Best Convertible Car Seat with Crash Tests of 2021
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|Pros||Easy to install and use, cozy comfort, nice quality||Great crash test results, easy to use, attractive price, lighter||Great crash test results, easy to install, high quality and comfy||Best crash test results, rear-facing till 50 lbs, price||Price, easy to use, best head sensor crash test|
|Cons||Average crash test results||Harder to install using the vehicle belt||Expensive, heavier, stiff buckle||Not the best quality, harder belt installation||Less padding, somewhat harder to install using vehicle belt|
|Bottom Line||Parents will love this easy to install, quality seat with nice features||Great lightweight seat with excellent crash test results that is very easy to use||Quality seat with comfy features and great crash test results, but a high price||Rear-facing up to 50 lbs and the best crash results are a bonus to this budget-friendly seat||Budget-friendly, easy to use option with better crash test results make it a standout|
|Rating Categories||Boulevard...||Britax Emblem||Nuna RAVA||Graco Extend2Fit||Britax Allegiance|
|Crash Test (35%)|
|Ease Of Install LATCH (20%)|
|Ease Of Install Belt (15%)|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Comfort Quality (10%)|
|Weight Size (5%)|
|Specs||Boulevard...||Britax Emblem||Nuna RAVA||Graco Extend2Fit||Britax Allegiance|
|Min/Max Rear Facing Passenger Weight||5 - 40 lbs||5 - 40 lbs||5 - 50 lbs||4 - 50 lbs||5 - 40 lbs|
|Min/Max Forward Facing Passenger Weight||20 - 65 lbs||20 - 65 lbs||25 - 65 lbs||22 - 64 lbs||20 - 65 lbs|
|Max Rear Facing Passenger Height||Childs head must be at least 1 in. below the top of the head restraint||Childs head must be at least 1 in. below the top of the head restraint||Not Listed||Childs head must be at least 1 in. below the top of the head restraint||Childs head must be at least 1 in. below the top of the head restraint|
|Max Forward Facing Passenger Height||49" and the child's ears must be below the top of the head restraint.||49" and the child's ears must be below the top of the head restraint.||49"||49" and the child's ears must be below the top of the seat shell.||49" and the child's ears must be below the top of the head restraint.|
|Measured Rear Facing Seat Weight||29.5 lbs||18.8 lbs||25.8 lbs||18.7 lbs||18.5 lbs|
|Measured Forward Facing Seat Weight||28.4 lbs||18.8 lbs||25.4 lbs||18.7 lbs||18.5 lbs|
|Recline Positions||7||1 Rear Facing
2 Forward Facing
|5 Rear Facing
5 Forward Facing
|4 Rear Facing
3 Forward Facing
|1 Rear Facing
2 Forward Facing
|Max Recline Angle||51°||42°||40°||51°||42°|
|Shoulder Harness Positions||14||10||10||10||10|
|Crotch Strap Positions||2||2||2||2||2|
|Built in Lock Off||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|No Rethread Harness||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Onboard Manual Storage||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Level Indicator On Seat||Ball in Tube.||Line on Decal||Indicator on base||Ball in Tube.||Line on Decal|
|Seat Lifespan||10 yrs||7||10 yrs||7 yrs||7|
|Warranty||1 Year||1 Year||1 Year||1 Year||1 Year|
Best Overall Convertible Car Seat
The Britax Emblem is a quality convertible product with easy to use non-rethread shoulder strap adjustment, a push-button LATCH, and better comfort padding and fabric. This option has impressive crash test results that indicate a higher potential margin of safety. It is also easier to use than most of the competition. The Emblem's overall look and feel are better than much of the competition, and its self-contained design translates to easy to clean and sharp looking.
The Emblem has a manual LATCH strap, unlike the popular ClickTight models. This means it requires increased effort to install by comparison. However, unless you have limitations that prevent strap pulling, this shouldn't be a deal-breaker. We believe the Emblem is an impressive contender, sporting better crash test results with a reasonable price that includes easy to use features and a nice look and feel. Overall, the Emblem is an excellent choice and one we'd recommend to a friend.
Read review: Britax Emblem
Best Crash Test Result
The Graco Extend2Fit earned the highest result in the group for crash test analysis with a combined head and chest sensor result that beats the competition. This Graco also has excellent results for LATCH installation, which can translate to better safety as studies indicate that many real-world injuries are related to installation errors. These combined results mean the Extend2Fit may potentially provide an additional margin of protection over the competition in this review. This information makes it a great option for those who want top safety indicators. The Extend2Fit can also potentially stay rear-facing for longer than most of the competition (up to 50 lbs), creating a wonderful combination of features that potentially translates to a safer riding experience.
The Extend2Fit didn't offer the highest quality, and compared to the competition; it lacks the same level of comfort offered by competitors in its price range. However, despite this, the Extend2Fit is an excellent option for anyone who wants the very best crash test results and finds value in the safety potential of a rear-facing seat.
Read review: Graco Extend2Fit
Best Bang for the Buck
Evenflo Tribute LX
The Evenflo Tribute LX is sort of a dark horse compared to our usual selections for best value as it doesn't really rank very high in the competition. So, why did it get an award? This convertible option earned the second best-combined crash test results in the competition we tested for this review and it has one of the lowest prices. This combination makes it a worthwhile contender for anyone on the tightest budget or potentially as a secondary or travel seat. The Evenflo has a price significantly lower than the other contenders, a machine washable cover, easy to use vehicle belt pathway, and one of the nicest buckles we've seen in testing. This seat is also super lightweight at around 9 lbs and narrow at only 17 inches, making it one to consider if you need to carry it regularly or fit multiple safety seats in a row.
While this option doesn't meet every families' needs, given the lower quality and lack of comfort features, we still believe it is a remarkable option for the price and an excellent choice for anyone with a tight budget who still longs for something with better crash-test results. It also requires more attention to installation to ensure it is secure, given our experience during testing. For us, it feels right to honor a seat that provides an additional margin of safety suitable for almost any budget.
Read review: Evenflo Tribute LX
Best for Easy Installation
Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB
In our tests, the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB earned one of the highest overall results with perfect LATCH and belt installation scores, creating a virtually foolproof car seat anyone can install. As a result of the innovative ClickTight and strap tightening system, this Britax practically installs itself with only a little help from you. We love the non-rethread harness height adjustment with ten levels, seamless soft fabric, closed outer shell, and three layers of padding for comfort.
