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8 Best Infant Car Seats

Everything you need to know about one of the most important purchases you’ll make as a new parent.

best infant car seats
Staff, Courtesy of Baby Trend

When you’re in your mid 30s, wedding registries turn into baby registries, and it’s easy to get caught up in all the stuff you need to care for a tiny human.

But perhaps the most important purchase you’ll make as a new parent is an infant car seat. After all, in most places, you won’t be able to leave the hospital without one. And it can be overwhelming to find the best infant car seat, especially in the age of user reviews.

Here’s what you need to know when it comes to finding the best infant car seat and our top picks.

What to Look For

Safety Standards

If you’re shopping from a big-box store or from credible sellers online, you’re going to come across a handful of well-known brand names. These mainstream car seats have been tested against the NHTSA FMVSS 213 performance and design criteria for child restraint systems for children up to 80 pounds, explains Laura Dunn, highway-safety specialist for the occupant protection division of NHTSA.

“These performance standards don’t tell manufacturers how they need to design, but they’re the minimum performance standards that each car seat must meet to be safe,” Dunn says.

Manufacturers self-certify their products. Dunn’s organization randomly tests a sampling of U.S. car seats and booster seats, and has never come across a company that tried to sidestep the testing protocol.

The standards include requirements for labeling and instructions, flame retardant for fabric and webbing, buckles and release pressure, force needed to open buckles, anchor or seat-belt security, and weight and height limitations. Seats must also pass a 30-mile-per-hour frontal sled test to simulate a head-on crash.

Some manufacturers claim their infant car seat or booster seats are side-impact tested. Currently, NHTSA does not have a federal side-impact standard for child restraint systems. A spokesperson for NHTSA said the group is working to adopt a standard in 2022, with January as a target date for publishing a final rule.

“Manufacturers may not advertise their products in a manner that suggests compliance to a NHTSA side-impact test prior to the agency’s issuance of the standard,” the spokesperson told me in an e-mail. “If a manufacturer advertises its products as having been ‘side-impact tested,’ it’s referring to its own assessment, and not NHTSA’s testing.”

The other essential consideration is whether the car seat fits your car and that you’re able to correctly install and use it every time, says Ben Hoffman, M.D., chair of the AAP Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention, and a certified child passenger safety technician instructor.

“There is never a one-size-fits-all car seat,” Hoffman says. “The right car seat fits the family car and the individual child, and it’s one that parents feel they can use correctly every time.”


Expensive is not always better. When it comes to car seats, higher prices might point to more comfortable fabric, extra padding for comfort on the shoulder straps, or features that make installation and use easier, Hoffman says. “But a more expensive seat will not have been shown to be safer.”

Infant car seats, car seats, and booster seats aren’t cheap, but your child will be in them for years. Paying $350 for a seat your child uses every day for the next three years is 32 cents per day.


Speaking from personal experience, I definitely see a benefit to purchasing an infant car seat that clicks into a base. You can leave just the base in the car and tote the car seat around without having to wake a sleeping newborn. But, that means you’re purchasing an infant car seat, which lasts maybe a year, and then you have to buy the giant $200–$350 car seat.

Convertible car seats are the big, expensive models that your kids will fit into for years—up to 65 pounds for forward-facing and about 57 inches for maximum kid height. They’ll start rear-facing and then you can convert them to forward-facing before moving up to a booster seat.

Dunn says for smaller babies, the harness dimensions might not be small enough, and would then recommend a rear-facing-only seat.

Ease of Use

After finding a seat that fits your baby, the top consideration is how easily you can operate the car seat. Does your car allow for anchors, which can mean easier installation? Or does it require a seat belt for attachment? Is the harness easy (for the adult) to operate?

Dunn recommends going into a store (even if you don’t end up purchasing a seat there that day) and asking to install a seat in your car to make sure you can do it. She says this is a common request, particularly at baby-specific stores.

Britax B-Safe Gen2 Infant Car Seat

Are Used Infant Car Seats Safe?

Not surprisingly, used infant car seats and car seats tend to be significantly less expensive than new. And while you can safely buy used car seats, there are certain boxes to check, Dunn says. In fact, NHTSA has a used car seat safety checklist.

