How to choose the best convertible car seat for small cars?

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How to choose the best convertible car seat for small cars?

We bought and tested 15 popular and popular convertible car seats and discovered that while many products look alike and can meet federal crash test requirements.

They are not equal and all offer a very different user experience. This buying guide is designed to help parents assess and filter the variety of convertible car seats on the market by providing advice on what you should look for in a car seat.

We also suggest parents read our review of convertible car seat for small cars to find out which models impressed us during the tests and why. If you cannot understand the installation of the car seat, you should also read How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Errors.

Why buy best convertible car seat for small cars?

Although we think it is best for parents to buy and use an infant car seat while your baby is small. You will need to acquire a convertible option after baby is past their stylish baby seat. This change occurs when the baby is between 9 and 12 months old, depending on your car seat and your baby’s growth rate.

We suggest that you keep your baby in their infant seat until they are in the 9 to 12 month age range or their size begins to grow the maximum length of the infant seat. You should also check the weight capacity, but more often than not, it is the height limit that will force the switch to a convertible seat.

Size and weight limits

Most seats in this review claim to be suitable for children 5 to 40 to 80 pounds and 40 to 57 inches high depending on the seat. However, we think the design and features of an infant-style seat are much better for younger babies. And we think parents should avoid convertible car seats until their baby is at least 9 years old. months or has exceeded the maximum size or weight limit for their baby seat (height being the most likely limit to reach).

Choose a seat that allows your baby to stay rearward longer

Studies have shown that it is much safer to keep children rear-facing longer than to orient them forward. The more a seat can sit backwards, the better. All of the options in this review can remain rear-facing until the baby weighs at least 40 pounds, with two seats providing a 45-pound limit. The Clek Foonf and Graco Extedn2Fit both work backwards, up to 50 lbs (a big selling point for these products).

Experts recommend staying backwards for at least 2 years

A 15-year study of injury prevention data published in 2007 on accident prevention concluded that placing children aged 1 to 2 in a rear-facing position poses a risk of death or injury. serious injury 5.3 times lower than in a forward-facing position. Please keep your baby facing back as long as possible.

So are the rear seat capacity specifications a concern? Or, are the front-facing boundaries more critical?

Well, both are important, but if we were to choose one, we would choose the rear-facing limit given the significant increase in the potential safety of children sitting facing back. The more a child can sit backward, the better.

The more a child can sit backward, the better.

rear-facing limit given the significant increase in the potential safety of children sitting facing back. The more a child can sit backward, the better.

Even if your child needs to gather the knees and have less leg room, it is always safer to be rear-facing as long as he is within the height and weight limits of the seat.

Height limits are usually the most important

A general rule for these seats is that many children can reach the size limit before the weight restriction. However, this is not a hard and fast rule, so parents should keep in mind the limits of their seat regarding the growth of their child, as both are equally important for keeping children safe when drive in a vehicle.

Types of car seats

There are mainly two types of car seats, the infant car seat and the convertible car seat. Both options work with infants and have similar features and functionality, but they are not the same.

There are pros and cons to typing, and we explore this in more detail in our baby car seat review. However, all parents will have to use a convertible seat at some point.

Despite the manufacturer’s marketing that allows the use of convertible seats for babies as small as 5 lbs. We think you should wait until after your baby has outgrown their infant style seat. While parents may want to cut corners and save money by limiting the amount of baby equipment they buy. We don’t think your child’s safety seat is a good place to cut corners. We strongly recommend the purchase of a baby and a convertible seat.

Baby car seats

Separate bases / detachable seats – Many modern strollers offer car seat adapters, or you can try a stroller with a car seat frame. We find being able to click on the carrier in a stroller the simplest choice.

Canopy – Infant car seats traditionally offer an awning to block the sun and other elements. Conversely, the convertible seats do not have umbrellas and parents should not create one by themselves for safety reasons.

Lower weight and height restrictions – Even if some of the baby seats can operate up to 40 lbs, their reach is still smaller than the convertible car seat which often operates from 5 to 65 lbs and more depending on the product . It is this factor that makes a baby seat perfect for newborns and younger babies, and the type of car seat we recommend for infants.

Convertible car seats

We recommend that infants move from an infant car seat to a convertible seat approximately 9 to 12 months of age or when they reach the size or weight limits of their infant seat.

The possibility of using a convertible seat with a baby may encourage you to consider a convertible option as your only car seat, but we urge you not to take a “one and done” approach to car seats.

