Just like that, the rear-facing infant car seat you so painstakingly researched and purchased to bring your little bundle home from the hospital will soon be too small to hold your toddler. While this milestone may bring on a few tears (from you), it’s an exciting change for baby, who can now soak up all the action—and see what Mom or Dad is doing up front—in a forward-facing car seat.
You already know car seats save lives, so investing in the right one can make all the difference. But let’s face it, upgrading to a toddler car seat comes with a host of new questions: What’s the best toddler seat? What safety features should I be looking for? When can I switch to a forward-facing car seat? If all this brings back fond memories of putting together your baby registry, don’t stress. We have the answers to help you choose the best toddler car seat so both you and your littlest passenger can have a smooth ride.
Types of Toddler Car Seats
The good news: There are primarily two kinds of toddler car seats. See which one makes the most sense for your family before you begin shopping.
• Convertible car seats. This may be the most popular option when transitioning from an infant seat. In fact, some parents forgo the infant seat altogether and opt for a convertible seat with an infant insert. One of the best features of this type of toddler car seat: it allows your little one to remain rear-facing for longer (which is the safest way to travel under the age of two, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics). Once baby reaches the rear-facing height and weight limit, the seat converts to forward-facing; some models also transition to booster seats. The one drawback many parents note, though, convertibles tend to be on the heavy side, so you’ll want to consider how often you’ll be taking this in and out of the car. Check out our best picks for convertibles here.
• Forward-facing car seats. Once your child is age 2 or reaches the rear-facing height and weight limit (around 40 pounds), experts say a front-facing car seat is a great option. The thing parents love most? How easy it is to interact with your little one and keep an eye on her from the rearview mirror.
Toddler Car Seat Safety Tips
Whichever best toddler car seat you choose, you’ll want to make sure you’re using it correctly every ride.
Rear-facing toddler car seats
- Position the harness straps at or below your child’s shoulders.
- Position the chest clip at the same level as the armpit.
- Make sure the seat is installed properly and securely, either with a LATCH system or a seatbelt.
Front-facing toddler car seats
- Your child should at least be 2 years old.
- Position the harness straps at or above your child’s shoulders.
- Position the chest clip at armpit level.
- If you’re able to, always use the top tether. This strap is attached to the top part of the car seat and connects to an anchor point in your car (check your vehicle manual for the tether anchor location).
Best Toddler Car Seats
Here, 11 top toddler car seats that meet the needs of every family and budget.
Best Front-Facing Car Seat
Britax Frontier ClickTight
This best toddler car seat has a long list of impressive features that even get gear snobs excited: an EZ buckle system that holds the belly pad out the way when loading and unloading your little one, nine harness height adjustments, two buckle positions and a removable cover for cleaning. Most impressive is the ClickTight installation system, which opens the front panel of the car seat, buckles the seat belt across and clicks shut, all with the push of a button.
In front-facing car seat mode: from 25 to 90 pounds; 30 to 58 inches tall with a five-point harness
In booster seat mode: from 40 to 120 pounds; 45 to 62 inches tall
Buy It: Britax Frontier ClickTight, $255, Walmart.com
Best Toddler Convertible Car Seat
Graco 4ever All-in-One
The name says it all. This best car set for toddlers can be used from birth until your kid is 120 pounds! Parents also boast about the steel frame, energy-absorbing padding, a great harness system and two cup holders for extra long trips. It is literally the only car seat you’ll need.
In rear-facing car seat mode: from 4 to 40 pounds; as a rear-facing car seat as long as baby’s head lays one inch below the handle
In front-facing car seat mode: from 20 to 65 pounds; 27 to 49 inches tall
In booster seat mode: from 40 to 120 pounds; 38 to 57 inches as a highback booster. (It even has the option to convert to a backless booster, as long as your child reaches a minimum height of 40 inches.)
Buy It: Graco 4ever All-in-one, $300, Target.com
Best Reclining Toddler Car Seat
Chicco NextFit Zip
You may not think you need so many options to get a toddler car seat just so, but once you try NextFit’s Recline Sure 9-position leveling system your child will thank you. Another helpful tool: the Two Ride Right bubble levels that indicate the correct seat angle in both the rear- and forward-facing modes. Its steel frame is considered one of the safest on the market, and it’s durable enough to be passed down to multiple siblings. Parents especially love the Zip & Wash seat pad that can pop off and be thrown in the washing machine.
