How to Choose the Best and Safest Convertible Car Seat

We contracted with the same crash test facility used by NHTSA to test the seats in this review. Here is the Clek Foonf getting ready for its crash test  complete with crash test dummy.
Article By:
Juliet Spurrier, MD & BabyGearLab Team

Last Updated:
Tuesday


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We purchased and tested 12 highly regarded and popular convertible car seats and discovered that while many seats look similar, and can pass the Federal crash test requirements, they are not created equal and are offer a very different user experience. This buying guide is designed to help parents assess and filter the variety of convertible car seats on the market by providing guidance on what you should look for in a car seat and why.

We also suggest parents read our review of convertible car seats to learn which models impressed us during testing and why. If you are having trouble understanding car seat installation, or want to make sure you aren't making any common installation mistakes, you should also read How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes.

Why Buy a Convertible Car Seat?


While we feel it is the best for infants to purchase and use an infant car seat while your baby is small, you will need to aquire a convertible option after baby outgrows their infant style seat. This change happens when baby reaches anywhere between 9-12 months of age depending on your particular seat and how fast your baby grows. We suggest you keep baby in the infant seat until they transition in the 9-12 months age range as their height starts to push the infant seat's maximum length (you should check weight capacity too, but more often than not, it is the height limit that will force the switch to a convertible seat).

Height and Weight Limits


Most of the seats we reviewed are marketed as suitable for children from 5 pounds up to 40-80 pounds and height of 40-57 inches tall depending on the seat. However, we think the design and features of an infant style seat are far better suited for younger babies, and we think parents should avoid convertible car seats until their baby reaches at least 9 months of age or has exceeded the maximum height or weight limit for their infant seat (height being the more probable limit to reach).

Choose a Seat that Lets Your Baby Stay Rear-facing Longer


Studies have shown that keeping children rear-facing longer is much safer than switching them to forward-facing. The longer a seat can sit rear facing, the better. All the seats in this review can remain rear facing until the baby is at least 40 pounds, with two seats offering a 45-pound limit and the Clek Foonf's working rear facing up to 50 pounds (a big selling point for this seat).

Experts Recommend Remaining Rear-facing Until at Least Age 2
A study of 15 years of traffic injury data published in 2007 about Injury Prevention concluded that placing children age 1-2 years of age in the rear-facing position resulted in 5.3 times lower risk of death or serious injury compared to a forward facing position. Please keep your baby rear-facing as long as possible.

So, are the specifications for the car seat's rear-facing capacity a concern? Or, are the front-facing limits more of a concern? Well, both are important, but if we had to pick one, we'd pick the rear-facing limit given the significantly increased safety of children sitting rear facing. The longer, the better; even if your child seems scrunched with their knees bent and no leg room, it is still safer to be sitting rear facing as long as they are within the height and weight limit of the seat.

Height Limits Typically Matter Most


A general rule of thumb for these seats is that many children might reach the height limit before the weight restriction. However, this is not a hard and fast rule, so parents should keep in mind the limits on their seat concerning the growth of their child as both are equally important in keeping children safe while riding in a vehicle.

Types of Car Seats


There are primarily two types of car seats, the infant car seat, and the convertible car seat. Both options can usually be used with infants, and they have similar features that can function in similar ways, but they are not the same. There are pros and cons to each, and we explore that in more detail in our infant car seat review (especially why we feel convertible seats should not be used for infants), but in the end, all parents will need to use a convertible seat at some point.

Despite the manufacturer marketing that allows for use of the convertible seat for infants as small as 5 pounds, we still think they should be reserved for after your baby has outgrown their infant style seat. While parents might want to cut corners and save money by limiting the amount of baby gear they purchase, we do not think car seats is a good place to cut corners. We strongly recommend the purchase of an infant and a convertible seat.

The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air
 
These photos show an infant car seat (left) and a convertible style seat (right).

Infant Car Seats

  • Separate Bases/Detachable Seats — An infant seat has a carrier portion that can detach from the base that remains in the car. The carrier can be used to carry baby from one place to another and clicks onto the base for vehicle travel. Being able to transport baby from place to place while leaving the base installed, gives parents increased freedom and allows baby to remain sleeping while parents run errands. These carriers can also be attached to a compatible stroller for more convenience on the go. Many modern strollers offer car seat adapters, or you could try a car seat frame stroller. We find the ability to click the carrier onto a stroller to be very convenient.
  • Canopy
    The B-Safe 35 has a very nice looking canopy
    Infant car seats traditionally offer a canopy to block the sun and other elements. Conversely, convertible seats don't have canopies and parents should not create one on their own for safety reasons. The lack of canopy on convertible seats leaves your baby with little protection from the sun.
  • Lower Weight and Height Restrictions — Even though some of the infant seats will work up to 40 pounds, their range is still smaller than the convertible car seat that often works from 5-65 pounds depending on the seat. This limited weight range is a result of the carrier being designed specifically for little bodies, as opposed to a design that tries to fit many sizes without fitting them well. It is this factor that makes an infant seat perfect for newborns and younger babies, and the type of car seat we recommend for infants.

