Nothing about buying a car seat screams “easy”—there are so many choices, it’s a big-ticket item, and your child’s safety is riding on you making the right pick. Here's a list of best-in-class car seats to help get you started.
Not a minivan mom? The tiniest spaces can accommodate the Combi Coccoro — in fact, three of these models could fit comfortably in the backseat (great for multiples — or just for moms who don’t want a bulky seat). Safety features include a five-point harness system that can be adjusted with a single pull, side impact protection, energy-absorbing foam that cradles baby in case of a crash and four height positions so it grows with baby. There’s also a removable infant insert for newborns that keeps a little baby snug and secure. $240, CombiUSA.com
Easy to Use
The Graco Snugride Click Connect 35 LX is super-popular — and it fits babies up to 35 pounds. So you can use it longer than some other infant seats, which means more time with the convenience of popping it out of the car base and into the stroller — and back again — without waking up baby. It’s compatible with all Graco Click Connect strollers. $190, GracoBaby.com
The Britax Marathon ClickTight is basically one step away from wrapping your baby in bubble wrap. It has a slew of high-tech safety components that protect baby — and now it's easier to install than ever. You flip up the seat, guide your car's belt buckle through snugly and then secure. No yanking or tugging! There’s also a 65-pound weight capacity (whoa!) and a harness that easily adjusts for growing child (without any rethreading), so it’s bound to last you a long time. $340, Amazon.com
For Teeny Babies
Perfect for newborns, the Chicco Keyfit 30 can protect babies as light as four pounds (ideal for preemies!). It comes with energy-absorbing foam and a bubble level that tells you you're installing it at the right angle. And it's compatible with several Chicco strollers. $200, Target.com
Grows With Baby
The Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 takes your child from 14 pounds all the way to 85, keeping him safe in his harness as long as possible before graduating to a booster. Its cushy padding is comfortable and protects from side impact crashes. Take the seat pad and harness covers off and throw them in the wash without uninstalling the seat (so easy!). $300 at Giggle.com
You'll probably be popping baby's seat out of the car and into her stroller quite a bit, but newborns really shouldn't be in an upright position for an extended period of time — they don't have head control yet. Enter the Cybex Cloud Q Plus. This new seat (coming in early 2015) becomes completely flat for long strolls with baby. No need to switch to a bassinet. Genius. $399, coming soon to Buybuybaby.com
If you’re looking for bells and whistles — and some idiot-proofing — go for the Summer Infant Prodigy. This model has “SmartScreen Technology,” which means a screen on the car seat’s base — and an app you can download on your phone — will guide you through the installation process and tell you when the seat is fully secured and level. (You get a smiley face!) $220, Albeebaby.com
For Big Kids
The Evenflo ProComfort Amp LX Belt Positioning Booster is made for road trips. It has reading lights, two cup-holders and Gel Matrix technology for extra comfort. It will fit your kid from 30 pounds to 110 pounds as a high-back booster. Remove the backrest once your child's over four and 40 to 110 pounds. $60, Amazon.com
Cute, comfortable and easy to use? Yes please! The UppaBaby Mesa comes in a variety of stylish colors and clicks right into UppaBaby Vista or Cruz strollers creating a luxe travel system. We love that you can release the seat from the stroller with just one hand. The seat gets a 5-star rating for ease of use from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and weighs only 9.9 pounds. $280, UppaBaby.com
For mamas looking to save a few bucks, the Cosco APT 40RF convertible car seat is one of the cheapest (and most dependable!) car seats on the market. The model supports kids from 5 pounds to 40 pounds and up to 40 inches in height, keeping them rear-facing (aka in the safest position) the whole time. It also has side-impact protection, an adjustable harness and handy cup holders. $48, Walmart.com
**All September, creating a registry on The Bump means one less child will be without a car seat. We’ve partnered with our friends at Buckle Up for Life, who will donate a car seat to a family in need for every new registry created on The Bump and teach them how to install it correctly. Learn more here.
To learn about Buckle Up for Life's car seat safety tips and programs, the national car seat safety program from Cincinnati Children’s and Toyota, please visit www.buckleupforlife.org.