BabyGearLab recommends baby-specific car seats for babies
We believe that infant car seats are the best choice for newborns because they are more practical and offer a design specially designed for small bodies.

We recommend that you switch to a convertible seat at the age of 9 to 12 months or when your baby exceeds their baby seat, as indicated in the owner’s manual.

Know the basics

Although all seats available for purchase in the United States meet or exceed federal safety requirements, they are not equal in their crash test results, design, usability or functionality. We will cover the features and performance parameters generally considered when examining different seats.

Crash tests

As you would expect, crash test results are a key measure in the performance of car seats and thus help to differentiate products. Each car seat must be able to pass a federal safety standard for crash testing, with products randomly selected by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for testing each year.

We contracted the same national testing center used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for crash testing, and we also obtained crash testing data from NHTSA for analysis. Above, you see the Phil and Teds Alpha seat on the test sled with a 12-month crash test dummy attached.

The good news is that federal requirements ensure that all seats sold in the United States provide at least a minimum level of protection.

Proper Installation

It is not enough for you to buy and use a car seat. You must install and use the seat correctly and regularly to ensure safety. Injury or death can potentially occur in a car accident if the installation of a car seat or child restraints is not correct.

Side impact protection claims (SIP): buyer’s attention

The photos above show some of the side impact features marketed by the manufacturers of some of the seats we reviewed.

However, at the moment there is no regulatory test or common language agreement that determines what to test, how to test it, how to interpret the results or how companies should define the terms, or what type of claims they can make.

All of the seats in this review claim SIP in their seat design or in the testing process, but the term itself is somewhat ambiguous, as it means something different depending on the manufacturer making the claim.

Since there is no industry standard for SIP and other features, and all manufacturers seem to mean something different, this results in words that have no meaning in themselves.

This problem requires parents to do additional research to determine what the manufacturers mean when they claim side impact protection, whether their design or special feature has been tested, and what the tests include. It is a big responsibility to dump the parents, and often the information is not available or accessible (believe us, we looked).

We believe that manufacturers are using SIP and other security features as a marketing tool to increase product interest.

At this time, we have been unable to find credible information or evidence to support the allegations.

Forward-facing deformation zone

The Clek Foonf claims to have a forward-facing deformation zone designed to help absorb the impact of a collision in order to protect the child in the seat.

It is the only product in the journal to have this type of design or to make this kind of claim; they are also one of the few to publish their test results online for more transparency.

Headquarters construction

Each seat is made of similar materials and a basic design with some features and variations. Most of the seats have a hard plastic outer shell with dense foam padding as a second layer.

Some of the seats also have metal frame components or features that provide increased shell stability which can potentially improve the performance of the seat in the event of an accident (although this is difficult to prove in standard tests).

The last element is mainly for comfort and includes a layer of padding and fabric which gives the seat its general appearance and helps to correctly position baby in the seat. Many seats also offer a baby cushion. This insert is a positioner that helps small bodies to properly adapt to the seat and harness.

The insert fits over the fabric cover and is removable when your baby grows or when it is no longer needed. Some seats also offer padding or “head wings” around the head area. Presumably, it is for protection against impact and possibly comfort; some manufacturers explicitly state that this is the purpose of the wings, while others refrain from saying anything.

We believe that the differences in seat construction that really matter are those that are reflected in crash test performance, as well as those which affect the general comfort of the baby.

External Shell

The external hard shell is the first line of defense in the event of an accident, as it provides structural support and contains the hard foam absorbing the energy molded inside. Construction and design work in the same way as a bicycle helmet, using an outer shell of hard plastic combined with a layer of hard energy absorbing foam placed between the shell and the head.


There are two basic types of foam in a typical convertible seat.

Hard foam – In our review, each of the convertible seats has foam as the primary energy absorbing material. Which helps keep your baby safe in a crash. This foam is either expanded polystyrene (EPS) (top left) or expanded polypropylene (EPP) (top right). EPS is the most common type and is sort of the industry standard and is found in the majority of seats we tested.

The biggest difference between the seats is the amount of foam they contain and their location inside the seat shell. Some seats have foam inside the entire shell, while others have more foam in the torso and head area with little or no foam at the bottom of the seat.

The manufacturer of the Maxi-Cosi claims that the headrest on the seat provides additional protection against side impact, but it is unclear what exactly it means

Soft foam – We tested some seats that provided softer foam around the head end of the seat. A good example of this is the Chicco NextFit or the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible, both of which offer a significant amount of additional soft foam around the head.

