Infant and toddler car seats have one primary task: to transport your baby in a car safely. To do that effectively, you’d need to choose the best toddler car seat money can buy. Ideally, when looking for the best, your budget shouldn’t be an issue.
In real life though that is a major consideration in addition to making sure the toddler car seat has all the impotent features and meets all safety regulations.
The good news is, the prices of this important car gear are as varied as there are infant car seats. The range of car seats and the technical specifications to go through to get a perfect fitis extremely daunting.
This review cuts through all that. We have done the hard work for you and have reviewed 11 best toddler car seats for you to pick from.
The different types of Toddler car seats
When you decide to buy a car seat for your infant baby, it is given that you would come across hundreds of them. It is a good thing because the options available make it possible to choose the very best.
However, not all car seats are the same relative to functionality. Basically, all car seats for infants and toddlers are classified into three major groups or types. A fourth type is typically for older kids who have outgrown the smaller ones designed for newborns and infants.
The following are the 4 types of car seats for infants and toddlers:
Baby or Infant-only car seats – These are car seats designed for newborns up to around the age of two or three when they would need bigger seats car seats. At the infant stage, some of these car seats also have the dual function of being a baby carrier.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulations insist that these types of cat seats be installed in the rear-facing position only.
The car seats can be installed or strapped directly into the car using the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Child (LATCH) system or the car’s shoulder belts respectively. Users could also purchase different bases that are attached to the seat of the car before the toddler’s car seat is attached to the base. One can purchase multiple bases for families with several kids or cars.
How long you use the infant car seat depends on the age of the kid or how fast the kid grows. Generally, it can be used until your kid is about 3 years old before upgrading to a bigger seat.
Convertible Car seats – These seats can be used until your kid is too big for rear-facing car seats. These make them a long-term investment and you should be looking at the quality of the materials used in making them so they can last for so long.
Convertible toddler car seats made with low-quality materials defeat the concept of the seats. Fortunately, all the convertible car seats in this review are guaranteed to grow with your baby until they don’t need them anymore.
Convertibility means you’d be able to use them in the rear-facing or front – facing mode. When your kid is about 3 or depending on their size, you can convert the rear-facing infant car seat to a front-facing toddler car seat.
There are a couple of downsides associated with convertible car seats. In the first place, they tend to be rather big so they are not very portable. Related to this is the fact that the size precludes the use of bases and cannot be transferred from one car to another easily.
And you can’t use them as infant baby carriers.
Booster car seats – in an ideal world, booster seats would only be needed for kids around the age of 4 and up. These are for kids who have out-grown their front-facing car seats.
In reality, though, some kids grow bigger than their peers and at the age of two or thereabouts, are clearly too big for infant car seats.
The shoulder and lap belts of the car are used to secure the child in the booster seat. It is okay if the booster seat is backless as long as the seat of the car provides excellent head support for your kid.
All-in-one toddler car seats – Also known as 3-in-1 car seats for infants and toddlers, they combine the features of the different stages of car seat design.
In addition to being suitable for newborns, toddlers and up to the stage of being able to use it as a front-facing car seat for toddlers, it also has a booster to upgrade the seat for older and bigger kids. Basically, your kid would use a 3-in-1 car seat until they are old enough to stop using them.
Like the convertible cat seats above, they are a long-term investment and you should aim to buy only the very best as you could potentially be using them for over a decade.
Top 11 Best Toddlers Car Seats: Review
1. Disney Baby Mouseketeer Minnie Mouse APT 40 Convertible Car Seat
Your little girl would love this Disney-themed Minnie Mouse car seat. The converted car seat is suitable for infants up to 5 lbs and toddlers up to 40 lbs in rear-facing mode. Toddlers between 22 and 40 lbs can ride in the seat in front-facing mode.
You and even your toddler girl can easily adjust the car with the 5-point harness system that is fitted with a front adjusting mechanism. The seat is also designed to take up as little space as possible in the rear-facing position so other occupants can have enough leg room.
