with the vehicle belt and the base. This Peg Perego features an anti-rebound bar, has thicker padding, and soft fabric for a comfortable ride; plus, it is easy to use.
Unfortunately, the Primo Viaggio 4-35 is more expensive than most of the competition we've tested, and it isn't compatible with most strollers outside the Peg Perego brand. However, if your budget allows and limited stroller options aren't a concern, this Peg may be for you.
If you don't plan to use your infant car seat carrier with a stroller, or you won't carry it often or far, then you might want to consider a top-ranked baby carrier as an alternative. Wearing your little one close (in a baby carrier) is a wonderful way to facilitate bonding and often keeps babies calm and soothed. This practice can potentially reduce crying or emotional moments. Many modern carriers keep your hands free, so you can get things done with your baby on board without needing a bulky or expensive stroller!
The Cybex Aton 2 is a high-quality infant seat with some of our review's best crash test analyses. This seat includes an eye-pleasing design and features for passenger comfort. It has unique safety features like a "side-impact crumple zone" and load leg. The Aton 2 has a LATCH system that is super easy to install, which potentially translates to increased safety.
Some of Aton 2's daily-use features are harder to use than other contenders. It also sports a higher price tag, making it a potential non-starter for those on a tight budget. The Aton 2 is a great seat if your budget allows it. If higher safety crash test results and easy installation are first in your mind, the Aton 2 (with the load leg) could be a top contender.
The Britax Emblem has impressive test results for almost every metric, with a performance that shows an exceptional all-around seat that is virtually unmatched. While some competitors earned higher scores in some metrics or overall, the Emblem is the only option with above-average scores in every test. Because it earned one of the top crash test results and it is easy to install with a budget-friendly price tag, we think it is an option every parent should add to their shortlist. This Britax features an easy-to-use non-rethread harness adjustment; we prefer it over rethread styles. It is comfortable, well-made, and relatively light compared to other high-scoring seats.
The Emblem is arguably not as easy to install as the Britax ClickTight options, and it has less padding than the more expensive Britax options. However, it is an excellent choice for every family with its reasonable price good for most budgets.
The Graco Extend2Fit earned the best score in our analysis of crash test results. The Graco had one of the best-combined head and chest sensor results, indicating an additional margin of protection over the competition. This convertible seat has excellent results for LATCH installation. Because installation errors have been implicated in injuries and death, correctly installing a safety seat is critical. The big plus is that the Extend2Fit can stay rear-facing for up to 50 lbs, creating a safer baby environment.
The Extend2Fit has below-average quality and isn't as comfortable as seats with similar prices. Despite this, this option is the right one for anyone looking for the best crash tests or who values the potential safety aspects of remaining rear-facing for longer.
The Evenflo Tribute LX didn't score exceptionally well in our test of convertible competitors, but what it manages to do is impress with its crash-test results. This result puts the Evenflo in the unique position of being the cheapest seat in the test and having some of the top crash results we analyzed. This seat offers a higher margin of potential safety to families on even the tightest budgets. The Evenflo is easy to use and the lightest option in our comparison, making it a good choice for parents on the go for travel or public transportation.
Unfortunately, the Tribute's low weight and low price come at the cost of comfort and quality, making the Evenflo uncomfortable on long road trips or for babies that need more cushioning or support. However, despite its shortcomings, the Evenflo would make an excellent second seat or budget-friendly primary seat that you can feel confident performed well in crash test analysis.
The Britax Boulevard ClickTight is the perfect seat for anyone concerned about installing a seat correctly (arguably all of us), which is why we like this choice. This convertible seat earned 10 of 10 scores for installation using the LATCH system and the vehicle belt, making it a standout choice and a product we believe is almost foolproof. This seat is easy to use and offers impressive comfort and quality construction. We think most parents will love this quality contender's look, feel, and features.
The ClickTight has a slightly above-average performance for crash test results. This data means it exceeded the federal requirements. Given that poor installation often translates to more injuries, we think this seat's top installation performance makes up for the only slightly above-average crash-test results to create a tough seat to beat.
The UPPAbaby Alta is a quality, high-backed booster with crash test results and comfortable features. We like the rigid LATCH connection that prevents a free-floating seat, and passengers like the belt retainers and adjustable height headrest. The Alta offers supportive padding, a slight recline, and a handy side cup holder. The cover is also machine washable, something every parent will appreciate.
