The best convertible car seats adjust and grow with your child, taking them from rear-facing infants to forward-facing preschoolers. Some of these car seats later convert into high-back booster seats for older children, too. These versatile car seats actually simplify the purchasing process by eliminating the need to buy another seat each time your little one gains a few inches or pounds. Our top pick, the Graco Extend2Fit 3-in-1 Car Seat, safely seats babies from 4 pounds up to big kids of 100 pounds.
In short, infant car seats are only suitable for infants, but convertible car seats are likely to have a longer life with your family. There’s a lot to consider when choosing one. “The ‘best’ car seat depends on your child, your vehicle, your budget and the features important to you,” says Michelle Pratt, a certified child passenger safety technician, car seat expert and founder of Safe in the Seat. “Most kids will spend more time in their convertible car seat than in any other car seat stage, so it’s important to choose the right one.”
With Pratt’s help, through interviews with parents and using our own research, we’ve compiled a list of the best convertible car seats to shop right now. You’ll also find a buying guide at the end of this article to help you choose a personal favorite.
Best Convertible Car Seat Overall
A Versatile Pick That Works From Birth Through 100 Pounds
Best Convertible Car Seat For Small Cars
A Comfortable Seat For Compact Spaces
Best Convertible Car Seat For Road Trippers
A Durable Yet Narrow Seat Made For Comfort
Best Convertible Car Seat For Tall Babies
An Easy-To-Install Seat With A Harness That Truly Expands
Best Convertible Car Seat For Air Travel
An Affordable Lightweight Travel Car Seat
Best Convertible Car Seat To Booster Seat
This Sturdy Convertible Is Better Designed To Convert To A Booster
Best Convertible Car Seat Innovation
This Convertible Car Seat Rotates To Make Lifting Baby Out Easier
Best Convertible Car Seat For Fussy Riders
Plush Padding All Around Soothes The Pickiest Of Tots
What Is A Convertible Car Seat?
In short, it’s a car seat that can be used both rear- and forward-facing. Usually, these seats are used for years: at first rear-facing and then, when the child is ready, usually as a toddler or preschooler, forward-facing. Convertible car seats save parents money and time (spent researching and installing a new seat when a child needs a forward-facing unit).
When Do I Switch From An Infant Car Seat To A Convertible Car Seat?
Sometimes, convertible car seats can be used for infants, too; sometimes, you start using them after a baby outgrows an infant car seat by the height limit, weight limit, or the head clearance limit. Outgrowing an infant car seat means that a baby no longer has enough car seat shell over their head to keep them protected, says Pratt. When this happens, it’s time to move up to a convertible car seat. “Most babies outgrow the height or head clearance limits long before they reach the weight limit,” she says.
How To Purchase The Best Convertible Car Seat
A convertible seat is used rear-facing with a young baby and forward-facing as they grow taller and heavier. Some convertible car seats can convert again into high-back or backless booster seats by removing the five-point harness when older kids are ready for the seatbelt. Some convertible car seats can truly be the only car seat you ever buy for a child, taking them from infancy through age 10 or 100 pounds.
However, not everyone wants to use a convertible car seat right away. They tend to be heavier than the stroller-compatible infant car seats. And sometimes they are too bulky or too babyish to actually be used as high-back booster for your suddenly 70-pound 9-year-old child.
To answer parents’ car seat questions and steer them toward the best picks for them, Pratt developed her viral Car Seat Buying Kits, which help parents determine which car seats will meet their family’s needs. These are some of the top categories to consider when selecting a new convertible car seat.
- Price: Convertible car seats range in cost from fairly expensive units to affordable products.
- How long you plan to keep your toddler rear-facing? Pratt personally promotes the American Academy of Pediatrics car seat recommendation to keep toddlers rear-facing until they reach the limit of their seat, encouraging parents to aim for age 4. Other families might aim for age 2, depending on your child and local regulations.
- Weight/height limits: Consider how long you’ll keep the rear-facing, but also what this seat looks like and who it accommodates while forward-facing. It may be a great rear-facing seat, but not work well for a preschooler chafing against a harness. Or perhaps you’re ready to select a final seat that will convert really well to a high-back booster seat.
- Vehicle-specific challenges. Do you have a small car? Or a hard-to-reach third row? Is it already a high step to get into the car?
- Width of seat: Do you have other kids, or are you planning on more? Will other passengers ride in the back with some frequency? If so, you’ll want to select one of the more narrow seats.
- Personal priorities, such as car seat weight, flame-retardant use, portability, install challenges and the size of your kids.
- Weight of seat: The weight of the size can be a factor if you plan to travel with it or swap between cars with some frequency.