The 30-Second Review

The best convertible car seats offer simple-to-use installation and adjustment features. To find our top picks, we talked to experts, took a close look at federal ease-of-use ratings, and surveyed over 100 parents on their favorite features. In the end, one seat stood out for its thoughtful design that puts parents and kids first.

Parent Favorite

The NextFit boasts high ease-of-use scores thanks to simple features like built-in seat belt lock-offs and a no-rethread harness. Plus, its nine recline positions help you achieve the safest angle for your child, no matter what kind of car you have.

Runner-Up

It offers the same simple installation and adjustment features as the NextFit. It’s padding isn’t machine-washable, but its 10 year expiration date makes it a good fit for parents looking to use a seat through multiple kids.

The Best Convertible Car Seat

Our parent testers’ hands-down favorite was the Chicco NextFit. At $300, it’s on the higher side of average — but in this case, you get what you pay for. Its features make it easier to install and adjust, like built-in seat belt lock-offs and a no-rethread harness. It’s also the most likely of our picks to help you achieve the safest recline angle for your child, regardless of your car — its nine recline positions mean it stands the best chance to fit in your back seat without DIY hacks like a rolled up towel or pool noodle.

You'll still need help from the prosAll car seats on the market have been tested and certified by manufacturers to meet federal safety standards — but they’re only safe when used correctly. To make sure your car seat is correctly installed, bring your car seat to a licensed Child Passenger Safety Technician for a free inspection.

Even seemingly inconsequential touches like level indicators in uniquely readable placements and a removable cup holder live within a contained, pod-like overall design that won our parents’ hearts for its efficiency and style. And its plush (read: machine-washable) materials and removable cup holder will make kids happy, too.

The Britax Marathon ClickTight is a close runner-up. At $340, it’ll cost you $40 more than the NextFit, but if you’re looking to keep the seat through multiple children, it’s a worthwhile investment — it’s built to last ten years as opposed to the NextFit’s eight. This seat is heavier and less plush compared to the Chicco, making it look more utilitarian, but it still offers nearly the same installation and adjustment features.

Featured Image for Convertible Car Seat

Our Picks for Best Convertible Car Seat

Parent Favorite

Chicco NextFitAll the features that make daily use simpler in the most streamlined, attractive package possible.

Parents were immediately drawn to the NextFit’s pod-like, contained design in comparison to other, more boxy seats. But the NextFit is hands-down the most practical, too. Its nine recline positions mean that it’s most likely to help you achieve a safe angle of recline for your child, regardless of what vehicle you own.

Chicco for Convertible Car Seat

Our parent testers latched onto one particular usability feature on every seat: the leveling system that confirms whether or not your seat is at a safe angle for your child. The NextFit was the only seat we tested with its bubble level indicator at eye-level and on both sides of the seat. Most other car seats’ levels are near the bottom — which means you’d have to bend over to check if its level every time you adjust the seat.

Level Comparison for Convertible Car Seat

Something the parents didn’t know is that both the Chicco and the Britax have built-in lock-off systems that secure a seat belt — while it’s not necessarily more or less safe than any other system, it makes installation simpler and leaves less room for error. Same goes for its no-rethread harness.

That might’ve been enough to give the NextFit an edge over the other seats already, but child comfort was the priority with parents that solidified Chicco’s winning status. Parents loved the airplane-pillow-shaped headrest and memory-foam-like texture of the seat cushion, especially when compared to the other, less luxe-feeling materials on the Graco and Britax seats. Combined with the seat’s superior (machine-washable) cushioning and removable cupholder, parents walked away convinced that this seat would make their kid happiest.

The NextFit also comes in an ultra-cleanable version.For $50 more, Chicco offers the NextFit Zip, the same car seat with a cover that zips off for even easier washing.

In terms of weight, the Chicco is much heavier than the Graco (though not quite as heavy as the Britax); lifting it feels similar to carrying a very full bag of groceries. That’s fine if you plan to leave it in one car — nearly half of the parents we surveyed do — but if you want a seat you could bring it to the airport when traveling or just need to move it between cars in the driveway regularly, you may be better off with the Graco.