This booster is somewhat heavy and perhaps not the best choice for travel or carpooling. Alternatively, it is relatively narrow, making it a potential seat if you need to fit multiple safety seats in a vehicle row. This booster will please children and parents with better crash test analyses and a comfortable seating area.
The Evenflo Spectrum is a high-back booster with an impressive crash test result for the head sensor and is so wallet-friendly that it is a potential contender for almost every family. This booster is the comfiest option we tested, winning the thumbs up from our tiny testers thanks to the wide seating area, sleep-worthy headrest, and soft-feeling fabric. This seat has one of the highest backs, and our kid testers could buckle themselves in without help every time. As your child grows, the back comes off once they reach the height limit to extend the seat's life. You can also go backless to decrease seat weight and make it easier to transport for carpooling or traveling.
This seat is wider than most we considered, so it may not be a good choice for families who need to install three safety seats in the same row. However, given the benefits of safety and the insanely small price, we think this Evenflo is an excellent booster solution for any family.
The Clek Oobr is a steel frame high-backed booster that can go backless for older children or kids on the go. This booster earned the highest combined crash test results in our booster test, and it is easy to install with a rigid LATCH system. This booster is similar to your vehicle seat, with an adjustable headrest, armrests, and quality fabric that is easy to clean.
This seat is stupidly heavy and awkward to lift and carry, so you aren't going to want to travel with it or carry it very far. However, the back is removable for occasional travel needs if you need to. Also, we think the impressive crash test results and quality construction more than compensate for the heft of the Oobr. We also like that you can quickly secure the booster in the vehicle, so it doesn't move in the car when your kids aren't using it. If you have safety on the brain and won't move the seat from car to car very often, the Oobr is an excellent seat for you.
Our testing protocol for car seats is intense and highly detailed; we've conducted more than 2,470 individual tests to evaluate the more than 70 safety seats we've tested since 2014. Our tests show that car seats vary significantly in their performance. To help you determine which option is the best for you, we purchase two seats of every brand and model ourselves for testing. We do NOT accept free products from manufacturers to assure our readers that our opinions are entirely independent and unbiased.
We send one car seat to the same professional crash test facility the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) uses for testing and keep the other seat in-house for over 45 detailed scientific testing on each seat. We use the same guidelines and tests for crash testing to compare and combine our results with those from NHTSA before analysis and scoring. In-house, we use and assess all features and functionality, from the stiffness of the buckle and how challenging it is to change shoulder strap height to the difficulty of installation for every method possible. Our extensive, months-long testing process means you can feel confident in our test results and analysis to help you find the best car seat for your family and budget.
Car seat testing is divided into five test metrics (with some variation based on car seat type):
Crash Test Analysis (20% of overall score weighting)
Ease of Use Installation (multiple methods in multiple vehicles) (35% weighting)
Ease of Use (15% weighting)
Comfort/Quality tests (15% weighting)
Weight & Size (15% weighting)
Our exhaustive testing and rating process provides the information you need to make your family's best car seat purchase. Each metric's weighted contribution to the overall score is based on how important we believe it is to the purchasing decision. Weighting varies somewhat for each car seat category, as some features or functionality could be more critical from one product type than another.
With over 100 car seats under our testing belt, it is easy to say you're in good hands with an expert crew for safety seats and crash testing. This team is led by our founder, Dr. Juliet Spurrier uses her experience as a board-certified pediatrician to select products with safety and installation in mind, as these are the key factors in creating a safe car environment for little passengers. Bob Wofford, father of 7, Senior Review Analyst and Certified Passenger Safety Technician, leads the in-house testing team with extensive side-by-side testing for ease of installation and more. Given our test process of installing every seat in at least three different vehicles and Bob's seven years of seat testing prowess, you can rest assured that Bob has more installation and car seat experience than probably anyone on the planet. Wendy Schmitz, mom of two boys and Senior Review Editor, takes part in score analysis as well as hands-on testing and installation with over six years of experience testing seats of every kind. Abriah Wofford, Senior Review Analyst, rounds out the team and provides another set of hands and alternate experiences to give more insight on installation and ease of use. Abriah has been testing car seats since 2016.
Types of Car Seats
If you are a new parent, the world of car seats could be brand new and somewhat daunting. We remember all too well wondering what to choose, when to switch to a new seat, and why installing them was so darn complicated. Luckily, we have the information you need to decide which safety seat is the right one for your little one.
