Convertible car seats are one of those items you realize you need only in retrospect like when your baby grows out of an infant car seat and you’re left wondering, now what? You’re not alone. The car seat market can feel like a minefield of options with marketing lingo and questions galore. The best convertible car seats actually simplify the whole process by eliminating the need to ever buy another.
The best convertible car seats take kids from rear-facing to forward-facing to high-back booster ... [+] seating.
Infant car seats are only suitable for infants, but convertible car seats are likely to have a longer life with your family. 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.
There’s a lot to consider when choosing a car seat. “The ‘best’ car seat depends on your child, your vehicle, your budget and 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 our own research, we 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.
Weight/height limit: up to 50 pounds and 49 inches (rear-facing); up to 65 pounds and 49 inches (forward-facing); 40 to 100 pounds (high-back booster) | Machine washable cover: Yes | Width of seat: 19 inches | Weight: 27 pounds
If you’re looking for an affordable car seat that will grow with your child from birth through 100 pounds, aka, to the end of the car seat line, we think you’ll want to check out this Graco model. The Extend2Fit 3-in-1 with Anti-Rebound Bar is a long-lasting, versatile pick. It tops our convertible picks, because of the incredible number of ways to adjust and fine-tune its positioning, a reasonable price point, its inclusion of must-have perks, such as washability, and the ability to convert it to every stage of car seat from infant to high-back booster.
“It has high rear-facing limits and can be very compact when rear-facing too,” says Pratt (the seat allows for 5 inches of extra legroom when facing backward and allows children to do so up to 50 pounds). There’s also an anti-rebound bar (you have to install it, but it’s easy to do), which adds a layer of safety by limiting how much the seat and your child would rotate in the event of an accident. There are 10 headrest positions and six reclines; and a luxurious two cup holders.
Overall, the car seat is simple to use and affordable—two big wins for parents. We love the no-rethread harness. The covers remove for washing, too. One downside is that it’s not as narrow as is needed for families hoping to put multiple seats in the back. Graco Slimfit might be a better match-up if you really need a narrow seat width. The Extend2Fit is also FAA approved.
Weight/height limits: up to 50 pounds and 49 inches (rear-facing); up to 65 pounds and 49 inches (forward-facing) | Machine washable cover: Yes | Width of seat: 19 inches | Weight: 27 pounds
The Nuna Rava is more expensive than other car seats like it, but for luxury-minded parents, it’s an excellent compact and safe option with an all-steel frame and easy-install. “It takes up minimal space rear-facing when it’s installed as upright as it’s allowed to be,” adds Pratt.
“It can be installed in the middle seat in our SUV, which is great because not all car seats can accommodate that,” says Pegah Jalali, a mother in New York City who uses the car seat. Lisa M., a mom in Boston with four Nuna Ravas, points out another spacing perk. The car seat is actually narrow from front to back, which allows tall drivers and front passengers to enjoy significant “legroom even while the baby is still rear-facing.”
It’s Greenguard Gold certified and made without flame retardants, delivering clean comfort. The Nuna Rava offers 10 recline positions for the best positioning and a no-rethread five-point harness, making it a cinch to get into position.
It does not convert to a booster, but you can have your baby in this seat from the newborn stage all the way up to forward-facing at 65 pounds. The higher weight and height limits lets safety-conscious parents keep their kids rear-facing for longer, as well as in a five-point, harness constraint while forward-facing for longer than some other seats.
Weight/height limits: up to 50 pounds and 43 inches (rear-facing); up to 65 pounds and 49 inches (front-facing) | Machine washable: Hand-wash only and spot clean | Seat Width: 17 | Weight: 36 pounds
The funny-sounding car seat that doesn’t scream car seat is practically a cult favorite among those who use it from infancy (if you purchase the infant insert for an additional $60) onward. Pratt likes it for parents who hit the road frequently because Clek seats (the Foonf and its sister product the Fllo) are uber comfortable and yet one of the most narrow seats you can purchase, allowing three car seats across.
“The low-profile sides and squishy, unobtrusive padding promote airflow and help even the sweatiest toddlers stay cooler in their car seat,” Pratt says. “And they sit up nice and high, so your little one can see out the window.” When used rear-facing, toddlers have a ton of leg room, too, in part due to that anti-rebound bar, which doubles as a great safety feature. It’s also Greenguard Gold Certified, free of any flame retardants and approved for aircrafts as a safety seat.
While the Clek seat is expensive, parents who use it say it’s incredibly durable. “We've been very impressed with the quality of the Foonf,” says Katie Tucciarone, a mom in Brooklyn Heights, New York. “The fabric is durable yet comfy, and the accessories are easy to use and aren't breaking all the time. It's also very easy to clean which is important because it’s been subjected to a lot: car sickness episodes, Goldfish galore and other toddler-preferred snacks.”
The Foonf has a few extra features (a more seamless recline, a slightly simpler install) than the Fllo, but the inside seating areas of the sister seats are identical. One drawback is that it does not convert to a booster seat once your child outgrows it. The Foonf does have a 9-year expiration, though, so you could possibly pass it on to a younger sibling.
Weight/height limits: up to 50 pounds and 49 inches (rear-facing); up to 65 pounds (forward-facing); 40 to 120 pounds and up to 63 inches (booster seat) | Machine washable: Yes | Seat width: 19.5 inches | Weight: 30 pounds
This sturdy, all-in-one convertible car seat from Britax is a popular pick for tall kids, as well as parents hoping to make it their last car seat purchase. It’s a roomy, comfortable seat that will change from a rear-facing to forward-facing five-point harness to a harness-less booster. The headrest can also be set to 15 positions.
“The Britax One4Life has one of the tallest harnesses available,” says Pratt. “Even though it has the same harness mode limits on paper as most other convertible seats, the extra-tall harness height means that this seat will usually last longer than the competition when it comes to taller or long-torso kids.” This could equate to an extra year of use.
Meagan Paul, a mom in Pittsburgh, recently purchased this car seat for her tall 14-month old. “My kiddo is tall. He's in the 90th percentile for height,” she says. “Researched and this one fits the bill for longest rear-facing with a maximum harness height.”
The company’s signature “Clicktight install” also makes installation super easy. It’s a bit bulkier and slightly wider than some other convertibles, but that’s because it comes with all the extra perks, such as a no-rethread harness, washable seat covers, two cup holders and comfy padding and steel frame. It’s a great everyday seat to truly take your kid from babyhood to nearly middle school.
Weight/height limits: up to 40 pounds and 40 inches (rear-facing); up to 65 pounds and 50 inches (forward-facing) | Machine washable: Yes | Seat width: 19 inches | Weight: 11.5 pounds |
“The safest way for small kids to fly is to sit in their car seat on the plane,” says Pratt. But no parent wants to lug a heavy car seat through an airport. That’s where a travel stroller and car seat combo comes in—or a lightweight convertible car seat, such as the Evenflo Sonus 65.
Frequent fliers love the 11-pound Sonus 65 for plane rides, because it isn’t a burden to carry. (We know one editor who pops her travel car seat onto a set of wheels like this car seat caddy. It eliminates the need for a stroller in the airport and makes carrying the car seat much easier.)
Install is simple with the Sonus, and we find the five-point harness easy to adjust. Keep in mind that it is not a no-rethread harness, so when kids are ready to move up a notch, it will take some work. There’s less padding than in some higher-end seats, so it may not be right for a long road trip, but that reduces the weight of the seat overall. It is FAA approved and narrow enough to fit three car seats across in many cars. The Sonus has built-in cup holders and a ventilation system that’ll keep your child comfortable.
Another favorite pick for air travel is the Cosco Scenera Next. The two seats are similar in many ways, but the Cosco Scenera has a lower weight (40 pounds max) and height limit (43 inches), meaning many kids will outgrow it before the Sonus. “The Sonus lasts most kids until 5 or 6,” explains Pratt.
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).
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.
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.