To pull together our list of the best and safest infant car seats of 2018, we considered Ease of Use, Flexibility, Baby Weight and Height Ranges, Safety, Car Size, and Stroller Types. We tested all of the features, installed them in multiple vehicle types, and came away with about a dozen of the best infant car seats. For more details about what we considered in our hands-on tests, scroll down to the bottom of this article.
Here are the Best Car Seats of 2018!
About $280, and available in several color options. This is a newly released Chicco infant car seat that passed our hands-on testing with flying colors. We're excited to have it on our list, and think it's a great example of a high quality, safe, durable, and versatile car seat. But it's also quite expensive, so keep that in mind when comparing it to the B-Safe. It has everything you've come to expect from a high quality infant car seat: lower and upper infant inserts (for babies as little as 4 pounds), adjustable shoulder harness and headrest, two crotch buckle positions, EPS energy-absorbing foam, side-impact protection, lock-offs on base, large and removable canopy, bubble level indicators, premium LATCH connectors, removable and washable seat cover, and one-handed adjustments. The Chicco Fit2 expands on the already-great KeyFit 30 (see below), in a few ways. First, the Fit2 has two unique rear-facing positions, one relatively reclined for infants up to about 10-12 months of age (basically until they are able to crawl and walk), and a second one relatively upright with a bit more leg room. The second position is designed for toddlers up to about 35 pounds and 35" height (or 24 months old), whereas the Keyfit only fits up to 30 pounds or 30" tall. Second, the Fit2 has an anti-rebound bar built into the base, to reduce rotational forces in the event of an accident. Third, the Fit2 has more shoulder harness and crotch buckle adjustments to fit growing babies, and the shoulder strap height is adjustable without rethreading. Fourth, it supports up to 35 pounds (the KeyFit is up to 30). Fifth, we found the fabric to be generally plusher and feels higher quality, and the canopy a bit larger and higher quality. Finally, it's made in Italy rather than China, and because it supports up to a higher weight, it's also a bit heavier coming in at 11 pounds without the base. That's about it on the differences. With either the KeyFit or Fit2, you're getting a truly excellent car seat, though the Fit2 is better suited for parents willing to spend a bit more for added convenience and safety features. Limitations? Well, in our testing we found that it was heavier than even the B-Safe (by 1 pound), making it either an inconvenience or an excellent workout! Second, upper shoulder and head space are a bit narrow, though removing the upper infant insert helped that situation. It's worth mentioning that it's not as narrow in the shoudlers and hips as the B-Safe 35. Overall, this is a fantastic new addition to our list, and we're excited about it!
About $170-200 depending on whether you go for the regular B-Safe 35 (usually around $170) or B-Safe Elite (usually around $199) version, and pattern choice. The one pictured is the 35 Elite. There's a reason that the Britax B-Safe Infant Car Seat is the #1 best-selling infant car seat on the market this year, because moms and dads love it, and you can't beat the Britax safety reputation. The B-Safe and B-Safe Elite come with a base that easily attaches into (and detaches from) your car using either the Latch system or the conventional seat belt. Made right here in the USA, moms love the form and fit of this seat, and we found that it does a really nice job supporting even very small (4+ lbs) infants with use of the included infant padding insert. As the baby grows, you can remove the additional body and head padding to give your baby a bit more room. The car seat also has simple to adjust head protection pads, a 35-pound weight limit (which is at the higher end of the range), two crotch strap positions (a rarity!), multiple shoulder strap positions to fit a growing baby, and we found it very easy with the Elite version to make on-the-fly adjustments to suit different size babies. The B-Safe 35 and B-Safe 35 Elite have three primary differences: the elite adds quick-adjust head protection, adjustable shoulder straps without rethreading (this is truly worth the cost), and a bit more padding and higher quality fabric. Overall, we believe the extra $40 is worth the advantages of the Elite version. All those features in a car seat that weighs about 19 pounds (seat is 10lb + base is 9lb), which we understand may be quite heavy for some parents. That's one of the biggest downfalls with this car seat, though it's also a bit too narrow for some wider (chunky monkey!) babies. But we think the Britax reputation for safety makes this extra bulk worthwhile. Both versions use the Britax SafeCell technology, which combines side impact protection, a strong steel-reinforced frame, and EPS energy-absorbing foam; in the event of an accident, these are great features to have, and Britax has an excellent reputation for safety. Those safety features really set this seat apart from the crowd, and we think it's worth the added weight. Relative to the Chicco car seats (see below), the B-Safe Elite has slightly plusher and premium-feel fabric, and we found the fabric much easier to clean with wipes, and to remove for machine washing. The B-Safe also has a higher weight capacity (35 pounds), and a maximum baby height of 32" as opposed to the Chicco KeyFit's 30", but the stats are the same as the Chicco Fit2 (above). But in our testing we noticed that it's quite a bit tighter in the shoulder, head, and hip areas, and that made it a bit too narrow for many of ou test babies, especially aftey they were about 12 months old. That's a primary limitation of this Britax car seat, though it won't impact you if you have a relatively skinny baby, with a little head. Also, the canopy is much larger and truly covers a baby during bright sun, rain, snow, or simply for privacy and during a nap. The B-Safe is made in the USA and comes in a variety of colors/patterns. Yes, it's expensive, but we believe the quality, features, and safety reputation are well worth the cost. It is definitely one the best infant car seats available this year, and worthy of this spot on our list.