Dunn emphasizes buying from someone you trust completely. “You don’t want to use a car seat when you don’t know its history,” she says. For example, a car seat that has been in a car crash might have damage that you can’t see. If you decide to purchase a used car seat, Dunn says, follow this guidance:

  • Don’t buy an expired car seat.
  • Make sure it’s never been involved in a crash, of any kind (which is why we recommend buying from someone you trust).
  • Check for open recalls; if there is one, contact the manufacturer to learn more.
  • Confirm there are no missing parts.
  • The seat has its instructions (you can usually find them online), and labels with date of manufacture and model number.

Car seats expire for a reason. In some cases, newer models follow updated guidance and safety standards, Dunn says. Hoffman also says technology is updated over the years. Also, consider where the seats were stored. In environments with hot summers and cold winters, “the plastic goes through tremendous stress,” he says, while webbing can undergo wear and tear that degrades the quality. “The integrity of the car seat itself can be called into question.”

How to Avoid Noncompliant and Counterfeit Infant Car Seats

As if new parents don’t have enough to worry about, there are counterfeit car seats. The biggest red flag is a too-good-to-be-true price for a brand name, Dunn says. Another issue is noncompliant seats: not counterfeit, but which don’t meet test standards.

Car seats that are noncompliant are commonly found on online retailers like (use the checklist mentioned above), and they tend to be very inexpensive. (Dunn said the NHTSA monitors online retailers to help ensure products meet standards.)

Take your car seat to a certified child passenger safety technician for proper installation; they’re learning how to determine if a seat is fake or noncompliant, Dunn says. “Your seat needs to have labels in English and Spanish, a registration card, and a retainer clip or chest clip. A non-American phone number is a red flag.” If any are missing, return the seat promptly.

How We Selected

As a parent of two—a 4-year-old and an almost 2-year-old—I’ve done my fair share of research for my own purchases, but for this buyer’s guide I dug even deeper, speaking with Ben Hoffman, M.D., a pediatrician from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and Laura Dunn, a highway safety specialist with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the organization that creates standards for car seat testing.

I considered price, product longevity (will it grow with your kids?), ease of use, comfort (for babies and parents), and special features.

This list includes models I’ve used, which covers half the products highlighted, and those which close, trusted parents have used. We also dug into consumer reviews for the full picture.

In specs, I highlight max weight requirements because babies and kids tend to hit those before they hit max height requirements. But be sure to familiarize yourself with both for safety and compliance.

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Best Budget for Rear-Facing-Only
Baby Trend Secure Snap Tech 35 Infant Car Seat
Baby Trend

Key Specs

  • Convertible: No
  • Minimum Weight: 5 lb.
  • Maximum Weight: 35 lb.
  • Product Weight: 18.1 lb.

This Baby Trend model boasts an oversize canopy that comes in handy during sunny walks or when traveling to and from the car in a rainstorm. Users love the comfort-grip handle for toting the seat around, as well as the extra cushion for baby’s comfort, including a newborn insert for lower weights. At 18 pounds, this seat is heavier than similar seats—and that’s without a baby in it.

The price is appealing, some $100 cheaper than other brands, but we did see complaints about the seat’s straps. Users noted they were difficult to adjust, and in some cases it was challenging to get each strap even with one another.

  • Less expensive than similar models
  • Oversize canopy

  • Can be challenging to buckle
  • Buckle can pinch legs
  • Users had problems with adjusting straps
Best Mid-Range Rear-Facing-Only
Chicco Keyfit Infant

Key Specs

  • Convertible: No
  • Minimum Weight: 4 lb.
  • Maximum Weight: 22 lb.
  • Product Weight: 9 lb.

Aside from its max weight of 22 pounds, Keyfit’s Infant model is identical to its more expensive sibling, the Keyfit 30, whose max weight is 30 pounds.

We used this model for both kids, and the only reason we opted for this one versus the Keyfit 30 was because it was rated slightly higher in a buyer’s guide. But it didn’t disappoint.

It’s pretty light at just nine pounds, and the click feature left no doubts as to whether the seat was properly installed in its base. The bases are fairly inexpensive on their own, so you can purchase an extra for a second car. We love the feature that indicates if the base is level, for added confidence in installation.

