Your baby’s safety is at the top of your mind, and with innumerable options available on the market, feeling confident that you’re choosing the best convertible car seat may become challenging. With the leading cause of injury or death for children resulting from motor vehicle crashes, it’s no surprise that making any child car seat purchase can become a huge endeavor for parents that almost feels akin to life or death.
We’ve sorted through the plethora of the convertible car seats currently being sold and have listed our top options here.
Follow along to determine if one of these seats will fit your needs, and check out our convertible car seats reviews to determine your own top pick.
Types of Convertible Car Seats
What Is a Convertible Car Seat?
Convertible car seats allow for use in both rear-facing and forward-facing positions, providing growing toddlers the ability to ride in the recommended rear-facing direction for an extended period of time. They generally accommodate children from the time they’re born until they reach between 40 to 65 pounds, or even up to 120 pounds in booster mode for some all-in-one models.
There are three different types of convertible children’s seats currently available, and one of them may better suit your needs than the rest.
Convertible Car Seats for Infants and Toddlers
There is a huge selection of these types of seats available, so you’ll notice a wide range of prices. These seats allow for use in a rear-facing position and can later be turned around for forward-facing rides once the child is large enough. Most of these seats allow for your little one to ride rear-facing until they reach about 40 pounds, with some extending that limit up to 50 pounds. A couple of examples of this type of seat are the Graco Extend2Fit and the Chicco NextFit Max.
- Allow for rear-facing beyond infancy
- Sit more upright for a non newborn and may take up less space rear-facing than a rear-facing only seat
- Can be bulky and heavy to carry when changing vehicles
- Can take up a lot of space in the vehicle, especially for a newborn
3-in-1 Convertible Car Seats
Because these seats, also known as all-in-one car seats, have extended functions, expect that their price may run a bit higher than their convertible car seat counterparts. These seats can be used as a convertible car seat for babies and toddlers in rear-facing positions, and then forward-facing when the time is right. The added advantage is these seats can also be used as booster seats, meaning many models support use for children up to 100 pounds. A couple of examples of these are the Evenflo EveryFit and the Graco Milestone.
- Don’t have to purchase as many seats
- Can be very bulky and heavy when moving from car to car or using for travel
Benefits of Using Convertible Car Seats
There are several reasons why committing to a convertible-type child seat is worth considering.
All of our picks meet standard safety requirements, so what is important is how the seat fits your child, your budget, your car, and you’ll use it properly 100% of the time. All manufacturers go above and beyond the minimum requirements for testing, though sadly we don’t have the results of these. They all do rear, side, and rollover impact tests.
You will need a convertible car seat after you stop using the rear-facing only infant seat. This is to get your child to a safe or legal age to forward face.
You could, of course, choose to purchase an rear-facing only seatinfant carrier seat, then a rear-facing car seat, followed by a forward-facing seat before needing to spring for a booster. The alternative is a cost-saving convertible car seat that can grow and transition with your child through those first several years. It’s very possible to start with a convertible car seat and move to a booster later, bypassing the other seats. Of all the types of seats, this is the one you nearly always will have to buy. A rear-facing only seat is optional, your convertible could get you to booster mode, or even through the high back booster years if it has a booster mode. Therefore the rear-facing only and combination seats are optional.
Sometimes just taking a look at some of these car seat models make us wish that we could snuggle up in one and go for a ride. The top options have comfort padding that not only provide a plush ride, but add extra safety and protection in the case of a vehicle collision. Adjustable harnesses and headrests ensure your child fits well in the seat for safe and pleasant journeys.