The Britax Roundabout
The Britax Roundabout

Convertible Car Seats


We recommend that babies transition from an infant car seat to a convertible seat at about 9 to 12 months old and/or when they reach the height or weight limitations of their infant seat. The term "convertible" derives from the seat's ability to be used in a rear-facing position and then "convert" to a forward-facing seat for older/larger children. Being able to use a convertible seat with an infant may tempt you into considering a convertible option as your only car seat, but we urge you not to take a "one and done" approach to car seats.

BabyGearLab Recommends Infant Specific Car Seats for Infants
We at BabyGearLab feel that infant car seats are the best choice for newborns. We feel they are more convenient and they are specifically designed with smaller bodies in mind. This type of seat fits infants better, including positioning them better for breathing and sleeping safely. We recommend switching to a convertible seat at 9-12 months age or when baby outgrows their infant seat, as identified in the owner's manual.

The Clek Foonf
The Clek Foonf

Know the Basics


While all the seats included in this review, and all available for purchase in the US, meet or exceed Federal safety requirements, they are not all created equal in their design, ease of use, or functionality. We will cover the features and performance metrics commonly considered when looking at different seats.

Crash Tests


As you might expect, crash tests results are a key metric in the performance of car seats, and thus help differentiate between products. Every car seat must be able to pass a Federal crash test safety standard, with random products chosen by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for testing each year. Each selected seat goes through crash testing in a facility that is designed to simulate actual head on collisions using a crash sled seat and crash test baby/toddler dummies. These tests collect data generated by G-force sensors located in the test dummies that measure and record the amount of force exerted on the dummy baby's head and chest. This test is a 30 mile an hour crash simulation.

We contracted with the same national testing facility used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for crash tests  and also obtained NHTSA's crash test data for analysis. Above you see the Phil and Teds Alpha seat on the test sled with a 12 month old crash test dummy strapped in.
We contracted with the same national testing facility used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for crash tests, and also obtained NHTSA's crash test data for analysis. Above you see the Phil and Teds Alpha seat on the test sled with a 12 month old crash test dummy strapped in.

The good news is the Federal requirements ensure that all the seats sold in the US provide at least a minimum level of protection. Therefore, all the seats available for purchase can be considered safe.

While each seat meets the minimum Federal safety requirements, some have managed to pass the tests with better results than the others. In our review of 11 convertible seats, you will see that we have combined crash test data we commissioned with similar data obtained from crash tests commissioned by NHTSA. The tests were completed in the same manner, at the same facility, so we could analyze them side-by-side to demonstrate how each seat compares to the others and the Federal Maximum for allowable G forces.

Some seats performed better in crash tests, so we gave higher scores to those seats with the assumption that they offer an extra margin of protection based on crash test results. We believe this matters and deserves to be a factor parents consider when making a decision on which seat to purchase.

Proper Installation
It is not enough for you to purchase and use a car seat. You must install and use the seat properly and consistently to help ensure safety. Injury or death can occur in an auto accident if a car seat is not properly installed or the child is not restrained correctly.

We like the way the seat fabric on the Clek is tucked into the shell offering a smooth transition and sleek look
The manufacturer of the Maxi-Cosi claims the headrest on the seat provides additional side impact protection  but it is difficult to know what this means exactly
The Roundabout has the EPP foam that we prefer because it is more environmentally friendly and doesn't off gas
This Peg seat uses EPS foam for energy absorption during a crash
 

Side Impact Protection (SIP) Claims: Buyer Beware


The photos above show a few of the side impact features marketed by the manufacturers of some of the seats we reviewed. In order from left to right they are: Clek with a steel frame for additional SIP, Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 with a head region additional foam and plastic combination for SIP, Britax Roundabout with what manufacturers call "complete SIP" , and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible that claims "adjustable" SIP.

Because there is no agreed-upon definition of SIP we aren't sure exactly what all of the claims of SIP mean, and little information is provided to support or explain each manufacturer's claims. Clek does offer more information and transparency on their website than any other we were able to find, including video and results of their side impact crash tests, but overall information is surprisingly lacking across brands.

