Finding the best infant car seat means finding a balance of one that’s safe, easy to use, and the right size for your infant. It’s a tricky formula, but car seats are required by law, and you never know when those extra safety features will be put to the test.
Car seats come with a new set of lingo to master and installation techniques to learn, but modern car seats aren’t as tricky to learn as their predecessors. Manufacturers are now focused on making the safest seat possible without leaving parents struggling to buckle the seat – or their child in – in the pouring rain.
Want to avoid the trial and error many parents face with these products? Use our expert buyer’s guide to find the best infant car seat your baby, car, and patience.
Before getting started, let’s go over some of the most common questions asked about car seats and their use.
Yes. Most car seats expire six years after the date it was manufactured. Manufacturers stamp the expiration date on the manufacturer label.
You can’t sell an expired car seat, but it can be recycled. In some cases, you can donate your expired car seat to a recycling center for a small fee that is given to local charities.
Usually no, but some bases accommodate several different seat models. Do not use a car base seat that doesn’t fit your car seat.
It’s time to switch to a convertible car seat when your child has outgrown their infant car seat either in height or weight. The car seat manufacturers typically set measurements for height and weight limit, so you should be able to know that information when you buy one.
Also, there are belt-positioning booster seats that are especially meant for those children who have outgrown their current seats but are still too small to snuggly fit in an adult lap and shoulder belt.
Babies may grow out of their infant seat between nine and 18 months.
Infant car seats can be used for 6 years, but some newer ones can be used for up to 10 years.
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends using a rear-facing seat until at least age two.
Switching to a forward-facing seat is possible after age two, but you can choose to wait.
No, if your baby fits safely in a convertible car seat, then you don’t need to buy an infant-only car seat. The most important feature is fit: your little one’s shoulders must be even with the harness slots when facing the back.
Rear-facing infant car seats usually have a weight limit between 35-40 pounds. There should be an inch between the top of your child's head and the top of the car seat. Your child's legs can touch the seat as he faces backward.
After switching from an infant seat to a front-facing car seat, these usually last until your child weighs 90 pounds.
You’ll find three different types of car seats widely available on the market: rear facing, convertible rear facing, and all-in-one newborn car seats. They mostly come with an infant insert where your baby will be seated. The infant insert also serves as an added support for a more comfortable fit.
A rear-facing car seat is designed specifically for infants and will only fit into your car in a rear-facing fashion. Most rear facing seats also double as a carrier. Installation varies by model. Some can be strapped directly into the car, but others require a base that is also strapped into your car.
Convertible rear facing car seats are seats that can be used from infancy until your child is ready to move to a booster seat. Use them as rear facing car seats for the first two years and then switch them around when they’re ready to sit facing forward. Buying a convertible car seat means you don’t need to buy a second car seat when your infant outgrows their rear facing seating.
Convertible seats vary from rear facing seats in that they don’t usually require a base and they aren’t portable. The seats are typically larger and strap directly into the car, making them more difficult to transition between vehicles. A convertible seat will also be larger than a rear facing seat and may not be suitable for smaller infants.
An all-in-one or 3-in-1 carseat adds another feature to the convertible seats by transforming into a booster seat. Like convertible seats, an all-in-one is often bulky and remains in place in one car. It can be used as a rear facing seat and then a forward-facing seat. Parents like these because if it fits, they can use it from infancy until the time their child is ready for a seat belt only.
Finding the best car seat means looking for the one that includes all the essential safety features. Here are a few of the must-have safety features in any car seat.
A load leg infant car seat includes a safety feature called a “load leg,” which works as a leg between the car seat and the floor of the vehicle. A load leg adds extra stability in the event of the crash by reducing energy transfer from the car seat to the infant. It also adds an extra measure of security by aiding in keeping the car seat in the car after a crash.
An anti rebound bar (ARB) is found near the foot of the car seat and fits against the seat back. The bar prevents violent movements in a crash. It’s only found on rear facing infant car seats.
Linear side impact protection is a feature fitted on the back rest of the car seat. It protects the baby from side impact while also absorbing impact force in the event of a side-impact collision.
A no-rethreaded harness is a feature that allows you to adjust the baby’s car seat harness without manually rerouting the straps.
A rigid latch is hard to find on U.S. car seats, but it’s a useful safety feature. With a rigid latch, the lower anchor connectors on the car seat aren’t place on a strap but instead are connected to the steel frame of the car seat.