It features a built-in Side Impact Protection for the safety of your kid; two integrated cup holders to keep drinks and snacks; and a bow-shaped head pillow making it a really fun seat to get for your kid.
The integrated LATCH system makes this an easy-to-install the APT while the materials used in making it are of the highest quality for the comfort and security of your baby girl.
2. Safety 1st Guide 65 Seaport Convertible Car Seat
Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible cat seat is ideal for traveling and small cars. It is the type of car seat for infants and toddlers you install in cars to maximize space.
In rear-facing mode, it is suitable for infants and kids from 5 to 40 lbs. In the front facing mode, the recommended weight for kids is between 22 and 65 lbs.
The well-padded seat has a Side Impact Protection built into it for the protection of your kid. It also features a removable body pillow; a removable cup holder to keep drinks close by; and a 5-point harness system that can be adjusted from the front of the seat.
The LATCH-integrated car seat meets all the ASTM and JPMA safety standards and comes with a one year warranty. The dimensions of the car seat allow you to install three of them side by side in the back seat of regular cars. This makes it perfect for families with a couple or more infants and toddlers.
3. Diono Radian 3RXT All-in-one Convertible Car Seat
This car seat from Diono is very sleek-looking and definitely modern. It is the car seat you want to have for your kid trips including air travel.
Featuring a powerful, integrated steel frame, it protects infants from 5 – 45 lbs in the rear-facing mode and kids up to 65 lbs in the front facing mode. With its 5-point harness, it easily converts to a booster so that kids between 50 and 120 lbs can use it conveniently.
For kids’ safety, there is the Side Impact Protection feature. Other safety features include an adjustable 12-position headrest, energy-absorbing EPS foam, aluminum side-impact walls, and memory foam seat.
4. Cybex Sirona M SensorSafe 2.0 Car Seat
The Sirona M SensorSafe car seat takes your kid’s safety to a whole new level with the smartphone SensorSafe 2.0 app that gives real-time info through vehicle’s receiver on conditions that could imperil your child’s safety while harnessed in the car seat.
The car seat is suitable for infants between 5 and 40 lbs in rear-facing mode and for kids between 22 and 65 lbs in front facing mode.
It comes with all the features you would expect from the best car seats for infants and toddlers. These include comfortable padding, 5-point safety harness, A LATCH system for easy installation, a 12-position headrest that grows with the child, etc.
The SensorSafe 2.0 app in the easy-to-install car seat is the game-changer. When it is installed on your smartphone and the sensors connected to the car seat, it sends notifications for occasions when a child is accidentally left in the car, the child unbuckles themselves while the car is in motion, if the back seat becomes too hot or too cold, and if the child has been in the car for too long.
This is a full-featured car gear that would be worth every penny invested to purchase one.
5. Maxi-Cosi Magellan All-in-one Convertible Car Seat
If you want a convertible car seat for infants and kids that would be part of your family for up to 10 years, you wouldn’t go wrong with the Magellan All-in-one Convertible cat seat by Maxi-Cosi.
The dual installation mode is relatively easy with the integrated belt lock-offs and one-click LATCH connectors for safe and secure installation.
The car seat for toddlers and infants features a hide-away harness that enables the seat to transform easily to booster car seat mode. It also comes with adjustable torso Side Impact Protection; 14-position headrest for kids of all ages; belt-positioning booster; and easy-to-adjust one-handed recline with seven positions to choose from.
The extra-comfortable car seat is made from high-quality fabric that is padded to provide the most comfort for kids. The fabric is also easy to clean and maintain as it is compatible with washing machines.
6. Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat
The Chico KeyFit 30 cat seat is carefully-designed gear specifically made to accommodate infants between 4 and 30 lbs. New parents would love this car seat for its ease of installation and use.
It comes with an installation guide that even novices would find easy to understand. Parents have the option of latching the infant to the car either via the special LATCH connectors or a seat belt.