Currently, there is only a suggested plan for a potentially regulated side impact protection (SIP) testing. However, at this time there is no regulated testing or common language agreement that determines what should be tested, how it should be tested, how the results should be interpreted, or how companies should define the terms, or what kind of claims they can make. All of the seats in this review claim some kind of SIP in the design of their seat or testing process, but the term itself is somewhat ambiguous, as it means something different depending on which manufacturer is making a claim. For example Maxi-Cosi cites independent tests they paid for to determine the efficacy of their design in the case of a side collision. While Graco also claims independent testing for SIP, but their definition and test results only apply to keeping your child contained in the harness in the event of a side collision. We think most parents would assume that keeping a child retained in the seat by the harness is a basic function of a car seat as opposed to a special SIP feature. Therefore, we suggest that consumers remain skeptical about any SIP claims given that there is no set standard on what it means or how one claim could be compared to another.

The Marathon sports stitching in the straps that the manufacturer claims will help slow down movement of the seat during a crash and help absorb some of the energy from an impact. it is difficult to say if this claim is indeed true without additional supporting evidence or testing
The Marathon sports stitching in the straps that the manufacturer claims will help slow down movement of the seat during a crash and help absorb some of the energy from an impact. it is difficult to say if this claim is indeed true without additional supporting evidence or testing

Extra safety features are always a bonus, and we welcome useful and tested safety additions that improve any product for the well-being of baby and the peace of mind of parents, but we think parents should be aware of what appears to be some "Safety Washing" that seems to be happening in the industry concerning the marketing of side impact protection and other features that claim to offer additional protection. Given that there is no industry standard for SIP and other features, and all the manufacturers seem to mean something different, it results in words that have no meaning in and of themselves. This requires that parents do further research to determine what each manufacturer means when they claim or use the words side impact protection, whether their design or special feature has been tested, and what kind of test was performed. That is a big responsibility to dump on parents, and often the information is not available or accessible anyway (trust us, we looked).

We feel manufacturers are using SIP and other features for safety as a marketing claim to increase interest in their product, and we would prefer that there be an actual standard for these claims that force manufacturers to focus on engineering designs that provide value and can be more easily compared. In our effort to determine what each manufacturer means by SIP and other features for additional safety, or how each seat was tested (if it was), we had trouble finding compelling information or evidence to support most of their claims which resulted in an inability to compare the features apples to apples.

For now, we came up disturbingly short in locating compelling information or evidence to support the claims.

The LATCH anchors on the Marathon click into the base when not in use. You can also see the red honeycomb impact absorbing portions of the base in this photo
The LATCH anchors on the Marathon click into the base when not in use. You can also see the red honeycomb impact absorbing portions of the base in this photo

Forward Facing Crumple Zone


The Clek Foonf claims to have a forward-facing crumple zone designed to help absorb the impact from a collision to help protect the child in the seat. It is the only product in the review that has this kind of design or makes this sort of claim; they are also one of the few to post their testing results online for transparency. The Britax seats both claim an "energy absorbing base," with something they call "safe cell." This feature may be similar to the Clek claim, but once again, without an agreed upon definition of industry terminology, it is hard to say what one means or if and how testing was done to support the claim. We have no way of knowing how well these features work, or if they work predictably in an actual crash scenario as opposed to a simulated crash test.

In this photo you can see part of the steel alloy frame on the Britax Marathon.
In this photo you can see part of the steel alloy frame on the Britax Marathon.

Seat Construction


Every seat consists of similar kinds of materials and a basic design with a few standouts and variations. The majority of the seats have a hard plastic outer shell with a dense foam padding as the second layer. A few of the seats also have metal frame components or features that offer increased shell stability that potentially improve seat performance in the event of a crash (though this is difficult to prove in standard tests). The final component is primarily for comfort and includes a layer of padding and fabric that give the seat its overall look and helps position baby properly in the seat. Many seats also offer an infant insert pillow. This insert is a positioner that helps smaller bodies fit properly in the seat and within the harness. The insert fits above the fabric cover and can easily be removed when your baby grows bigger, or it is no longer needed. Some of the seats also offer padding or "head wings" around the head area. Presumably, this is for impact protection and/or possibly comfort; some manufacturers explicitly state this is the purpose of the wings, while others refrain from saying anything outright. The lack of manufacturer clarification makes it difficult for us to tell if the feature is intended to truly improve safety, or simply give the illusion of improved safety.

We believe that the differences in seat construction that really matter are those that reflect in crash test performance, as well as those that impact baby's overall comfort.