This convertible seat is not the best option for families on a tight budget as it is one of the most expensive seats in this lineup. It also isn't your top contender if you want the absolute best crash test results, as its results are average. However, the Boulevard provides impressive performance in most test areas, making it a potential option if your budget allows. Given that some injuries result from an incorrectly installed car seat, this Britax is a contender for parents concerned with proper installation, thanks to the stupendously easy ClickTight design.
Read review: Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB
Best for Narrow Seat Width
The Clek Foonf is a steel frame car seat that earns top results for LATCH installation and has innovative forward-facing rigid LATCH anchors. The Foonf is relatively easy to install using the vehicle belt, and it offers impressive comfort and quality in its design. This seat has a detachable angle booster, anti-rebound bar, steel frame (similar to your car), and an adjustable headrest, making it a convertible seat parents and babies will love.
The Foonf is a little spendy, so those with a tighter budget must plan or consider a different option. The seat is also a beast, and it's unlikely you'll want to move it often or use it for travel. Despite these minor hiccups, the Foonf offers a lot and includes other safety features. This seat is a unique choice; we think many families will love. It is the one our founder and Mom-in-Chief, Dr. Juliet Spurrier, uses. Dr. Spurrier's kids love it, and she likes the quality and ease of use.
Read review: Clek Foonf
Quality at a Good Price
The Britax Allegiance is an affordable convertible choice that provides quality for a reasonable price. The Allegiance has the second-highest score for crash test results with one of the group's best head sensor results. It offers easy LATCH installation, creating a seat with a potential added margin of safety compared to the competition in this review. This seat is also easy to use, so it is a great product for those looking for a straightforward and safe convertible seat.
With a 7 of 10, the Allegiance is somewhat harder to install using the vehicle belt compared to some of the competition. It isn't challenging, but it requires additional attention to detail. It also isn't the most comfortable, with less padding and an unbolstered headrest. In our opinion, despite these concerns, the Allegiance is a seat we believe parents will love for everything it offers and its wallet-friendly price. The Allegiance failed to win an award because of its similarities to the Britax Emblem and the small price difference. However, we feel it deserves a nod and is a worthwhile option that can save you money.
Read review: Britax Allegiance
Best for Quality
The Nuna RAVA is a very high-end convertible car seat with deep comfort padding, super soft fabric, and a sleek look with quality construction and impressive attention to detail. The Nuna offers top performance for comfort and quality and is easy to install no matter which option you prefer. We like that it is easy to use and the better than average crash test analysis that indicates a potential margin of safety over the average option in this review.The Nuna is fairly expensive compared to some contenders, making it a possible no-go for those with a smaller budget. It is also heavy, which means it may not be the right option for traveling or carpooling, as we believe most parents won't want to carry this heavy option for very long. Overall, the Nuna is a quality seat with impressive scores in most metrics, and for families where budget is less of a concern and quality is number one, the Nuna is one for your shortlist of contenders.
Read review: Nuna RAVA
Why You Should Trust Us
With six years and over 400 hours of convertible car seat analysis and crash testing under our belts, we are uniquely qualified to provide detailed information on safety seats and how each option compares to the competition and the federal safety guidelines. Our panel of experts includes Dr. Juliet Spurrier, a Board-Certified Pediatrician, mother, and founder of BabyGearLab with a background in urgent pediatric care. Our in-house test development was led by Certified Passenger Safety Technician, Bob Wofford. Bob assesses proper seat installation for the highest level of safety. We also consulted with experts at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about their protocol and crash test results. We contract with MGA Research, the same national testing facility that has the compliance contract for FMVSS 213 assessing the safety of car seat in the US. We pay for each convertible car seat in our review to undergo crash testing according to the same crash test protocol the US Federal Safety Standards uses. We analyze the crash test data to generate our crash test scores, and we share the actual data from the crash test, so you get the information you need to help guide your buying decision.
For the last size years, Senior Review Editor and mother of two, Wendy Schmitz, leads the analysis of the convertible car seat results. Wendy examines, compares, and rates each product's specific performance side-by-side.
Testing for the best convertible car seats of 2021 starts by purchasing two of each seat, one for crash testing with MGA and another for over 200 hours of testing abuse and observations from real-world parents and our in-house testers. We conduct rigorous testing that includes installing each seat in at least three different vehicles using both installation methods with multiple testers. We test each seats' padding, covers, harness adjustments, and more.
We perform detailed tests on each seat over several months using a testing protocol developed for BabyGearLab by a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician. We developed a comprehensive set of tests based on our infant car seat testing process. We use these methods in conjunction with the crash test data to determine how seats perform in everyday use and impact force measurements recorded during structured crash tests.
Each convertible car seat we test is compared side-by-side in multiple metrics. While all US safety seats should meet the federal government's minimum safety guidelines, that does not mean that they are easy to use, easy to install or provide an additional margin of protection compared to the competition.
Jump to: How We Tested Convertible Car Seats
Analysis and Test Results
We include the details parents require to make an informed decision about which convertible car seat is the best option for their child and budget.
Experts agree that children should remain rear-facing until at least two years old. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and NHTSA, recommend keeping your baby rear-facing as long as your chosen car seat allows, and at least until age 2. A study published in Injury Prevention in 2007 shows that the rear-facing position results in a 5.3 times lower risk of death or serious injury in a car accident compared to the forward-facing position for children age 1-2 years old. The Clek Foonf and the Graco Extend2Fit can remain rear-facing until the passenger weighs 50 lbs. So, no matter how tempted you are to turn your little one around, we encourage you not to, so you can retain the potential safety bump facing backward offers.
There are budget-friendly options to be had in this group with winners and lower-priced options to meet your needs and safety goals. With several award-winning seats offering reasonable prices and better than average crash results, you can even find a convertible car seat with a potential additional margin of protection without draining the bank. The Evenflow Tribute LX and the Britax Allegiance earned 8s for crash test results and are among the least expensive in this review. The Graco Extend2Fit also has a reasonable price, the highest crash-test result analysis in the group, and can stay rear-facing longer (potential safety +). The Britax Emblem is also a good value. While it does cost a little more than those already mentioned, it is still less spendy than the average car seat in our tests and is one of the better options.
