The car seat market is absolutely SATURATED with options. There are so many different kinds, each boasting different features, safety specs, and bells and whistles. How are you supposed to know which carseat to choose, especially when your needs are complicated? The Salty Mamas own an astounding 12 car seats between us (and our kids are still little). So if you find yourself wondering, “which car seat should I get?” while frantically scrolling through Amazon reviews- fear no more. Here are the seats that make the cut for our ultimate car seat buying guide.
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The Best Travel System
When it comes to a travel system, you can’t go wrong with most of the standard models. Graco, Chicco, and Britax all have awesome systems that transfer from car to stroller and back again with ease. When your littles are…well…little, they are going to fall asleep in that car seat so often that a convertible car seat becomes a HUGE pain in the neck. It’s worth springing for the infant car seat (we like to call it “the bucket”) for that first year.
We recommend getting an extra base or two if your child is going to travel in more than one car. You can install using the seatbelt without the base, but it can be hard to install correctly this way (and you have to worry about installing it properly a million times through the course of the year). The base is the best way to ensure that your carseat is properly installed each and every time.
The Easiest Car Seat to Install
If you’re looking for simplicity, Evenflo prides itself on simple car seat installation, even when you’re not a pro. The seats are attached via the LATCH system, and then you can tighten them with a quick series of pushes and clicks. I’ve owned a dozen car seats in my life, and the Evenflo I had was by FAR the easiest to install.
The Easiest Car Seat to Convert (From Kid to Kid or Car to Car)
I don’t know how it happens, but I almost ALWAYS end up with an extra kid or two in my car. I can’t keep several extras in there, so I needed to find a car seat that could accomodate infants as easily as a forward-facing four year old.
There are a couple of key features that you’ll need in place if you’re planning to get the most flexibility out of your car seat. First, you want to make sure that your carseat installs (and uninstalls!) easily. You want a car seat that has buttons to release the latches, because the caribineer style ones are NOT easy to get on and off of a properly installed seat.
Second, you want the kind where the straps adjust with a pull system that is easily accessible without uninstalling the carseat. You want to be able to move the strap position up and down easily to accommodate kids of different heights, whether they are rear or forward facing.
You also want one with an adjustable recline position. Kids of different sizes require different reclines. You want to be able to adjust this easily without the use of positioners, like towels or pool noodles, whenever possible.
With these features in mind, we recommend the Graco Size 4 Me Convertible Car Seat. It’s the easiest to shift around, depending on who is riding with you on any given day.
The Best Car Seat for Travel
Hands down, we recommend the Cosco Highback 2-in-1 Booster Car Seat for travel. To use this seat, kids need to be able to forward face and be within the seat’s height and weight requirements.
It is incredibly light and fairly narrow. It doesn’t have a lot of extras, but if you’re looking for a car seat to take on a plane, in a cab, or to carry through the city with you, this is the one to choose.
The Longest Lasting Car Seat
We’ve gone through a dozen car seats for a reason- your car seat needs change SO MUCH from infancy through childhood. If you are trying to get a one-and-done car seat, we recommend the Graco 4ever Extend to Fit. It meets the standards we’ve got above for being easy to switch around, as well as taking your child from a rear-facing baby to an 8 year old in a booster seat, and for all the years in between.
We also like the Extend-to-Fit version for it’s capacity to give your child more leg room, making it a good fit for taller kids who are not yet ready to forward face.
The Best Booster Seat for Carpool or Emergencies
The Car Seat Activists might be coming at me for this recommendation, but we have, use, and love the MiFold Seatbelt Adjuster. The MiFold doesn’t look like much- which, frankly, is kind of the point- but when installed correctly and used as directed, it has met all of the safety requirements put forth by the federal government.
The MiFold folds up tiny, and is technically not a booster seat. Instead of lifting the child up to the seat belt’s height, the MiFold brings the seat belt down to the child’s height. This little seat fits inside of a backpack or the seat pocket in my car, and is perfect for last minute pickups or sending your child with someone who doesn’t have a booster installed.
The MiFold does have some drawbacks, however. Be prepared for some judgement on this one – people have a knee-jerk reaction that this seat “just can’t be safe,” and no amount of research and statistics seem to be able to change those opinions. It’s not the most comfortable seat, and it’s not the easiest for kids to use on their own.
However, you can’t beat it’s capacity to come through in a crunch, and for that, we will always be grateful to our MiFold. I can’t always keep a spare car seat in my car (that just takes up WAY too much space), and I can tell you that this little device has saved our bacon in an emergency situation more than once.
The Best Narrow Carseat
Sometimes you need a car seat with a small footprint. Maybe you’re trying to fit three car seats in the back seat of a sedan, or you need a big kid to sit in between two car seats. In those situations, you’ll want a narrow car seat that doesn’t take up valuable back seat space.
The Cosco (mentioned above) is decently narrow, but you’re not going to find a car seat with a smaller width than the Diono Radian. Christine has safely installed three in the back of her VW station wagon (which causes “she’s touching me” problems, if we’re being honest, but it is what it is). The safety ratings are off the charts, and frankly, so is the cost.
But you know what’s more expensive than the Diono Radian? A new car. So grab yourself a few car seats and save yourself the expense of upgrading your vehicle.
We know buying a car seat can be confusing (and let’s be honest, a hassle), but the many options also mean tons of flexibility. So whether you need a car seat that will last you years, or just one to get through an upcoming trip, our ultimate car seat buying guide should have made the decision a little easier. And if you need something cleared up? Leave us a comment below!
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