The back of the Chicco plastic shell is smooth and easy to clean. It has a middle storage compartment for the tether strap that keeps it out of the way nicely
The back of the Chicco plastic shell is smooth and easy to clean. It has a middle storage compartment for the tether strap that keeps it out of the way nicely

External Shell


The external hard shell is the first line of defense in an accident. The shell on each seat provides structural support and contains the energy absorbing hard foam molded to the inside. In this way, the construction and design work much like a bike helmet that also uses an exterior hard plastic shell combined with a layer of energy absorbing hard foam placed between the shell and your head.

Foam


There are two basic kinds of foam that can be found in a typical convertible seat.

The Graco has a thick layer of EPS foam in the head region of the shell for energy absorption in the event of a crash
The Roundabout has the EPP foam that we prefer because it is more environmentally friendly and doesn't off gas
 
  • Hard Foam — All the convertible seats we reviewed have foam as their primary energy absorbing material that helps protect your baby in a crash. This foam is either made of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) (above left) or Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) (above right). EPS is the more common type and is somewhat of the industry standard and found in the majority of seats we tested. Alternatively, the Britax seats are made with the EPP foam. We like the EPP better and feel it has a slight edge over EPS because it is somewhat forgiving when bent or pressed on, where EPS will break or deform, and it doesn't off gas like EPS, which we really like. The EPS foam is similar to the foam found in many bike helmets and is common for impact protection applications. The greater difference between seats is how much foam is used and where it is located inside the shell of the seat. A few seats have foam inside the entire shell, while others had more foam in the torso and head region with little to no foam in the bottom of the seat.

The manufacturer of the Maxi-Cosi claims the headrest on the seat provides additional side impact protection  but it is difficult to know what this means exactly
The manufacturer of the Maxi-Cosi claims the headrest on the seat provides additional side impact protection, but it is difficult to know what this means exactly
  • Soft Foam — Some of the seats we reviewed offered a softer foam around the head portion of the seat. A good example of this is the Chicco NextFit or the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible, which both offer a significant amount of additional soft foam around the head area. Soft foam doesn't offer much in terms of impact protection in a crash, but it does offer extra comfort in everyday use. Alternatively, the Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 has a soft foam head pad surrounded by a plastic bag they call "Air Side Impact Protection." The manufacturer claims this feature tested has been tested by an independent lab to determine its ability to decrease injuries related to side impact crashes. However, this type of functionality is not the norm, and most soft foam is either for comfort or to mimic the looks of impact resistance.

Anchoring the Car Seat


There are two different methods used to secure a car seat into a vehicle. We will provide you an overview of each, including the most common reasons to use one over the other, or when you might need to use one over the other based on manufacturer guidelines. You can find more information about installation in our article, How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes.

Read Your Vehicle User's Manual
To properly install your car seat you need to read not only the car seat user's manual but your vehicle user's manual as well. Why? The vehicle manual is the overriding authority on how to install the car seat and supersedes the car seat manual if the two directives conflict. This is especially important when determining how to install a car seat based on your child's weight. Some car seats require a change from LATCH anchors to seatbelt installation when your child reaches a certain weight. However, your vehicle manual will also have limitations on how much weight can be attached to the LATCH anchors. So if your car seat manual says the seat can be installed using LATCH up to 60 lbs of child weight, but your vehicle manual shows a limit of 50lbs, then you must switch to the seatbelt installation at 50 lbs, not 60.

This diagram showing LATCH system lower anchors appears in Graco's car seat manual. Unlike most other manufacturers  Graco documents in their manual that their seats can be LATCH-connected in the center position so long as your Vehicle Owners Manual allows use of the center seating position and the anchor spacing is 11" or greater between the inner LATCH connectors on the left and right side. Unfortunately  most car manufacturers don't allow the use of the inner LATCH anchor points to place a seat in the center.
This diagram showing LATCH system lower anchors appears in Graco's car seat manual. Unlike most other manufacturers, Graco documents in their manual that their seats can be LATCH-connected in the center position so long as your Vehicle Owners Manual allows use of the center seating position and the anchor spacing is 11" or greater between the inner LATCH connectors on the left and right side. Unfortunately, most car manufacturers don't allow the use of the inner LATCH anchor points to place a seat in the center.
  • Installation using LATCH connectors — Since 2002, most cars in the US are required to have LATCH connectors on the left and right rear seat positions (not the center seat). LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren (LATCH). This type of connection was created to provide a simpler method of attaching car seats to vehicles. We recommend using LATCH when it is available since it is usually the best and easiest way to ensure a tight, secure connection.