Push button latch connectors seem like a convenience feature, but they’re also a safety feature. This feature allows you to push a button on the connectors to release the car seat, meaning it’s easier to remove the whole car seat both when transferring it and in the event of an emergency.
Seat belt lock offs clamps or pinches the seat belt that locks your car seat into to hold the seat in place even in an emergency stop.
Latch car seat systems come standard on all car seats manufactured after 2002. They connect the car seat to the vehicle’s seat itself and include tether anchors for the top of the seat.
The best car seat for you is one that fits both your baby and your car – and of course, one that you can install safely and quickly. We’ve put together a list of our favorite car seats that include our favorite safety features but aren’t too complicated to install.
The Britax B Safe-35 infant seat is a seat focused heavily on security. It comes with a latch for easy installation, but it also includes a whole security system that not only keeps the seat in place but works to absorb energy during a collision. Also, the Britax car seat protector is a perfect accessory to match your B-safe infant car seat.
Here is a helpful video on how to install the Britax B Safe-35 infant seat.
Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 car seat includes the rear facing, forward-facing, and booster-seat expected from an all-in-one car seat. It comes with all the safety features required but without all of the other bells and whistles that can sometimes overcomplicate car seats. You can download a pdf of the instruction manual here.
Chicco’s KeyFit 30 Rear Facing Infant Car Seat is designed with all infants in mind and includes features that fit even tiny babies weighing four to 11 pounds. It’s easy to install with the Latch system and the carrier is simple to remove. We also like that the base is designed to be stable without damaging your vehicle’s seats. There are also bubble level indicators to let you know when the seat is level, which is a helpful feature for parents who aren’t yet car seat professionals. Here is the instruction manual for Chicco's Keyfit car seat.
Graco’s Extend2Fit convertible car seat fits infants from 4 to 50 pounds and toddlers weighing 22 to 65 pounds. It includes not only our favorite safety features but comfort features that make life simpler if you don't want to buy a separate toddler car seat.
One of the problems facing parents who want a convertible car seat is that baby’s legs get scrunched during the period when they’ve almost outgrown rear facing but aren’t ready to face forward yet. The extendable base adds 5” to the car seat so they can stretch their legs with no fuss. Check out our full review of the Graco Extend2Fit.
The UPPAbaby Mesa rear-facing car seat is a high-end, top-rated car seat for newborns up to 35 pounds. This car seat guarantees your child's safety, as there is minimal room for error during set up and when snapping your kid into their car seat, thanks to the SMART Secure System and Latch connectors.
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Car Seat is another rear-facing seat that is especially designed for babies who weigh at least 4 pounds but do not exceed 35 pounds and are up to 32 inches tall. This car seat features a "Right Tight System” base and a built-in anti-rebound bar for added protection.
Assembling and disassembling infant car seats is highly depending on the style of car seat you purchased, and the safety features installed. Here is a video on how to install an infant car seat.
Always read the full instructions provided by the manufacturer to learn how to assemble and disassemble your new car seat safely and quickly.
Here are a few of our best tips for picking out the best car seat:
Buy a convertible seat to save money and improve safety. Convertible seats grow with your baby and are more likely to come with extended safety features than infant seats. Consider the weight limit so will have an idea of how long your child can benefit from it.
If you buy an infant seat, choose one that matches a stroller to save a bit of cash. Not all removable infant seats fit in strollers, and they aren’t designed to be used on shopping carts. However, other brands do offer a compatible stroller that’s is sold separately, so that could be a viable option. Baby Trend strollers, for example, can perfectly go with the car seats from the same brand.
All car seats meet current safety standards even though high-end models add extra features. Car seats are expensive, but accepting a hand-me-down often means missing out on the most recent safety innovations. Buy a car seat that grows with your baby. Look for an extendable car seat to avoid the transition from sleeping through the night to toddler tantrums.
Watch installation videos on YouTube before you buy a car seat to see how easy it really is to install.
Found a car seat everyone loves? Make it even better with a few of these car seat accessories:
Sunshades keep the sun out of baby’s and protect them from UV-B rays that travel through car windows. Weather or rain covers make infant seats easier to transport in inclement weather, so you can keep their blankets warm and dry. Anti-escape systems keep clever babies and toddlers from unbuckling themselves. Car seat inserts create a cozy space for smaller babies.
Hopefully this buyer guide has helped you to find the best baby car seat for you and your baby. Everyone will have different preferences or needs for themselves, but we all want to make sure our baby is in the best car seat for safety.
If you think there is another top car seat for newborns that was missed, or have any comments on the ones we did review please let everyone know below!