Tips for Choosing the Best Convertible Car Seat
Much of your decision making comes down to personal preference and needs. Things to keep in mind when purchasing are if you will be using it for rear-facing (if not, consider a combination seat), and if you will have your child in this directionposition for an extended period of time. Both Britax and Graco offer excellent options on that front. Keep in mind your child’s size – is a 40 pound rear-facing seat more than enough to get them a legal and safe age in your state to forward face, or would 50 pounds would be better. If you own a compact car and space is precious, pay particular attention to dimensions, and use a tape measure to ensure your choice fits where you need it to go (keep in mind measuring a seat on the floor in the store and measuring your backseat will not always work because of the angle of your backseat). Also, always keep your budget in mind.
Best Convertible Car Seats
Now it’s time to get on to the good stuff! These models are impressive enough to deserve their own shout-outs. While these stand out for various reasons, all that we’ve highlighted and compared down below are excellent choices to get your favorite people from point A to point B safely.
Best Convertible Car Seat
As an all-around great buy, the Britax Marathon takes the cake. What sets it apart from the pack is a mix of impressive features and incredibly easy installation. Owners of this seat rave about the quality of this convertible choice.
- Easy to install
- Approved for extended rear-facing for children up to 40 pounds
- Tall rear and forward facing
- Larger front to back for newborns
The Marathon is my number one pick because you simply can’t go wrong with this seat. Featuring Britax’s SafeCell Impact Protection, this convertible seat is packed full of safety features. These include an energy-absorbing base, minimized seat rotation thanks to a special V-shaped tether and an integrated steel frame.
One of the most important aspects to using any car seat is installing it correctly, so that all of those safety features can do what they’re meant to. Few models offer as many features as the Chicco NextFit to help parents feel confident that they’ve gotten the installation right.
- 43” rear-facing height limit may be limiting for taller kids or parents who would like to rear face longer
If you want to save yourself from struggling with installation and seat adjustments, then purchasing the NextFit is a no-brainer. We love that, with this model, Chicco has crafted an undeniably user-friendly seat.
Not only does the ReclineSure nine-position leveling system allow for the most reclining options, but the easy to read RideRight bubble levels make it simple to decipher if the seat is at the correct angle.
The brand’s SuperCinch technology, a force-multiplying LATCH tightener, means an easy-as-pie one-handed pull ensures your seat fits nice and snug in your vehicle.
Few convertible car seat models can compete with the Diono Radian 3RX when it comes to cutting a slim profile and still maintaining an impressive line-up of features.
- Larger front to back unless the separate Angle Adjuster is purchased
- Booster mode is shorter lasting than other seats
The aluminum reinforced side walls of the 3RXT (not pictured), coupled with a head support cushioned with energy absorbing EPS foam, keep your precious cargo protected in the event of a crash. Users of this model love that it serves as a buy-one-and-done product. It’s suitable for infant and toddler use in rear-facing position up to 50 pounds, forward-facing up to 65 pounds and as a booster seat for children up to 120 pounds or 57 inches. Parents short on space enjoy the slim profile of the model, and that multiple of these seats can even easily fit in small rear rows. It can be folded flat, which makes it highly recommended for easy transport and travel.
Best Rear-Facing Car Seat
For extended rear-facing, there’s few that can beat the features that the Graco Extend2Fit boasts.
- Not great for very narrow rear seat spaces
If extended rear-facing is on your agenda, then the Extend2Fit is a wonderful option. While many convertible seats have rear-facing weight limits of 40 pounds, this one raises that number to 50.
It’s not the only model to offer that higher limit, however it’s one of only a few you’ll notice at such a great price point. The rear extension panel is adjustable to give rear-facing car seat riders additional leg space.
Best All-in-One Seat
If you only want to purchase one seat, then make the Graco 4Ever four-in-one convertible seat your go-to. If you think of this model as literally being four seats compacted into one, it should be no surprise that this option made the cut.
- Booster is high for a child sitting on it to buckle
The largest feature that sells me on this all-in-one option is its ability to transition with children from the infant stage all the way through the time that they require a seatbelt-adjusting backless booster. The seat is easy to install, and does fit average newborns through grade schoolers, while doing all four of the modes it has well.
