In-depth reviews guided by a Pediatrician

Best Infant Car Seats with Crash Test Ratings

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.
Saturday May 5, 2018
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Searching for the perfect infant car seat for your little one? We have the details you need to make a great decision! We considered more than 45 car seats for infants before selecting 16 popular infant car seats to purchase and test. We evaluated each product over several months for crash test performance, installation methods, carrying weight, and more. We've done the groundwork so you'll have all the details necessary to choose the best option for your baby and budget. This review includes a comparison of the performance of each seat in each metric; this can help you find the right seat for transporting your new baby from A to B with style and ease.


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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Value Award 
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$299.99 at Amazon
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$349.99 at Amazon
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Pros Better crash test results, Anti-Rebound Bar, easy installLoad leg, easy belt install with and without baseSuper easy LATCH install, easy to use, nice comfort and qualityEasy install, nice harness adjustment, naturally flame resistant fabricEasy LATCH installation, better crash test results, price
Cons Heavier, harder to install LATCH systemPrice, heavy carrierHeavy, only compatible with Chicco strollers so farHigher price, heavy carrierCoarse fabric, heavier, hard to install with a belt
Bottom Line A great all-around seat with good crash test resultsImpressive performance but somewhat heavy and more money than mostEasy to install and use seat made with quality materials, but has limited stroller optionsStylish and impressive option that is easy to install and useCrash test results and ease of install with a nice price make it a good choice for most families
Ratings Categories Primo Viaggio 4-35 Peg Perego Nido Chicco Fit2 UPPAbaby Mesa Chicco KeyFit 30
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Specs Primo Viaggio 4-35 Peg Perego Nido Chicco Fit2 UPPAbaby Mesa Chicco KeyFit 30
Minimum Passenger Weight 4 lbs 4 lbs 4 lbs 4 lbs 4 lbs
Max Passenger Weight 35 lbs 35 lbs 35 lbs 35 lbs 30 lbs
Max Passenger Height 32" 32" 35" 32" 30"

Updated — May 2018
This review has been updated to include two new car seats, the Peg Perego Nido and the Britax Endeavours. We strive to ensure that you get all of the up-to-date details on every seat in the review and potential new options as they hit the market.

Best Overall Seat


Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35


Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
Editors' Choice Award

$299.99
at Amazon
See It

Better crash test results
Easy install without base
Comfortable
Higher price
Harder to install using LATCH

The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 earns the top rank with high scores for crash test results, installation, and comfort/quality. The Peg earned an 8 of 10 for crash tests and impressed in two installation metrics which makes it one of the easiest options in the review to install. Easy installation could potentially translate to safer as many injuries sustained in real-world crashes are related to installation errors. This seat is lightweight, a breeze to carry, with straightforward features that work as expected.

Unfortunately, this impressive option is not compatible with many strollers which locks you into primarily Peg Perego strollers. While it has one of the higher price tags in the competition, it also has the performance scores to back up the price, and we feel confident that parents will enjoy how simple the seat is to use and little ones will enjoy how comfortable it is for sleeping. No matter what you are looking for in an infant car seat, the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio is sure to please if you can afford it.

Read review: Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35

Interesting Safety Features


Peg Perego Nido


Editors' Choice Award

$349.99
at Amazon
See It

Better crash test results
Easy to install without base or with the vehicle belt
Comfy & quality
Higher price
Harder to install with LATCH
Limited stroller choices

The Peg Perego Nido is a higher end model compared to the non-Nido Peg Pergo option, but it scores slightly lower overall in our tests. This high-quality and comfortable seat features an elongated anti-rebound bar and a load leg with better than average crash test results. This Peg has a giant canopy with ventilation that is larger than any other in the review and soft fabric over firm padding.

This seat is somewhat heavy, so you probably don't want to carry it long distances. Also, it isn't the easiest to install using the LATCH system, so you may want to choose an alternate method. This car seat is one of the most expensive options in the group making it a poor choice for families on a strict budget. However, we like what the Nido has to offer and feel its impressive performance in our tests may indicate that the price is worth the additional features and functionality.

Read review: Peg Perego Nido

Easiest LATCH Installation


Chicco Fit2


Editors' Choice Award

$280.00
See It

Easiest LATCH install
Easy to use
Nice quality & comfort
Heavy
Limited stroller compatibility

The Chicco Fit 2 is a high-end Chicco car seat with a perfect score for LATCH installation making it a good choice for parents that worry about installing a car seat correctly. This stylish seat has easy to use features and additional padding for comfort making it a car seat that both parents and baby will enjoy. This Chicco product is compatible with the award-winning Chicco Shuttle frame stroller which could offset the weight of carrying it.

While we like this product and recommend it to friends, it may not be the optimal choice for parents on a strict budget or for those who live in the city. Thanks to a higher than average carrier weight, we suspect most parents will hate lugging the Fit2 for long distances, even though it is easy to install without the base.