Rear facing installation of the Clek using the vehicle belt is almost as easy as the LACTH  with both requiring use of the same belt path
Rear facing installation of the Clek using the vehicle belt is almost as easy as the LACTH, with both requiring use of the same belt path
  • Installing with a Seat Belt — You can install all the seats using the vehicle seat belt through the designated pathways provided on the seat. Some seats have a built-in lock-offs while others do not. We found the lock-off usually makes this process easier. Only a minority of vehicles offer LATCH connectors for the vehicle center seat, so a seat belt might be your only option if you want to your the center seat. Also, once your child reaches a certain weight, the seat belt installation often becomes your only install option, as the LATCH system will become unsafe due to the combined weight of baby and car seat (see tip above).

Vehicle center seat installation is worth considering:
It has been shown that placing the car seat in the center position can reduce injury by more than 40% compared to installing the seat in a side location.

During our installation testing, we found significant differences between car seats regarding ease of installation with a seat belt depending on the vehicle we were using. Parents who plan to use this location exclusively may want to try installing their seat of choice in this position to ensure a good fit is possible before choosing to keep a seat (Amazon has a great and easy return policy).

The forward-facing installation of the Clek Foonf for kids over 2 years old using the vehicle belt is very secure feeling and easy to accomplish.
The forward-facing installation of the Clek Foonf for kids over 2 years old using the vehicle belt is very secure feeling and easy to accomplish.

Both methods of installation are possible whether the seat configuration is rear-facing or front-facing. Depending on the laws in your area, children need to be restrained rear-facing up to a certain age or weight range. We recommend you keep children rear facing as long as possible (within the guidelines of the seat) because it is safer for children in the event of an accident. The choice of how to install is somewhat up to you and what works best in your car, but all seats will need to be installed using the seat belt at some point because the LATCH method is not allowed once your child reaches a certain weight.

To find the right angle for installation the Graco has a rolling ball level that needs to be in the green zone for proper installation
To find the right angle for installation the Graco has a rolling ball level that needs to be in the green zone for proper installation

Level Indicators


Each seat we tested has a level indicator to help parents confirm when its installation angle is correct. While they don't all look or function the same, they all provide similar information and guidance.

The level indicator on the Safety 1st is a red line located on a sticker on the side of the seat
The level indicator on the Primo is a line on the side of the seat that should be parallel with the ground when installed correctly
The bubble level indicator on the Chicco is easier to use than the line indicator on most of the competition.
 
The photos above show different level indicators we found on the seats we reviewed; in order from left to right: Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65, Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible, and the Chicco NextFit.

Some of the level indicators are lines on the seat that are either molded into the plastic or imprinted on a sticker on the side of the seat. This level line should be parallel to the ground when installed and is best assessed standing back from the vehicle. Some indicators look more like a traditional level you'd find in construction with liquid and a bubble, or a small ball that rolls inside a plastic casing that indicates the seat is installed at the correct angle range when it falls within a pre-marked area in its path. It is important that parents use the level as instructed in the user guide with their seat.

The Marathon harness height adjustment is the easiest one in the group to operate
The Marathon harness height adjustment is the easiest one in the group to operate

Shoulder Height Adjustment


Adjusting the shoulder height of the harness on a car seat may not sound like a big deal until you have to do it. Being able to alter the harness quickly and easily means your child will be using a correct fitting harness at all times. Avoiding changing the harness height because it is convoluted or difficult to operate, could lead to a child being improperly restrained in the seat. Not using the harness or seat correctly could lead to injury or possible death in the event of a crash, so this is an important feature to consider on any seat.

You can see the slots on the back of shell on this Graco where the shoulder straps can be threaded through and attached to a splitter plate on the back for height adjsutment
You can see the slots on the back of shell on this Graco where the shoulder straps can be threaded through and attached to a splitter plate on the back for height adjsutment
Rethreading the Harness to Adjust Height (yuck!)
Rethreading harness straps to adjust shoulder height is the most difficult method of adjustment in the seats we reviewed. Rethreading requires that you remove the harness straps from a connector on the back of the seat, and unthread the straps from their current slots through the back of the seats to move them to higher slots. The process itself isn't that difficult, even though it is convoluted. However, you usually don't notice you need to adjust the straps until your baby is in the seat. This process means you will need to remove your baby from the seat and possibly the seat from the car to make the adjustment. Then you will need to reinstall the seat before you place your baby inside and get on your way. We worry that some parents will procrastinate making adjustments for this reason. This could lead to a cycle of forgetting to do it time and time again while your child is transported in an improperly fitting harness. Do NOT do this!!