Pricey but Worthy
If you feel like splurging then the Clek Foonf won’t disappoint. The Foonf is packed with a multitude of innovative safety and design features you won’t find in most convertible seats.
- Can be used with both the lower anchors and the seatbelt forward facing for enhanced stability
The brand boasts that the Foonf can deliver rear-facing levels of safety even when your child rides forward-facing, thanks to their patented REACT system. This technology reduces the transfer of forces to the child in the event of a front-end collision. I especially like that its upholstery permanently protects against stains and odor-causing bacteria.
The Graco Size4Me is a wonderful option to consider for the great price point alone. Throw in the fact that it’s a compact size allowing little ones to rear-face up to 40 pounds and forward-face up to 65, and it looks like a bargain.
If, like us, you highly value the opinions of fellow parents who’ve already tested a product, then knowing the Graco Milestone is widely-purchased and highly-reviewed make this option worth exploring. Owners of the Milestone attest to the fact that this seat is easy to install and adjust.
The seat transitions from infant and toddler use in rear-facing mode, to forward-facing and then into a booster.
The Overall Best Convertible Car Seat
After reading my glowing review of the Britax Marathon above, it’s probably no surprise this is our top choice. When you look at the Marathon’s ease of which it can be installed and adjusted to continuously grow with your child, this model is a tough one to beat.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find an owner of this model that doesn’t rave about it, and it continuously tops numerous best car seat lists year after year.
Convertible Car Seat FAQs
Where Should a Convertible Car Seat Be Installed?
The safest spot in a vehicle to install a car seat is in the rear middle seat. If this isn’t an option, I would recommend placing the child seat in the rear on the sidewalk side. This would keep it on the side away from the road in the event that you park on the street. Also keep in mind the fit of the car seat. If you have a tall passenger in front, the seat may have to go on the opposite side.
When Should I Start Using a Convertible Car Seat?
These seats can be used beginning from birth and can continue to be used as your child grows. The seats can be converted to fit your child’s needs at every stage.
What Is the LATCH System?
Standing for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, the LATCH system is an alternative to securing car seats using the vehicle’s seat belts. The system uses buckles and tethers to secure the seat directly to the vehicle’s frame and was designed to make children’s seat installation simpler. It’s required on every car seat and most vehicles produced after September 1, 2002.
Can Convertible Seats Be Used on Strollers?
Stroller systems do not generally support the attachment of convertible car seats. These seats tend to be larger, bulkier and heavier than the infant carrier seats you’re accustomed to seeing parents push on their strollers. They are designed to be installed in the vehicle and left, unless removed for transferring to another car, or taking for use on an airplane.
Accessories To Consider
While you’ll find a plethora of accessories to consider purchasing for your convertible car seat, here are some we think are worth looking at.
Replacement Car Seat Cover
You may not need one of these right away, but it’s nice to know they exist in the event yours becomes damaged or incredibly stained. Most brands offer replacements to fit their different models.
Safety Features To Look for in a Convertible Car Seat
While it’s true that any convertible car seat currently being sold has to meet minimum federal safety requirements, it’s likely you’re interested in a product going above and beyond the minimum standard.
Opt for a model with high top harness and shell heights, as that will allow you to use the seat longer than a seat with the same weight limits that is shorter. If you find a seat generally difficult to install, look for a seat with a special method for install that may make your life easier.
Care Tips for Your Convertible Car Seat
Keep your car seat in tip-top shape to ensure years of continued use. Keep these suggestions in mind:
Our Final Word on Convertible Car Seats
When it comes down to making your final decision, you’re the one who best knows your needs, so keep them in mind when choosing a seat that will leave you feeling confident that your littlest passengers are safe and protected.
It may seem overwhelming, but know that with the requirement of minimum federal safety standards, there is no “bad” decision.
Pick the convertible car seat that falls within your budget, fits your car, fits your child, and you’ll use it and install it properly every time.