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The Best Toddler Car Seats That Are Reliably Safe

Ready to upgrade your toddler's car seat? Here are the best options to suit your needs.
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By Lynsey Eidell, Contributing Writer
Updated August 1, 2023
mother and father putting smiling toddler into car seat
Image: Serena Burroughs
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Taking toddlers on the go—whether it be a quick errand or a miles-long journey—requires preparation. While the majority of that prep work will be making sure you’ve packed adequate snacks (there can never be enough snacks!), what really matters most is ensuring you’ve got the right gear on hand to keep you and your little one safe. That starts with finding the best toddler car seat that’ll grow with your child and keep them secure.

But just like most baby gear, choosing the right toddler car seat can seem overwhelming at first. Throw in the opinions of internet reviewers, fellow mommy friends and your growing little one, and the task can seem even more daunting. To take the stress out of the selection, we’ve broken down all the facts about toddler car seats—and picked our favorites across multiple categories and budgets.

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 car 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. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) this is the safest way to travel for children under the age of two. Once baby reaches the rear-facing height and weight limit, the seat converts to forward-facing; some models also transition to booster seats. The main drawback many parents note: Convertibles tend to be on the heavy side, so you’ll want to consider how often you’ll be moving this in and out of your car.

Forward-facing car seats

When can a toddler face forward in a car seat? Once your child hits the 2 year mark 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 them from the rearview mirror.

Toddler Car Seat Safety Tips

The best car seat for a toddler is one that’s safe and installed correctly. To that end, whichever toddler car seat you choose, you’ll want to make sure you’re using it correctly for every ride. Here are some tips to keep top of mind.

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

Now that you’ve got the lowdown on safety and installation tips, here’s a selection of the best toddler car seats that meet the needs of every family and budget.

Overall best toddler car seat

Britax One4Life ClickTight All-in-One Car Seat
Image: Amazon

The name says it all: This is the one car seat you’ll need to buy for life. With a weight range from 5 to 120 pounds, the Britax One4Life can be used for up to 10 years—ensuring your little one is riding safely and comfortably from the wiggly toddler years and beyond. The 15-position headrest and harness can be adjusted with one hand (perfect for those overnight growth spurts), and the harness easily stows away into the built-in storage compartment when your toddler is ready for a belt-positioning booster (around 65 pounds). The extensive safety feature list includes two layers of side impact protection, safe cell technology (to absorb crash energy), a V-shaped tether and a high strength steel frame. Better yet, the ClickTight system takes all of the guesswork out of installing the seat correctly: Simply open up the seat bottom, thread and buckle the seat belt and click it closed for a perfect ride every time.

Dimensions: 20.5" (L) x 19.5" (W) x 25" (H) | Weight: 30 lbs. | Capacity: 120 lbs. | Max height: 63"

What We Love
  • ClickTight installation system
  • Two layers of side impact protection
  • Nine recline positions
Things To Consider
  • Seat is heavy and rather bulky

Best reclining toddler car seat

Nuna RAVA Flame Retardant Free Convertible Car Seat
Image: Neiman Marcus

Toddlers often revolt against being restrained, but a comfortable car seat can help with the struggle. Plush padding and a 10-position reclining seat make the Nuna Rava a winner from both parent and toddler’s perspectives. Plus, the seat reclines with just the push of a button, making adjusting the position both easy and intuitive. It also offers plenty of leg room in rear-facing mode, and extra calf support when forward facing, helping toddlers get comfortable in either setting. Of course, the Rava doesn’t skimp on safety either: EPS foam layers, side impact protection pods and an all steel frame make this seat top of its class in safety.

Dimensions: 16" (L) x 19" (W) x 31" (H) | Weight: 27.8 lbs. | Capacity: 50 lbs. rear-facing and 65 lbs. front facing | Max height: 49"

What We Love
  • Extra 2 inches of legroom in rear-facing mode
  • No rethread harness
  • Dual cup holders and harness holders
Things To Consider
  • High price point
  • It’s on the heavier side at just over 27 pounds

Best rear-facing toddler car seat

Any car seat expert will tell you that kids should remain rear-facing for as long as possible—and the Graco Extend2Fit makes that possible with a rear-facing weight limit of up to 50 pounds. (Most toddler car seats cap out at 40 pounds.) Plus, a four-position extension panel provides up to 5 inches of extra leg room when rear-facing, perfect for those long-legged toddlers who might otherwise be cramped. The headrest and harness can be adjusted to 10 different positions with just one hand motion, no rethread required. And it’s easy to install thanks to the InRight LATCH system that locks the seat in place with an audible click, so you know that it’s attached correctly. Once your little one’s ready to transition this car seat converts to a high back booster seat.