Infant Car Seats
Parents must have a safety car seat when they leave the hospital with their new infant. Infant seats are designed with little bodies and systems in mind. From proper positioning to avoid positional asphyxiation to narrower shoulder harness straps, serious engineering goes into a safe infant car seat. Infant safety seats combine a carrier and a base to create a system that allows you to install the base in your car one time and carry your infant in the carrier to and from the car base or attached to a compatible stroller. Unlike "all-in-one" seats or convertible seats that claim suitability for infants, infant car seats are only for infants and babies typically up to about 9 months or 30-35 lbs. We believe they are uniquely qualified to potentially better protect your little than a seat designed for children from 4-80 lbs. Most parents find infant carriers to be valuable tools and are grateful for the ability to leave a child to sleep while running errands using a stroller or the carrier handle.
Convertible Car Seats
Convertible seats are for older babies (around nine months) and can last until your little one is about 3-7 years old, depending on the model and your child's size. The seat starts facing the vehicle seat or backward (the safest position for little ones). Depending on the manufacturer's recommendations, you turn the seat to face forward when your child reaches a certain weight or height range. The moniker "convertible" is related to the seat facing backward and then "converting" to a forward-facing seat.
Booster Car Seats
Once your baby outgrows their convertible seat, they're ready for the big kid booster seat. This transition will depend on the manufacturer's guidelines and your child's size. Pay special attention to weight and height restrictions, as most children outgrow one before the other. Depending on the seat, your child will likely need a booster around 5-7 years old, but child size is more of a factor than age. Just as you wanted to stay rear-facing as long as possible, we think it is wise to stay in a convertible seat as long as the seat user manual allows before swapping it for a booster. We believe the 5-point harness and side shell of the convertible seats potentially offers more protection.
Can One Product Do it All?
While convertible seats can work for babies from 5 - 50 lbs and beyond, we don't believe it is good to choose a one-and-done seat regarding safety.
Infant seats are designed for smaller, newborn bodies. These seats are configured for a baby's anatomy and provide posture positioning for optimal breathing and protection in a crash. The harness design is narrower and more appropriate for an infant than that on a convertible seat, designed for older babies and modified for infants. Many convertible car seats have an infant insert to make the car seat more suitable for smaller passengers. We believe it is smart to purchase car seats specifically for each age/size instead of opting for one product that can accommodate a baby but isn't explicitly designed for infants. If you want to save money on baby gear (don't we all?), we do not think car seat purchasing is the time to do it, given the potential safety implications.
The other advantage of infant seats is they are handy. Infant seats have a carrier with a handle for easy carrying from one location to another.
This design allows you to move a sleeping infant from a car to a stroller or car without disruption. This function may seem small before your baby is born, but trust us, you will do this more than once, and you'll be grateful for the carrier.
Is Ease of Installation or Crash Test Results More Important?
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 infant injury in car accidents. In our research on car seat safety testing, safety engineers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) emphasized that improper use is a more significant safety concern than the differences in crash test performance results.
In fact, an NHTSA study showed that 84% of infant 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 installing the safety seat in their vehicle."
Ninety-three percent is a significant number. That is why we feel that ease of use and installation are critical components of seat safety, potentially more so than the crash test results. So while crash test analysis is important, it should not overshadow how challenging a seat is to use or install. Many award-winning seats are easy to install, with at least one installation method. Some even have perfect scores and were practically foolproof, or at least as infallible as possible.
All of the Products Provide a Safe, Basic Level of Protection
All seats for sale in the United States and our reviews should have passed federal safety standards for crash testing. As a result, the products we tested can be considered safe and provide a basic protection level required by US Federal law. With this in mind, our focus for crash test scoring is to identify safety seats with crash test results that go beyond the federal requirements and exceed the crash test performance of the competition. As a result, these seats can be considered as providing an extra margin of protection based on their crash test performance.
Does Lifestyle Matter?
Your lifestyle might be a consideration in your selection process for a new car seat. Suburban parents typically have a personal car and a semi-permanent location to install their seats with limited alterations. Other parents might live in a larger city where they frequently use Uber and taxis, requiring a relatively mobile option with frequent installations in multiple vehicles. Therefore, a lightweight, easy-to-install car seat is more critical to urbanites than others. If you aren't carrying your seat frequently, you have more options because weight is less of a determining factor. If you need to carry the seat frequently, some heavier products are likely non-starters.
The weight of your booster seat could play a role in your decision-making if you carpool or travel. Your child may need a booster seat in some locations to participate in camp-van pooling or sharing rides with friends from school activities. A heavy steel frame seat like the Clek Oobr is a beast and isn't something you want to move very often. It is a poor choice for carrying or stuffing in a backpack without the back. The Evenflo Spectrum is significantly lighter and can go backless for even easier carpooling.