Read review: Chicco Fit2

Best Bang for the Buck


Chicco KeyFit 30


Chicco KeyFit 30
Best Value Award

$200.00
See It

Easy to install
Better crash test results
Reasonable price
Heavier
Rough fabric

The Chicco Keyfit 30 has a respectable overall score and a better price than other top-ranking options which makes it a Best Value winner in our book. This car seat earns a high score for ease of installation and a good score for crash test results. With an easy to use LATCH system and unique features that help make installation as straightforward as possible, this seat is a parent favorite. Combine all of this with good looks and a self-contained shell, and you have something to be proud of that also saves you money.

The Chicco has somewhat unfriendly fabric and is on the heavy side, so it may not be suitable for those who plan to carry it, but its better ease of use score and crash test performance can make up for these shortcomings. We think parents will appreciate the thoughtful design of the Chicco's LATCH system as well as its broad compatibility with top scoring strollers and a quality frame stroller option and all for a price that is darn tough to beat.

Read review: Chicco Keyfit 30

Best on a Budget


Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air


The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air
Best Value Award

$146.99
(8% off)
at Amazon
See It

Budget-friendly
Side impact tested
Easy to install
Lower quality
Harder to install using LATCH

The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is a standout budget-friendly option with an above average overall score. With a list price of $160, the Safety 1st impresses with its scores for crash test results and two forms of installation. This seat earned better than average scores in most metrics, and it ranks higher than several more expensive products. We feel most parents will be happy with this product, and parents on a budget can feel confident they are getting a good car seat that scored well in crash test analysis.

Perhaps the only drawback to the Safety 1st is it is not compatible with many strollers. However, if you don't plan to use your car seat with a stroller (and many parents don't), then you won't be missing a thing. If your budget allows, there are other options with better stroller compatibility that may be worth the extra money if you are hoping to create a travel system with your car seat. However, if you want a straightforward car seat that performs well and provides a great value, then the Safety 1st is one to watch.

Read review: Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air

Top Pick for Urban Life and Travel


UPPAbaby Mesa


Top Pick Award

$349.99
at Amazon
See It

Easy to install
Easy to use
Easy installation without the base
Naturally flame retardant fabric without added chemicals
Higher price
Heavier carrier

Newly updated in 2017, the UPPAbaby Mesa is one of our favorite seats. This stylish seat received impressive scores for all types of installations including a high score for LATCH connection. These scores helped it win a Top Pick award for urbanites and travelers looking to securely install a car seat without carrying the weight of the base. The Mesa has easy to use, unique, self-retracting LATCH straps with color-coded guides that make installation as foolproof as it can get. With new, upgraded, naturally flame retardant wool fabric, this new model is a step up from the previous Mesa that had rougher material. The Mesa works well with several top-scoring full-size strollers, including the UPPAbaby Cruz and UPPAbaby Vista making it easy to create a stylish and functional award-winning travel combination you can use from newborn thru the toddler years. Not a fan of the UPPAbaby Strollers? Never fear, several other brands offer adapters for the Mesa making it one of the most compatible strollers and car seat combos.

With a list price around $300, the Mesa may not be the top choice for all families, but the price is close to average and parents interested in fewer chemicals coming in contact with their baby should seriously consider this innovative option. No matter what you are looking for, there is a chance you can find it in this stylish, popular car seat.

Read review: UPPAbaby Mesa

Top Pick for Taxi Ease-of-Use


Doona


Top Pick Award

$499.00
at Amazon
See It

Stroller capability
Fills niche for public transportation
Easy to use
Heavy
Price

The Doona is an innovative car seat that doubles as a stroller all in one product. This capability makes the Doona a standout option for parents who live in the city that frequently use taxis and Uber. With the Doona in play, you can quickly install the carrier in a vehicle and be ready to stroll within seconds of reaching your destination. This product is easy to use, easy to install without the base and meets a need no other car seat can.

This car seat style is not the best choice for every parent. The higher price and heavier weight will be a turn off for some parents, but it can't be beat for urban dwellers who may otherwise skip using a car seat in a taxi, or who don't want to lug around a separate stroller. We see this as a great way to get from your loft to a cab and back on the sidewalk at your destination with ease and think it fills a niche as no other car seat does.

Read review: Doona

Top Pick for Safety


Cybex Cloud Q


Top Pick Award

$400.00
List Price
See It

Great crash test results
High quality
Super comfortable
Price
Heavy
Limited stroller compatibility

The Cybex Cloud Q is a high-quality seat with top crash test results using the load leg for a potential increase in safety. This high-ranking product is easy to install using LATCH and without the base. We like the look and feel of this futuristic option and its quality materials. We feel it is a strong contender for parents that value crash test results over all else.

The Cloud is both more expensive than the average car seat, and it is compatible with only a handful of stroller options, so it may not be a good choice for parents on a budget or those looking for an infant car seat that pairs well with a stroller. Using it in the city is probably also not a good choice as it is heavier than the average competitor which makes it hard to lug for more extended periods. However, if you are looking for loads of safety features and impressive crash test results over all else, it is hard to find a better choice than the fancy Cloud Q.

Read review: Cybex Cloud Q


Analysis and Test Results


We perform side-by-side testing over several months for each competitor in this review. The seats are reviewed in detail as they compare to the competition.