The harness height adjustment on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio has an easy pull tab to operate with no rethreading of straps necessary. This is one of the easiest adjustment options in the review.
The harness height adjustment on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio has an easy pull tab to operate with no rethreading of straps necessary. This is one of the easiest adjustment options in the review.
Easy to Adjust Harness Height (Non-Rethread)
The easiest to change, and thus our favorite seats, are those whose height can move without the need for rethreading. This means no splitter plate, no moving the harness straps from one slot to another, no removing baby from the seat. This kind of adjustment can happen on the fly as soon as you notice the harness needs changing. It is a quick and relatively painless process that requires either pushing a button, pulling a tab or moving levers in and then pulling the headrest/shoulder portion of the seat up to the required height. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible, Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB, Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB and Britax Marathon have non-rethread harness systems that are easy to adjust and nicely designed. These were not the only options with this feature in the group, but they are the ones we liked the best.

The harness release button on the Chicco is visible and located on top of the padding. It does have a little lip on one side to help deter little ones from playing with it
The harness release button on the Chicco is visible and located on top of the padding. It does have a little lip on one side to help deter little ones from playing with it

Harness Tightening and Release


Once the shoulder straps are adjusted, and your child is in the seat and buckled in, the entire harness tightens by pulling on the strap that trails from the foot of the seat. This process should be easy, and in theory, it is, but not all tightening straps are as easy as others.

The harness is tight enough when you cannot pinch any harness fabric between your fingers. This is commonly referred to as the "pinch test."

Most of the harnesses we tested loosen by pressing a button near the foot of seat, while others worked by lifting a small lever in the same location. The button or lever should be somewhat stiff to operate to prevent little hands from pressing the button. However, they shouldn't be so difficult to use that an adult can't do it with one finger. Some seats have buttons that are visible on top of the seat fabric, while others have the adjustment hidden under padding and fabric to help little ones avoid temptation (out of sight, out of mind). The Britax Boulevard ClickTight and the Britax Advocate ClickTight have an indicator click sound that tells you when the harness is tight enough, though we still recommend parents use their best judgment and check the harness before believing an external system.

The buckle on the Evenflo Tribute LX is one of the easiest in the group to use. The sides pop out on their own when the button is pressed
The buckle on the Evenflo Tribute LX is one of the easiest in the group to use. The sides pop out on their own when the button is pressed

Buckle


The buckles on the majority of the seats we tested are so remarkably similar we can't help but wonder if some of them come from the same assembly line. Many were easy enough to use, and while there is a pressure metric they need to meet, some were too stiff and hard to operate. If you have any thumb strength or structural hand issues, this might be more important to you than it is for others. The Maxi–Cosi Pria 70 earned the highest score for buckle ease of use, while the Diono Radian RXT is the most difficult.

The Evenflo is the lightest seat in the group and one of the most narrow at just over 9 pounds and 17 inches
The Evenflo is the lightest seat in the group and one of the most narrow at just over 9 pounds and 17 inches

Weight


While the weight of the carrier in our review of infant seats was important because you need to transport the carriers from place to place, the weight of the convertible seats is less important in our minds because you won't be carrying them around that often. The Clek Foonf is a very heavy seat at 38 pounds and 6 ounces; it is cumbersome to carry and more than a handful. However, given that you will rarely be moving it or transporting it, we don't feel this is a deal breaker or high on the consideration list for most parents. The Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB and Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB came in with the second and third heaviest weights for the group. Alternatively, if you will be moving your seat or using it for travel, you might be interested in the lighter weight seats like the Evenflo Tribute LX that is only 9 pounds 4 ounces or the Britax Roundabout, which is the highest ranking light option at about 16 pounds.

Other Features


Sometimes the biggest difference between seats is the little details; some of the details are cool or work well, and some are not so great. In a product genre where so many of the seats are similar in structure and function, the details are the only thing that helps differentiate them from each other. If a seat has a unique feature or has a feature that might increase potential safety, then we feel it should be mentioned. With gear that is so heavily regulated, it could be difficult to tell one product from another, or for parents to decide why one is better than another without considering the features that make them stand out.

The rear facing Clek Foonf has a recline adjustment attachment and a anti-rebound bar  as well as an under the seat belt pathway that includes a belt lock off. It is the most innovative seat in the review and includes a rigid forward facing LATCH system.
The rear facing Clek Foonf has a recline adjustment attachment and a anti-rebound bar, as well as an under the seat belt pathway that includes a belt lock off. It is the most innovative seat in the review and includes a rigid forward facing LATCH system.
Anti-Rebound Bar
While the jury is out on the efficacy of the anti-rebound bar offering additional protection, general physics seems to support the claim that it does. This bar works on the rear facing seat and prevents the seat from dramatic flipping back against the vehicle seat back in the event of a crash. It is the back and forth motion that causes head and neck trauma in a collision, so less movement theoretically means fewer injuries. We liked the idea of the bar, but feel that for now there isn't enough information available for parents to assume that the absence of these features should be a deal breaker. For the time being, we think it is a nice addition to an otherwise high-scoring seat, like the bars found on the Clek Foonf, Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB and the Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB. However, we wouldn't overlook a high scoring product without a bar in favor of a lower scoring option that has one. Luckily, these seats earned higher scores in our review, so you can purchase a high scoring product that also has a rebound bar.