You can change the seat angle easily by adjusting the base. And you don’t have to wonder if you got it right as the integrated bubble level would let you know.
Other important features include a smooth underside to protect the seat of the car; a removable canopy to provide shade; removable head and body support; and a 5-point harness with one-pull tightener.
The plush-padded cover can be cleaned with a washing machine after the baby’s inevitable blowout. At 9.6 lbs, the car seat is definitely not the lightest around but that is offset by the modest cost and awesome features.
7. UPPAbaby Mesa Infant Car Seat
The UPPAbaby Mesa Infant car seat comes highly recommended especially for new parents because of its no-rethread harness feature that makes it an easy-to-install gear even as the baby is growing up.
The Smart Secure System and the LATCH connectors combine effectively with a visual indicator that turns to green from red totally eliminating guesswork ensuring that installation is accurate and secure.
It comes with an adjustable headrest with Side Impact Protection for your child’s safety; a carry handle with stroller-release button; and an SPF hideaway canopy.
Highly recommended for newborns, there is a crotch strap that comes with settings that allow you to snugly and securely fit infants as small as 4 lbs. The seat also features a built-in wedge that creates a flatter and more secured riding position for newborns and preemies.
The well-made seat cover is made from breathable fabric that can be removed easily for cleaning and washing.
8. Britax Boulevard ClickTight Circa Convertible Car Seat
As the name implies, the Britax ClickTight car seat is convertible and can support babies between 5 and 40 lbs in the rear-facing mode and between 20 and 65 lbs in front facing mode.
It comes with a LATCH and car shoulder belt installation options. Installing it with the seat belt is just a matter of pivoting up the bottom of the seat and passing the seat belt through the rest of the seat. There are several helpful indicators and diagrams on the LATCH side of the seat to help with the LATCH installation and achieve the optimal recline positing for your kid.
The seat features an energy-absorbing shell and foamed-lined headrest; a ‘Click and Safe Snug’ harness indicator that makes a clicking sound letting you know when your child is snug; and 14-position harness for height adjustment as your baby grows.
Though it comes without a booster mode and the LATCH connectors are rather dated, its other features make it an awesome car seat for toddlers and infants
9. Scenera NEXT Safe Cosco Convertible Car Seat
The Scenera Cosco Convertible car seat is a compact and lightweight seat gear suitable for all types of vehicles including airplanes with the lightweight being an advantage if you need to carry it onto a plane.
It keeps infants and toddlers safe with the integrated Side Impact Protection in the headrest and the 5-point harness system that you can adjust easily from the front of the seat. The harness is also adjustable to 5 different height positions to accommodate your growing child comfortably.
Because of its size, you can fit three across the back seat. In the rear facing mode, it is suitable for kids between 5 and 40 lbs while it is recommended for kids between 20 and 40 lbs or up to 2 years old in the front facing mode.
The car seat which features a dishwasher-safe cup-holder is designed with colorful fabrics that are easy to clean in a washing machine. It is also dryer-safe.
10. Graco SnugRide 35 Gotham Infant Car Seat
The first thing you would notice about the Graco SnugRide 35 Gotham car seat is the relatively lightweight of the seat. This could be a good thing as it would be easy to carry to and from your car.
The rear-facing car seat is suitable for babies between 4 and 35 lbs. It is easy to install either with the car seat belt or LATCH. With the unique SnugLock technology, installation is done in just three steps by simply pushing the car seat into place.
The infant car seat also features an adjustable base with a 4-position recline and level indicator to eliminate guesswork during installation.
It comes with a removable body and head support, a convenient compartment for storing the LATCH connectors and manual when they are not in use, Click Connect technology to attach to strikers easily, and adjustable canopy to provide shade for your infant child.
The comfortable seat is well padded to keep the baby safe. They are also machine-washable making cleaning and maintenance free of stress.
11. Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible, Atmosphere
Peg Perego’s Primo Viaggio Convertible car seat ticks all the boxes of a premium car seat. The design of the car seat is almost the perfect combo of fashion and out most safety; you might balk at how much it would cost you to get one though.
Made to grow with your child from infancy to their toddler years, the seat can accommodate infants between 5 and 45 lbs in a rear-facing mode and 22 – 65 lbs in the front facing mode.
The seat comes with an adjustable Side Impact Protection and a Shock Absorbing Foam Element device below the shell of the seat. Both ensure the maximum level of safety for your child in the event of a crash.
Other features of this premium seat include EPS throughout the seat to protect your kid’s head and torso, a contoured base to provide extra stability, and steel back plate to reduce flexing and forward movement.
Installation is quite straightforward using the LATCH system or the seat belts.
Best Toddler Car Seat: Buying Guide
Having a car seat is so important that states have invested time and resources to make clear and concise laws guiding the purchase and use of toddler car seats. Though the laws vary from state to state, they all agree that the safety of the child is paramount.
Many parents don’t know these laws exist. And for those that know, reading some bulky government law is not an option. The shopping guide below is a summary of these laws and the important things you need to consider when you go out to purchase a car seat for your kid or kids.
March your child’s physical stats to the car seat
There is nothing like a one-size-fits-all car seat for infants. The dimensions and requirements of car seats for infants are different from car seats for toddlers.
In terms of the physical stats of the child, the most important variable is the height of the baby. Though most car seats come with specifications on the recommended weight range for the seats, the height is mostly used to determine the sort of type of car seat you should get.
The main choices are between rear-facing and front-facing car seats. For newborns or infants, experts recommend the rear-facing seat. If the kid’s height is within an inch of the top of the car seat, then the switch can be made to a from-facing car seat.
And when your kid’s ears reach the top of the front-facing toddler car seat, it is an indication you need to make the switch to a booster car seat for your kid. In terms of age, that should be around the age of three but since children have different growth rates, using the height to determine the right car seat and when to switch car seats is more appropriate.
In summary, you must take note of the dimensions of the car seat relative to your kid’s height.
Know the dimensions of the base of the car seat
Knowing the dimensions of the base of the car seat is very important in determining the amount of space needed in the car. Parents with several children would understand this since they would have to fit in two or more infant car seats in the back seat of the vehicle.
The best practice, in this case, is to measure the space where you want to install the car seat. Then make sure the base of the child’s car seat is not more than its allotted space. In other words, purchase only car seats whose bases are equal to or less than the space they would occupy in the back seat.
Look at the children car seat section of your car’s owner’s manual
Most modern cars come with the LATCH system. This system integrates hooks beneath the cushions of the back seat that are used to attach to the baby’s car seat to make it stationary and secure. A typical LATCH system would have hooks for both rear-facing and front-facing infant car seats.
The manual would indicate where they are and how to access them easily.
The manual should also give you information on compatible car seats. This information should help make your seatch for a car seat for your kid easier.
Purchase seats with concise instructions and illustrations
The best toddler car seats should come with detailed instructions covering every aspect from unpacking to maintenance. The manual must contain illustrations and diagrams that are easy to understand.
For parents, the most important section of the guidelines should be how to install the seats.
For the most part, if you are not fazed by technical jobs, installing and removing car seats would be easy. Most parents and adults should be able to install the infant car seats if they follow the instructions carefully.
The Harness adjusters must be easy to reach
The harness adjusters are very important in keeping your kid safe and snug in the car seat. Ensure the gear comes with harnesses that are not only easily adjustable but also easy to access. You would need this to make the pressure and tension in the harness perfect for your kid’s comfort and safety.
You would think this is obvious, but some manufacturers, for some reasons get this wrong by making it hard to find the harness adjuster.
The two-piece retainer clip is important
When you are driving, you don’t want to have some of your attention on your kid all the time. You need assurance that they would remain in their seats until you come to unbuckle them.
