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The Best Toddler Car Seats On The Market

Best Toddler Car Seat
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Updated May 19, 2024

Of all of the products and gear you need to buy as a parent for your child, car seats rank high in terms of importance. Put simply, car seats keep your child safe—yet there seems to be an unlimited amount of options on the market, each with their own set of unique offerings, which can make the process of choosing the right one for your toddler overwhelming, to say the least.

A toddler car seat, also known as a convertible car seat, is a type of child safety seat that is designed to accommodate toddler-aged children, typically between ages 1 and 3, in both rear and forward-facing positions. These kinds of car seats usually come into play once your child has outgrown their infant car seat, but are not yet ready for a booster seat, which usually becomes useful around ages 5+.

Toddler car seats often feature a convertible design, meaning they can be used in rear and forward-facing directions and accommodate your child through various height and weight changes. These car seats also come with adjustable harness straps, multiple recline positions and removable inserts and padding that you can use to provide additional comfort for your child.

What to consider when buying a toddler car seat

Since the very basic job of this product is to protect your child in the case of an accident, it’s vital that you choose your toddler car seat wisely, in addition to other baby and toddler products like car seat strollers combos, jogging strollers, and more. Here are a few pointers that can help guide you towards the right purchase.

Strong safety features

Safety is number one when it comes to buying a car seat. All car seats on the market are required to meet or exceed the safety standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and should include energy-absorbing foam, side-impact protection, in addition to a five-point harness system.

Range of size and weight limits

Gary Kirkilas, D.O., pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics says that the safest toddler car seats are the ones that fit the weight and height of your child. So make sure that your child fits the size and weight limits set by the car seat to ensure proper safety. Most convertible and toddler car seats accommodate up to 50 pounds when in the rear-facing position and about 65 pounds when in a forward-facing position. (See our guide on when to switch a car seat for more.) This, however, can vary between brands, so be sure to do your research carefully.

Easy installation

Installation doesn’t come easy for most parents, so try to find a car seat that outlines easy-to-follow instructions for putting the car seat safely in your vehicle. Also, consider whether you would prefer a car seat that you can install using your car’s seat belt, which is the easiest method, or using the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system, which uses lower anchors and top tether anchors that already exist in your vehicle, designed to connect with corresponding attachment points on child car seats.

Budget

As a big-ticket baby gear item, car seats can run the gamut in price, typically ranging between $50 and $500. For many families, cost is an important factor, so it’s important to consider your budget when purchasing a car seat, keeping in mind that more advanced features may be associated with car seats that come with higher price tags.

Our top picks for the best toddler car seats

Best budget toddler car seat: Cosco Kids Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat

Best budget toddler car seat
Cosco Kids Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat

Cosco Kids Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat

You can’t beat the price when it comes to this toddler car seat. Weighing in at 10 pounds, with a nice slim profile, this is a solid car seat and also a smart purchase if you’re seeking a spare car seat for a caregiver or relative’s car. It comes in a variety of color schemes and can be used in both rear or front-facing positions. It features side impact protection and a 5-point harness you can adjust to five different heights and three buckle locations to adjust to your growing toddler. Its removable seat pad is machine washable and dryer safe, and the car seat is certified for aircraft travel.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 17.63 x 15.75 x 30.25 inches
  • Carrier weight: 10 pounds
  • Rear-facing weight and height limit: 5-40 pounds and 19-40 inches
  • Forward-facing weight and height limit: 422-40 pounds and 29-43 inches
  • Colors available: 11
  • Machine-washable padding: Yes
  • FAA certified: Yes
  • Price on publish: $59.00

What we like:

  • Affordable
  • Easy to clean
  • Adjustable five-point harness
  • Lightweight and easy to travel with

What we don’t like:

  • The max weight is 40 pounds
  • The straps can get tangled easily

The bottom line:

The price is the best feature of this car seat, but it’s also safe and includes many of the desirable features you’d be looking for, including an adjustable 5-point harness, aircraft-certified for travel and its lightweight.