The manufacturer claims that this tested functionality has been tested by an independent laboratory to determine its ability to reduce side impact injuries.

However, this type of functionality is not the norm, and most of the soft foam on the seats is either for comfort or to mimic the appearance of impact resistance.

Car seat anchoring

There are two different methods of securing a car seat in a vehicle. We will provide you with an overview of each, including the most common reasons for using one over the other, or when you may need to use one over the other depending on the manufacturer’s directions.

You can find more information on installation in our article, How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes.

Read your vehicle’s user manual

To properly install your car seat, you should read not only the car seat user manual, but also your vehicle’s user manual.

Why? The vehicle manual is the primary authority on how to install the car seat and replaces the car seat manual if there is a conflict between the two directives. The vehicle manual is particularly important in determining how to install a car seat based on your child’s weight.

Installation using LATCH connectors – From 2002, the majority of cars in the United States have the compulsory LATCH (lower anchors and child restraints) in the positions of the left and right rear seats (not the central seat) ). This type of connection was created to provide a simpler method of attaching car seats.

Rear-facing installation of the Clek using the vehicle’s belt is almost as easy as the LACTH, both requiring the use of the same belt path

Seat belt installation – You can install all seats using the vehicle seat belt through the designated channels on the seat. Some products have built-in locks while others do not. We have found that locking generally facilitates this process.

The installation of the vehicle’s central seat is worth considering:
Placing the car seat in the center position can reduce injury by more than 40% compared to installing the seat in a side location.

During our installation tests, we found significant differences between car seats in terms of ease of installation with a seat belt depending on the vehicle we were using.

Parents who plan to use this location exclusively may want to install their seat of choice in this position to ensure that a good fit is possible before choosing to keep it (Amazon has an excellent and easy return policy).

The front-facing installation of the Clek Foonf for children over 2 years old using the vehicle’s belt is very secure and easy to carry out.

Both installation methods are possible, whether the seat configuration is rearward or forward. According to the laws of your region, children must be tied backwards up to a certain age or weight range.

We recommend that you keep children rear-facing as long as possible (within the limits of the seat) as this is safer for children in the event of an accident.

The choice of how to install is somewhat up to you and what works best for your car, but all seats will eventually need a seat belt as the LATCH method has weight restrictions.

To find the right installation angle, the Graco has a ball level which must be in the green zone for correct installation.

Level indicators

Each seat we tested has a level indicator to help parents confirm that the installation angle is correct. Although they are not all alike or do not work the same, they all provide similar information and advice.

Some of the level indicators are lines on the seat that are either molded in plastic or printed on a sticker on the side of the shell. The level line should be parallel to the ground after installation and it is best to observe it while staying away from the vehicle.

Some indicators look more like a traditional level than you would find in a construction with liquid and a bubble, or a small ball that rolls inside a plastic case that indicates that the seat is installed at the correct range of angle when it is in a pre-marked area on its way. It is important that parents use the level as indicated in the user guide with their seat.

The Boulevard has an easy to adjust harness height adjustment, without threads that works smoothly and is easy to use.

Shoulder height adjustment

Adjusting the shoulder height of the harness on a car seat may not seem very important until you have to do it. Being able to change the harness quickly and easily means your child will use a suitable harness at all times.

Avoid changing the height of the harness because it is convoluted or difficult to use, could result in poor seat tension. Failure to use the harness or seat correctly can result in injury or death in an accident, so this is an important feature to consider in any seat.

You can see the slots on the back of the shell on this Graco where the shoulder straps can be slipped on and attached to a divider plate at the back for height adjustment

Put the harness back on to adjust the height (yuck!)

Re-tightening the harness straps to adjust the shoulder height is the most difficult method of adjustment in the seats we reviewed.

Re-threading requires that you remove the harness straps from a connector on the back of the seat and unscrew the straps from their current locations on the back of the seats to move them to higher locations. The process itself is not that difficult, although it is complicated.

However, you generally don’t notice that you need to adjust the straps until your baby is in the seat. This process means that you will need to remove your baby from the seat and possibly the car seat to adjust it.

Then you will need to reinstall the seat before placing your baby inside and getting started. We are concerned that some parents may procrastinate to make adjustments for this reason. This hassle could lead to a cycle of forgetting to do it over and over again, letting your child drive with a poorly adjusted harness. Don’t do this !!