As a mom of two spit-uppers, I wish the shoulder padding had Velcro to remove for easy washing. Instead, I had to unthread the straps to slide the pads off, and rethreading them properly was confusing.

Like most infant car seats, with the proper insert, this worked with a stroller—we bought a Chicco Bravo stroller. While universal bases are available that allow mixing and matching of seats and strollers, don’t assume. Check with the manufacturer of a stroller to make sure your seat will work with it.

  • High quality
  • Easy installation
  • Lightweight

  • Hard to wash shoulder strap pads
  • Small canopy
  • Some users found it to be long for shorter cars
Best For Parents With Their Hands Full
Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35
$119.00 (30% off)

Key Specs

  • Convertible: No
  • Minimum Weight: 4 lb.
  • Maximum Weight: 35 lb.
  • Product Weight: 14.7 lb.

Graco is a trusted OG brand for all things baby, including car seats. Several families I talked to like Graco because of its durability and midrange price point. This model fits babies up to 35 pounds.

Similar to the Chicco Keyfit, this Graco model uses “Click Connect” (marketing speak) for easy installation into the (included) car seat base and compatible stroller system. Graco says it’s tested for side-impact protection, but to reiterate, there aren’t yet federal standards for that test.

The seat offers four recline positions, which helps for a better fit in a range of cars.

Parents love the one-hand adjustment handle, which the Chicco does not have and which makes it possible to move the handle down while holding a baby.

  • One-hand adjustment handle
  • Easy installation
  • Good for travel on airplanes

  • Can be hard to wash
Britax B-Safe Gen2 Infant Car Seat

Key Specs

  • Convertible: No
  • Minimum Weight: 4 lb.
  • Maximum Weight: 35 lb.
  • Product Weight: 11 lb.

Britax is a pricier brand for all things baby, but it’s popular for good reason: The seats are reliable, durable, and attractive-looking. The B-Safe Gen2 offers a single-hand buckle release and an oversize canopy with UPF 50+ for sunny walks.

For ease of use, this model offers a simple button release for LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers For Children) connectors. LATCH uses anchor installation versus seat-belt installation. Both are safe, but some parents prefer the ease of LATCH installation. Bear in mind LATCH lower anchors have a maximum weight limit of 65 pounds (rear-facing) and 69 pounds (forward-facing), including your child and the car seat, so once you’re over those limits, switch to seat-belt installation.

Users rave about the extra padding and soft, washable material. One parent I spoke with likes the Britax stroller that works with this car seat for its smooth ride and easy connection.

Some reviewers compare this model to the more expensive version that has an “anti-rebound bar.” It should be noted that this is an extra feature, which the manufacturer claims “reduces rebound rotation by up to 30 percent in a crash,” but is not required by federal regulations.

  • Comfortable, washable fabric
  • Single-hand buckle release

  • Pricey
Best All-In-One Seat
Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 Car Seat

Key Specs

  • Convertible: Yes
  • Rear-Facing Weight Range: 4 to 40 lb.
  • Forward-Facing Weight Range: 22 to 65 lb.
  • High-Back Booster Weight Range: 40 to 100 lb.
  • Backless Booster Weight Range: 40 to 120 lb.
  • Product Weight: 23 lb.

Welcome to the world of tanks disguising themselves as car seats. Regardless of whether you choose a convertible seat at birth, once your baby outgrows an infant seat, it’s time to put them in something that takes up most of the back seat.

This Graco model can take your kiddo from birth through college. We’re only sort of kidding. But it does cover all stages of car-seat use, from rear-facing to backless booster seat, and safely holds kids up to 120 pounds. A dear friend of mine bought six of these (or similar models)—two each for three cars. And she acknowledges it cost a small fortune, but it was better than having to play musical car seats.

Because of the size (like most convertible seats), if you need to fit three across, you’re going to need a bigger car.

The DLX model has a removable cover that comes off without having to take the seat out for easier washing.