Get it here: Cosco Kids Scenera NEXT Convertible Car Seat


Best value toddler car seat: Safety 1st Grow and Go All-in-One Convertible Car Seat

Best value toddler car seat
Safety 1st Grow and Go All-in-One Convertible Car Seat

Safety 1st Grow and Go All-in-One Convertible Car Seat

This just might be the only car seat you ever need for your child, since it transitions from an infant car seat (accommodating 5-40 pounds) to a toddler car seat (accommodating 22-65 pounds) and then to a booster seat (accommodating up to 100 pounds). It has a lot of great features, too, including side impact protection, a 5-point harness that is easy to tighten and loosen to let your child out, as well as two removable cup holders that are super easy to clean. Despite weighing in at close to 20 pounds, most parents find this car seat relatively easy to use. (It has over 31,000 almost five-star Amazon ratings). The only drawback is that it’s not very thin, so it can take up a decent amount of room in your backseat.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 31.75 x 19.25 x 28.75 inches
  • Carrier weight: 18.66 pounds
  • Rear-facing weight and height limit: 5-40 pounds and 19 inches
  • Forward-facing weight and height limit: 22-100 pounds and 27-57 inches
  • Colors available: 13
  • Machine-washable padding: Yes
  • FAA certified: Yes
  • Price on publish: $159.99

What we like:

  • 3-in-1 model
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to clean

What we don’t like:

  • It’s heavy
  • It’s wide

The bottom line:

This 3-in-1 model will last you years with your toddler. It’s not only easy to use, but it’s also affordable, with the only drawback being that it’s a bit bulky and heavy to carry.

Get it here: Safety 1st Grow and Go All-in-One Convertible Car Seat


Best slim toddler car seat: Graco SlimFit 3-in-1 Car Seat

Best slim toddler car seat
Graco Slimfit® 3-In-1 Car Seat, Anabele Purple

Graco Slimfit® 3-In-1 Car Seat, Anabele Purple

Despite all of its features and the fact that it’s a 3-in-1 car seat, the Graco Slimfit lives up to its name as a very slim model compared to most toddler car seats. It allows large families to easily fit three car seats in the backseat. The car seat comes with dual integrated cup holders that you can rotate away from your child, if you’d prefer that they not reach for their drink every five seconds. It is safe, meeting or exceeding the child restraint criteria for a frontal crash test under the US FMVSS 213. It also comes with a no-rethread harness system that allows you to adjust both the headrest and the harness all at once.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 21.5 x 19.9 x 25.5 inches
  • Carrier weight: 19 pounds
  • Rear-facing weight and height limit: 5-40 pounds
  • Forward-facing weight and height limit: 22-100 pounds; up to 57 inches
  • Colors available: 2
  • Machine-washable padding: Yes
  • FAA certified: Yes
  • Price on publish: $199.99

What we like:

  • Slim design
  • 3-in-1 model
  • Adjustable harness system

What we don’t like:

  • It’s heavy

The bottom line:

If you’re looking for a car seat that won’t take up too much space in your back seat, this one’s nice and slim. It’s a 3-in-1 model that will last you through the years, but it is heavy and not as durable as others.

Get it here: Graco SlimFit 3-in-1 Car Seat


Best travel car seat for toddlers: WAYB Pico Portable Car Seat

Best travel car seat for toddlers
WAYB Pico Forward Facing Car Seat in Midnight Sky at Nordstrom

WAYB Pico Forward Facing Car Seat in Midnight Sky at Nordstrom

Traveling with your toddler can involve so much equipment like travel strollers, baby carriers, and such, which is why we love this portable car seat from WAYB. This might not look like your average car seat, and that’s because it isn’t. The WAYB is designed for travel, but doesn’t compromise safety. It meets all U.S. safety standards regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration and is approved for air travel. It’s super light weight, clocking in at just eight pounds, with an aerospace-grade aluminum frame and an AstroKnit performance mesh fabric that is soft and breathable.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 11.6 x 14.5 x 18.9 inches
  • Carrier weight: 9 pounds
  • Forward-facing weight and height limit: 22-50 pounds; 30 to 45 inches
  • Colors available: 5
  • Machine-washable padding: No
  • FAA certified: Yes
  • Price on publish: $380 without carry bag