The only reservation we had about the Chicco was a lower-than-average score in NHTSA’s ease-of-installation for rear-facing. After doing some digging, we credit that to a potentially less-than-ideal experience when parents install the seat rear-facing with a seatbelt.

NHTSA reports that the person installing the seat “must move padding to route the vehicle belt,” that some “interference” is possible between the seat and the belt routing system. Despite those potential issues, it did earn a “very good” rating for rear-facing belt installation from Consumer Reports. And since the everyday usability features of the NextFit surpassed all others, we were still willing to give it the edge.

One of our parent testers owns both the Britax and the Chicco models we brought in, and he confirmed that if he made the decision again, picking the NextFit would be an easy choice. And when all was said and done, every parent who checked out our picks was convinced that the NextFit was the best option, and we agree. With nice-to-have features and a streamlined design, the seat makes keeping your kid safe as convenient as possible.

Runner-Up

Britax Marathon ClickTightIt’s heavier and harder to clean than our top pick. Still, it’s a practical option with superb features and a notably long lifespan.

If you looked up “convertible car seat” in the encyclopedia, a photo of the Britax Marathon ClickTight is the photo you’d expect to see. It’s straightforward in its function and brings in style and creativity only in the details, like its quirky color schemes. (We couldn’t resist ordering it in “cowmooflage.”) But while the Britax didn’t blow any parents away with its looks, it stands out for its easy-to-use features and long life span.

The Britax came in with the highest NHTSA ease-of-use ratings of any of our picks, meaning this seat can be installed as easy as is possible, facing either direction using both LATCH and seat belt methods. And with seven recline positions, this one is almost as likely as our top pick to help you achieve the perfect recline angle in your car.

Britax for Convertible Car Seat

Why do car seats have an expiration date? The metal and plastic in seats expand and contract due to temperature changes and can crack/break down over time, and safety standards change every so often. To ensure your car seat is current in terms of safety and material integrity, keep an eye on that date — you should be able to find it on one of your seat’s labels.

Parents who want to use one seat for multiple kids should take note that the Marathon’s time-to-expiration is two years longer than either of the other seats we tested at ten years (Graco’s is seven years from when it was manufactured, Chicco’s is eight).

The drawbacks our parents found only came to light when they picked it up to move it and got their hands on its seat material. The seat itself is the bulkiest we tested, and testers noted that its slick, sporty seat fabric felt much less comfortable than the NextFit’s. Since that fabric isn’t machine-washable or tumble-dry safe and the seat doesn’t come with a cup holder or any extra child-focused accessories, we had to give the win on child comfort to Chicco.

Another Convertible Car Seat to Consider

Graco Contender 65Far and away the lightest seat we tested. This one has a couple quirks that make it trickier to install, but it's half the price of our top picks.

We’ll be honest, it’s pretty easy to see that the Graco is the cheapest of our three contenders. From the get-go, its cushioning isn’t as luxe as the Chicco and its overall design doesn’t feel as seamless as the other two top picks. What’s more, the lack of recline position options means it needs to either be an exact fit with your car, or you’ll need to use home hacks like a pool noodle or rolled up towel under the base.

However, cheaper doesn’t mean less safe. We liked that the Contender has the easy-to-adjust no-rethread harness and comfortable padding to compete with our top picks — for $160 less than the Chicco. And weighing in at 10 pounds lighter than either of the other two, it could be a fit for parents who might be moving the seat among cars often or plan on traveling by plane regularly with their child.

The padding in this one is also machine washable, unlike the Britax, which our parent testers thought was a plus. The one drawback to the Graco in terms of cleanliness, though, is its cup holder. Since it’s built into the structure of the seat and can’t be removed for cleaning, it’s essentially asking for crumbs to get stuck in it. We imagine occasional vacuuming is a commitment when buying this one, and parents generally preferred the Chicco NextFit’s more convenient, removable cup holder.

We should also point out that, in a couple areas, the Contender receives some average or below ease-of-use ratings from NHTSA. Those come into play with its manual that excludes instructions for using LATCH — both rear and forward facing installation requires you to twist its LATCH attachments to remove it from the vehicle anchors, which might be harder if you have large hands.