In rear-facing car seat mode: from 5 to 40 pounds
In front-facing car seat mode: from 22 to 65 pounds; up to 49 inches tall
Buy It: Chicco NextFit Zip, $350, BuyBuyBaby.com
Best Portable Toddler Car Seat
At a mere 11.5 pounds and 17 inches wide, the ComfortSport is a slim and narrow toddler car seat ideal for traveling families. That said, it still has all the safety features you expect from a best toddler car seat, including Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) impact-absorbing foam and a removable head rest.
In rear-facing car seat mode: from 5 to 30 pounds; as a rear-facing car seat as long as baby’s head is at least one inch below the handle
In front-facing car seat mode: from 20 to 40 pounds and up to 40 inches tall
Buy It: Graco ComfortSport, $90, Gracobaby.com
Best Small Toddler Car Seat
Parents of triplets will rejoice. The slim design of this best toddler car seat allows for three to fit side-by-side in most vehicles. It’s also lightweight and easy to transfer from one car to another. Though compact, it’s mighty: the deep side walls are layered with EPS foam for superior crash protection.
In rear-facing car seat mode: from 3 to 33 pounds; from 19 inches tall
In front-facing car seat mode: from 20 to 40 pounds, up to 40 inches tall
Buy It: Combi Cocccoro, $240, Target.com
Most Affordable Booster Seat
Cosco Scenera NEXT
The price is the only thing cheap about this best toddler car seat option. It has all the safety bells and whistles parents need and expect: side impact protection, a five-point harness with easy front adjustment, five harness heights and three buckle locations that allow for the best fit as your child grows.
In rear-facing car seat mode: from 5 to 40 pounds; 19 to 40 inches tall
In front-facing car seat mode: 22 to 40 pounds; 29 to 43 inches
Buy It: Cosco Scenera NEXT, $39, Walmart.com
Best Lightweight Toddler Car Seat
Evenflo Tribute LX
It’s just 9.1 pounds but that doesn’t mean the Tribute LX is light on safety. This toddler car seat made with EPS foam, which provides the same superior impact protection often featured in pricier models.
In rear-facing car seat mode: from 5 to 30 pounds; 19 to 37 inches tall
In front-facing car seat mode: from 22 to 40 pounds; 28 to 40 inches tall
Buy It: Evenflo Tribute LX, $60, Amazon.com
Most Comfortable Toddler Car Seat
Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 Max
Imagine a toddler car seat built like a luxury car and you have the Pria 85. Wrapped in incredibly plush padding, the fabric is self-wicking ensuring baby doesn’t overheat back there (and you don’t break a sweat while driving). Parents also appreciate the magnetic ClipQuik feature, which practically fastens itself and releases just as easily, but is impossible for little ones to undo. Another plus is the one-hand harness height adjustment, which makes micro-adjustments to fit your child.
In rear-facing car seat mode: from 5 to 40 pounds; up to 40 inches tall
In front-facing car seat mode: from 22 up to 85 pounds; up to 50 inches tall
Buy It: Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 Max, $350, BuyBuyBaby.com
Most Versatile Toddler Car Seat
Diono Radian RXT All-In-One Convertible Car Seat
If you have a compact car or need to eek out every inch of space in your vehicle, the Diono Radian is up for the challenge. At 17 inches wide, it’s incredibly slender, but can easily seat a toddler until he reaches elementary school age.
In rear-facing car seat mode: from 5 to 45 pounds; up to 44 inches tall
In front-facing car seat mode: from 20 to 80 pounds; up to 57 inches tall
In booster seat mode: from 50 to 120 pounds; also up to 57 inches tall
Buy It: Diono Radian RXT, $300, Amazon.com
Most Stylish Toddler Car Seat
Nuna Rava Convertible Car Seat
Beautifully crafted and swathed in gorgeous CosiCushion premium fabric, this best toddler car seat is the Mercedes Benz of car seats. Parents also rave about the rear-facing recline, a five-point quick-adjust harness and the Clip Quick magnetic chest clips that open easily with one hand, which is every parent’s prayer answered if you’ve ever struggled getting your kid in and out of the car.
In rear-facing car seat mode: from 5 to 40 pounds; up to 40 inches tall
In front-facing car seat mode: from 22 up to 65 pounds; up to 49 inches tall
Buy It: Nuna Rava, $450, Nuna.com
Most Eco-Friendly Toddler Car Seat
It’s definitely a splurge among our best toddler car seat picks, but Clek’s commitment to using all recyclable materials is a worthy mission and worthwhile cause some parents want to get behind. The foam layers on both the inside and outside of the steel frame also make it one of the safest toddler seats you can buy.
In rear-facing car seat mode: 14 to 50 pounds; 25 to 43 inches tall
In front-facing car seat mode: from 22 to 65 pounds; 30 to 49 inches tall
Buy It: Clek Foonf, $450, Clekinc.com
Published September 2017