Crash Test Performance
BabyGearLab contracts with the same crash test facility that the NHTSA uses to perform our convertible seat crash tests. We purchase two of each seat, and one is sent to MGA, where we pay for crash tests to be completed. The seats are tested using the same protocol that NHTSA uses based on the FMVSS 213 safety standard.
After we receive the crash test data we commission, we perform a detailed analysis of the sensor data from each car seat's crash dummy to determine how they compare to the competition and the federal standard.
While you might think that a more expensive seat will be safer, this isn't necessarily true, according to our test results. An example of this are the Britax ClickTight seats that provide easy installation features with higher prices but didn't perform as well during repeated crash testing as some of the other contenders. The cheaper Britax Emblem and Britax Allegiance both have better crash test sensor results than the ClickTight options proving the price isn't indicative of potential safety. Another example is the Graco Extend2Fit with the best-combined sensor results and a list price significantly lower than the ClickTight options.
So, what is the most critical information from crash impact tests when analyzing results?
- The risk of head injury related to the HIC result
- The risk of chest injury related to the chest clip (g clip) result
This chart includes the % below the maximum allowed HIC result of each seat we tested in this review. The further below the Federal HIC maximum of 1000 indicates a better result, so a taller bar indicates potentially better protection.
This chart is a review of the percentage below the Federal maximum Chest (G) Clip result (60) achieved by the seats we tested in this review (above). Taller bars indicate better results and a potentially higher margin of protection.
We pay MGA to perform crash tests on each seat in our review. We purchase and send the seats directly to MGA, and they supply us with the sensor data after testing is complete. We do not use data from other companies, such as Consumer Reports, as they perform their own tests, and any information they divulge would not allow for a side-by-side comparison of test results. Occasionally, we use test data supplied by NHTSA to supplement our tests. NHTSA also uses the MGA testing facility, and we utilize the same testing process as NHTSA to make an apples-to-apples comparison.
An analysis of auto crash injuries for children show that head and chest injuries are the two most significant risks of fatal or severe injuries.
All of the car seats we test passed the Federal minimum safety standards. Therefore, every seat has at least the basic level of crash safety protection required by US Federal law. Our primary focus for crash test scores is to identify seats whose crash test performance exceed the Federal requirements by a wide margin. These car seats can be considered as providing an additional level of protection based on the data from their crash test sensors.
Additional Safety Features
Some seats have additional features that manufacturers claim will improve the seat's safety; we did not consider these features or claims in our crash test score analysis. Because manufacturers do not publish comparison test data to analyze, it is impossible to determine their efficacy. We understand parents are curious about side impact protection (SIP) or an anti-rebound bar (ARB). Still, we encourage you to proceed with caution when making a decision-based solely on these features. In the end, there is no way to tell what each manufacturer means when they use terminology that lacks an agreed-upon meaning (like SIP). This lack of information makes it impossible to compare seats with similar-sounding claims, especially without a universally agreed-upon language to describe what the claims genuinely mean.
We can confirm that our crash test results indicate that anti-rebound bars often, but not always, improve the crash test dummy sensors results in comparison to not using the anti-rebound bar. We like them as a safety feature, but we feel actual crash testing data is more important than stated features or claims.
How well a seat performs in a crash test environment means little if you don't install the seat according to the manufacturer's instructions. Poor installation or a poorly fitted harness can potentially result in injury or death in an accident.
Best Seats Based on Crash Test Analysis
We rated each seat compared to the competition using a 1-10 scoring system using crash test report analysis. The scoring helps quantify the products that offer an additional margin of protection, in our opinion, over and above the basic level of protection found in all of the seats.
The Graco Extend2Fit earned our best crash test rating with 9 of 10 thanks to excellent Chest Clip (g) and HIC scores. The Nuna Rava has similar sensor results earning an 8 of 10. While neither have the best score for either sensor, they do have the best combined scores of both Chest and HIC results. The Britax Allegiance has the best (lowest) HIC result for the group with a slightly better than average result for the Chest Clip; these results help it earn the group's second-best score with an 8. The Britax Emblem, Evenflo Tribute LX, and Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 also earned 8s. The Clek Foonf has the best Chest Clip score in the group, but its HIC result is below average, which results in a crash-test score of 7.
Ease of Install Using LATCH
Studies show that more than 7 out of 10 car seats are installed incorrectly, or the harness is not fitted properly . As a result of these statistics, we feel ease of installation and ease of use are critical metrics when selecting a car safety seat. Both can potentially impact overall safety.
The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) installation method should make it easier to correctly install car seats, with fewer mistakes. For this reason, we recommend using the LATCH method whenever possible, to increase the chances of installing a seat correctly. Nearly all convertible car seats have the LATCH connectors, and most vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002, offer the anchors on the left and right sides of the back seat. So, the good news is you should be able to utilize the LATCH method until your child outgrows the LATCH connectors' weight limit (please see your safety seat user manual).
We determined that some seats are easier to install using LATCH instead of the vehicle belt in our tests. However, surprisingly, about a third of the options are easier to install using the vehicle belt not the LATCH. The main problem? Some testers struggle to tighten the LATCH straps to secure the convertible car seat to the vehicle properly.
The Clek Foonf (above left) uses a rigid LATCH connection for forward-facing installation. It is ridiculously easy and requires NO strap tightening. You push the rigid LATCH connectors onto the anchors, and that's it! The Clek Foonf is tied with the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB for the highest LATCH installation score as both products do not need manual strap tightening. The Britax Boulevard connectors (above right) are a clip style of LATCH that we feel is more challenging; the clip itself is harder to remove and requires twisting to remove them. The Evenflo Tribute LX has the lowest score in the group for LATCH installation with a 6 of 10.
Our favorite seat LATCH installation is the Clek because of the forward-facing rigid LATCH installation. The Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB is also super easy, while the Britax Emblem (above) and Allegiance, and the Chicco NextFit are almost as straightforward. The Chicco NextFit has a unique LATCH design with a 2-step strap tightening system that is very easy to tighten, requiring no extreme strength.
