Are you looking for a quality car seat that doesn’t cost a mint? I’ve enlisted the help of some volunteer experts to make this list.
First, I researched models under $100 by reading reviews and ratings at several sources (Consumer Reports, CarSeatSite.com, NHTSA.gov, AAP.org, and Car-Safety.org) and came up with four seats that get high marks:
- Cosco Scenera ($80, top)
- Graco ComfortSport ($100, above left)
- Safety 1st Avenue ($75, above center)
- Cosco / Eddie Bauer Alpha Omega Elite ($90, above right)
I then asked car seat techs Amanda and Rebekah and car seat enthusiasts Karen and Jenny to take a look at my list and decide which they’d choose if they only had a hundred bucks to spend. All four experts agreed on their top two seats at or under $100. Here’s what they said:
Best Convertible Car Seat Under $100
Of the four seats above, Karen gave top marks to the Cosco Scenera. She prefered it over the Safety 1st Avenue because she “found the harness height on them to be shorter than others which is a problem for long term use.”
Amanda prefers the Safety 1st Avenue because she says it’s “only seat in this group that might get the average sized child to minimum booster age.” Amanda says the Scenera’s a “good basic budget seat, but an extra $20 for the Avenue will get about an extra year of growth and better safety foam.”
Rebekah pefers the 1st Avenue, saying that “it has a nice plush cover, a reasonably high seat shell, a 35 lb. rear-facing weight limit, tall enough harness slots for the average three-year old, but low enough harness slots for the average newborn.” She adds that “a higher-weight seat (like the Graco Nautilus) will still be necessary later, but new seats are being released all the time, and the prices on the higher-weight limit seats are coming down.” Rebekah gives second place to the Scenera.
Jenny likes the Scenera and the Alpha Omega Elite. She says she “would hesitate to spend more on the Alpha Omega simply because the max weight it can carry forward facing in a 5-point harness is 40 pounds – same as the Scenera. It works as a belt-positioning booster after 40 lbs. and up to 100 lbs.”
None of our experts recommends the Graco ComfortSport. Karen says it’s difficut to install. Amanda and Rebkah add that it’s small and kids outgrow it too quickly. Rebeka adds that, “Graco as a company has ignored the massive amount of evidence showing the increased safety of rear facing past the legal minimums and does very little to promote it. They make excellent infant seats, and excellent booster seats, but they really have dropped the ball on that second stage.”
Best Convertible Car Seat Under $175
Next, I added three highly-rated, slightly more expensive seats to the list–First Years TrueFit (left, $170), Evenflo Triumph Advance DLX (center, $150), and Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 (right, $140)– and upped the spending limit to $175. (Note: Graco Nautilus is actually a forward facing-only seat and not a convertible seat. It shouldn’t be used for children that should still be in a rear facing seat.)
What’s the difference at this price point? Amanda recommends buying the seats with the highest top slots you can afford so that kids won’t outgrow the seat so quickly. She says the First Years TrueFit, the Evenflo Triumph Advance, and the Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 have higher top slots than the four less expensive seats. Amanda also says that the three more expensive seats give you “convenience factors” that make the seats easier to install and use properly.
Of the convertible seats, Karen likes the First Years TrueFit at this price point. She says she’s heard good things about the Evenflo Triumph Advance but that it’s large and the harness adjustment seems difficult to use.
Amanda likes the TrueFit’s ease of installation and no re-thread harness but adds that the seat is very wide and may cause space issues if you need to seat three in the back seat. She says the removable headrest may help the seat fit in smaller vehicles. Amanda’s second choice at the $175 price point is the Evenflo Triumph Advance, which has a slightly-lower weight limit. Safety 1st Avenue is her third choice.
Rebekah chose the Evenflo Triumph Advance followed by the TrueFit. She loves the Triumph’s infinite harness adjustment. Both seats, she says, “have nice high harness slots, but low enough bottom positions for newborns. They both have a high upper weight limit … and a 35 lb. rear facing weight limit.” She notes that “The top harness position on the Evenflo is actually a hair taller than the topmost position on the Britax Marathon.”
Karen, who has owned a Graco Nautilus, says that although the Nautilus 3-in-1 is a forward facing-only seat rather than a convertible, “it would be a great step from the Scenera.” Karen’s daughter loves the Nautilus’ cup holders and storage points. Karen says the Nautilus’ harness is easy to adjust and rethread and the seat itself is easy to install.
Jenny also likes the Nautilus: “What a great buy for so much less money than a fancy seat. I actually own one of these and plan to buy another when my youngest out grows his rear-facing seat. It’s compact, has nice fabric, easy to install and has decent support for the sleeping head. …The only thing I get annoyed with is finding all the straps when he’s in it – the crotch strap is hard to retrieve.”
The Bottom Line:
If you have $100 to spend, our experts equally favor the Safety 1st Avenue (the least expensive seat we discussed!) and the Cosco Scenera. If you have $175 to spend, go for the or the First Years TrueFit or the Triumph Advance DLX. The Nautilus is well-liked by those who own it, but make sure it’s appropriate for your child before considering.
A million thanks to our experts for volunteering to help with this article:
Amanda, who started researching car seats and child passenger safety when she was pregnant with her son (who is now two), is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician and a “big supporter of Extended Rear Facing (ERF) and Extended Harnessing (EH).
Karen is a mother of three young children who has “been through many baby items and even more car seats.” She’s an extended harnessing advocate and does some serious research before she buys a seat. She also likes finding the best deal she can.
Rebekah, a mom of a 12, 10 and 5 year old, has been a Safe Kids certified Child Passenger Safety Technician since 2005. She lives in Richmond, VA.
Jenny is a stay-at-home mom of two and car seat enthusiast.