While our other two picks certainly max out ease-of-use and offer features that may be indispensable for some parents, the Contender still makes for a safe, budget-friendly buy.

Did You Know?

For lots of parents, it’s infant vs. convertible.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends driving with your child in a rear-facing car seat until they’re at least two years old. That means every parent needs to purchase a car seat that has a rear-facing option before bringing their baby home from the hospital; but deciding which one to buy means making a series of choices. The first decision is whether your child’s first car seat will be an infant seat (rear-facing only, with a carrier that’s detachable) or convertible seat (can be installed rear-facing at first, then reinstalled forward-facing when the child is ready)?

In terms of your infant’s safety, Dr. Hoffman said there’s no difference between putting your baby in an infant seat or a rear-facing convertible seat. But there are pros and cons that amount to parents choosing one over the other.

Infant Car Seats

  • Pros: Dr. Hoffman told us the first rule pediatricians always tell parents is “Never wake a sleeping baby.” The detachable carrier on an infant seat allows you to let sleeping babies lie once you’ve reached your destination. Plus, the carrier from an infant car seat is often compatible with strollers, making your car seat part of a convenient ecosystem.
  • Cons: Infant car seats are limited in length since they might butt up against the seat in front of them if they get too long. That means they’re more limited in height/length limits for the babies they can accommodate. AKA: Parents typically can’t use an infant car seat for two years, so they’ll have to switch to a rear-facing convertible seat eventually anyway.

Convertible Car Seats

  • Pros: Convertible car seats stay usable for longer since their weight and height limits are far beyond what an infant seat can offer.
  • Cons: Because the seat isn't portable, it's harder to take a baby out of the seat without waking them. You'll also need to purchase a separate stroller.

Of the parents we surveyed, 56% said they would purchase an infant seat first if they could do it all over again. But most parents will need a convertible seat sooner or later; Dr. Hoffman said babies hit the height limits by 9 to 12 months. And if a parent wants to comply with the AAP’s recommendation of keeping their baby rear-facing for the first two years, they’ll need to buy and install a rear-facing convertible car seat as soon as they hit that limit.

Registration is key.

It may not seem like a big deal, but registering your car seat is how you’ll be alerted if there’s a recall on the seat or its parts — sometimes companies even auto-send you replacement parts, making it easier for you to keep your child safe. Already toss the postage-paid registration card that came with your car seat? You can register online with your manufacturer using its model number, serial number, and manufactured date.

Clean your seat before you store it.

Parents often choose to store their car seat when their child grows out of it, just in case they’ll want to use it for another child in the future. If you plan on storing yours, Tot Squad’s founder and CEO Jennifer Beall says cleaning it first will help you avoid having to deal with nasty, set-in stains or moldy surprises when you take it out of storage later. Sound like too much work? Beall says to, at the very least, “Vacuum or professionally clean your seat before putting a newborn in it. They have a much weaker immune system.” Follow those cleanliness rules and storing your car seat is totally cool with the experts — as long as it hasn’t been in an accident and its expiration date hasn’t passed.

Knowing when to transition seats isn’t as confusing as it seems.

The parents we surveyed said that keeping up with car seat recommendations and knowing when to transition seats were two of the most confusing parts of using a car seat. According to Dr. Hoffman, it’s pretty simple. With every step (rear-facing to forward-facing, forward-facing to booster seat, and so on), your child loses protection. So even though it might feel like your child’s ready for the next step — hey, progress always feels good — you should always keep them in the most conservative position possible as long as possible.

But that doesn’t mean you should keep your child rear-facing if they’ve gotten too tall or too heavy — our experts stressed to always follow car seat manufacturers’ guidelines on weight and length. Once they hit either of those limits, it’s time to transition. For a good guide on typical ages when children hit car seat transition times, check out NHTSA’s online resources.

The Best Convertible Car Seat: Summed Up

Convertible Car Seat The Best
Chicco NextFit
Parent Favorite
Britax Marathon ClickTight
Runner-Up