The safest spot to install your car seat is in the center of the vehicle rear seat — studies of injury data show a 43% lower risk of injury if the car seat is in the center of the back seat. Combine this information with the knowledge that LATCH connectors should be the easiest and safest way to install a car seat. What's the problem? Most vehicles do not offer LATCH anchors in the center location. Even if the inner LATCH anchors from the side positions are close enough to use, most vehicle and seat manuals do not allow the use of these LATCH anchors for the center position installation.
If your vehicle doesn't allow the LATCH method to be used in the center location, what is the best alternative? Should you use the center seat with a vehicle belt or the LATCH system on a side seat? One of the most critical aspects of seat installation is ensuring the car seat is securely and tightly anchored to the vehicle.The questions on center seat installation include:
- Should you install the seat with the vehicle belt?
- Is the seat as secure when anchored to the center seat with a vehicle belt as it is in the side position using LATCH?
Using the vehicle belt to install a car seat is a perfectly safe and acceptable installation method (and potentially the only possibility for center seats), assuming you can ensure that the installation is secure and tight. If you can get a tight fit (and we did with many seats in our tests), use the center seat. However, if obtaining a secure fit in the center seat is challenging, you should move your safety seat to the side seat location. It is far more important that the car seat installation is correct than the installed seat's actual location. If you have two children, you may not have a choice as many cars don't have enough room for a side and center installation simultaneously, and/or little ones often fight if they can reach each other. If your vehicle doesn't offer LATCH anchors for the center seat, but you prefer center seat installation, our tests on ease of installation with a vehicle belt can help you identify the options that are easier to install using the vehicle belt. Also, you can locate an installation professional for assistance using the vehicle belt if you feel unsure.
The LATCH connectors and anchors are only part of the LATCH equation. Whether the straps are easy to tighten and loosen is also something to consider. As previously noted, the Clek Foonf doesn't have straps for forward-facing installation, and the Chicco NextFit has its "SuperCinch" method with a 2-step tightening system engineered to do the hard work for you.
The LATCH straps on the Evenflo Tribute LX are relatively easy to tighten, but we had some difficulty loosening the LATCH strap when trying to uninstall the seat. We gave more consideration to options that didn't require extreme strength or bodyweight to tighten the strap or struggle for a secure attachment.
Ease of Install — Vehicle Belt
No matter how or where you hope to install your new car seat, at some point, you must install it using the vehicle belt as LATCH connectors have weight restrictions that most children will outgrow. Also, many center seats don't have LATCH anchors, even though it is the safest location for seat installation. Most LATCH use weight limits are about 40 - 50 lbs of child weight before the seat requires installation using the vehicle belt only. Given that many of the products have a weight limit of 50-80 lbs, it is clear that most children will utilize the vehicle belt at some point.
Don't despair! We will tell you which seats are the easiest to install using the vehicle belt and provide information on correct installation or where to get help if you are unsure or something doesn't seem right.
There is a fantastic FREE resource in the US that can help you learn how to install any seat in any car. There are certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians available by appointment or on call. We highly recommend this service, even if you feel like you have installation dialed in.
The Benefit of the Seat Belt Lock-Off
Some seats are easier to install using a seat belt than competitors, and most of these seats have a trick by way of a belt lock-off located on the seat. This feature is so useful, it is a game-changer for installing seats with a vehicle belt, and we believe you'll feel significantly more comfortable installing a seat using the belt if it has one of these nifty lock-offs.
In this review, several seats have a belt lock-off located on the seat, all with forward and rear-facing lock-offs. Interestingly enough, all of these seats ranked near the top and have the highest installation scores using a vehicle belt. Only the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible scored as well without the help of an onboard lock-off. The Britax ClickTight car seats don't have traditional lock-offs, but the pressure of the seat bottom closure acts as a lock-off and prevents the car seat from sliding back and forth on the vehicle belt, something we often see in lock-off free seats.
Coincidence? We think not.
Some lock-offs work a little better than others, but even those that are challenging, still provide a more secure feeling installation in our tests than seats without a lock-off. We found that options with a lock-off were every bit as secure feeling when installed with a belt as they were with the LATCH (some even more so). This fact can be a relief when you need to install the seat with a belt, which is highly likely given the weight limitations of LATCH systems.
We believe lock-offs can help a seat feel more secure, but some lock-offs are more straightforward. The Clek Foonf lock-off (above left) is super easy to use, even though you need to lift the seat bottom to access the rear-facing lock-off. The Chicco NextFit (above right) is also easy with a lock-off conveniently located on the outside of the shell.
In our tests, the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB is the easiest option to install using the belt, thanks to the "ClickTight" installation method. All you need to do is lift the seat bottom, thread the belt across, remove the slack (don't tighten), and close the seat bottom until it clicks. The seat bottom tightens and locks the seat in place for you. The Boulevard earned a 10 of 10 for this installation.
The Clek Foonf is one of the easier seats in our tests to install using the vehicle belt. The lock-off works smoothly, and the belt is easy to thread. It earned a 9, which is better than the LATCH score of most competitors. The Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB is also easy to install using the vehicle belt, earning a 9.
Except for the Peg Pergo Primo Viaggio Convertible, the seats lacking a lock-off did not score as well as those with a lock-off. The Evenflo Tribute LX earned just 6 (the lowest result), but interestingly is still easier to install with the vehicle belt than using LATCH. The Chicco NextFit and the Peg Pergo Primo Viaggio Convertible earned 8s.
Some SUVs, trucks, and wagons have a center seat belt located in the car's ceiling.
Ease of Use
Convertible car seats have similar designs with few obvious differences that are not cosmetic. However, the options do diverge in ease of use, with some being significantly easier to use than other contenders, thanks to extra features or better functionality of features like buckles.
The Ease of Use metric includes the functionality of everyday features, including harness adjustment and chest clips, ease of tightening or loosening the harness, and fabric cover removal for cleaning. If using your chosen option is challenging, you may not use it as the manufacturer advised, or you could end up chronically frustrated.
Buckles and Chest Clips
None of the buckle buttons in this lineup are easy to press with a simple thumb push. While buckles like the Evenflo Tribute and Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 were straightforward with sides that pop out with a push, others are so challenging you'll need two hands. Other buckles are stiff, but at least they don't require cussing to use.