We have tested over 15 infant car seats for this review since its first version in 2016. This picture includes the original lineup  four of which have been replaced with new and different popular seats to replace those that have been discontinued.
We have tested over 15 infant car seats for this review since its first version in 2016. This picture includes the original lineup, four of which have been replaced with new and different popular seats to replace those that have been discontinued.

We work under the supervision and guidance of a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician to develop comprehensive tests we use in combination with Crash Test data to determine how the products perform regarding measured forces of impact in crash tests. While all of the products conform to the minimum safety guidelines set forth by the Federal government, they are not all easy to use or have crash test results as impressive as the competition.



The video above is the crash test we commissioned for the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40.


Value


Finding a great infant car seat for a reasonable price is easier than you think with two top contenders sporting a price of $200 or less. The Chicco Keyfit 30 is an easy to use infant style car seat that performed well in most metrics with a below average price of $200. The Safety 1st onBoard Air 35 is even cheaper with a list price of $160, making it a car seat that fits almost every budget. While several of the award winners cost over $300, their features and performance still make them a good value depending on what is important to you, as you do get what you pay for in these options.

Crash Impact Testing


A key part of our testing process is the in-depth analysis of the crash test results we commissioned for the infant car seats in this review. BabyGearLab contracts with the same facility used by NHTSA to perform tests using the same protocol as NHTSA under the FMVSS 213 standard. We also established a working relationship with NHTSA to utilize their crash test data to augment our results.

Parents should note that all of the products in this review passed the NHTSA Federal safety requirements, and therefore, provide a minimum or a basic level of crash safety protection and are considered safe.

In our analysis, we focus on seats that offer an additional margin of safety, relative to competing seats based on our analysis of the crash test data. For example, if a seat measures significantly lower impact forces (better) in the head sensors located in the crash test dummy, resulting in a lower Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score, our view is the seat offers a higher margin of protection for the baby than competitors with higher (more forces) HIC scores. Additional details on our crash test scoring methodology are included below.

Ease of Installation and Use Matters


It is no surprise that crash tests are a major part of our review, but few parents understand that improper installation and misuse of infant car seats is a significant cause of injury in car accidents. In our conversations with safety engineers at NHTSA, they emphasized that misuse is a bigger safety issue than the difference between crash test performance. A NHTSA study showed that 84% of infant seats exhibited critical misuse, either in the installation of the seat or improper restraint of the infant. A more recent study of 267 families by Portland's top Children's Hospital conducted between November 2013 and May 2014 showed that "95% of parents made at least one error in either the positioning of the infant or installation of the car safety seat" — a mistake that could place their infant at increased risk of injury in a crash.

Learn how to install your infant car seat safely!
Given the extreme importance of proper installation for keeping your little one safe, we strongly urge parents to read our article on How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes, for tips on avoiding common installation mistakes. Also, please contact a professional for assistance or to check your installation and harness fitting. It is vitally important that your car seat is installed and used properly every time without exception.

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.

Crash Test Ratings


We analyze the data from the crash sled tests of each seat to determine how well they performed compared to the competition as well as the Federal safety standard for acceptable performance. To help you understand more about crash tests, we include graphs comparing the actual crash test results in each product review and summarize them below.


So, what matters the most when analyzing crash impact test results?
  • Risk of a head injury
  • Risk of a chest injury

Analysis of child auto crash injuries shows that head and chest injuries present the two highest risks for serious or fatal injury.

Head Injury Criteria (HIC) Score


In each crash test, there are sensors placed in the chest and head of a 12-month-old CRABI test dummy (a crash test dummy designed to simulate a 22 lbs baby who is about 12 months old). The Federal safety standard developed by NHTSA uses a scoring factor called the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score, which is a measure of the likelihood of injury arising from the impact. Each seat must achieve a HIC score of 1000 or lower to pass. The further below the Federal HIC maximum of 1000, the better (lower numbers rule here).


The graph above shows the actual resultant G-forces on the head of the crash test dummy for the Doona (black line) and the Chicco KeyFit 30 (green line). Both the Doona and the Chicco are under the NHTSA safety HIC score requirement of 1000. However, the Chicco is the seat in our review that offers the highest margin of protection with a HIC score of 329.6 — the lowest Head Injury Criteria score in our review compared to Doona's 603. The Chicco also shows significantly lower G forces (the Chicco has a max G-force of 45.6 G's vs. 60 G's for the Doona).

The chart above shows the % margin each seat exceeded the maximum Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score established by the Federal NHTSA standard. The higher the bar  the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).
The chart above shows the % margin each seat exceeded the maximum Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score established by the Federal NHTSA standard. The higher the bar, the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).

The chart above uses the crash test data for HIC scores and displays the % below the NHTSA maximum of 1000 HIC score for each seat in the review. We focused on examining how large of a margin of protection each product offers below the Federal maximum HIC score of 1000. Products that are further left, with higher bars, can be considered as providing an additional margin of protection.

Chest (G) Clip Score


The crash dummy also includes sensors to measure chest impact forces. The data from the chest sensors is used to calculate a second score, called the Chest (G) Clip score, which is an attempt to create a measure of the likelihood of injury to the heart, lungs, and other organs. All seats must achieve a Chest (G) Clip score of 60 or less to pass the Federal safety standards.