A convertible seat's weight is less of a consideration for most people because it typically spends most of its life installed in a single location. However, if you need to catch a taxi with your seat and your baby, you will likely prefer the lightest seat possible.
For infant seats, the weight of the carrier can play a role for similar reasons. Carriers can be cumbersome when combined with the baby's weight. If you plan to attach your carrier to a stroller, the weight is less critical, but if you plan to hold your carrier or travel frequently, its weight plays more of a role.
Are you an urban dweller looking for an infant carrier? Then you should consider the ease of installation without the base, as you are more likely to install the seat in an Uber without the base than you are to carry the base with you. This installation style is a safe practice, and the seats have a method for this practice. However, some seats are significantly more straightforward to install without the base than others, so choosing the easiest, high-ranking option could make your life easier. Alternatively, the Doona is easy enough to install without the base and includes an attached stroller that takes the weight off you and puts it on wheels.
What About Weight Range?
Infant seats claim to be appropriate for a baby from 4 lbs to typically up to 30-45 lbs; convertible seats also have limits, usually between 5 to 55 lbs (or higher, depending on the seat). Manufacturers advertise these ranges and make them seem very important. Should this weight range be a consideration when making your purchase? No, probably not.
Despite the manufacturer's focus on weight, most babies will outgrow the height limits before reaching the weight limit for most infant seats. The same is typically true of convertible seats.
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) will still weigh under 28 lbs and be close to 32 inches on their one year birthday. Based on height, most infants will transition out of their infant seat and into a convertible seat between 9-12 months. 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 our tests, but he might grow too tall, which means a transition to the following safety seat style before his weight impacts a change. So while having a general idea of how long your baby can use a seat is helpful, it is only an estimate.
In the end, the restrictions have more to do with height than weight. For this reason, we wouldn't necessarily make the weight range a deciding factor in your buying decision unless it is below 30 lbs for an infant seat (very rare). Even if your little one is exceptionally tall, you will simply move to a convertible seat sooner than other babies of the same age, which isn't a big deal, is safe, and will occur eventually, no matter what.
Your baby should stay rear-facing as long as possible. This position will be determined by your baby's weight/height and the manufacturer's recommendations, as not all safety seats allow for extended rear-facing time. The laws in most areas require that babies sit rear-facing until two years old, but it is ideal for children to sit in a rear-facing seat as long as the manufacturer says it can. Even if your toddler's legs are longer, rear-facing is still the safest installation within the seat's limitations.
What About Travel Systems?
A travel system is a package deal that includes an infant car seat and a compatible stroller. These combinations are traditionally a predetermined set from the same manufacturer. Alternatively, you can skip the pre-packages to create your own mix where you purchase a seat and compatible stroller separately (which may require buying adapters). Pre-arranged sets (in our experience) often include less impressive choices than you get if you create your own combination, so we prefer to create our own. Manufacturer sets, however, may be less expensive.
Narrowing your car seat selections based on how you plan to use your safety seat and the ease of installation should result in a few top contenders. We think you should first concentrate on the right type for your baby's age (infant, convertible, or booster) to narrow the selection pool. We strongly encourage you to resist the temptation of buying a convertible seat (or "all-in-one" product) for your infant. From there, you can narrow your search by the ease of installation and crash test results or budget (depending on your situation and goals). Last, while we understand budget can be a concern, and some new parents have the tightest of budgets, we believe that car seats are not the time to try to save a few bucks. Our tests reveal affordable seats are available that are easy to install with impressive crash test analysis results in every category.
The award-winning car seats included here are exceptional seats with valuable features and impressive functionality suitable for various lifestyles. As there is no one kind of life, so too is there no one perfect seat. The seats we include here encompass a wide range of prices, offering something for nearly every budget for each safety seat category. We believe that the information in this review can help you find the perfect car seat for your needs, your baby's age/size, and your wallet.
Juliet Spurrier, MD, Wendy Schmitz & the BabyGearLab Testing Team
Looking for the right diaper for your little one? We...
Honest, objective reviews. Led by a Pediatrician.
BabyGearLab was founded by a Pediatrician Mom with a mission to provide a reliable, independent, source of information to new parents. Our experts have tested thousands of baby and kids products to share key performance, health, and safety findings. We spend tens of thousands of dollars crash testing car seats to inform our ratings. And, we combine our review work with gobs of expert parenting advice. To assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing by people who care.