As a parent, you want the best for your child, but you also want to make the most economically sound decisions. When it comes to car seats, safety is always of utmost importance; however, you also want to choose an affordable option. A convertible car seat is an excellent option to meet both of these requirements. It can accommodate babies from birth right through toddlerhood, it can be used in both a rear facing and forward facing position, and it can also boast a wide range of options and safety features. Because they can be used for the entire period of time that your child requires a car seat, they are very economical, as you won’t need to transition from an infant seat, which can only carry children up to 35 or 40 pounds and can only be used in the rear facing position, which means that you don’t have to invest in two different types of car seats.
When shopping for a convertible car seat, you will find that there are a lot of options to choose from, which can make finding the best one for your specific needs a bit challenging. To help you on your quest, we have assembled this useful buyer’s guide, which is full of valuable information pertaining to convertible car seats, and which we feel will make it easier for you to choose the best option for your particular needs.
Types of Convertible Car Seats
There are two main types of convertible car seats:
- A standard convertible car seat
- A 3 in 1 car seat
Both types of convertible car seats offer advantages, and it is a good idea to understand the difference between both types so that you can choose the best option for your specific needs.
Standard Convertible Car Seats
A standard convertible car seat is designed to be used in both a rear facing and a forward facing position. They can accommodate children from the newborn stage right through toddlerhood, with weight limits varying from 40 to 80 pounds, and height limits varying from 40 to 57 inches. These car seats come in a range of styles and can offer a variety of features.
3 in 1 Convertible Car Seats
Also known as an all in one car seat, a 3 in 1 car seat is designed to be used from infancy through the elementary school years, as they can be used in both the rear facing and the forward facing position, and then they can be converted into a booster seat. The weight limit for this type of convertible car seat varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, with some accommodating children that weigh up to 120 pounds. Height limits also vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, with some accommodating children as tall as 60 inches. Do note, however, that while most 3 in 1 convertible car seats are designed to be used in the rear facing position, some may not be able be used with newborns, as they may not properly support their light weight.
Factors to Consider when Buying a Convertible Car Seat
To ensure your child’s safety and that the all of your specific needs are met, there are several factors that should be taken into consideration when purchasing a convertible car seat. After conducting our extensive research and assessing the various types of convertible car seats on the market, we have determined that the following factors are the most important to take into consideration when making your decision.
Ease of Use
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has created a 5 star rating system for car seats. This rating system is designed to indicate the ease of using a car seat; the more stars a car seat receives, the easier it is to use. These ratings take into consideration how easy it is to install the convertible car seat into your car, how easy it is to secure your child in the seat, and they also consider the content and clarity of the user’s manual that the car seat comes with.
A 5 Point Harness
A convertible car seat should have a five point harness. These straps, which include one that goes over each shoulder, one that goes over each hip and one that goes between the child’s legs, are critical for safety. They are found in all new models of convertible car seats.
Ease of Adjusting the Straps
You will need to adjust the straps on the harness as your child grows, moving them up to accommodate his or her growing height. The best convertible car seats our outfitted with straps that are easy to adjust the height from the front of the seat, which means that you won’t have to remove the car seat and disassemble it in order to make the adjustments. Some convertible car seats even boast single handed belt adjustments and quick release belt buckles.
All car seats and vehicles that have been manufactured after 2002 have been constructed to be compatible with the LATCH system. This system allows convertible car seats to be attached directly to the car’s frame instead of having to use seat belts to secure them to the vehicle. The LATCH system includes a top tether strap, as well as lower anchor connectors; however, the manufacturer may not recommend using the top tether strap when the car seat is in the rear facing position. Make sure to check your manual to find out. It’s also important to note that there are weight limits for the LATCH system, which are also listed in the owner’s manual or on a label that is affixed to the side of the car seat itself. Once your child exceeds the weight limit, you will need to disengage the LATCH system and install the car seat with a seat belt.