The chart above compares the G score from the Phil and Teds Alpha (black line) to the best performing seat for chest forces, the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 (green line). The Graco has a maximum force of 43.7 G's, significantly lower than the Alpha's max of 60.2 G's.

The chart above shows the % margin each seat exceeded the maximum chest injury score  Chest (g) Clip  established by the Federal NHTSA standard. The higher the bar  the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).
The chart above shows the % margin each seat exceeded the maximum chest injury score, Chest (g) Clip, established by the Federal NHTSA standard. The higher the bar, the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).

The chart above shows the % below the Federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score of 60 that each seat achieved. As with the HIC score, we focused on how large a margin of protection each option provides below the Federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score of 60 in their crash test. Seats that are further left, with higher bars, are further below the Federal maximum Chest score and can be considered as providing an additional margin of protection.

The Peg Perego offers a solid anti-rebound bar on its base
The Peg Perego offers a solid anti-rebound bar on its base

Additional Crash Test Safety Features

Some seats have additional features that could potentially improve their overall safety in the event of an actual crash. We did not include these features or additional claims in our analysis because there is no real world or test data available to confirm or dispute the claims or even to analyze them. So while you might be curious about a seat that boasts side impact protection (SIP) or an anti-rebound bar, we caution making a final decision based solely on SIP claims because information pertaining to their efficacy is significantly lacking. Also, there isn't an agreed upon safety test procedure in the industry as a whole to test these claims and features. We think parents should stick to the crash test data analysis when comparing the potential safety of each seat.

We did, however, compare crash test data from the Cybex Cloud Q using the load leg feature and without the load leg. Results indicate that using the load leg improves crash test performance and could potentially impact real-world crash scenarios. The Cloud has a HIC score of 376 using the load leg and 641 without using the leg (where a lower score is better); these scores indicate a higher margin of protection when using the leg. So while there may be some validity to features like the load leg or anti-rebound bar, we don't think parents should be swayed by every safety claim manufacturers throw out there.

Safety Reminder
One of the most critical things you can do to keep your baby safe is installing your car seat correctly. Car seats that are not installed properly or adjusted properly for your specific baby can potentially result in injury or death. To ensure your seat is installed correctly before you have your baby, read our article on How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes and seek advice from a professional car seat inspection technician. Consider checking with an installation expert when you move the seat to a different vehicle or position as well.

Best Rated Seats in our Crash Test Analysis


Based on crash test result analysis, we rated each product in comparison to one another on a 1-10 scale to identify the products that, in our opinion, offer an extra margin of protection, over and above the basic level of protection found in all the seats.

The Cybex Cloud Q and the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 earned our highest crash test rating of 9 of 10. Both products have impressive crash test results, with the two lowest G scores in this review and nearly the lowest HIC score. However, considering their performances in other test metrics and overall rank we think the Cybex Cloud Q is a better choice for parents who value crash test analysis over all else.

Also notable for offering significant extra protection are three products that earned an 8 of 10 rating. The Chicco KeyFit 30 has the lowest HIC score, and the Baby Jogger City Go and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 both offer significantly better crash test scores than the competition.

The self-ratcheting LATCH system on the Mesa is easy to use and makes tightening the straps a breeze
The self-ratcheting LATCH system on the Mesa is easy to use and makes tightening the straps a breeze

Ease of Installation with the LATCH System


Studies show that more than 7 out of 10 seats are improperly installed or have the baby improperly restrained, and 93% of parents mess up car seat use on the way home from the hospital. This information is why we consider ease-of-installation and ease-of-use critical factors and encourage parents to include these metric results in their decision-making process.


The easiest way to install a car seat, and the method we recommend, is your vehicle's Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system. The good news here is that both your infant seat and your car are likely set up for the LATCH system on the left or right side of the rear seat. Nearly every car seat, and most vehicles manufactured since September 1, 2002, must have the LATCH system. According to NHTSA, over 60% of parents place their infant car seat on the left or right side positions. Most choose the passenger side so the driver can easily see the child.

If you look in the crease of your car's back seat  you should find little metal bars like those shown above. These are the LATCH connectors. Nearly every car seat and most vehicles manufactured since September 1  2002  are required to have the LATCH system.
If you look in the crease of your car's back seat, you should find little metal bars like those shown above. These are the LATCH connectors. Nearly every car seat and most vehicles manufactured since September 1, 2002, are required to have the LATCH system.

The LATCH system was created to make correctly installing a car seat easier for parents by reducing the opportunity for mistakes. The video below, produced by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, provides an excellent overview of the LATCH system and how to use it:



In our tests, we found that some seats are significantly easier to install using the LATCH method than other methods.

Part of what makes a seat easier to install with LATCH is the type of connectors they have to attach to the lower anchors. Lower cost seats use clips to connect to anchors, but the easiest-to-use products provide click-in push button connectors (both are safe).