What we like:

  • Super lightweight
  • Easy to travel with
  • Meets safety standards

What we don’t like:

  • Expensive

The bottom line:

If you like to travel, this is a great car seat to have on hand, since it folds up, is super light and meets safety standards. Plus, it is easy to stow with other gear like a stroller or double stroller. It is, however, quite expensive.

Get it here: WAYB Pico Portable Car Seat


Best reclining car seat for toddlers: Britax One4Life ClickTight All-in-One Car Seat

Best reclining car seat for toddlers
Britax One4Life ClickTight All-in-One Car Seat

Britax One4Life ClickTight All-in-One Car Seat

This toddler car seat will take you through your little one’s entire childhood, from the moment you take them home from the hospital and well up until they’re ready to sit without a car seat at all. It has four configurations—rear-facing infant car seat, rear-facing toddler car seat, forward-facing 5-point harness car seat and forward-facing high-back booster seat. It’s best known for its ClickTight® technology, which prevents you from having to second guess whether or not everything is locked and loaded. You can customize the fit thanks to 15 headrest positions and 9 recline positions.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 20.5 x 19.5 x 25 inches
  • Carrier weight: 30 pounds
  • Rear-facing weight and height limit: 5-50 pounds; until child’s head is a minimum of 1 inch below top of head restraint
  • Forward-facing weight and height limit: 22-50 pounds; 30 to 45 inches
  • Colors available: 10
  • Machine-washable padding: Yes
  • FAA certified: Yes
  • Price on publish: $349.99

What we like:

  • 4-in-1 configuration
  • Wide range of customization options
  • Easy installation

What we don’t like:

  • Heavy

The bottom line:

This 4-in-1 model might be the only car seat you ever need.It has a wide range of customization options, a high strength steel frame, and is easy to install.

Get it here: Britax One4Life ClickTight All-in-One Car Seat


Best car seat for infant to toddler: Evenflo Gold Revolve360 Extend Rotational All-in-One Convertible Car Seat

Best car seat for infant to toddler
Evenflo Gold Revolve360 Extend Rotational All-in-One Convertible Car Seat

Evenflo Gold Revolve360 Extend Rotational All-in-One Convertible Car Seat

This car seat rotates a full 360 degrees, making it super easy to get your little one in and out. This same swivel feature comes in handy when you switch the car seat from rear to forward-facing because you don’t have to uninstall before reinstalling it. It has three modes that grow with your child and a unique SensorSafe alert that can text you in real-time to let you know if your child’s chest clip is unbuckled, they’re too hot or cold, the seat is unattended, or if they've been seated too long.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 21 x 19.8 x 25.9 inches
  • Carrier weight: 29.6 pounds
  • Rear-facing weight and height limit: 4-50 pounds; 17 to 48 inches
  • Forward-facing weight and height limit: 22-65 pounds; 28 to 49 inches
  • Colors available: 4
  • Machine-washable padding: Yes
  • FAA certified: Yes
  • Price on publish: $429.99

What we like:

  • 360-degree rotation
  • Easy to install
  • SensorSafe text alerts

What we don’t like:

  • Some parents find the buckle and strap hard to maneuver

The bottom line:

Reaching over to buckle your toddler in every time can be a pain—this car seat swivels 360 degrees, making installation a breeze. It also has innovative SensorSafe alerts that confirm your child is buckled in properly.