  • Steel-reinforced frame
  • Two cup holders
  • Fits babies and kids through 120 pounds
  • Easy-to-wash cover

  • Users complained about lack of neck support, but that may be an installation error
Best for Longer-Term Rear-Facing
Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat

Key Specs

  • Convertible: Yes
  • Rear-Facing Weight Range: 4 to 50 lb.
  • Forward-Facing Weight Range: 22 to 65 lb.
  • Product Weight: 19 lb.

When your kids hit certain milestones, there’s cause for celebration: She sits up, takes her first steps, tries a new food. But the AAP Council’s Hoffman warns against rushing the car seat milestone. “Just because your child reached the minimum requirement to turn the seat around at one year and 20 pounds, we don’t want families to turn kids around on their birthday,” he says. “In general, rear-facing does better than forward-facing or a booster seat in a crash.” He points to crash dynamics and physics to explain this.

For this reason, parents might like the Extend2Fit seat from Graco, which added 5 inches of height to let children ride rear-facing for longer. This model allows you to adjust the height of the headrest and harness in one motion—no more fiddling with various latches or handles.

And perhaps the harness-free storage pocket is over the top, but it holds the harness out of the way for getting your kiddo in and out more easily.

  • Extension allows for children to ride rear-facing for longer
  • No rethread harness (use a handle to adjust the shoulder strap height)
  • Affordable

  • Seats are too large to fit three across
  • Cleaning can be a challenge
  • Square cup holders
If You Liked Chicco Keyfit
Chicco NextFit Zip Air

Key Specs

  • Convertible: Yes
  • Rear-Facing Weight Range: 5 to 40 lb.
  • Forward-Facing Weight Range: 22 to 65 lb.
  • Product Weight: 25.1 lb.

When we were choosing the next model after our kids outgrew their infant seats, we landed on whatever the buyer’s guide recommended. It happened to be the same brand—Chicco—as the infant seat, and we’re happy enough with it that we bought a second. (Note: Chicco upgraded the NextFit Zip Air, which is what we have, with the ($300) NextFit Zip and the ($330) NextFit Max Zip Air.)

I balked at the price tag: $330. But I reminded myself that my kids were going to sit in this every day for years to come. It’s giant, and with two of them in the backseat of a Toyota Corolla (one rear-facing, one forward-facing), our entire back row is basically a car seat. Larger vehicles may offer a bit more room.

There is a zip cover for easy washing, but the zipper is a little tricky to work around the crotch buckle. I usually just vacuum up the goldfish and pretzels and call it a day. The cup holder is removable, which makes it easy to clean but also easy for my kids to rip off and throw at each other.

I do have trouble keeping the straps from twisting, and it’s impossible to fix it when you’re also trying to strap a kid in. Both kids like to buckle the chest strap, so that gives them something to do while I tend to the crotch buckle.

The padding seems to be comfortable; both kids can nap in the car for hours at a time. And unlike the infant version, the shoulder straps have Velcro pads to allow for easy washing.

Overall, we’re pleased—we bought two, after all. But if I were to do it again, I might opt for a more versatile seat with a higher weight limit, like the Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 Car Seat.

  • Comfortable
  • Easy installation
  • No rethread harness
  • Zip-off cover

  • Zip-off cover can be tricky
  • Hard to tighten straps
Best No-Frills Backup
Evenflo Tribute 5 Convertible Car Seat

Key Specs

  • Convertible: Yes
  • Rear-Facing Weight Range: 5 to 40 lb.
  • Forward-Facing Weight Range: 22 to 40 lb.
  • Product Weight: 9 lb.

When I say no frills, I mean no frills. We bought this seat as a spare for my parents’ car during a trip to visit them and then used it for airplane travel, and now it sits in my husband’s car. We wanted a cheap seat as a backup, and this is that. We actually paid $60 about four years ago, and it’s since gone up to $80.

It’s super lightweight because it has zero bells and whistles, including shoulder strap padding or really any padding. I can’t imagine it’s that comfortable—sorry, kid! But it checks off the safety requirements, although even correctly installed, when it was rear-facing our son was basically lying down.

Installation is a little trickier compared to other seats, but you get what you pay for. I’d recommend this seat if your budget is tight, you need an inexpensive backup, or you want a lightweight option for air travel.

  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight

  • Skimpy padding
  • Low forward-facing weight limit
  • Can be hard to install
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