Dimensions: 20.75" (L) x 19" (W) x 24.5" (H) | Weight: 21.01 lbs. | Capacity: 50 lbs. rear-facing, 65 lbs. front facing, 100 lbs. booster seat mode | Max height: 49" to 57"

What We Love
  • Adjustable headrest and harness
  • InRight LATCH system
  • Converts to a high back booster seat
Things To Consider
  • Some parents say that the harness is difficult to tighten, particularly in the lower headrest positions
  • It’s difficult to remove and reattach the car seat cover

Best travel toddler car seat

Cosco Scenera NEXT Harness Convertible Car Seat
Image: Walmart
Buying Options
Walmart|$59.98

When it comes to traveling, there is one toddler car seat that reigns supreme: The Cosco Scenera NEXT. It’s lightweight, affordable, compact and certified for use on an airplane, making it ideal for travel both near and far. It may be inexpensive but this toddler car seat has all the safety bells and whistles parents need, including 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.

Dimensions: 30" (L) x 18.13" (W) x 31.75" (H) | Weight: 7 lbs. | Capacity: 40 lbs. | Max height: 43"

What We Love
  • Lightweight
  • Affordable price point
  • FAA approved for air travel
Things To Consider
  • Lower weight limit than other options
  • It doesn't come with a locking clip, which is required for car installation in many cars outside of the US and Canada

Best front-facing toddler car seat

There’s lots to love about this toddler car seat. Parents will appreciate the extra safety features, like safe cell technology and three layers of side impact protection (most car seats only come with two). Meanwhile toddlers will go bananas for the four cup and snack holders (perfect for holding all of their treats and toys). And even the fussiest tot will be comfortable thanks to plush padding and stay-put pads that prevent the harness straps from rubbing against their necks. It has a ClickTight system for easy installation and the high performance fabric is easy to keep clean. Better yet, this seat easily transitions to a belt-positioning booster as your child grows.

Dimensions: 21" (L) x 19" (W) x 25" (H) | Weight: 27 lbs. | Capacity: 120 lbs. front facing | Max height: 49"

What We Love
  • Three layers of side impact protection
  • Transitions to a booster seat
  • Machine-washable cover
Things To Consider
  • Forward facing only
  • It’s wider than other options

Best luxury toddler car seat

Cybex Sirona S 360 Rotating Convertible Car Seat with SensorSafe
Image: Target

With toddlerhood often comes a fierce aversion to the car seat, making clipping in and out a struggle (to say the least). Fortunately the Cybex Sirona S—a 360-degree rotating toddler car seat with load leg technology—is here to help. Now instead of twisting your body to wrestle your toddler into their seat, you simply twist the car seat to face you. Genius. Aside from the innovative swivel function, there are 12 adjustable recline positions, just as many height positions, a no-rethread harness, a cup holder and magnetic buckle holders to keep the straps out of your way as you secure your child. With the Sirona you get ultimate convenience without sacrificing safety, thanks to the load leg, anti-rebound panel, linear side-impact protection and SensorSafe chest clip, which alerts you to a number of unsafe situations (like if you happen to forget baby in the back of the car!). With so many standout features it’s no surprise this seat was a Best of Baby winner three years running.

Dimensions:‎ 25.3" (L) x 20" (W) x 25.5" (H) | Weight: 24.7 lbs. | Capacity: 50 lbs. rear-facing and 65 lbs. front facing | Max height: 49"

What We Love
  • One-hand 360 degree rotatable seat
  • SensorSafe chest clip
  • Angle indicators and EasyLock bar make installation quick and easy
Things To Consider
  • High price point

Best easy-to-install toddler car seat

Britax Boulevard Clicktight Convertible Car Seat, Black Contour SafeWash
Image: Amazon

In the classroom of convertible car seats, the Britax Boulevard Clicktight ARB is easily the valedictorian. It’s the top-rated car seat by Consumer Reports when it comes to safety and ease of use—and a big reason for this is the foolproof installation. Installing the Britax Boulevard securely is as easy as buckling a seatbelt (truly), thanks to the ClickTight system. Simply lift the seat, thread the seatbelt and click it shut. And this isn’t the only area this seat gets top marks: Features like an anti-rebound bar, V-shaped tether, high-strength steel frame and SafeCell technology make this one of the safest toddler car seats on the market.