The chest clip is where the harness comes together above the buckle, across the chest. The Graco chest clips are the most challenging to operate during testing, with clips that require excessive squeezing of buttons that hurt to operate. None of the seats provide exceptional buckles and chest clips, but the Britax seats are average for both and are easy to use, which is a good combination. Because buckles are more challenging, it is best to focus on buckle use over the chest clips.
The Chicco NextFit has a unique chest clip with a two-setting adjustment for a more customizable fitting. While this design is interesting, we think it makes the clip's operation significantly more challenging. The Cybex Sirona M with SensorSafe 2.0 also has a unique chest clip that includes SensorSafe technology that relays various information to a device connected to the car and your smartphone. While also an intriguing device, it emits EMF, and each parent will need to decide if this feature is compelling enough to expose your child to EMF.
Harness Tightening and Loosening
Each seat has a harness tightening strap and a harness release button to loosen the straps. Some of these were harder to pull than others, and the buttons also vary in style and ease of use. The Britax Boulevard CLickTight ARB has the highest score for tightening and loosening. The Clek Foonf and Evenflo Tribute are also easy to use. None of the seats in this review have straps or buttons that are impossible to use.
Adjusting the Harness
There are primarily two methods for adjusting the harness height on convertible car seats. The simplest method is a non-rethread style that involves moving the headrest/harness shoulder strap assembly up and down (above left). The more convoluted design includes removing the shoulder straps from a splitter plate on the back and physically moving the straps from one slot height on the seatback to thread them through different slots (above right). While this method isn't particularly hard or frustrating, it takes more time, requires you to remove your child from the seat for access, and if the car seat is forward-facing, you may need to remove the seat from the car to reach the splitter plate. Alternatively, the non-rethread method adjusts quickly with your little one in the seat as soon as you notice a need. We prefer the non-rethread style because it is simple, and we think busy parents will be more likely to keep the harness properly fitted if they can accomplish this quickly without removing their child from the seat. With the rethread style, we worry parents will put off adjusting the harness when it needs it because it requires an empty seat and takes more effort. Given that injuries can occur when a harness is not fitted properly, we prefer non-rethread assemblies.
Almost half of the car seats in our review have non-rethread harness adjustment methods. The simplest are the Britax Marathon ClickTight, Britax Boulevard ClickTight, Britax Advocate ClickTight, Britax One4Life ClickTight, Nuna Rava, and Cybex Sirona M with SensorSafe 2.0 which all have smooth moving harness assemblies. The Britax Emblem and Britax Allegiance are also straightforward and simple. Unfortunately, during testing, the Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 height assembly broke and would no longer engage on its own. We had to manually engage the assembly during testing. However, in the real world, any seat would need replacing if something breaks. We aren't saying they all break, just that the seat we purchased did with minimal use in a short period. The rethread style takes more time and is more involved.
LATCH storage isn't as crucial for convertible seats as it is for infant carriers, where they can inhibit carrier connection to the base. However, it is useful if the straps aren't readily accessible to the passenger and can't result in potential injuries floating loose around the car seat. Some options have designated pockets for LATCH clips, while the most common storage method includes attaching the clips to points on the shell or each other.
The Chicco NextFit (above left) has useful pockets to stow LATCH components and the tether. It is one of the few seats we tested that actually retains the straps and clips. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible, Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB, Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB, and the Clek Foonf also feature clip storage retention that works well. The least useful storage type is clip attachments on the seatback (above right) that leave straps dangling and accessible to children.
Cover Removal and Cleaning
Kids' car seats undergo a significant amount of messy action and require regular cleaning in one way or another. For this reason, we test how difficult it is to remove the fabric covers for washing. We prefer covers that are machine washable and easy to remove. We like handwashing methods over spot cleaning only, but because there is a high potential for throwup, spit-up, and poopy blowouts, it is ideal to have a machine washable cover you can remove quickly. The Clek Foonf is the only option in our review that doesn't provide a removable cover; it is spot clean only, and while you can purchase a cleaning kit from Clek, you will likely require a steam cleaner for bigger messes. The Evenflo Tribute LX is a top-performer for removing the cover and straightforward, parent-friendly cleaning. This straightforward cover removes quickly, is machine-washable and dryable, and fits back on the shell without a hiccup. This clean-up process is far better than most contenders that often include handwashing and air drying, such as the Britax ClickTight four-part cover.
For comfort and quality, we consider materials and overall construction. We compare padding, fabric, foam, and how well they come together. We consider how each seat's design contributes to a baby's potential comfort, parent use, and durability.
The seats all have similarities like a plastic shell, impact foam, comfort padding, and a fabric cover. However, some offer significantly thicker padding, softer or more durable fabric, steel frames, or foam that doesn't off-gas. Because this is somewhat subjective, the seats are compared side-by-side and ranked in relation to the competition.
The Chicco NextFit (above left), Nuna Rava, Britax One4Life ClickTight, Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB, Britax Marathon ClickTight ARB, and the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB are top for comfort and quality. They each offer additional padding with well-fitted fabric and considerations for everything. The Chicco fabric is softer, and the seat is sleek without a lot of useless nooks and crannies. Alternatively, the Evenflo Tribute (above right) is basic and functions well despite the lack of additional features and details with a more unfinished look overall. However, it has a machine washable cover and better crash-test analysis than many competitors. The Clek Foonf, Clek Fllo, Britax Emblem, and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible also offer impressive features for comfort and quality.
We measure the weight and width of each car seat in the group, including the forward-facing and rear-facing configuration weight and the width at the widest point, as these can vary. While the seat weight is potentially not as critical as an infant seat's carrier weight, it can be important if you regularly travel or need to use public transportation (like Uber or Lyft). If your car seat remains in your car for the most part, then weight may not be an issue.
The Clek Foonf is the heaviest option in the review, with a rear-facing configuration of over 38 lbs using the anti-rebound bar and angle attachment; the forward-facing version is over 33 lbs.
However, the Clek Foonf (above left) is one of the narrowest options at only 17 inches, which means you might be able to use three safety seats across your back seat or two and an adult. The Evenflo Tribute is also only 17 inches wide, but it is the lightest seat in the review at just over 9 lbs. The Evenflo, Clek fllo, and the Clek Foonf are the narrowest options in our tests. Unfortunately, the Evenflo required a towel in our rear-facing tests in at least one of our test vehicles, so you'll need to bring something to use as a bolster depending on the car when traveling (see the user manual). Most of the top seats are more substantial, presumably due to increased padding and steel (or alloy) frames. Many of the top-scoring seats weigh over 20 lbs. The widest option in the group is the Maxi-Cosi Pria 70, and we think it will be impossible to use it with more than two car seats in a row in the majority of vehicles.