The LATCH storage are hard plastic pockets on the each side of the Chicco seat base. They are a little awkward to get the anchors into correctly  but they work well once they are properly in place
The LATCH storage are hard plastic pockets on the each side of the Chicco seat base. They are a little awkward to get the anchors into correctly, but they work well once they are properly in place

LATCH Storage
If you use the seat belt to anchor your seat to the vehicle instead of the LATCH connectors, it is important to have a good spot to store the unused anchors. Unlike infant seats, where the anchors could get in the way of proper attachment of the carrier to the base, the anchors on the convertible seats are more of a nuisance than a potential hazard. Not all of the storage options are great, and we prefer the options that keep the anchors attached to the shell body, so they don't come loose. Chicco NextFit has interesting plastic side pockets, which are sort of hard to use but keep them out of sight. It probably isn't necessary though, and any seat that keeps them connected to the shell seem to work fine. Clek has rigid LATCH anchors that pull back under the seat and rear facing anchors that tuck under the seat bottom.

The user manual for the Peg Perego fits in a designated storage pocket with a clear door that is easy to use and well placed. It is highly unlikely that the book with be damaged or lost with this storage method
The user manual for the Peg Perego fits in a designated storage pocket with a clear door that is easy to use and well placed. It is highly unlikely that the book with be damaged or lost with this storage method
On Board Manual Storage
There should be a location where the user's manual can be stored on each seat. You should have easy access to it in case you need it, but it shouldn't be where little ones can find it or where spilled items and vomit can reach it. Onboard storage helps keep answers at your fingertips to improve overall use and safety. It is important to use the storage space as intended, so you aren't caught without the manual when you need it. Some of the seats store the manual under the padding where the child would sit, which seems like a bad spot and one where it could easily get damaged, though this is better than locations where children can find the manual and destroy it before you notice. If you lose the manual or it does get damaged, most are available online or you can order a new one from the company. It is far better to do the extra work to get a manual than it is to guess on specific installation or design information about your seat.

How do I decide which convertible car seat is best for my child?


With so many options and features to choose from, the decision on which car seat to buy can feel daunting. We've broken the process down into steps that help you determine what to consider when deciding which seat is best for you and your child. While there are several nice high-scoring products in this review, your particular needs or limitations might find you choosing a different model that works best for you even if it didn't win an award in our tests.

Step 1: Consider Where the Seat Will Go --Installation


As previously discussed, where you plan to install the seat may impact which seat you choose to purchase. Where and how you plan to use the seat might also influence you. Your usage pattern can make the difference between which option best meets your needs and which will be frustrating to use. Given that more than 80% of car seats have been shown to have at least one serious problem with installation, choosing a seat that is easy to install in your chosen location or locations will help keep baby safer.

The Evenflo is the lightest seat in the group and one of the most narrow at just over 9 pounds and 17 inches
The Evenflo is the lightest seat in the group and one of the most narrow at just over 9 pounds and 17 inches

Urban Parents


If you reside in a major city and will need to transport your little one in a cab or Uber, you may want to look at some of the lighter weight seats. This would also be true if you travel frequently and plan to lug a seat through the airport or on a train. Some of these seats are heavy, and this should be a factor for parents who won't be installing the seat in their car and forgetting about it. The Evenflo Tribute seat won a Best Value award and earned high marks in crash testing, so at just over 9 pounds you will probably have an easier time carrying it than you would the Clek Foonf at over 38 pounds in its rear-facing configuration, or the Editors' Choice winner, the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB that weighs just over 28 pounds. The Britax Roundabout is about 16 pounds and gives you a higher scoring seat than the Evenflo with a much lower weight than the higher scoring options.

The Roundabout is one of the easiest in the group to install
The Roundabout is one of the easiest in the group to install

Center or Side?


Will your seat be installed in the center seat or on the side? Some vehicles do not offer LATCH connection points for the center seat, so you will want to check your vehicle for anchor points. Alternatively, you can install the seat using the belt only, and we found during testing that many of the seats feel very secure installed using a lap-only belt, and some were even easier to install with the vehicle belt than with LATCH.

Research shows a 43% lower risk of injury for seats placed in the center. The center location is only safe if you properly anchor the seat, but research also shows that more than 80% of car seats have at least one serious problem with installation. Therefore, we suggest parents take ease of installation as seriously as we do.