Get it here: Evenflo Gold Revolve360 Extend Rotational All-in-One Convertible Car Seat


Best toddler booster car seat: Nuna AACE Booster Seat

Best toddler booster car seat
Nuna AACE Booster Seat

Nuna AACE Booster Seat

Nuna seems to come through with an incredible car seat for every age and stage, and their booster seat is no exception. It features energy-absorbing foam and side-impact protection (SIP) pods that provide side impact protection. Just as with their Pipa and Rava varieties, this booster seat comes with a lower anchor connector that secures to the seat of your car to provide added stability. You can customize this car seat with nine positions of height and eight-position recline. And it converts from a high back to a no back booster, offering years of use. Shopping tip: Nuna also made our lists of the best double strollers, best convertible car seats, and best infant car seats.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 15 x 21.5 x 26 inches
  • Carrier weight: 15.6 pounds
  • Forward-facing weight and height limit: 40-120 pounds; up to 60 inches
  • Colors available: 3
  • Machine-washable padding: No, spot clean only
  • FAA certified: No
  • Price on publish: $250

What we like:

  • Lightweight
  • Back can be removed
  • Lower anchor connector provides stability

What we don’t like:

  • Not as sturdy as some parents would like

The bottom line:

If you’re looking for a booster seat that’s lightweight, safe, and has a lower anchor connector for optimal stability, this is a great pick. It is, however, expensive for booster seats, but in-line with Nuna prices across the board.

Get it here: Nuna AACE Booster Seat


Best toddler convertible car seat: Nuna Rava Convertible Car Seat

Best toddler convertible car seat
Nuna Rava Convertible Car Seat

Nuna Rava Convertible Car Seat

If budget isn’t a major consideration, this is an excellent convertible car seat that will keep your child safe, protected, comfortable and secure from the moment you bring them home from the hospital, until they are entering kindergarten. Parents will love the easy-to-use harness that you can adjust with just one hand, as well as the 10-position recline and head support options available. It offers two additional inches of legroom in the rear-facing position and has flip-open cup holders on both sides. Ventilation panels help prevent overheating.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 25 x 16 x 19 inches
  • Carrier weight: 27.2 pounds
  • Rear-facing weight and height limit: 5-50 pounds; 49 inches
  • Forward-facing weight and height limit: 25-65 pounds; up to 49 inches
  • Colors available: 8
  • Machine-washable padding: Yes
  • FAA certified: Yes
  • Price on publish: $550

What we like:

  • 10-position recline
  • One-hand harness
  • Aircraft-certified

What we don’t like:

  • Expensive

The bottom line:

The Nuna Rava is an outstanding car seat that is durable and adjustable. WIth 10 positions for recline, you can customize it to your liking. It is, however, very pricey and bulky.

Get it here: Nuna Rava Convertible Car Seat


How to maintain and clean a toddler car seat

Maintaining and cleaning a toddler car seat isn’t only about organization and peace of mind, it can also help ensure the safety, durability and overall longevity of your car seat. You first want to read the car seat’s manufacturer’s manual, which usually has guidance on how to clean and maintain the seat. Regularly inspecting the car seat for any signs of wear, damage or loose parts is also important. Check the harness straps, buckles, padding, and plastic components for any cracks, tears or fraying. If your toddler spills food or drinks on the seat, try your best to clean up the mess stat to prevent the stains from setting in and potentially hardening.

When cleaning your toddler’s car seat, try to avoid harsh chemicals or bleach, which can damage the fabric, padding and plastic components. Stick to mild soap and water or gentle upholstery cleaners recommended by the manufacturer. When possible, air dry to avoid damaging the plastic and fabric. Lastly, keep an eye on the expiration date, which typically lasts 6-10 years.

Installation and setup guide

Follow these tips and suggestions for how to install a toddler car seat:

Read the manual

Start by reading the manufacturer's manual included with the car seat, which will provide specific instructions for installing and setting up the car seat correctly, in addition to important safety information.

Select installation method

Depending on your car seat and car, you may opt to use the vehicle's seat belt or the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system to install the car seat. Choose whichever method the car seat recommends in their manual.

Position the car seat

After placing the car seat in the location you’ve chosen in your vehicle, make sure it’s positioned securely and leveled. Make sure that the recline angle is correctly placed (often there’s a bubble indicator) for your child’s age and size.