This buying guide section is designed to help parents assess and filter the variety of convertible car seats on the market by guiding what you should look for in a car seat and why.
Why Buy a Convertible Car Seat?
While we feel parents should purchase and use an infant car seat while your baby is small, you will need to acquire a convertible option after the baby outgrows their infant style seat. This change happens when the baby reaches somewhere between 9-12 months of age, depending on your particular car seat and how fast your baby grows. We suggest you keep your baby in their infant seat until they transition in the 9-12 months' age range or 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 in this review claim to be suitable for children from 5 lbs up to 40-80 lbs and height of 40-57 inches tall, depending on the seat. However, we think the design and features of an infant seat are better suited for younger babies. Parents should avoid convertible car seats until their baby reaches at least 9 months or has exceeded the maximum height or weight limit for their infant seat (height being more likely).
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 of the options in this review can remain rear-facing until the baby is at least 40 lbs, with two seats offering a 45-pound limit. The Clek Foonf and Graco Extend2Fit both work rear-facing up to 50 lbs (a big selling point for these products).
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 critical? Well, both are important, but if we had to pick one, we'd choose the rear-facing limit given the significant increase in potential safety of children sitting rear-facing. The longer a child can sit rear-facing, the better. Even if your child needs to scrunch their knees and have less legroom, it is still safest to be rear-facing as long as they are within the height and weight requirements 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 their child's growth 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 work with infants, and they have similar features and functionality, but they are not the same. There are pros and cons to type, and we explore that in more detail in our infant car seat review (especially why we feel convertible seats are not appropriate for infants). However, all parents will need to use a convertible seat at some point.
Despite the manufacturer marketing that allows for the use of convertible seats for infants as small as 5 lbs, we think you should wait to use them until 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 your child's safety seat is the right place to cut corners. We strongly recommend the purchase of an infant and a convertible seat.
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 carry a baby from one place to another and clicks onto the base for vehicle travel. Being able to transport the baby from place to place while leaving the base in the car gives parents increased freedom and allows the 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 being able to click the carrier into a stroller the easiest choice.
- Canopy —
- Lower Weight and Height Restrictions — Even though some of the infant seats will work up to 40 lbs, their range is still smaller than the convertible car seat that often works from 5-65+ lbs depending on the product. This limited weight range results from the carrier being specifically for little bodies, as opposed to a design that tries to work many sizes without fitting any of 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.
Convertible Car Seats
We recommend that babies transition from an infant car seat to a convertible seat at about 9 to 12 months old 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.
We do not recommend using a so-called "all-in-one" car seats, which are specified to support a wide range of ages, in some cases from infants to pre-teen kids. We believe that infant car seats are the best choice for newborns because they are more convenient and provide a design specifically with smaller bodies in mind. This type of seat fits infants better, including positioning them better for breathing and sleeping safely. We recommend switching from an infant seat to a convertible seat at 9-12 months or when the baby outgrows their infant seat, as identified in the owner's manual. Similarly, we prefer convertible seats (designed more specifically for the 9+ months age range) over the "all-in-one" seats, which may attempt to span from infant to pre-teen booster seat range.
Know the Basics
While all the seats available for purchase in the US meet or exceed Federal safety requirements, they are not equal in their crash test results, design, ease of use, or functionality. We will cover the features and performance metrics commonly considered when looking at different seats.
As you might expect, crash test results are a key metric in helping to 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 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 work with the same testing facility as NHTSA to run the same simulated crash tests for each seat we review for comparison purposes. For each crash test, there are sensors in the head and chest of a crash test dummy buckled into a car seat and placed on the "sled." The sled is used to simulate the forces in an actual car crash, and the sensors record the forces on the "child's" body during the simulated crash. We used a forward-facing Hybrid III 3 YO Part 572 P dummy (3-year-old test dummy) in our commissioned crash tests because NHTSA crash injury studies have shown that the risk of injury is higher when children are forward-facing. The heavier 3 yr old test dummy provides a more strenuous test of the seat's ability.
Understanding the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) Score
The Federal safety standard developed by NHTSA uses a factor for scoring called the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score. This score is the likelihood of injury arising from an impact presented measurably. All of the seats must obtain a HIC score of 1000 or lower to pass the Federal requirements. The further a score is below the Federal HIC maximum of 1000, the better it performed (similar to how a lower score in golf is better).
When analyzing crash test results, we ranked seats by the percentage that each result is below the NHTSA maximum of 1000 HIC (above). We focused on how large a margin of protection each product offers below the Federal maximum 1000 HIC. One could consider the car seats with lower HIC scores as providing an additional margin of protection compared to the competition.
Understanding the Chest (g) Clip Score
The same crash dummies include sensors in the chest region to measure impact forces in the chest. The chest sensors' results are used to calculate the Chest (g) Clip result, which is the value that attempts to measure the likelihood of injury to the heart, lungs, and other organs located in the chest. To pass the Federal safety requirements, all of the seats must achieve a score less than 60 for the Chest (g) Clip (once again, lower numbers are better).
We looked at the percentage below the Federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score of 60 achieved by each seat in this review (above). As we did with the HIC scores, we focused on how large a margin of protection each product provided below the score of 60, Federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score. Seats further below the Federal maximum chest score have a more significant percentage difference, and one could consider them as potentially providing an additional margin of protection.
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 products 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 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 run in the same manner, at the same facility, so we can 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 assuming 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 deciding which seat to purchase.
It is not adequate that you purchase and use a car seat. You must install and use the seat according to the manufacturer guidelines to help ensure safety. Injury or death can potentially happen if there is an auto accident and the car seat installation or the child restraint adjustments are not correct.
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 in this review. In order from left to right, they are the Clek Foonf with a steel frame for additional SIP, and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible that claims "adjustable" SIP.