We think it is worth noting that most parents, 61% of us, place car seats on one of the side seats. The side seat is more convenient for getting the child in and out of the vehicle, and it is the only option for families with multiple children or those with vehicles built before 2002.

Installing the Car Seat Safely
Making mistakes when installing a seat or securing baby in the seat are common. Because of this, we have dedicated a separate article to this topic. It is crucial that car seats be correctly used for them to work properly. For this reason, we advocate parents consider ease of installation and ease of use as critical factors in their buying decision.


The Britax Marathon earned the top score for ease of use
The Britax Marathon earned the top score for ease of use

Step 2: Ease of Use


Because installing your seat is likely to be only an occasional process for most parents, it is the daily ease of use that will impact your experience and overall safety of the car seat. Getting your child into and out of the seat, as well as strapping them into the harness are activities you will need to perform on a daily basis. How difficult these activities are will quickly become more important to you than how difficult it is to get the seat anchored into the vehicle.

Ease of use varied from seat to seat with scores between 4 and 8 in our testing. Chances are you have a few seats on your list after considering where the seat will be installed and how easy it is to install it in your chosen location. Finding the seat or seats in this list that also offers a nice ease of use score should help narrow the options further. The Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB earned a high score of 8 for ease of use. Check our ease of use ratings to narrow your list down. The Evenflo Tribute, Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible, and Britax Marathon all scored a 7 in this metric, making them each a second place for ease of use.

Step 3: Crash Test Performance


All the seats in this review have passed the minimum requirements for crash tests as outlined by Federal guidelines. Therefore, all offer a basic level of protection, but some seats performed significantly better than others and can be considered as offering an extra margin of protection compared to other seats.

The chest sensor data for the Evenflo compared to that of the Clek that has the lowest recorded G forces in the chest sensor during crash tests
The chest sensor data for the Evenflo compared to that of the Clek that has the lowest recorded G forces in the chest sensor during crash tests

Many parents might consider crash test performance to be the most important factor in choosing a seat. However, we feel that because installation and ease of use impact a parent's ability to use the seat properly (and therefore safely), and it also influences the overall crash safety of any seat that it should be considered before the actual crash data comes into play. Given that over 80% of parents install or use their seat improperly, it matters little how safe a product is if it isn't used correctly. After finding a seat that is easy to install and use, then it is important to find one that will function well in the event of a crash after you have installed it properly and strapped baby in as instructed.

To evaluate the crash test data of each seat we reviewed, we analyzed their individual crash test results to compare how each seat performed in comparison to the federally required minimum score. Also, we assessed how well each seat performed compared to the other products in the review. Now that you have narrowed down your list to a few finalists, you can use our crash test analysis to choose the seat that offers an extra margin of protection for your final selection.

Car Seats Expire
The foam used to construct car seats has an actual shelf life. After a certain period, the seat should no longer be used and should be destroyed. If you choose to use a hand me down car seat, you need to ensure it has not already expired and that it won't expire in the 9 to 12 months that you will need it. Also, it is important to retire any car seat that has been involved in an accident. Even if the seat appears to be uncompromised, it should still be discarded.

Conclusion


Purchasing a convertible seat does not need to be a daunting experience despite the plethora of options on the market. With a few key considerations and a review of the details on how each seat compared to the rest, you have all the information you need to determine which seat will work best for your family. We believe the award winners can fill the niche for just about any need and budget, but if you find another seat in the group that looks more worthy for you, compare it to the top scoring or award-winning products in this review. The variety of options might seem overwhelming, but we have your back with information and a detailed analysis of many of the viable candidates so your decision can be as easy as 1,2,3.

Optional Reading: Car Seat Lingo


To help you understand all things car seat, we have provided a little terminology insight that you might come in contact with when reviewing car seat information. Knowing the lingo can help you stay the course and ensure that you understand the details of what you are reading. This is important for interpreting information easily.

The terminology and definitions were taken from the National Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Certification Training Program manual. While some definitions have been slightly changed to increase readability, the intent/meaning is the same. You can read these definitions here.

Dr. Juliet Spurrier is founder and Mom-in-Chief at BabyGearLab
Juliet Spurrier, MD
About the Author
Dr. Juliet Baciocco Spurrier is a board certified pediatrician, mother of two, and founder of BabyGearLab. Juliet earned her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Anthropology and Italian Literature from the University of California at Berkeley and her Medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington DC. She completed her pediatric residency at the Doernbecher Children's Hospital at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, OR, and subsequently practiced pediatrics in both the Pacific Northwest and Silicon Valley. Juliet serves as Mom-in-Chief at BabyGearLab, where she oversees all baby product review activity, assuring that each review delivers on our commitment to quality.

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