The height adjustment of the harness on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio has an easy-to-use pull tab, without the need to redo the straps. This is one of the simplest adjustment options on the exam.

Easy to adjust the height of the harness (without thread)

The easiest to change, and therefore our favorite seats, are those whose height can be moved without having to walk again. This design means no separation plate, no movement of the harness straps from one slot to another, no removal of the baby from the seat.

This type of adjustment can happen on the fly as soon as you notice that the harness needs to be changed.

The harness release button at the Chicco is visible and located on top of the padding. It has a small lip on one side to deter toddlers from playing with
Tightening and loosening of the harness

Once the shoulder straps are adjusted and your child is in the seat and fastened, the whole harness is tightened by pulling on the strap that hangs from the foot of the seat. This process should be easy, and in theory it is, but not all tightening straps are as easy as others.

You will know that the harness is tight enough when you cannot pinch the harness fabric between your fingers. This test is often called the “pinch test”.

Most of the harnesses we tested loosen by pressing a button near the seat leg, while others work by lifting a small lever in the same place. The button or lever should be somewhat rigid to prevent small hands from pressing the button.

However, they should not be so difficult to use that an adult cannot do it with one finger. Some seats have buttons that are visible on top of the seat fabric, while others have the concealed setting under the padding and fabric to help little ones avoid temptation (out of sight, out of mind) .

The Evenflo Tribute LX loop is one of the easiest to use in the group. Sides pop out when button is pressed


The buckles on the majority of the seats we tested are so remarkably similar that we can’t help but wonder if some of them come from the same assembly line.

Many were fairly easy to use, and while there was a pressure measure they had to respond to, some were too rigid and difficult to use. If you have thumb strength or structural hand problems, this may be more important to you than to others.

The Evenflo is the lightest seat in the group and one of the narrowest with just over 9 pounds and 17 inches


While the weight of the baby carrier in our review of baby seats was important because you have to transport baby carriers from place to place, the weight of the convertible seats is less important in our minds because you don’t not transport so often.

The Clek Foonf is a very heavy seat at 38 pounds and 6 ounces; it is heavy to carry and more than a handful. However, since you will rarely move or transport it, we don’t think it’s a breach of agreement or a priority on the consideration list for most parents.

Other features

Sometimes the biggest differences between the seats are the smallest details. In a kind of product where so many seats have a similar structure and function, the details are the only thing that sets them apart from each other.

With such regulated equipment, it could be difficult to distinguish one product from another, or for parents to decide why one is better than another without taking into account the characteristics that distinguish them.

The rear-facing Clek Foonf has a tilt adjustment accessory and a rebound bar, as well as a passage under the seat belt that includes a belt lock. It is the most innovative seat in the magazine and includes a rigid forward-facing LATCH system.

Anti-rebound bar

While the jury is on the effectiveness of the rebound bar providing additional protection, general physics seems to support the claim. This bar works on the rear-facing seat and prevents the seat from tipping back strongly against the vehicle seatback in the event of a collision.

It is the back-and-forth movement that causes head and neck trauma in a collision, so less movement theoretically means fewer injuries. Even though we like the idea of ​​the bar, we think that at the moment there is not enough information available for caregivers to think that the absence of this should be a break.

LATCH storage units are hard plastic pockets on each side of the base of the Chicco seat. They are a little awkward to put the anchors correctly, but they work well once they are correctly in place

LATCH storage
If you are using the seat belt to anchor your seat to the vehicle instead of the LATCH connectors, it is important to have a place to store unused anchors.

Unlike baby seats, where the anchors could interfere with the proper attachment of the support to the base, the anchors of the convertible seats are more of a nuisance than a potential danger. Not all storage options are great, and we prefer the options that keep the anchors attached to the hull body, so they don’t come loose.

Manual storage
On each seat there should be a place to store the user manual. You should have easy access to it in case you need it, but it shouldn’t be where the little ones can find it or where spilled items and vomit can reach it.

Built-in storage keeps the answers close at hand to improve overall usage and security. It is important to use the storage space as intended, so as not to find yourself without a manual when you need it.

Some seats store the manual under the padding where the child sits, which appears to be a bad place and place where it could easily be damaged, although this is better than places where children can find the manual and the destroy it before you notice it.

If you lose the manual or it is damaged, most are available online or you can order a new one from the company. It is better to do the extra work to get a manual than to guess specific information about the installation or design of your seat.

How do I decide which convertible car seat is best for my child?

With so many options and features to choose from, the decision to choose the car seat to buy can be daunting. We have divided the process into steps that help you determine what to consider when deciding which option is best for you and your child.

Although there are several excellent high performance products in this review, your particular needs or limitations may lead you to choose a different model that is best for you even if it did not win an award in our tests.

Step 1: Determine where the seat will go – installation

As mentioned earlier, where you plan to install the car seat can affect the seat you choose to purchase. It also affects where and how you plan to use the seat. Your usage pattern can make the difference between the option that best meets your needs and the one that will be frustrating to use.

Since more than 80% of car seats have been shown to have at least one serious installation problem, choosing an easy-to-install seat in the location (s) you choose will help keep baby safe.

Urban parents

If you live in a big city and will need to transport your little one in a taxi or Uber, you may want to look at some of the lighter seats. This would also be true if you travel frequently and plan to carry around a seat at the airport or on a train.

Some of these seats are heavy, and this should be a factor for parents who will not install the seat in their car and will not forget it.

Center or side?

Will your seat be installed on the central seat or on the side? Some vehicles do not offer LATCH connection points for the central seat, so you will want to check your vehicle for anchor points.

Alternatively, you can install the seat using the belt only, and we have found in testing that many seats feel very secure installed using a lap belt, and some were even easier to be installed with the vehicle belt only with LATCH.

Research shows a 43% lower risk of injury for center-attached car seats, but the central location is only safe if you anchor the seat properly. Research also shows that over 80% of car seats have at least one serious installation problem. Therefore, we suggest that parents take ease of installation as seriously as we do.

We think it should be noted that 61% of us parents put car seats on one of the side seats. The side seat is more convenient for getting the child in and out of the vehicle, and is the only option for families with several children or those with vehicles built before 2002.

Installing the car seat safely

Making mistakes when installing a seat or securing the baby in the seat is common. For this reason, we have devoted a separate article to this subject. It is essential that car seats are used correctly for them to function properly. For this reason, we recommend that parents consider ease of installation and ease of use as critical factors in their purchasing decision.

Step 2: ease of use

Because installing your seat will likely only be an occasional process for most parents, it’s the ease of daily use that will have an impact on your experience and the overall safety of the car seat.

Bringing your child up and down and strapping them in the harness are activities that you will have to perform daily. The difficulty of these activities will quickly become more important to you than the difficulty of anchoring the seat in the vehicle.

The ease of use varies from one seat to another with scores between 4 and 8 in our tests. Chances are you have a few spots on your list after considering installation locations and ease of installation. Find the seat or seats in this list which also offers a good score for ease of use.

Step 3: crash test performance

All seats in this review have passed the minimum requirements for crash tests as indicated by federal guidelines.

Many parents may consider crash test performance the most important factor in choosing a seat. However, we believe that because installation and ease of use have an impact on a parent’s ability to use the seat correctly (and therefore safely), and also influence overall safety in In the event of a collision from any seat, you must take this into account before the actual accident data takes effect. to play.

Since more than 80% of parents do not install or use their seat correctly, it does not matter how safe a product is if you do not use it correctly.

After finding a seat that is easy to install and use, it is important to find one that will work well in the event of a crash after installing it correctly and attaching the baby according to the instructions.

To assess the crash test data for each seat we examined, we analyzed their crash test results to compare the performance of each seat against the minimum score required by the federal government.

In addition, we assessed the performance of each seat compared to the other products in the review. Now that you’ve narrowed your list down to a few finalists, you can use our crash test analysis to choose the seat that offers extra headroom for your final selection.

Car seats expire

The foam used to make car seats has a real lifespan, so after a certain period of time, you should no longer use the seat and it should be destroyed. If you choose to use a shaking car seat, you must ensure that it has not already expired and will not expire in the 9 to 12 months you will need it. In addition, it is important to remove any car seat involved in an accident. Even if the seat seems uncompromising, you should still throw it away.


Buying a compact convertible car seat doesn’t have to be a daunting experience despite the plethora of options on the market. With a few key considerations and a review of the details of how each seat compares to the others, you have all the information you need to determine which seat will work best for your family.

We think the winners can fill the niche for just about any need and best budget car seat, but if you find another seat in the group that you think is more worthy, compare it to the best or award-winning products in this review.

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