New baby on the way? Congrats! You’re in for quite a ride. Researching car seats is often one of the first things expectant parents do, since they won’t be allowed to give their new babies their first rides without a car seat. There are lots of infant car seats for sale out there, and they all meet minimum government safety standards. Which one’s really best, and how much do you have to spend to get it?
First, you don’t have to get an infant seat. Unless your baby is really tiny, you can get by with a rear-facing convertible seat. Many parents prefer an infant, or “bucket” seat because they can transport the baby, sleeping or awake, without removing him from the seat–and as all new parents know, when the baby’s asleep, you’ll do just about anything to keep him that way.
You’ll use an infant car seat for anywhere from a few months to a year. Most seats are outgrown when the baby is 22 to 30 pounds and up to 32 inches long or so. Growth charts put the average baby hitting those marks at about a year. In my experience, once a baby is able to sit up, she will want to sit up, which is pretty hard to do in a bucket seat. Sitting up usually occurs long before a baby outgrows an infant seat.
- 5-Point Harness
- Front harness adjuster
- EPS foam
- Extra bases available for your other car(s)
- Compatible with your stroller
You’ll also want to think about how much infant seats weigh if you think you’ll be carrying it around often. The lightest seat below weights a full two pounds less than the heaviest seat below.
Reviewing the Seats
To begin my research for this guide, I studied data and ratings at these sites: ConsumerReports.org, ConsumerSearch.com, CarSeatData.org, Car-Safety.org, American Academy of Pediatrics 2009 Car Seat Safety Guide, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Ease of Use Ratings. Using that data, I narrowed the field to these four top-rated seats:
*seat weight without base
Then I asked car seat techs and aficionados to rate the seats above and offer recommendations. Here’s a condensed version of what they told me:
- Car seat tech Amanda says, “My top two picks are the Chicco Keyfit (especially the 30) and the Graco SnugRide 32. They both have all the features that make a seat easy to use and install. The Keyfit is definitely my favorite infant seat right now.”
- Car seat tech Wendy says, “I highly recommend both the Chicco KeyFit and Graco SnugRide 32.”
- Car seat enthusiast Karen says, “The SnugRide 32 is absolutely my first choice… I used that with my son and I liked the harness, ease of installation and weight/height limits.”
- Car seat enthusiast Gretchen says, “I would recommend either the KeyFit or the SnugRide 32, as they both have built in lock offs for easy installation. They also both have higher weight limits.”
- Graco SnugRide: Doesn’t fit tiny babies very well. Easily outgrown. Amazon’s best-selling seat. Lightest seat at 7.5 lbs. Many variations and price points. Can be cheapest seat, depending on model.
- BabyTrend Flex Loc: Narrow. Good if you have two or more car seats in your back seat.
- Graco SnugRide 32: Easy to install. Good up to 32 lbs, 32 inches (great for tall kids). Recommended by Consumer Reports and Car Seat Data.org. Can install without base. Favorite of our techs and enthusiasts. Handle can be left up (good for small cars). Drawback: heavy at 9.5 lbs. sans baby.
- Chicco Key Fit 30: Fits newborns well. Good up to 30 lbs. Easy to install. Favorite of our techs and enthusiasts. Recommended by Consumer Reports. Can install without base. Handle can be left up (good for small cars).
Recommendations: BC recommends the Graco SnugRide 32 for overall use, the Baby Trend Flex Loc if you’re short on back-seat space, and the less expensive Graco SnugRide if cost or weight of seat is the most important factor. Again, all four are great seats.