The convertible car seat is generally your second seat after your baby has graduated from the infant car seat (AKA “bucket seat). Weight maximums vary on different infant car seat models, but generally, it’s recommended that babies graduate to a convertible seat no later than their first birthday. Good news: most babies are thrilled to transition to convertible car seats for the chance to sit upright (big deal!) and see more of the world.
KEY FEATURES: They’re called “convertible” seats for a reason. They can be used rear-facing (which is recommended until at least age 2), forward-facing, and some models even convert to a booster seat for bigger kids. Unlike an infant seat which easily clicks in and out of an installed base, a convertible seat generally stays put as a more permanent fixture of your car. It requires a more involved installation, either using a seat belt or LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). Though, as you’ll see, the effort required to install a convertible seat varies by brand, and isn’t necessarily indicative of quality or safety.
If you want a super-safe seat with foolproof installation, look no further than the Britax Boulevard ClickTight. A steel frame, impact-absorbing base, and two layers of side-impact protection check all the safety boxes, while Britax’s ClickTight system simplifies seat belt installation whether rear or forward facing. The Boulevard’s deep seat, seven recline positions, and easy-adjust harness ensures that kiddo will be comfortable from five to 65 pounds, and when you’re strapping baby in, you’ll hear a clicking noise when everything is just-right tight. Of course, Britax is known for its safety features, so you really can’t go wrong with any seat in the ClickTight line.
INSTALLATION: The ClickTight system may be foolproof, but getting a secure installation may require some heaving and ho-ing until you figure out exactly how much slack you need to leave in the seat belt. Once you master that little detail, getting this in and out of a vehicle is truly quick and easy.
CONS: Price; 40-pound rear-facing limit.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: While Britax’s anti-rebound bar isn’t required for rear-facing installation, it’s an added safety feature that will set you back an additional $40.
Best Budget Options…
Whether you’re looking for an affordable seat, worried about your rear-facing toddler’s comfort, or you just want something that’s easy to install, the Graco Extend2Fit is a great option. The seat itself is deep and comfy and allows for rear-facing up to 50 pounds, while an extension panel at the base provides five inches of extra legroom (rear-facing only). Two cup holders mean there’s a place to stash a sippy and a snack, and the harness and headrest can be adjusted without having to re-thread the straps.
INSTALLATION: Rear-facing LATCH and seat belt installation are quick and easy, while forward-facing installation is only slightly more complicated. Because the seat is fairly lightweight (at least compared to other brands), the LATCH system can be used up to 45 pounds for both forward and rear-facing installations.
CONS: While all car seats sold in the US must meet the same safety standards, if you’re the type who wishes you could keep your kid in a titanium bubble (no judgement here), this seat doesn’t have the same tank-like feel as some higher-end brands.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: This model doubles as a great travel seat, since it doesn’t weigh a ton and can be installed quickly.
This is a great, less expensive option for older babies through elementary school (100 lbs!) because of its ability to be used in different ways, including as a booster seat. So good bang for your buck here. The seat is 3-in-1 in that it can be used rear-facing (from infancy, though see more below on that), forward facing and high-back booster. This seat is designed to lengthen the time the seat is used in rear-facing position (up to 40 lbs), which is really the safest way for kids to ride. It’s got a narrow profile, an easy-to-adjust headrest, removable body pillows for a snug fit, and, at 20 lbs is actually lighter than many convertible car seats out there. Not that you’ll be carrying it around so much, but if you have to swap it in and out of a grandparent’s car or take it traveling, this is helpful. Oh and it’s made in the good ol’ USA.
INSTALLATION: Installation is generally easy but it’s sometimes tricky to tighten the straps in the infant position. The top harness buckle can be a little unwieldy as well.
CONS: While we love the 3-in-1 capability, this seat may not be ideal to use as an infant seat. It takes up more space when fully reclined and rear facing in the infant position, and, of course, it isn’t used with a base, so you can’t carry the thing around. Still, this seat is incredibly versatile and has longevity; even if you use it from older-babyhood onward in the 5-position harness, it’ll take you through many stages. Not ideal for use in a compact car, less for width than for length and comfort for the adult seated in front of it.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: 2 cup holders for snacking enthusiasts, easy-to-remove cover for washing, many color options, harness holders make it super easy to get your kid in and out (it’s the small things).
Best Option For The Safety-Obsessed Mom With Deep Pockets…
If you’re looking for a stylish seat that’s built like a tank, just shell out the big bucks for the super-sleek Clek Foonf already. With a solid metal substructure, multiple layers of energy absorbing foam, and advanced side-impact protection, this seat is about as close as you can get to keeping your kid in a protective bubble (at least in the car). The super-soft, luxurious fabric is water- and bacteria-resistant (making it easy to wipe up spills), the seat sits high enough for your kiddo to see out the window, and a wedge base and anti-rebound bar are included for rear-facing (which you can use up to 50 pounds).
INSTALLATION: Give yourself an hour to assemble an install this beast for the first time, especially if you’re using it rear-facing. Honestly, the whole thing seems super complicated and overwhelming initially, but after you do it once, you’ll be golden. Just keep the manual handy for weight limits, adjustments, and such.
CONS: In addition to the price tag, this seat has a few drawbacks. It is possible to use it from birth with the Clek’s infant insert, and harness height adjustment requires rethreading the straps. A rear-facing installation can create a driving blind spot in certain cars if positioned on the passenger side, and due to its weight (32 to 36 pounds, depending on your configuration) it’s not ideal for travel.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: Because this seat is narrower than other high-end convertible seats, you may be able to fit three seats across, and the entire thing is recyclable through Clek’s own car seat recycling program.