Because there is no agreed-upon definition of what SIP means, we aren't sure exactly what all of the claims actually mean. Little information is provided to support or explain what each manufacturer claims when they say they provide SIP. Clek Foonf offers more information and transparency on their website than any other we could find, including video and results of their side-impact crash tests. However, overall, transparency concerning SIP is surprisingly lacking across brands, and several brands don't bother to define what it means at all, leaving parents to guess.
Today, there is only a suggested plan for a potentially regulated side impact protection (SIP) testing. However, for now, there is no regulation testing or common language agreement that determines what to test, how to test it, how to interpret test results, or how companies should define what SIP means, or what kind of claims they are allowed to make. All of the products in this review claim SIP in the design of their seat or testing, but the term itself is somewhat ambiguous and vague, as it means something different depending on the manufacturer. 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 cover keeping your child contained in the harness in the event of a side collision. We believe most parents assume that keeping a child retained in the seat by the harness is an essential function of a car seat instead of an additional unique 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 compares to another. If you have a real interest in or concerns about SIP, we encourage you to question the meaning and ask for a definition and evidence before spending more money on a vague claim.
Bouns safety features are always great, and we welcome useful and tested safety improvements. However, we think you should be aware that there seems to be some "Safety Washing" happening in the car seat industry concerning the marketing of side impact protection and other features that claim 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 issue requires that parents research to determine what manufacturers mean, whether their design or unique feature has undergone testing, and what the tests include. That is a big responsibility to dump on parents, and often the information is not available or accessible (trust us, we spent a significant amount of time looking and asking).
We feel manufacturers use SIP and other safety features as a marketing tool to increase interest in their products. We'd like to see an agreed-upon standard for these claims that force manufacturers to focus on engineering designs that provide value and that parents can easily compare in an apples-to-apples manner. To determine what manufacturer's mean by SIP and other safety features and their testing process (if any), we tried to find compelling information or evidence related to their claims. We failed, which means we can't compare the features or even discuss them with clarity.
For the time being, we came up short in our efforts to find credible information or evidence to support the claims.
Forward Facing Crumple Zone
The Clek Foonf claims to have a forward-facing crumple zone designed to help absorb a collision's impact 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 all 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 terminology, it is hard to say what each means or if and how testing was done to support the claim. They also don't supply any information on their testing process or how the safe cell options compare to those without the feature. We have no way of knowing how well these features work or if they work predictably in an actual crash scenario instead of a simulated crash test.
Every seat consists of similar kinds of materials and basic design with a few standouts and variations. The majority of the seats have a hard plastic outer shell with 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 gives the seat its overall look and helps position the 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 is removable 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 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 give the illusion of improving safety.
We believe that the differences in seat construction that matter are those that reflect in crash test performance, as well as those that impact the baby's overall comfort.
The external hard shell is the first line of defense in an accident, as it provides structural support and contains the energy-absorbing hard foam molded to the inside. The construction and design work similarly to a bike helmet, by using an exterior hard plastic shell combined with a layer of energy-absorbing hard foam placed between the shell and your head.
There are two basic kinds of foam in a typical convertible seat.
- Hard Foam — In our review, every one of the convertible seats has foam as their primary energy absorbing material, which helps keep your baby safe 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 most seats we tested. Alternatively, the Britax seats use 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 prefer. The EPS foam, comparable to the foam found in most bike helmets, is common for impact protection applications. The greater difference between seats is how much foam they have and where it is inside the seat's shell. 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 seat's bottom.
- Soft Foam — We tested some seats that provided 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 offers a significant amount of additional soft foam around the head area. Soft foam doesn't offer much regarding impact protection in a crash, but it offers 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 of the soft foam on seats are either for comfort or to mimic the look of impact resistance.
Anchoring the Car Seat
There are two different methods used to secure a car seat in 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.
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. The vehicle manual 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.
- Installation using LATCH connectors — Beginning in 2002, the majority of cars in the United States have the mandatory LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) on the left and right rear seat positions (not the center seat). This type of connection was created to provide a more straightforward 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.
- 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 products have 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 use 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 the baby and car seat (see tip above).
Placing the car seat in the center position can reduce injury by more than 40% compared to installing the seat in a side location.
We found significant differences between car seats regarding ease of installation with a seat belt depending on the vehicle we were using during our installation testing. Parents who plan to use this location exclusively may want to install their seat of choice in this position to ensure that a good fit is possible before choosing to keep it (Amazon has a great and easy return policy).
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 for your car, but all seats will eventually need seat belt installation because the LATCH method has weight restrictions.
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.
Some level indicators are plastic molded lines on the seat or a line on a sticker stuck to the shell side. The level line should be parallel to the ground after installation, and it is best to observe by 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. Parents must use the level as instructed in the user guide with their product.
Shoulder Height Adjustment
Adjusting the harness's shoulder height 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 improper restraining 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.
Rethreading the Harness to Adjust Height (yuck!)
Rethreading harness straps to adjust shoulder height is the most challenging method of adjustment in the seats we reviewed. Rethreading requires removing the harness straps from a connector on the back of the seat and unthreading the straps from the current slots through the back 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 adjust. 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 hassle could lead to a cycle of forgetting to do it time and time again, leaving your child driving around in a poorly fitted harness. Do NOT do this!!
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 design means no splitter plate, no shifting the straps from one slot to another, no removing the 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, Britax Marathon ClickTight ARB, Britax Emblem, and the Britax Allegiance all 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.
Harness Tightening and Release
Once the shoulder straps are correct and your child is 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.
Most of the harnesses we tested loosen by pressing a button near the seat's foot, 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 visible on top of the seat fabric, while others have the adjustment hidden under padding and material to help little ones avoid temptation (out of sight, out of mind). The Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB, Britax Marathon ClickTight ARB, and the Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB have an indicator click sound to tell you when the harness is tight enough, though we still recommend you use your best judgment and check the harness before relying on an external system.
The buckles on most of the seats we tested are 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.
While the carrier's weight 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 lbs 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 most parents' consideration list. 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 lbs 4 ounces.
Sometimes the biggest differences between seats are smaller details. 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. 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.
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 dramatically flipping back against the vehicle seat back in the event of a crash. The back and forth motion causes head and neck trauma in a collision, so less movement theoretically means fewer injuries. Even though we like the bar idea, we think that currently, there is not enough information available for caregivers to believe that the absence of this should be a deal-breaker. For the time being, we think it is a potentially useful addition to an otherwise high-scoring seat, like the bars found on the Clek Foonf, Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB, Britax Marathon 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.
