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Convertible Car Seats Buying Guide


Parents and other caregivers looking for convertible car seats for their young children often have a tough time sorting out what’s available. While you want the best convertible car seats, you don’t want to pay too much or go overboard with expensive features that aren’t really necessary.

Some parents may not realize that a convertible car seat may suit their child’s needs, not knowing exactly what a convertible car seat is or what to look for. Here, we take some of the mystery and confusion out of convertible car seat buying.

What is a convertible car seat?

A convertible car seat is heavier than an infant-only car seat. It is also larger. Convertible car seats face toward the back of the car at first and later can be turned to front-facing. That’s the advantage of buying a convertible car seat rather than an infant-only and then a forward-facing seat. Depending on the seat, a convertible car seat can take a child from infancy or birth to somewhere in the range of 40 to 80 pounds and up to 50 inches in height.

Another type of convertible seat is known as a 3-in-1 seat that can change from rear-facing to forward-facing and finally into a booster seat for children weighing up to 100 pounds.

Convertible car seats - Britax Marathon 70

What should you look for in a convertible car seat?

Safety has to be the primary consideration of any parent in searching out a convertible car seat, or any car seat, for that matter. The good news is that every car seat sold in America has to meet federal safety regulations.

First and foremost is that a convertible car seat has to fit your child and your vehicle. Buying an expensive car seat with all the bells and whistles doesn’t make a lot of sense if it doesn’t work for your child or your car. A very inexpensive seat, while it may be good for the household budget, may also not be the best choice.

Easy installation is another important consideration. If the convertible car seat is not easily installed, you may need to have someone show you how to do it or have it installed at a car seat safety inspection station.

Ease of use is paramount as well. How comfortable are you with adjusting the harnesses, or in transitioning from rear-facing to forward-facing mode? Check out the ease-of-use five-star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for convertible car seats. The First Years True Fit (I-Alert, Premier, Recline and SI, in rear- and forward-facing) achieved the NHTSA’s highest overall five-star rating.

Convertible car seats - Graco MyRide 65

Pros and cons of convertible car seats

Still confused about whether a convertible car seat is best for your child? Here are some of the positives and negatives about convertible car seats.

Pros:

  • There’s less cost involved overall. You also save money because you don’t have to buy a new seat when the child reaches 20 pounds. This type of car seat fits most children from 5 pounds to at least 40 pounds.
  • Convertible car seats, say many parents, are easier to use.
  • You only need one seat for an extended period of the child’s growing time.
  • Convertible seats are better for older children, in the view of many parents.

Cons:

  • Preemies and small newborns don’t fit well in convertible car seats (especially with the shoulder strap level). This means you’ll have to buy added accessories to adequately fit newborns and young babies in a convertible car seat, since they are larger than infant car seats.
  • Once installed, they are not easily removable. This makes convertible car seats inconvenient.
  • Convertible car seats do not recline as much as infant car seats. This may make it more difficult for the baby to sleep while in the car seat.
  • You can’t carry a convertible car seat with you when you leave the car. That means taking the baby out of the convertible car seat and placing him/her in a stroller or other portable carrier. This makes running errands and shopping with baby more of a hassle.
  • One often-mentioned negative of 3-in-1 convertible car seats is that each stage tends to get outgrown before the child is ready for the next stage.

Convertible car seats - The First Years TrueFit Recline

Here are some pros and cons of three well-known and popular convertible car seats.

The First Years True Fit – Pros: comfortable, generally easy to install, tall shell (but it doesn’t take up a lot of front-to-back room; cupholder; cover comes off easily for washing and doesn’t require rethreading; wide seating area; lots of leg room, high (17.5-inch top slots); fits newborns well, and seat sits low on the vehicle seat. Cons:  width (the seat is wide); harness adjuster is tough to get to rear-facing; harness is set wide, so kids with narrow shoulders may tend to slip out or it); lock-offs can be difficult if the belt doesn’t fit in them properly); 35-pound rear-facing weight limit.

Britax Marathon 70 - Pros:  In forward-facing, the seat accommodates kids from 20 to 70 pounds and up to 49 inches in height; in rear-facing, from 5 to 40 pounds and up to 49 inches. Cons: The NHTSA’s five-star ease-of-use ratings say that in forward-facing, the belt path “may not comfortably accommodate a larger hand. The restraint’s belt-positioning features may be “confusing to tedious” to use. Evaluation of labels indicates that there’s no caregiver reminder to tighten the LATCH belt, no instructions for use of the tether, and the tether is not labeled in the instructions for modes of use.

Graco MyRide65 – Forward-facing seat accommodates a child from 20 to 65 pounds and up to 50 inches in height; in rear-facing, the numbers are from 5 pounds to 40 pounds and until the child’s head is one inch below the top of the restraint. Cons: Installation (RF) issue: “Interference is possible between a seat component and the belt routing system,” says the NHTSA ease-of-use rating. There’s also “not three levels of built-in recline available” and hook-style LATCH attachments “may require twisting to remove from the lower anchors.”

 

MORE: car seat costs and car seat tips.

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