The Aton 2 has the easier to use LATCH anchors with the red release button
The clip style of LATCH anchors on this Graco are harder to disconnect than the other type of anchor

The Cybex Aton 2 uses a seat belt, push button, style anchor that clicks onto the LATCH connector (above left). The Graco car seats (above right) use clip style connectors, which we found much harder to use. The Chicco Fit2 earned the high with a 10 of 10 for this form of installation. All of the top scoring seats offer a unique LATCH anchor or tightening system that make installation significantly easier than the more basic counterparts. This group includes the UPPAbaby Mesa and its self-ratcheting LATCH straps that helped it earn a 9.



The first part of the video above shows the UPPAbaby Mesa being installed with LATCH by our Child Passenger Safety Technician. You'll notice the process is swift. The secret of the Mesa is you don't need to tighten the LATCH connectors manually. You just click the connectors to the LATCH anchor bars, and push downward on the base; the straps automatically self-retract to tighten. Once adequately tightened, the indicator shows green. In our experience, it is simple and very fast.

The Chicco Keyfit 30 base has a single center pull strap that tightens the LATCH anchors to pull the base firmly against the vehicle seat back
The Chicco Keyfit 30 base has a single center pull strap that tightens the LATCH anchors to pull the base firmly against the vehicle seat back

Tightening and Loosening Straps


The anchors are only the first part of the equation. Whether or not the straps are easy to tighten and loosen is also a factor in ease of install. As we note above, we love the UPPAbaby Mesa's self-retracting straps, and we find the Chicco Keyfit 30 has an easy to tighten and loosen mechanism. In contrast, most of the Graco products are very difficult to tighten or get loose again (if you manage to get it tight). We gave higher points to products that don't require body weight to tighten or significant struggling inside the car for a secure fit.

Best Rated Seats for LATCH Installation





Top score for installation with LATCH went to the Chicco Fit2 with a perfect 10. The UPPAbaby Mesa, Chicco Keyfit 30, and the Cybex Aton 2 all tied with impressive 9s.

Phil and Teds Alpha is shown above installed in the center seat in a vehicle that lacks LATCH support in the center  by using the belt on the base. The Phil and Teds Alpha and the Peg Perego both earned top scores of 9 of 10 in ease-of-installation with the seat belt.
Phil and Teds Alpha is shown above installed in the center seat in a vehicle that lacks LATCH support in the center, by using the belt on the base. The Phil and Teds Alpha and the Peg Perego both earned top scores of 9 of 10 in ease-of-installation with the seat belt.

Ease of Installation with a Seat Belt


If you want to place your child in the center of the rear seat, which is considered the safest location for seat placement, then for most vehicles you'll need to master anchoring the seat with the seatbelt. But, do not fret. We're going to help you here, and most importantly, we can tell you which seats make this process a no-brainer.


Find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station in Your Area
There is a fabulous free resource available for parents nationwide in the US in the form of certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians who can quickly help you learn how to install your infant car seat correctly. This service is helpful for everyone, and we highly recommend it. It is particularly useful for those trying to learn how to install a base with a seat belt, which is a bit more complicated. Finding an inspection station near you only requires entering your zip code on their website. You'll probably find that your local fire station or police department has one or more CPS technicians who are eager to help.

A Seat Belt Lock-off is the Key


We find that some seats are much easier to install using the seat belt than others. And, they have a trick that helps this process.

Introducing your new friend, the "seat belt lock-off" feature.

About half of the seats in this review offer a base with a belt lock-off. When the lock off is in use, it helps prevent the base from sliding back and forth across the strap. Lock-offs make vehicle seatbelt installation as secure, if not more so, as the LATCH method. So if you lack LATCH anchors or you want to install the car seat in the middle, then you can still easily install the seat using the seat belt.

The belt lock off on the Phil and Teds Alpha shown in blue with a yellow mock seatbelt running through it
The belt lock off on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 shown in light grey with a yellow mock seatbelt running through it. Notice the side belt threads are open as opposed to closed like the majority of bases we looked at
The Phil and Teds Alpha (above left) and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 (above right) have the best belt lock-off systems in our review. The Peg Perego Nido has the same belt lock-off as the Primo Viaggio and is equally simple to use.

Best Rated Seats for Seat Belt Installation


The belt lock-offs on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35, Peg Perego Nido, and the Phil and Teds Alpha each earned 9 of 10, and make installing the seat a breeze compared to seats without a lock-off. The lock-offs on the Britax B-Safe 35, and the Chicco Keyfit 30 are harder to use and make installation frustrating. We struggled to get the vehicle belt in the lock without the strap curling or bunching. However, all other things being equal, we'd prefer a problematic lock over no lock-off at all; we feel it is a critical component to achieve a secure fit when installing a base with the vehicle belt.

The Car Seat Lady video below explains how to install a base using the center seatbelt:


Most bases without a lock-off did not perform well. We feel these options do not feel genuinely secure because they tend to travel up the shoulder portion of the vehicle belt causing the seat to tilt.

Can't find the center seatbelt?
Look up. It might be on the ceiling! Some SUVs and wagons have a center seat belt that comes from the ceiling of the car. If you've never used it, it might be fully retracted. This helpful video from The Car Seat Lady shows a typical center seat belt coming from the roof of the vehicle, and how to use it.

Parents who frequently ride in taxi cabs or use services like Uber  will want to look for a car seat that offers easy installation without the base  just using the seat belt.
Parents who frequently ride in taxi cabs or use services like Uber, will want to look for a car seat that offers easy installation without the base, just using the seat belt.

Ease of Installation Without the Base


The first question that may come to mind is, why should I care about installing the seat without the base?

The answer is simple: taxis, Uber, buses, and airplanes as some parents frequent these forms of public transportation more often than a personal vehicle.

In our opinion, if you don't expect to take your infant on public transportation very often, then you can happily ignore the following advise and skip down to Ease of Use. However, if you think you may travel with your little one or need to install it in a car other than your own, then this information could be important to your final purchasing decision.


For those living in urban environments who frequent taxis or services like Uber, learning how to master installation without the base is an essential skill. Also, for airplane travel, the FAA recommends using an approved car seat on the plane as the safest way for babies to fly. Many parents carry their baby on their lap, saving the cost of another plane ticket, and wearable baby carriers are also common for air travel. But, if you do use an infant seat on the airplane, you'll probably install it sans base.

There are two belt path options for carrier installation without the base, European and American. Each seat in this review uses one or the other, and some with both. If you only have a lap belt but your carrier is a European style, then you can install it using the American path (which is only across the foot of the carrier).

The American method is straightforward with the belt going directly across the leg portion of the carrier through the designated pathway. This belt path is simple and creates a secure attachment that passes all safety regulations in the US. This style does not utilize the shoulder strap on the vehicle belt even if it is part of the vehicle.

The European belt path starts off the same, routing the vehicle belt across the lower part of the carrier but it adds the shoulder belt across the back of the seat threading the strap through a clip to keep it in place. We found that the additional use of the shoulder belt in the European style provides a more secure feeling with less carrier shifting, though we can't say if it is more secure or only feels this way.

The European belt path on the Peg Perego
The Safety 1st seat uses the American belt path method that goes across the lower portion of the carrier only

We feel that seats with the European belt path score higher and offer a more secure feeling attachment with little movement after installation. However, the American method is a more straightforward process with fewer steps. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 (above left) has the European belt path, while the Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air (above right) features the American belt path.

Live in New York City?
Consider getting a lesson from The Car Seat Lady, and learn what every New York parent needs to know about installing an infant seat in a taxi or a car for just $75 per seat.

The Car Seat Lady video below provides an excellent description of how to install a carrier without the base using the American method. She also has a video for the European pathway, like those found on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio, Peg Perego Nido, Cybex Aton 2, Phil & Teds Alpha, and Recaro Performance Coupe.



Best Rated Seats for Installation Without the Base


The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and Peg Perego Nido both use the European method and have color-coded belt paths with easy lock-offs that help them earn the highest possible score of 10 of 10 for each. This result means the Pegs have the highest scores in our tests for two installation methods! The Phil and Teds Alpha and Cybex Cloud Q are close on their heels with scores of 9.

When using the European belt path the shoulder strap wraps around the back of the carrier and tucks in or under a clip to hold it in place as seen here on the Recaro Performance Coupe
When using the European belt path the shoulder strap wraps around the back of the carrier and tucks in or under a clip to hold it in place as seen here on the Recaro Performance Coupe

If you live in a big city and use taxis more than your car, this metric is critical for you and we encourage you to seriously consider the top performers in this test. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the UPPAbaby Mesa earned impressive scores for ease of installation without the base, and both are great options for city-dwelling parents. The Cybex Cloud Q is easy to install without the base, but it is more substantial than the competition making it a poor pick for around town trekking. The Doona on the other hand only earned an 8 for without base installation, but it has stroller components that virtually eliminate the need for carrying anything, making it an excellent choice for urbanites who frequent public transportation. In fact, we think the Doona is one of the best options for city living.

Find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station in your Area
Installing a carrier without the base can be tricky, so we urge parents to find a local inspection station to help them learn how to do it properly. It is easy to find an inspection station near you by entering your zip code on the SaferCar.gov website.

The Recaro Performance Coupe tied for the highest ease of use score with the Evenflo Embrace LX  but unlike the Evenflo  it also scored relatively well for comfort and quality
The Recaro Performance Coupe tied for the highest ease of use score with the Evenflo Embrace LX, but unlike the Evenflo, it also scored relatively well for comfort and quality

Ease of Use


At first blush, all the infant car seats seem similar, and it looks like they would all function similarly when it comes to ease of use. Not so. The products in our tests are all over the board when it comes to ease of use. As it turns out, all buckles aren't the same, and adjusting a harness can be ridiculously easy or a lesson in patience and a huge time suckage.


This metric includes all the features and functions you regularly use. Features like buckles and chest clips, as well as harness adjustments and handles, are part of testing this metric. The higher a car seat ranks for ease of use, the easier it will be to use on a daily basis.

Never Leave Little ones in the Car Seat Outside of the Car
While it may be convenient to leave your baby in an infant car seat outside the car if they fall asleep while driving, this practice is potentially dangerous and not recommended. Babies left to sleep in car seats, swings, and bouncers may be at risk for positional asphyxiation. Positional asphyxiation is where someone rests in a position that can prevent them from breathing. It potentially occurs when the baby's head slumps forward and blocks the airway. A 2015 study of children under the age of 2 who died in a sitting or carrying device, showed that out of 31 deaths involving car seats that a little over half were related to positional asphyxiation. To be safe, always remove your baby from their car seat and put them to rest on their back in their own crib or bassinet.