If you use the seat belt to anchor your seat to the vehicle instead of the LATCH connectors, it is useful to have a 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 choices 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 seems to work fine. Clek Foonf has rigid LATCH anchors that pull back under the seat and rear-facing anchors that tuck under the seat bottom.
On each seat, there should be a spot to store the user's manual. 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 essential 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 poor location and one where it could easily get damaged, though this is better than areas 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 option is best for you and your child. While there are several excellent 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 car seat may impact which product 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 an easy-to-install option in the location or locations you want will help keep your baby safer.
If you reside in a major city and need to transport your little one in a cab or Uber, you may want to look at some lighter weight seats. You may also want to do this if you travel frequently and plan to lug a car 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 has high marks in crash testing, and at just over 9 lbs, you will have an easier time carrying it than you would the Clek Foonf at over 38 lbs in its rear-facing configuration, or the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB at over 28 lbs.
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. During testing, we found that many of the car 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 car seats secured in the center, but the center location is only safe if you properly anchor the seat. The research also shows that more than 80% of car seats have a minimum of one serious problem with the installation. Therefore, we suggest parents take ease of installation as seriously as we do.
We think it is worth noting that 61% of us parents 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 cars built before 2002.
Making mistakes when installing a seat or securing the baby in the seat is 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.
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 daily. 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 varies 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 installation locations and how easy it is to install. Finding the seat or seats in this list that also easy to use should help narrow the options further. All of the Britax options earned a high score of 8 for ease of use. Check our ease of use ratings to narrow your list down. The Evenflo Tribute LX and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible scored 7s 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 of the seats offer a basic level of protection. Still, some perform significantly better than others, and you can consider them as offering an extra margin of protection compared to other seats.
Many parents might consider crash test performance to be the most critical factor in choosing a seat. However, because installation and ease of use impact your ability to use the seat correctly, which influences the overall safety, we believe you should consider both of those before the actual crash data. Given that over 80% of parents install or misuse their seat, it matters little how safe a product is if you don't use it correctly. After finding a seat that is easy to install and use, it is crucial to find one that will function well in the crash.
To evaluate each seat's crash test data, we analyzed their crash test results to compare how each performed compared to the federally required minimum score. Also, we assessed how well each seat performs 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.
The foam used to construct car seats has an actual shelf life, so after a certain period, you should no longer use the seat, and it 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 involved in an accident. Even if the seat appears to be uncompromised, you should still discard it.
Optional Reading: Car Seat Lingo
To help you understand all things car seats, 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 knowledge is important for interpreting information easily.
The terms and definitions are 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.
We purchase 2 of each convertible seat we test. The seats are compared side-by-side to evaluate their performance in relation to one another in each metric, and one of each is sent to MGA for crash testing. Multiple testers used the seats in different vehicles. We use 3-4 different vehicles in our ease of installation testing to get a better overall feel of each seat's average functionality and features. All products are used following the manufacturer's guidelines and under the supervision of a Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technician.
Before testing, we consulted with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a certified CPS Technician to assist in developing comprehensive tests for car seats. The car seat test plan and testing process were reviewed and monitored by Dr. Juliet Spurrier, BabyGearLab founder, mother of two, and a board-certified Pediatrician.
We conducted research and analyzed the crash test data of sled crash tests in professionally prepared reports. BabyGearLab contracted with the same test facility that is used by NHTSA to perform crash tests on car seats. We used the same testing protocol used by NHTSA in compliance with the FMVSS 213 standard. We used our test data with additional crash test data from NHTSA's test results to formulate an analysis of each seat.
Tests utilized a crash test dummy with sensors located in various body parts that record G-forces exerted on the dummy during testing. We reviewed and analyzed the results obtained from the sensors and rated the seats in comparison to one another. Our crash tests were conducted with a Hybrid III 3 YO Part 572 P dummy (3-year-old test dummy) in a forward-facing position because NHTSA crash injury studies have shown that the risks of injury are far more significant when children are forward-facing. The heavier 3 yr old test dummy provides a more strenuous test of the seats. For those reasons, we consider testing with a heavier test dummy in a forward-facing position to be more informative concerning differences that translate to injury prevention.
The more a seat managed to exceed the federal safety standards, the higher it scored in our analysis of the results. It is important to remember that all of the products for sale in the US comply with federal safety guidelines. However, each seat we tested responded differently in the sled testing, and we believe the results can help differentiate the seats from one another.
Ease of Install
We installed each seat in at least three vehicles of varying size and different makes, from a compact sedan to a passenger truck. At least two different testers installed the seats according to the manual instructions. Each installation was overseen by a certified Child Passenger Safety technician to ensure they were properly installed. The installers then ranked each seat compared to the other seats in the group for ease of installation, and the scores for all testers were averaged to create a final score for each seat. This methodology was repeated for installation using LATCH and the vehicle belt in both the rear and front-facing positions.
Ease of Use
To test ease of use, we used the seats the way they would be used under normal circumstances and scored their results compared to the other seats in the group. We used the buckles and chest clips, tightened and loosened the harness, adjusted the harness heights, removed and cleaned the seat cover, and assessed LATCH storage to help determine how easy or difficult each seat is to use.
Testing comfort and quality are a bit more subjective than the other metrics. We compared each seat to one another and ranked each as compared to the other products. The testing included the padding, fabric, positioning/infant inserts, materials used, shell construction, and the overall fit and finish. The feedback obtained from testers was then averaged to determine its final score.
The options we tested in this review were all weighed in both forward and rear-facing configurations. We measured them completely, and the width and weight had an equal impact on the final score for size. Each seat was weighed using the same scale performed by the same tester. The seat weights were ranked from the heaviest to the lightest and were scored appropriately.
Selecting the right convertible safety seat for your growing child doesn't need to be frustrating or a random purchase based on looks. Our review includes the information, details, and crash test analysis you need to determine which seats are the best options for your family and wallet. Whether you're looking for the ultimate in crash test safety results or want a combination of impressive installation and crash test analysis, we believe you can find the information you need in this review to narrow the field and pick your best seat.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz