The best convertible car seats work for your toddler (and sometimes your infant) right through the child’s booster seat days. They can typically be placed into your vehicle rear-facing at first, then forward-facing and finally as a booster. These versatile seats actually simplify the whole car seat purchasing process by eliminating the need to buy another during various stages.
In short, infant car seats are only suitable for infants, but convertible car seats are likely to have a longer life with your family. There’s a lot to consider when choosing one. “The ‘best’ car seat depends on your child, your vehicle, your budget and the features important to you,” says Michelle Pratt, a certified child passenger safety technician, car seat expert and founder of Safe in the Seat. “Most kids will spend more time in their convertible car seat than in any other car seat stage, so it’s important to choose the right one.”
With Pratt’s help, through interviews with parents and using our own research, we’ve compiled a list of the best convertible car seats in five top categories. You’ll also find a buying guide at the end of this article to help you choose a personal favorite, as well as a list of top car seat deals happening right now.
Best Convertible Car Seat Overall
A Versatile Pick That Works From Birth Through 100 Pounds
Best Convertible Car Seat For Small Cars
A Luxury Pick For Tall Parents And Compact Spaces
Best Convertible Car Seat For Road Trippers
A Durable Seat Made For Comfort And Safety
Best Convertible Car Seat For Tall Babies
An Easy-To-Install Seat With One Of The Longest Harnesses Available
Best Convertible Car Seat For Air Travel
An Affordable Lightweight Travel Car Seat
What Is A Convertible Car Seat?
In short, it’s a car seat that can be used both rear- and forward-facing. Usually, these seats are used for years: at first rear-facing and then, when the child is ready, usually as a toddler or preschooler, forward-facing. Convertible car seats save parents money and time (spent researching and installing a new seat when a child needs a forward-facing unit).
When Do I Switch From An Infant Car Seat To A Convertible Car Seat?
Sometimes, convertible car seats can be used for infants, too; sometimes, you start using them after a baby outgrows an infant car seat by the height limit, weight limit, or the head clearance limit. Outgrowing an infant car seat means that a baby no longer has enough car seat shell over their head to keep them protected, says Pratt. When this happens, it’s time to move up to a convertible car seat. “Most babies outgrow the height or head clearance limits long before they reach the weight limit,” she says.
How To Find The Best Convertible Car Seat
A convertible seat is used rear-facing with a young baby and forward-facing as they grow taller and heavier. Some convertible car seats can convert again into high-back or backless booster seats by removing the five-point harness when older kids are ready for the seatbelt. Some convertible car seats can truly be the only car seat you ever buy for a child, taking them from infancy through age 10 or 100 pounds.
However, not everyone wants to use a convertible car seat right away. They tend to be heavier than the stroller-compatible infant car seats. And sometimes they are too bulky or too babyish to actually be used as high-back booster for your suddenly 70-pound 9-year-old child.
To answer parents’ car seat questions and steer them toward the best picks for them, Pratt developed her viral Car Seat Buying Kits, which help parents determine which car seats will meet their family’s needs. These are some of the top categories to consider when selecting a new convertible car seat.
- Price. Convertible car seats range in cost from fairly expensive units to affordable products.
- How long you plan to keep your toddler rear-facing? Pratt personally promotes the AAP’s recommendation to keep toddlers rear-facing until they reach the limit of their seat, encouraging parents to aim for age 4. Other families might aim for age 2, depending on your child and local regulations.
- Vehicle-specific challenges. Do you have a small car? Or a hard-to-reach third row? Is it already a high step to get into the car?
- Other passengers in the car, such as other babies in car seats or adults who will require seats. Will you need narrow car seats, so everyone can fit?
- Personal priorities, such as car seat weight, flame-retardant use, portability, install challenges and the size of your kids.