Install the car seat

Following your manual’s instructions, thread the seat belt through the designated belt path on the car seat or attach the lower anchor connectors to the vehicle's lower anchors, ensuring a tight and secure installation.

Secure the harness

Now it’s time to buckle your child into the car seat. Adjust the harness straps to fit snugly over their shoulders and make sure it’s positioned at, or just slightly above, your child's shoulders for rear-facing mode or at or slightly below the shoulders for forward-facing mode. The chest clip should be positioned at armpit level.

Tighten the straps

Make sure that you pull the harness straps snugly to remove any slack and ensure a secure fit. You shouldn’t be able to pinch any excess material at the shoulders.

Check for movement

Make sure that the car seat is not moving freely from side to side or front to back.

Secure the top tether (if applicable)

If using a forward-facing car seat and your vehicle is equipped with top tether anchors, attach the top tether strap to the designated anchor point and tighten it securely. The top tether helps prevent forward movement of the car seat in the event of a crash.

Register the car seat

Finally, be sure to register your toddler car seat with the manufacturer. This is often a small card that comes with your car seat. Sending it in will make sure you’re informed should there be any important safety updates and recalls.

How we selected the best toddler car seats

I combed through hundreds of reviews to find the best toddler car seats in each and every category, and talked to real parents to find out which toddler car seats worked best for them. I also reached out to Gary Kirkilas, D.O., pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, who was able to provide expert insight about what to look for in a toddler car seat. In addition, I considered:

Safety

It’s the number one consideration, after all. All car seats chosen met or exceeded the safety standards set by NHTSA, and include energy-absorbing foam, side-impact protection, and a five-point harness system.

Size

I assessed the range of child size and weight limits, factoring that toddlers grow at different rates. I also looked at the overall seat size, which is an important consideration for a safe fit especially considering the range of different vehicles a car seat can be used in.

Cost

A safe car seat should also be an affordable car seat. I considered a wide range of prices for this round-up, as every family’s budget is different.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Which car seat is safest for a toddler?

When it comes to toddlers, Dr. Kirkilas, points out that the safest is first and foremost the one that fits their height and weight. “This is important because toddlers are rapidly growing so they will transition from a rear facing to forward facing positioning car seat,” he adds. The next safety measure he recommends looking for is a car seat that safely restrains the toddler in the car seat, ideally with an adjustable five-point harness to keep the child safely restrained should a vehicle accident occur. Lastly, he urges parents to become familiar with how to properly secure the car seat to the vehicle’s seat. “Many vehicles today are equipped with the LATCH system which are metal anchor points located in the backseats between the seat cushions,” he says. “Both the LATCH and seat belts are equally safe although the LATCH system tends to be easier to use.”

How old should my child ride in a rear-facing car seat?

While each individual car seat model comes with a maximum height and weight limitation that can help you determine when to transition them to forward-facing, the average age for this switch is between two and three, according to Dr. Kirkilas. “A rear-facing car seat is the safest positioning for a child during a vehicle accident so it’s best to keep them in this positioning as long as possible, until the child reaches the maximum height and weight limitation,” he adds.

What car seat does my 3-year-old need?

Weight and height is the deciding factor for choosing a car seat, rather than a child’s age. That said, since many three-year-olds will be of height and weight that no longer allows them to safely sit in a rear-facing car seat, many will transition to a forward-facing car seat, according to Dr. Kirkilas. “These forward-facing car seats must include a five-point harness along with a top tether and either a seat belt or LATCH system anchor system to keep the car seat in place,” he adds.

What are the different types of car seats for a toddler?

“Parents can choose from purchasing a standalone rear-facing car seat and then transition to a forward-facing car seat once they reach the height and weight maximum,” says Dr. Kirkilas. “Another option is to purchase a convertible car seat, which is a car seat that converts from a rear-facing to forward-facing positioning.” Another option that he recommends is to purchase a combination car seat which includes a booster seat for once the child is school-aged.

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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