Dimensions: 24" (L) x 18.5" (W) x 23.5" (H) | Weight: 29.5 lbs. | Capacity: 65 lbs. | Max height: 49"

What We Love
  • ClickTight installation system
  • SafeCell technology
  • Multi-position headrest and seven different reclines
Things To Consider
  • When fully reclined in rear-facing mode, this toddler car seat takes up a lot of space

Best convertible toddler booster seat

The triple threat of toddler car seats, the Graco Tranzitions 3-in-1 converts from a harness booster to a high-back booster to a backless booster—one of the few in the market to feature all three. Weighing in at less than 15 pounds, this booster is easy to switch from car to car. Two cup holders are nestled into the seat base, rather than sticking out of the sides, which is a major space-saver. Plus, its narrow footprint makes this toddler booster seat less bulky than many of its peers—but without sacrificing comfort, thanks to plush seat pads and body support.

Dimensions: 17.4" (L) 19" (W) x 26.5" (H) | Weight: 20 lbs. | Capacity: 65 lbs. forward-facing and 100 lbs. in booster seat mode | Max height: 57"

What We Love
  • Affordable price point
  • Machine-washable cover
  • Can be used as a toddler car seat, high-backed booster and backless booster
Things To Consider
  • Weight limit is about 20 pounds lower than some other options

Best compact toddler car seat

Clek 2022 Foonf Convertible Car Seat with Anti-Rebound Bar
Image: Strolleria

Toddler car seats are not known for being especially lean, which can become problematic in smaller cars or even mid-sized cars that need to accommodate multiple children. Enter the Clek Foonf. At less than 17 inches wide, this model has such a small footprint you can fit three car seats across the backseat. It’s also packed with gold standard safety features including a steel and magnesium structure, an anti-rebound bar for added stability and an energy-absorbing shock system. Not to mention the sleek design and multiple fabric options that make this toddler car seat one of the most stylish to boot.

Dimensions: 17.5" (L) x 17" (W) x 32.5"(H) | Weight: 38 lbs. rear-facing and 33 lbs. forward-facing | Capacity:50 lbs. rear-facing and 65 lbs. forward-facing | Max height: 49"

What We Love
  • Narrow footprint
  • Approved for air travel
  • Rigid-LATCH system allows for easy installation
Things To Consider
  • High price point

One to watch

Babyark The Convertible Car Seat
Image: Babyark
Buying Options
Babyark|$1,190

Developed by an aeronautical engineer and parent, babyark is at the cutting edge of car seat safety and uses energy-absorption technology pioneered by the military. The egg-shaped carbon fiber frame creates a robust protective shield around baby that is seven times stronger than steel. And the snug interior is reinforced with a shock absorbing layer that acts as a buffer against any potential impacts. Meanwhile, the SafeCoil base actually extends upon impact and absorbs the brunt of the force. It has a rigid LATCH system, designed to be used in collaboration with the babyark app which provides step-by-step instructions to ensure the seat is safely installed. Once everything is safely secured, a LED light on the seat turns green to give you the go-ahead.

Dimensions: 27" (L) x 17.3" (W) x 25.5" (H) | Weight: 45 lbs. (base is 20 lbs. and seat is 25 lbs.) | Capacity: 55 lbs. rear-facing and 65 lbs. forward-facing | Max height: 124"

What We Love
  • World-class safety features
  • Military-grade materials
  • Babyark app will issue an alert if baby is left in the car alone
Things To Consider
  • Very high price point
  • Not available until summer 2023

How We Chose the Best Toddler Car Seats

We get it—parenting requires a lot of gear, and it can be hard to find the best fit for your family. To streamline your decision-making process, our goal is to do the bulk of the research for you, so you don’t have to spend hours scrolling through online retailers. We do this by considering a list of criteria when sourcing toddler car seats, including ease of use, quality and durability, value, technical specifications and, last but definitely not least, safety. This way you can count on getting the best bang for your buck, while also having a dependable car seat that’ll grow with your child.

To decide which toddler car seats are the best options on the market, we leverage our familiarity with leading baby brands to make sure items are from reliable manufacturers. We read user reviews to get the low-down on how these products work for families, and typically don’t consider anything with less than an average four-star rating. And since many of us are also parents, we rely on our writers’ and editors’ experience using these products with their own families.

To make sure we’re highlighting products that are safe and effective, we follow the safety recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and look for certifications and seals of approval from key organizations.

Interested in learning more about our editorial process? Read about how our team develops and reviews all articles here.

Sources

American Academy of Pediatrics, Car Seats: Information for Families, May 2023

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