Which Is Better: Convertible Or All-In-One Car Seat?

convertible car seats - Britax Marathon UltimateComfort Series

Many parents and caregivers struggle with the decision to choose a convertible or all-in-one car seat to meet their child’s needs. Each seat has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to thoroughly investigate a particular seat before buying to determine that it will be adequate for your situation.

Convertible car seats

A convertible car seat is larger and heavier than an infant-only car seat. Designed to meet a child’s needs from birth to somewhere between 40 and 80 pounds and up to 50 inches in height, depending on the seat, they are placed rear-facing (facing the back of the car) at first and later can be turned to face forward (forward-facing) with a harness.

Advantages of a convertible car seat:

  • It’s cheaper to buy one for a newborn instead of beginning with an infant-only car seat and then making the change to a convertible.

Disadvantages of a convertible car seat:

  • According to safety experts, young babies are safer in an infant-only car seat.
  • Parents often complain that infants, particularly small infants, seem to be swimming in a convertible car seat, requiring the use of head rests, blankets, towels or other cushioning to keep the baby safely in the seat until he grows into it.
  • There’s also the convenience factor. Convertible car seats are less convenient for parents at first. This is because they’re heavy. Unlike infant car seats, convertible car seats must be installed in the car, not clicked into a base installed in the car.
  • They’re not portable, at least, not easily. This means parents can’t take them in and out of the car all that quickly, carry the baby in them or snap them into a stroller.

convertible car seats - Diono Radian RXT convertible

All-in-one car seats

As the name suggests, an all-in-one car seat serves multiple stages. An all-in-one car seat can be changed from the rear-facing position to forward-facing and then into a booster seat for kids weighing up to 100 pounds.

Parents should take note that some all-in-one (also called 3-in-1) car seats are not designed for babies. They are forward-facing only and convert from a car seat for older toddlers to high-back and then to backless booster.

Examples of all-in-one convertible car seats include the Graco Smart Seat All-in-One and the Diono Radian RXT.

Bottom line: Weigh and balance whether you want to stick with a single car seat for as long as possible, using it from your child’s birth to the transition to forward-facing, or buy a different type of seat that accommodates from toddler on.

Keep in mind that you want a rear-facing seat until your child is roughly 2 years old, or surpasses the height and weight limits for that car seat. Check the car seat instruction book or the labels on the car seat itself. More information on car seat recommendations for children (age and size chart and type of seat recommended) is available at the Parents Central page of Safercar.gov.

MORE: car seat costs and car seat tips.

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