This is where is a two-piece retainer clip is useful. Your child cannot undo it once they are in. The best infant car seats typically have this retainer clip that only adults can unfasten.
Make sure it is easy to clean
As a parent, you would rather cut down the amount of baby-related chores you do on a daily basis to free up time for other tasks. Cleaning your baby’s car seat is one chore that can’t be avoided.
But you can reduce the amount of time you use to clean the baby’s car seat by choosing a seat that is easy to clean. Infant car seats with smooth surfaces are easier to clean.
If you can help it, avoid fabrics like corduroy. These are difficult to clean due to the tight spaces debris can enter. Besides, it is hard to wipe simple stains off fabrics like that. You’d have to wash them thoroughly to get the stains off.
And if you have the option of buying a car seat whose cover is machine-washable, don’t hesitate to purchase it. As a matter of fact, you should look for car seats that are machine-washable to cut help cut down on the amount of time you would use to keep your kid’s car seat clean.
Always buy new infant and toddler car seats
It is easy to understand why you might give the idea of buying used infant car seats serious consideration. The cost of many of the best ones could be way beyond what you can afford.
But used infant car seats could be hiding flaws or even missing crucial parts that are important to your kid’s safety. Some of them could even be obsolete and out-dated due to new regulations that might have come on stream since the used infant car seat was made.
If you are on a tight budget, do scroll down for a link to an important resource you could use to locate less costly, but very good car seats.
Best Toddler Car Seats Installation Tips 101
If you are reading this, it is obvious you’d be able to read and comprehend the installation instructions that accompany all the best infant car seats. In reality, though, most parents either because they ate in a hurry or didn’t read the instructions carefully, usually fail at this straightforward task.
Research shows that almost 75% of baby car seats are not installed properly. That is a huge figure by any account.
Below are the basic things you need to get right when you are installing your baby’s car seat:
Read your baby’s car seat manual and the car’s owner’s manual carefully
Most manuals are not complicated and contain diagrams to help you understand what is going on.
If you don’t understand what you read, ask somebody to explain it to you. The seat manufacturer or the automaker of your car should oblige your request for a crash course. This shouldn’t be too much considering you are doing it for the safety of your kid.
Anchors installation tips
- Endeavor to use the tether or LATCH system by all means. If your car is a modern car manufactured after 2002, then it is compatible with the LATCH mechanism of the baby’s car seat.
The LATCH system employs anchors attached permanently to the seat of your car. You can also use the seat belt to attach the baby’s car seat if it is not possible to use the tethers. But, it is not advisable to use both in the guise of extra safety. It is either one or the other.
Front-facing toddler and infant car seats must have lower and upper tethers or attachments. In addition to that, all infant car seats, including rear-facing car seats with a 5-point safety harness, must have lower anchors or tethers.
If your vehicle is an older model and doesn’t have an anchoring system, you could invest a bit of money in retrofitting it. It is worth a shot calling the local auto shop to inquire about the feasibility and cost.
- For front-facing baby car seat, make sure the toddler car seat is resting flat and flush against the back and bottom of the car’s back seat. Note the optimal recline angle of the child safety seat. This info should also be noted when you are installing a rear-facing seat.
Next, simply apply downward pressure to push the baby seat onto the car’s seat. Look for leverage and use your weight to do this properly. You should feel all the air escaping from the cushion underneath.
- Where to place the seat is usually contentious. It is recommended to start with the middle position. Since many vehicles place LATCH connectors on the side seats only, you could borrow a LATCH anchor from each side seat if your car is designed to allow it.
However, borrowing anchors from the side seat to secure your kid in the middle means you can’t install more than one baby car seat. This method is therefore not feasible if you need to secure more than one kid.
Seat belt installation
- If you have to use the car’s seat belts instead, simply ensure the belts are threaded through the right slots. Pull the belts as tight as possible to secure your baby’s safety seat. Shake the car seat to test how secure it is. It should not move more than 1″ in any direction.
- If the safety seat moves more than 1″ in any direction, you have to secure it further with the vehicle’s locking clip. This is a small metal device resembling a big paper clip. This is inserted about half an inch above the seat belt’s buckle.
Car locking clips can be bought from a children’s supply store or ordered from the manufacturer of the car seat if you don’t have one or have misplaced yours.
- Finally, test the safety seat again by shaking it on all directions. If it moves more than 1″ in any direction, you must have done something wrong. Simply unbuckle the infant car seat and start all over.
Pro tips for using the installed infant and toddler car seat
Take time to learn how to use the harness system. With the harness mechanism, you would be able to increase or decrease the tension on the straps around your kid with the adjustment lever.
Keep adjusting the harness until you are unable to pinch the harness material between your fingers
Always make sure the straps are not twisted. Ensure they are flat before tightening them.
Give the straps a final, firm tug to make sure they are secure after buckling your baby
To make your baby very comfortable and snug, you can add items like clean cloth diapers, soft baby towels, or baby blankets around the baby.
If the infant car seat looks too big, purchase neck, head, and body supports and place them in the appropriate positions. This would aid to keep your kid snug and comfortable.
To prevent the baby’s head from flopping forward, adjust the baby seat’s reclined position to between 30 and 45 degrees so the head rests comfortably. The level indicator would show you when you hit the right angle.
Still Unsure about Infant and Toddler Car seat installation?
If by the rarest of chances you still don’t understand how to install your baby’s car seat, you can reach out for help through the following:
- If you are a new parent, experts in child safety and manufacturers have a bit of advice for you: register and attend a workshop on how to install baby car seats.
These classes are stress-free and in about half an hour, you would have enough knowledge on how to install and remove your baby’s car seat easily.
To locate the nearest center to you, simply go the NHTSA’s website. There, you would get a list of certified technicians and the location of the inspection station closest to you.
Simply scroll down and input your location in the box provided. Then hit the search button to get the complete information.
- You can also use the NHTSA website for more information on infant car seats that is easy to install and use.
- For free infant and toddler car seat check-up, The American Academy of Pediatrics have some baby safety seat resources for you on their website. You could also download the free app and use it to learn more about your child’s safety car seat.
Understanding infant and toddler car seat LATCH system
If you are a complete novice on the subject of infant and toddler car seats, you must be wondering what LATCH is all about apart from its use as a system for safely securing the baby’s safety seat to the car.
This section is a simple glossary of the LATCH lexicon. You would find them useful as you explore the world of infant car seats.
LATCH is the acronym for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. Since 2002, it became a mandatory requirement for all cars manufactured. It is the most secure way to install the baby’s car seat. Using the seat belt and tether are the other ways to install a safety car seat for infants and toddlers.
Here some common terms associated with LATCH and what they mean:
Lower anchors – They are used for installing forward and rear-facing infant car seats. These are usually located in the space between the cushions and the rear back seats.
In some cars, these metal bars are visible while they are hidden underneath the bight in other cars.
Lower anchor connectors/straps – these are located beneath the car’s seat. They come with two buckles or hooks one each on each side of your car’s seat.
Top tether strap – this strap has a buckle or hook at the usable end. It is located at the top of the car seat.
Tether anchor – this is the place the car seat’s tether is anchored. On forward-facing and quite a few rear-facing infants and toddlers car seats, the teether can be attached to the tether anchor of the vehicle.
The tether anchor can be located anywhere depending on the model of the car. The car’s manual should give the precise location of the tether anchor.
Getting the best toddler car seat requires patience and careful attention to details. This might seem a lot to new parents or if you are buying it for the first time.
The products in this review are the top infant car seats in their categories. You would be guaranteed several years of excellent service ensuring that your investment was worth it.
Remember to consult experts or technicians near you if you are still in doubt about the infant car seat that is most appropriate for your kid. After all, as far as the safety of your kid is concerned, only the very best is good enough.