You’ve done the infant seat thing. But now that your kiddo has graduated from pint-sized to toddler-sized…and is basically busting out of the seat you brought her home from the hospital in, it’s time for an upgrade. Read on for our top 15 picks for the best car seats for toddlers.
1. Editors’ Pick: Chicco MyFit Le Harness + Booster
Parents can’t say enough about how user-friendly this car seat is: “Clearly designed by a parent who has lots of experience putting seats in and out of cars.” Aside from convenience, “comfort” and “protection” are among the many compliments that consumers have for this Chicco model. But the best part just might be that when your child hits the 4-year-mark, the seat can transition from a five-point-harness into a belt-positioning booster.
2. Graco Extend2Fit
The American Academy of Pediatrics says rear-facing is the safest way for kids to sit until at least 2 years old, but this can be a pain (in the rear?) once little legs get longer and need to stretch. If you feel like your kid is one growth spurt away from plowing his feet right through the back seat, Graco’s Extend2Fit car seat offers a solution that parents say works like a dream: a built-in extension panel that creates five extra inches of legroom. The reclining feature is also good for car naps.
3. Graco SlimFit
Bigger isn’t always better…especially if you have more than one toddler to tote around in a compact car. If that’s your situation, reviewers almost unanimously agree that the SlimFit is your best bet. (Several moms brag about being able to squeeze three of these in the back seat.) Fortunately, saving space does not mean you have to skimp on style: The SlimFit has two collapsible cup holders for convenience, “super cushiony” padding and a sliding headrest for comfort.
4. KidsEmbrace 2-in-1 Harness Booster
This Marvel superhero-themed car seat is terrifying and hilarious (and some might say hideous) but don’t judge this book by its cover. After all, it will certainly make the superhero-obsessed toddler in your life very happy, but it’s also beloved by parents. The author of a review titled “bitchin’ carseat” says it “saved her sanity” because of how easy it is to clean; other parents are thrilled by the extra big cup holders, and many comment that it’s the best fit for keeping a bigger kid in a five-point harness. Suffice it to say, this option has more going on than just its looks.
5. Britax Grow With You
Looking for a sleeker aesthetic in a kid-friendly color? Britax Grow With You is a good choice. Grown-ups claim it’s a “breeze to install” and kids like it, too—one woman says her daughter “raves about how comfortable it is” and many others appreciate the breathable fabric. (No more sweaty naps!) Just be advised that this thing is a beast, both heavy and huge, so probably best as a permanent fixture in a bigger car.
6. Graco Atlas 65
The Atlas has all the bells and whistles of other more expensive Graco models, just without the backless booster option. If that isn’t a deal-breaker, then you’ll likely love this guy for its reclining feature (no more head bobbing during car naps) and user-friendly buckles.
7. Britax Allegiance
This Britax model fits babes from 5 to 65 pounds and can be used in either the rear or forward-facing positions and is a favorite thanks to the sturdy construction and advanced safety features. One reviewer says: “hands down the most durable and safest car seat I have ever bought,” and others agree that this model in particular feels like a “safe and secure” choice with a smaller price tag than other Britax models.
8. Britax Frontier
A car seat-booster combo that boasts the new ClickTight system, the Frontier accommodates a growing kid until they reach 120 pounds. (Yep, the harness can be removed once you want to transition into seatbelt mode.)
9. Diono Radian 3R
The Diono’s major draw is its slim silhouette—great for families who want to seat three across (or moms who have to smush between two car seats on long drives). Customers like the folding design for travel, the low profile (for not hitting baby’s head on the car when getting in and out) and one reviewer says her concerns about seemingly less padding were assuaged after seeing it kept her kids comfortable on several long drives.
10. Graco Nautilus 65
This Graco model is not only inexpensive, it’s also another great example of the three-in-one design (harness, high back and backless booster), meaning it could be the last time you have to buy a car seat, ever. Reviewers say their tots love it and that once installed the seat is “snug and secure.”
11. Peg Perego Viaggio
Not exactly a bargain, but there’s a reason the Peg Perego is a cult-favorite. (Hint: shock-absorbent power foam.) More than one reviewer shares details of how well the Primo Viaggio held up in high-speed car accidents and kept their children safe, which (though horrifying to imagine) does provide peace of mind. The only downside is that this thing is clunky and sits high on the seat—so best set up in large SUV-type vehicles.
12. Costco Finale
At just $50 and 12 pounds, the Finale is an excellent choice for grandparents or babysitters (basically, anybody who needs to cart around kids on a semi-regular basis). And since it can accommodate children from 30 to 100 pounds, it can literally last for years. Definitely not as substantial as other models on our list, but still a solid option if it’s not your primary car seat.
13. Graco Tranzitions
A three-in-one you can buy for a forward-facing toddler and use for a 100-pound big kid. Fans of Graco will attest to the brand’s reputation for durability and safety; owners of the Tranzitions model comment on the comfortable padding and kid-friendly design with low-profile cup holders, making it easy for toddlers to get in and out by themselves.
14. Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 Max
The Pria boasts the highest weight range (5 to 85 pounds) of the non-convertible car seats on our list, meaning you can bring a newborn home from the hospital in this thing and use it again for the first day of kindergarten. In other words, a good bet if you want a traditional model with tons of side protection for a bigger kid.
15. CLEK FLLO
A looker if ever there was one, the Clek Fllo wins serious design awards, but also passes all the safety tests parents demand. And at just 17 inches wide, it’s hands down the narrowest non-booster car seat we’ve encountered. (We know one mom who sat comfortably between two of them for a six-hour car ride.) The only downside? This thing is heavy, so best to leave it installed permanently.
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