Buckle Release Buttons


The buckle release buttons are stiff and hard to press for some of the seats. Getting little ones out of the carrier can be a problem if the button requires two thumbs to operate or your fingers lack the strength to use them. We found all of the Graco buttons are hard to use and some also have challenging chest clips. TheRecaro Performance Coupe, Peg Perego Nido, and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 have the kind of buckles we dream about, those that virtually fall apart when you push the button. However, the Peg Perego Nido chest clip is a challenge to open and can even be painful for some. Being able to remove your baby swiftly and without complication is a must, and we favor products with consistently easy buckle and chest clip combos.

We had difficulty using the buckle  chest clip and shoulder pads on the Graco 40
The Cybex Aton2 has one the easiest buckle to undo on its 5 point harness

The Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 (above left) has a difficult to use stiff release buckle. Alternatively, the Cybex Aton 2 (above right) has an easy to operate buckle.

The tightening strap and loosening button on the Recaro are very easy to operate
The strangely placed rear tighten and loosening system on the back of the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect is ridiculously complicated compared to the more traditional pull strap and release button found on all the other seats we looked at. It also functions as the rethread slots for harness height adjustment

Harness Adjustment


For tightening and loosening the harness, the Recaro Performance Coupe (above left) impresses in our tests. The strap pulls smoothly without effort, and the release button requires less pressure compared to the competition.

Many of the seats used a rethread height adjustment with shoulder straps that thread through slots in the back of the seat and attach to a splitter like the one seen here.
The Mesa head assembly moves up and down to adjust the shoulder height of the harness. Pulling the tab unlocks the assembly so you can move it to the desired position.

Adjusting the Harness as Baby Grows


Adjusting the shoulder strap height is another story. This function comes in two varieties. One is an involved process where you detach the shoulder straps from a splitter on the back and rethread them through a higher slot before putting them back on the splitter (above left). The other is a simpler method that includes disengaging the height adjustment assembly and sliding it up or down to the proper position (above right). The latter can usually occur with your baby in the seat when you notice a need. The former requires an empty carrier, and some are more difficult due to the size of the straps, the slots, or how much padding is in the way when threading. We think parents are more likely to maintain a correctly fitted harness if it is easy to adjust, can be accomplished quickly, and executed as soon as they notice a need for change (i.e., when a baby is in the harness getting ready to go). The non-rethread option allows parents to make the adjustment quickly and get on their way. Making changes when you first notice a need is better than seeing the need but deciding to wait until a better time because it is a hassle. For this reason, we suspect that non-rethread harnesses are potentially safer.

The Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 has a non-rethread height adjustment you adjust from the back by squeezing the red side buttons and sliding the assembly
The Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 has a non-rethread height adjustment you adjust from the back by squeezing the red side buttons and sliding the assembly

Only a few options are the non-rethread harness style. They can operate from the front or back depending on the design. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35, Peg Perego Nido, and Cybex Cloud Q earned the highest scores in our tests with 10s and smooth moving, easy to operate harness assemblies. The Baby Jogger City Go, Recaro Performance Coupe and UPPAbaby Mesa are close with 9s. The Chicco Fit2 earned an 8 for its sliding height assembly. The most challenging carrier for shoulder strap height adjustment is the Cybex Aton 2 with straps that are harder to get on and off the splitter than the competition.

Base Attachment


The Chicco Keyfit 30 and the Chicco Fit2 are the easiest to attach to the base in this review with a 9 of 10 in our tests. They both fall smoothly into place, and we didn't have any mistakes during testing. The UPPAbaby Mesa and the Safety 1st onBoard Air came in a close second. The most laborious option to set on the base is the Graco Click Connect 40 with a score of 2. Several users in our tests incorrectly installed this seat multiple times. We thought it was connected, heard the click, we thought it was attached but it wasn't and it came loose with a tug. Our fear is parents will think the carrier is attached when it was just free floating in the backseat (Yikes!). We also struggled somewhat with the Cybex Aton 2 connection. However, it is one of only a handful of seats that provide a visual indicator to show when the carrier is properly attached, so while it may be harder to make the connection, the indicator helps prevent a connection mishap.

Notice that with the handle and canopy in the upright position on the Graco Click Connect 40 that it is impossible to grip the handle without the canopy getting in the way. All the Graco handles rubbed on the canopies and made it difficult to use both at the same time.
Notice that with the handle and canopy in the upright position on the Graco Click Connect 40 that it is impossible to grip the handle without the canopy getting in the way. All the Graco handles rubbed on the canopies and made it difficult to use both at the same time.