The Size of the Car Seat
Another factor that you are going to want to take into consideration is the size of the car seat. If you have a limited amount of space in the back seat of your car, you may want to avoid choosing a bulky convertible car seat that takes up a lot of space. Some convertible car seats are designed to have a sleeker, more compact design, which means they take up less space in the back of the car. Do note, however, that while the car seat may be more streamlines and take up less space, it may not be as comfortable for your child.
You should also consider your budget when shopping for a convertible car seat. These car seats vary widely in price, with the most basic models costing around $50 and more advanced models costing upwards of $200 or more. The more features that the convertible car seat offers, the more expensive it will likely be, so do keep this in mind when setting your budget and choosing your convertible car seat.
Features of Convertible Car Seats
There are a variety of features that convertible car seats can offer. These features are designed to improve the safety, the comfort and the enjoyment of using the car seat (for you and your child.) As noted above, the more features the convertible car seat offers, the more expensive it will likely be. Understanding the types of features that are available will help you determine whether or not you want or need them.
Advanced Side Impact Protection
All car seats offer a degree of side impact protection; however, some offer more protection than others. Car seats that feature special energy absorbing foam along the sides and the sides provide greater protection for your child in the event of a collision, as they absorb the force of impact, preventing that force from being absorbed by your child.
This is a feature that is particularly useful for newborns and infants who have not developed the strength in their neck muscles yet. Head support prevents the child’s head from slumping to the side or forward while riding, which not only improves safety, but improves comfort.
For added comfort, some convertible car seats feature extra padding. This padding makes the seat more comfortable for your child to sit in, which may be of particularly important to you if your child will be riding in the seat for extended periods of time.
As your child grows, cup holders could be a feature that he or she will enjoy. The cup holders can be used to keep bottles and cups close at hand, which means that your child will have easy access to his or her beverage, and you won’t have to worry about reaching back to hand your child a drink.
A storage compartment could also be a handy feature. These compartments are usually situated along the sides or the front of the convertible car seat and can either be an open shelf-type compartment, can have a lid that opens and closes, or can be pushed in and out of the car seat. These storage compartments make it convenient to keep things like binkies, snacks, toys and other items that your child likes to have nearby within easy reach.
Kids and messes go together like peanut butter and jelly. At some point, you are going to want to clean the car seat, and some convertible car seats are easier to clean than others, especially if they feature a removable cover that is machine washable.
Best Convertible Car Seat Brands
There are so many manufacturers that make convertible car seats, which is nice, because it gives you a lot of options to choose from; however, having so many options can also make it difficult to find the best car seat for your needs. To help you find the best brands, we have conducted extensive research, have read safety reports and product reviews, and we have also test them out ourselves. Concluding our research, we have determined that the following are the best convertible car seat brands.
Chicco is one of the leading names in the baby product industry, and their convertible car seats have received some of the highest safety ratings and reviews. We really like the array of features that they offer, including no rethread harnesses and their side impact protection. We also liked that the offered some other added features, like cup holders and storage compartments.
Britax convertible car seats are among the easiest to install. Their cutting edge Click Tight technology makes it possible to get the proper installation without having to use your full body weight or extra force. They also feature no rethread harnesses and other features that we thought were really convenient.
Evenflo is another highly regarded brand in the baby product industry, and their convertible car seats have received the highest safety ratings and 5 star ratings. We liked that this company’s convertible car seats were so easy to install, that they boasted an array of features, and that they offered models that had streamlined designs, which means that they don’t take up a lot of space.
Another one of the most highly regarded manufacturers in the baby product industry, Graco doesn’t fall short when it comes to their convertible car seats. This company’s car seats have received impressive crash test performance results and scored very high in both the ease of use and fit to vehicle departments. Their car seats also offers an array of features, including cup holders, storage compartments, head support, and come in a wide range of colors and patterns. Plus, we also liked that Graco convertible car seats are at the lower end of the price range compared to other manufacturers, yet they don’t compromise on quality, safety, convenience and comfort.