Car Seat Buyers Guide

At a Glance

If you’ve already considered all the available features of toddler car seats, and know which ones you need or want, you can skip the following and head directly to our soon to come comparison table.

From there, you’ll be able to see at a glance which seats have the features you’re looking for, and which ones don’t. You’ll also be able to follow a link that will take you directly to our review, as well as a link that will provide you with the current price.

Car Seat Features & Options

As I mentioned, there’s an array of features available to car seats. Obviously, not every seat is going to have all features. Here’s just a quick overview of some of the features that may or may not be important to you in your situation.

  • FAA Approved Car Seats
    Do you do a lot of traveling? Is there a chance that you’re going to fly with your child? Then you want to look for a seat that has been approved for flying by the FAA.  If a car seat has passed FAA testing, and falls within its guidelines, there will be an FAA approved sticker generally placed underneath the car seat. Part of the testing that is done will ensure that should the plane ever begin to fly upside down, your child will still remain firmly strapped in the seat.However, be aware that just because a seat has been approved for flying by the FAA, it does not mean that your car seat will fit in every airplane seat.  Here’s where a little due diligence on your part will have to come in. Before flying, either call the airline or do a Google search on the plane and see what the width dimensions of the seat are. Make sure you don’t get the overall width — what you want to know is the width between the armrests, or the width at the narrowest point. While I haven’t reviewed it here, one car seat that is repeatedly recommended for flying is the Combi Coccoro. It’s one of, if not the narrowest car seats on the market.
  • The LATCH System
    Whether you’ve just started looking At best toddler car seat reviews, or you’ve been researching for a while, you’ve come across reference to the LATCH System. LATCH stands for a lower anchors and tethers for children. This is technology that was introduced in 2002, and the purpose of its design was to make sure car seats were being installed correctly. The LATCH System makes the install process a little bit easier by removing some of the complications.  Many parents were not properly securing car seats because they didn’t understand how to properly do so using the car’s seat belts. However, this is not meant to imply that LATCH was by any means designed as a replacement for seatbelts.
  • Care & Comfort Options
    While safety features, like the above mentioned FAA approval or the LATCH System are extremely important, make sure you give some thought to comfort and care options as well. Your child is going to spend many hours in their car seat, and you not only want them to be safe, you want them to be comfortable and happy. So give some thought to things like how plush the car seat is.  Another very important thing to consider is the washing and care instructions.

My Favorite Choices

Just like we offered a comparison table in order to speed things up for you, here’s a list of my top five picks for toddler car seats, and a few of the reasons why.

Recaro ProRide Convertible Car Seat
Since this is the toddler car seat that I ultimately chose for Micah, the ProRIDE tops my favorite choices.  Recaro is a German seat manufacturing company. They manufacture seats for sports cars and for airplanes, so clearly they know seats. This seat has lots of safety features and is easy to install, as well as being a convertible seat that will see your child to a maximum of 70 pounds in a booster seat.

Recaro Performance SPORT
Another winner from Recaro, proving they know it all when it comes to seats of any kind. In line with some of the features and options mentioned above, this convertible seat is FAA Approved, and has SoftTouch seat cushions.

Graco Nautilus Elite
The Nautilus Elite is build on a steel reinforced frame providing strength and durability. This car seat meets and exceeds all US safety standards. It has plenty of plush padding to see to your child’s comfort, including extra padding in the headrest, seat back, and in a plush memory foam seat bottom.

Chicco NextFit
The Chicco NextFit — also known as the NextFit 65 (see review for clarification) — is a fabulous convertible car seat. Some upgrades were made to it based on customer feedback in late 2013, making this another truly awesome car seat.

Evenflo Symphony Elite
This car seat has won multiple awards, including being rated as a Best Bet by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. One really neat feature is a fabric that is said to be able to keep your child’s body temperature even absorbing both hot and cold temperatures and dissipating them as necessary.

More General Information

I talked quite a bit about convertible car seats, but of course that’s not your only option. As stated earlier, we initially chose an infant car seat before Micah was born.  And that was solely based upon the fact that that was the seat that we like the best at the time. As far as car seats go, there are three specific types of seats they will go through until they’re able to sit in the regular car seat. And depending on manufacturers, there are size and height regulations that your child must fall within, for any type seat. They’ll start off in a rear facing infant car seat, which typically go from about 5 pounds to 20 pounds.  Once they have surpassed the height and weight requirements for a rear facing infant seat, they graduate to a front facing seat. Guidelines at this stage have changed, stipulating that your child should stay in a rear facing seat as long as possible, as that is the safer position for them. From the front facing toddler car seat, they move on to a simple booster seat, and from there, your vehicle’s seat.

At this point I haven’t reviewed any infant car seats, simply because that was not my focus at the time, however I might come back and provide a few reviews for this site.

Please note that in a lot of cases, it isn’t an issue of one car seat being better than the other. It’s likely just that it’s better for you.  Not every car seat will fit in your car, and not every six car seat will be appropriate for your child, given their size and weight. There’s a lot of variables with regards to manufacturers requirements, so for instance if you want your child to stay in a rear facing seat for as long as possible, you need to buy a seat that has weight and height guidelines that will allow for that. For example, the Evenflo Symphony mentioned above allows for a child up to 40 pounds to remain in the rear facing position, but the Safety 1st  Alpha Omega Elite only allows for a child up to a maximum of 35 pounds to remain rear facing.

Something Else to Think of

A lot of the car seats that we have reviewed here, if not most of them, are big, heavy seats. So if you’re going for a convertible car seat which will see your child from infancy on, you likely need to think of some sort of carrier. You are not going to be hauling your child around in their car seat, as you can with some types of infant car seats.

With that in mind, I’ve also done a series of mini reviews on the following:

Since I was on a roll, I thought it might be appropriate to do a selection of reviews on baby strollers and monitors as well.  Makes sense, right?

Just a Few Things in Closing

I mentioned somewhere on one of the reviews that buying a car seat is almost as complicated as buying a car itself. And frankly, it might cause you more worry. I realize there are a lot of resources on the net that you can turn to for advise, but when I was doing my research, I found I couldn’t find everything I needed in one place. My goal was to put together a place where parents could find all the safety tips, all the explanations of different features and options, plus reviews of popular brands, all in one place.

When writing this page, there was a news story of a baby that was killed in a car accident. The report said the seat was installed incorrectly, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, the baby wasn’t strapped in properly either. Let’s educate ourselves so that something like that never happens again.