Handles


Most of the handles in this review are about the same and mostly unremarkable. They primarily operate by squeezing or pushing buttons in simultaneously on the pivot points on both sides of the carrier and rotating to the desired position. The number of location options and what positions are allowable for driving varies (see your manual for specifics), but the basic operation is about the same. The major issues concerning handles are the handle/canopy collision present in several of the seats in our tests. This problem is most prevalent in the Graco carriers, though the Peg Perego Nido also has some issues. All the Graco handles are the same height as their canopies, which means it's hard to use the handle and have the canopy open at the same time. It seems like a silly oversight, but it is annoying and not necessary for the handle or canopy function properly. We hope they alter the design in the future to avoid this minor but annoying problem. Other issues involve manufacturing problems with rough plastic edges on the bottom of the handle where your fingers grip. The most comfortable handles to use are the Recaro Performance Coupe and the UPPAbaby Mesa.

The LATCH anchors on the UPPAbaby Mesa automatically retract into the base body and the connection clips store in a little pocket to keep them out of the way
The Peg Perego has anchors that resemble slim seat belts that push onto the U anchor on the vehicle and release by pressing the red button. We feel this anchor style is easiest to use. You can also see the anchor storage location in this photo

LATCH Storage


For storage of the LATCH anchors, the UPPAbaby Mesa (above left) excelled with anchors that didn't need storing thanks to their unique ability to self-retract. The bases with LATCH storage that might conflict with installation are the ones that earned lower scores. Anything that might prevent parents from efficiently and correctly installing a seat took a score hit in our tests. The majority of the storage options are small rods to clip the anchors to located on the underside of the base. Most of the cheaper seats in our review scored poorly in this test with LATCH straps that could prevent a proper install.

Best Rated Seats for Ease of Use


The Recaro Performance Coupe and Doona earned top results with scores of 8 of 10 for ease of use. Right on their heels with 7s are six products including the Chicco Keyfit 30, UPPAbaby Mesa, and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35, Peg Perego Nido, Baby Jogger Go, and the Chicco Fit2 each offering strong performance for ease of use.

NEVER leave a baby in a car seat unattended! Also, never place an infant seat on countertops or in high places where it could fall and injure a baby strapped inside. Soft surfaces such as a bed or waterbed are also a potential hazard as the carrier can tip and potentially smother baby on the soft surface. A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that more than 8,000 infants a year are treated in emergency rooms as a result of fall injuries suffered while using an infant seat or baby carrier outside of a vehicle, and seats overturning on soft surfaces resulted in 15 instances of suffocation. Always think safety first and never leave baby unattended because it is convenient.

The Peg Perego tied for first place on comfort and quality
The Peg Perego tied for first place on comfort and quality

Comfort/Quality


For comfort and quality, we consider materials and how well the final product brings them together in a complete package. We consider factors like padding, fabric, and canopies, and how well those translate to baby's comfort, parent use, and longevity.


All of the seats share similarities when it comes to materials, like dense foam for impact protection and hard plastic for the outer shell. However, some offer significantly thicker padding or friendlier fabrics than others, and in the end, it is the products that provide increased comfort for baby and a sharp fit and finish that top the charts in our comfort and quality tests. Some also look more "finished" than others with sleek designs that leave some seats looking frumpy with poorly fitting covers.

Phil and Teds Alpha comes with 2 different inserts to help ensure the best fit for infants of all sizes
The Graco Snugride Classic Connect 22 earned the lowest score in our tests for comfort with very little padding  cheaper feeling fabric  and a thin infant head rest

Best Rated Seats for Comfort and Quality


The standouts in this metric are the Chicco Fit2, Cybex Cloud Q, Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the Phil and Teds Alpha (above left) with 8s. These products provide additional padding, softer fabric, and better overall fit and finish in comparison to the competition. The lowest scoring seats are the Graco products with none earning a score higher than a 4 in our tests.

Weight


We looked at the weight of both the base and the carrier component of each product. Some of the bases are seriously heavy, but we only considered the weight of the carrier itself in our scoring.


We feel the weight of the carrier portion that parents will be lugging around is more important when determining which product to buy given that the base is typically installed in the car and stays there. If a carrier is too heavy, it will be difficult or impossible to carry for more extended periods or distances.

Being one of the lightest seats in the group is arguably one of the best things about the Evenflo
The Doona infant car seat is a different kind of seat with stroller capabilities  giving parents more opportunities to move baby from home to destination without toting a heavy carrier.

Best Rated Seats on Weight


The weight of the carriers varies between 8.35 lbs for the Phil and Teds Alpha (above left) and 16.8 lbs for the Doona (above right). That is a significant difference which makes the Doona feel like a non-starter for carrying. Luckily, this unique option has stroller components as part of the carrier (resulting in the heavier weight), which means you can avoid lugging this seat most of the time by pushing it instead. The average weight for the group is 10.5 lbs, and several of the award winners fell close to this average. While we don't think that weight should be your number one deciding factor, however, we do believe it is relevant and can potentially help break a tie after narrowing down your options using other metrics like crash tests and ease of install first. Weight may be especially important if you plan to carry baby in the seat as opposed to in a stroller or babywearing carrier.

Conclusion


There is no perfect seat for every family which is why we test so many and provide several awards and a ranking system. However, we believe our tests and analysis can help narrow the field of products down to a few top contenders that meet your needs and are within your budget. If you are confused about which features or functionality is important to you or your lifestyle, our buying advice can help you narrow your options to the find the best choice for your family.


Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz