March 31, 2017

The Best Convertible Car Seat

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Purchasing baby gear is no easy feat. You want to get the most out of your investment, but some products are only needed for a short period of time. Car seats, however, are something you need for many years. A convertible car seat may be the answer. You get a rear-facing and forward-facing seat all in one investment.

Looking at the store shelves, though, the options seem endless. Which safety features do you need? What size is best? Do you need to care about the amount of foam padding and whether the buckles adjust easily? These are just a few of the questions you need to answer. Here we will break down your options to make shopping for a convertible car seat a little easier.

Convertible Car Seat or Infant Car Seat?

Many convertible car seats work when your baby is just 5 pounds. This begs the question - is the convertible seat better than the infant car seat? Honestly, it's not a matter of what is "better"; it is about your preference. Following are the main differences:

  • Weight they hold
  • Height they accommodate
  • Infant car seats have a handle for carrying
  • Infant car seats may only face the rear of the car
  • Convertible car seats can face forward or backward
  • Convertible car seats are bigger and bulkier - not portable (in most cases)

Both car seats accommodate babies starting at 5 pounds. The infant car seat, however, may support a newborn a little better. Its bucket style allows the baby to lie back, whereas the convertible car seat sits the baby up. The convertible car seat does work facing backward or forward in the car. This enables you to keep your baby rear-facing as long as necessary. In many cases, it is more economical to purchase a convertible car seat from the start. You should consider your baby's size and weight before deciding, though.

What to Consider When Shopping for a Convertible Car Seat

Shopping for a convertible car seat can seem overwhelming. How long do you want your child rear-facing? Will you use the car seat when your child is ready for a booster seat? How much room do you have in the car and how many other car seats do you have to hold? Will you travel? These are just some of the things you have to consider.

Luckily, you don't have to worry that the car seat you chose based on aesthetics, size, or features will risk your child's life. There are federal requirements every seat must meet. Any seat with NHTSA approval went through rigorous crash performance tests and passed. However, if you want something beyond the basics, do your research.

Aside from safety, here are other considerations to keep in mind:

Simplicity - Car seats can be rather difficult to install. Luckily, many police departments are willing to help you install them correctly. If you don't want to go that route, check out the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's ratings. They rate car seats on many factors including ease of installation and securing a child in it. If ease of use is important to you, consult this website before shopping.

  • LATCH: Convertible car seats in the rear-facing position have two choices for installation. All car seats have seat belt installation capabilities. Many also have LATCH capabilities. If you purchased a car made after 2002, you probably have LATCH connectors on either side of the back seat. The U.S. does not require LATCH connectors in the center seats, though. LATCH is not only easier to use, but they often provide a tighter installation.

  • Use: Will you use your convertible car seat right away? Many seats accommodate newborns weighing just 5 pounds. They may not provide the comfort you envisioned for your newborn, though. Convertible car seats are also not as portable as the infant car seat. However, you can make them portable if need be. If you live in the city and use taxis or Uber, you need a seat you can install quickly and doesn't weigh too much.

  • Adjustability: Adjusting the harness and straps on a car seat might not seem like a big deal right now. Wait until you have a screaming baby in the seat and you have a maze of straps in front of you, though. Researching ease of adjustability now will save your sanity later. Ideally, you should look for quick-release buckles or simple adjustments. What you don't want to see is the need to rethread the straps to adjust the height of the seat. That just spells disaster.

  • Rear-facing capability: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children sit rear-facing until they are 2 years old. Many convertible car seats accommodate children of this age rear-facing. Read the manual closely, though. Each seat has a specific height and weight restriction for children to safely sit rear-facing. Once the child exceeds either maximum, you need to turn the seat around. If you want long-term rear-facing capabilities, this is an important feature.

  • Size: This pertains not to the size of your child (although that is important) but the size of the seat compared to your vehicle. If you drive a small car, pay close attention to the height and width of the seat. Can you see over it when you look over your shoulder? Is there room to comfortably fit the seat and another passenger? Don't forget about the room to adjust your front seat to ensure you can safely drive or have a front passenger.

  • Type of seat: Upon first glance, most seats in convertible car seats seem the same. They offer a safe place for your baby to sit in the car. Upon closer inspection, many seats have a different level of comfort or even safety. Some have a steel shell as opposed to the plastic many others have. Others have thicker foam for added comfort or a different type of fabric. Other features include head wings for extra support or an infant support to position a newborn. Most of these factors don't impact the safety of the seat, but are more for parent's approval.

Best Overall Convertible Car Seat

Britax Boulevard ClickTight Car Seat

The Britax Boulevard ClickTight Car Seat has every feature listed above. The simple installation system takes the guesswork out of whether you installed the seat right. This could mean the end of sweaty fights with the car seat in the back of the car! Speaking of safety, the Britax Boulevard has steel supports in the frame. Many people consider this a safer option, although this is yet to be an official ruling. Lastly, it has an indicator letting you know you properly buckled your baby into the seat.

The Britax Boulevard provides a lot of flexibility. You can adjust the harness to 14 different positions. The height also easily adjusts with one button. Britax recently replaced their standard velour-type material with a better fabric, too. This fabric is more breathable and easier to clean. The padding on the seat and the headrest are also thicker than many other car seats. This makes long rides more comfortable for babies and toddlers.

Possible Downsides:
Convertible car seats typically aren't meant for traveling, but some are light enough to make it possible. The Britax Boulevard is not one of them, however. Perhaps it is due to the steel frame and extra padding. Overall, this car seat is rather cumbersome to carry around.

Speaking of its size, if you need more than one car seat in your car, you might have trouble fitting them with the Boulevard. Many cars can only comfortably fit this car seat and one other person. Mini vans and SUVs are the exception to this, however.

You might find it hard for newborns to appear comfortable in this car seat because of its large size. Newborns often seem "swallowed up" in it. Many parents find it is best suited for babies starting around 4-months old.

Best Convertible Car Seat for Tall Babies

Britax Marathon

Parents of tall babies face a serious dilemma. The AAP recommends keeping your babies and toddlers rear-facing for at least the first two years. Unfortunately, many convertible car seats focus on weight limits rather than height. Even if a car seat can accommodate 50 pounds rear-facing, your child may hit the height limit before then. This means facing babies forward sooner than you may desire. The Britax Marathon is a taller car seat, giving your baby more room to grow. The manufacturer suggests turning the car seat forward-facing when your child's head reaches 1 inch below the top of the seat.

Anything related to a baby that is easy to clean is always a plus. The Britax Marathon's fabric offers two ways to clean it. You can spot clean on the seat itself or remove the fabric and hand wash it.

Speaking of fabric, the Marathon offers similar comfort to our top pick, the Britax Boulevard. With an extra-padded seat, kids may remain comfortable for longer periods. Lastly, we love the LATCH storage on this seat. If you don't use the LATCH, it is nice to have a place to put the mechanism away.

Possible Downsides:
Some parents report difficulty reclining this car seat when it is in the car already. You can bypass this issue by reclining the seat outside of the car. This is not always the reality of the situation, though. Keep in mind that the adjustment handle may be hard to reach while the seat is in the car.

As was the case with the Britax Boulevard, the Marathon is bulky. Moving this car seat between cars can be frustrating. If you only want one car seat to share between cars, know that this seat is heavy and bulky. This makes it awkward to carry. It is best used as a car seat in one car without much need to move it.

Best Convertible Car Seat for Small Cars

Diono Radian

Driving a small car can make shopping for a convertible car seat quite a challenge. You probably need a seat that is short enough for you to see over. But you also need a seat tall enough to accommodate placing your child rear-facing for 2 years. Another consideration is leaving enough room for at least one more passenger. Luckily, the Diono Radian RXT fits this bill.

It is slim enough to fit 3 car seats across one row in many small cars. It also converts from a rear-facing to a forward-facing seat. Rear-facing, this car seat can hold a child between 5 and 45 pounds and up to 44 inches. When you turn it around, it can accommodate children between 20 and 80 pounds or 57 inches tall. If you wish to use it as a booster, it converts, but many parents don't care for it for this use.

The Diono Radian RXT is one of the only car seats with a full steel frame. The height adjusts to 12 different settings and has "head wings" which provide more side impact protection. As an added bonus, this car seat folds completely flat. If you do travel via taxi or take flights often, it is among the easiest car seats to tote around with you.

Possible Downsides:
You should know that the Diono Radian RXT is quite an investment. It lists for over $350, which for a convertible car seat is costly. Many parents justify the cost based on the amount of use they plan to get out of it. Keep in mind, however, many car seats expire after 6 years.

Something else to keep in mind if you have a child who likes to sleep in the car: this car seat is rather upright. A bobbing head throughout the car ride might make your child uncomfortable. Even with the "head wings," many children have trouble keeping their head upright.

Best Convertible Car Seat for Travel

Evenflo Tribute

Parents who travel have a unique dilemma. You want a car seat you feel safe using on a daily basis, but light enough to take on your travels. Enter the Evenflo Tribute. This car seat provides you with the best of both worlds. Actually, it is also one of the least expensive convertible car seats on the market as well.

Because of its lack of features, this car seat is very easy to use as well as easy to cart around. It weighs in at around 9 pounds and is only 17 inches wide. It is not too cumbersome to switch from car to car, take in a taxi, or even on a plane.

If machine washing your car seat cover appeals to you, then this is your seat. Not many car seats have this option, forcing you to resort to hand washing. This is a great advantage for a traveling car seat, especially if you take it in taxis or on airplanes. Getting rid of those germs as quickly as possible will likely be on your agenda!

At first glance, this seat might seem lackluster, but it packs a punch for travel. Many parents purchase this car seat as their "backup" as well as for their travels. Its low investment makes it easier to carry around with you without worry.

Possible Downsides:
As a budget car seat, you probably don't expect luxurious options. However, the padding on this seat is rather thin. If you use it as a backup or only while traveling, it probably won't be a big deal. As an everyday car seat, however, it might get uncomfortable.

You may also find the LATCHES hard to unhook once you install the seat in your car. There are no easy release buttons - you have to manually release them. Depending on how easy it is to get to the LATCH mechanisms in your car, this could be difficult.

Best Convertible Car Seat Under $100
Cosco Apt 50

Finding any baby gear under $100 that has the ability to last for at least a few years may seem impossible. The Cosco Apt 50 makes it possible, though. This seat provides the safety you need without all of the bells and whistles. It is aptly named too, as it holds children up to 50 pounds. This car seat offers easy installation with LATCH and a machine washable cover. It is also certified for use on airplanes. Many parents claim it comfortably holds their newborn in the rear-facing position too. You should know that this car seat is on the shorter side, though. If your baby is tall, he might outgrow it before he is done using a car seat.

Best Convertible Car Seat Under $150
Britax Roundabout

The Britax brand hits our list several times and for good reason. They provide quality car seats with many desirable features. If you want to stick to a budget, you can still purchase a Britax, though! The Britax Roundabout offers a great balance of safety, desired features, and price. It has 3 recline positions, bottom belt adjustments, and the side impact protection Britax provides. It is also very narrow, at just 17 inches. This leaves room for another car seat or passenger even in many small cars. It does weigh 17 pounds though, so don't purchase it for your travel needs. Also, keep in mind that its strap adjustments are not as simple as its more expensive counterparts.

Best Convertible Car Seat for Rear-Facing
Britax Marathon

Today, the AAP recommends keeping your children rear-facing until their second birthday. However, this can be difficult if you have a tall child and you want to keep him rear-facing as long as possible. Safety experts recommend children do not sit rear-facing once they hit one inch below the top of the car seat. This makes it tough for parents of tall children. The Britax Marathon, however, has a maximum height of 49 inches. This is higher than many other car seats on the market. It also provides the same safety benefits as the other Britax car seats we mentioned above. If peace of mind for long-term rear-facing is a priority, then this is the car seat for you.

Best Convertible Car Seat for Twins:
Britax Roundabout

Buying double the baby gear for twins can get costly. If you want to balance safety, cost, and roominess, the Britax Roundabout is a great choice. It is narrow enough to fit two car seats in many back seats. It is also our pick for a car seat under $150. With Britax, you don't have to worry about sacrificing safety or features, no matter which model you choose.

Best Convertible Car Seat for Hot Weather:
Maxi Cosi Pria

Many car seats offer great safety measures, yet have fabric that makes babies uncomfortable in the heat. The Maxi Cosi Pria offers a moisture-wicking fabric that helps keep babies comfortable, though. Your baby will stay dry, which may mean less fussing in the car. The unique fabric on this car seat is also machine washable, which is an added bonus. The Maxi Cosi Pria offers a unique safety system for peace of mind and a small footprint. This means more legroom for your baby and passengers. Keep in mind, though, babies must weigh at least 9 pounds before using it.

Bottom Line

You have your work cut out for you when searching for the right convertible car seat. Using our research and your desired preferences will hopefully help you head in the right direction!

Where to Buy Convertible Car Seats

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