About $200, depending on color and pattern options. Though we've placed the Chicco KeyFit at #3 on our list for 2018, let's be clear that realistically you will likely be very happy with any of the top three to five infant car seats on this list, and a lot of the decision comes down to preference. The Chicco KeyFit comes with a base that attaches into your car using either the Latch system or the conventional seat belt. We actually found that attaching and detaching this seat from the base was a bit easier than most others, and it only weighs 16 pounds overall (9 pound seat + 7 pound base; lighter than many). But of course, realize that other heavier infant car seats are probably heavier because they either have some additional safety technology (like the SafeCell tech and steel-reinforced frame in the Britax B-Safe), and might support heavier babies up to 35 pounds (like the Fit2), which makes those seats bigger and heavier by necessity. But Chicco didn't skimp on safety and convenience here, using premium LATCH connectors, EPS energy-absorbing foam, and RideRight bubble-level indicators. The form and fit of this infant car seat are very good, and we really appreciated the soft-touch fabrics and trim, super comfortable. And the infant insert comes with the seat, supporting very small infants down to 4 pounds. Unlike the Fit2 which can support babies up to 35 pounds and about 2 years old, the KeyFit 30 is better for babies up to about 1 year old or 30 pounds. So it's a great seat to use during the first year, which is the time when you'll want to be able to carry your baby around in the seat; after the first year, it will be a good time to upgrade to a convertible car seat. Note that while the Chicco KeyFit has multiple shoulder strap positions, it only has one crotch buckle position (many others have 2 crotch buckle positions). The shoulder straps are not adjustable without rethreading, though this is a feature you usually only get with more expensive units, like the Fit2, Peg Perego, or Britax B-Safe Elite. We thought the Chicco KeyFit's shoulder straps were better than several others on this list, mostly because they are a bit wider and therefore aren't as prone to twisting. However, the canopy is much smaller than some others, making it harder to fully cover the baby. This was one of the bigger drawbacks of the Chicco, as we tend to use the canopy quite a bit: for sunny days, for napping, and for rain or snow. You'll be fine until you want to cover more of your baby's body from the rain. Overall, this is one of the best infant car seats on the market today, and we think it has a lot of great things going for it, at a very reasonable price. For something a bit more expensive and capable, check out the Fit2, B-Safe, or Peg Perego.
About $300, with some color and pattern options being more expensive than others. Peg Perego was founded over 60 years ago in Italy, when founder Giuseppe Perego was motivated to make the finest baby carriage of the time, made of rubberized materials instead of wicker and sheet metal. Well, he succeeded, and the company was a bit hit in Europe for many decades. Fast forward to modern times, and Peg Perego has become a respected brand around the world for creating safe, durable, reliable, and comfortable baby products. There are several unique features for this Peg Perego that make it one of the best infant car seats of the year, including adjustable side impact padding (6 positions up/down) to accomodate your growing baby, a comfortable handle, plenty of padding for even little babies (down to 4 pounds using an included dual-stage insert, up to 35 pounds), a soft and plush fresco jersey breathable cloth, an adjustable-height 5-point harness (no rethreading necessary), good-sized canopy, EPS energy-absorbing foam, and it's made in Italy (not China)! It is also one of the rare car seats to include the anti-rebound safety bar on the front, which is now standard in Europe but not yet required in the US. A bit beyond some other car seats on this list, this one has a 32" height limit for babies. And it's beautiful. When you get your hands on it and see its smooth lines, modern patterns, quality stitching work around the edges, and feel its quality fabric and padding, you will realize why people are willing to pay a premium for this seat. Some of the seat honestly looked like it was hand-tailored by an Italian designer. Nice touch. The seat itself is among the heavier on the list, coming in at about 10 pounds. Together with the base it's quite a bit heavier (not that you'd be carrying it around with the base). We have a few primary negatives with this car seat: first, it's not really the most comfortable to carry given that the canopy opens up against the handle, so the only reasonable option is to carry it with the canopy retracted. We found that in addition to it being a bit cumbersome to carry around, the harness straps tend to spin around and tangle a lot, and some of our moms complained that many of the nice and affordable car seat covers won't fit around the large side impact cushions. Finally, it does not have a steel-reinforced frame like the B-Safe. Overall, this is a great car seat with some only minor cons relative to the others. It's near the top of our best car seat list, so you can't go wrong, especially given the overall high quality, great style, and versatility. There is a newer model of the Primo Viaggio, called the Nido, which includes the load bar for extra safety, and a bigger "cocoon" type canopy (but it's also about $100 more expensive!).
Usually about $300. This is a slightly more expensive option than most other infant car seats, but there are some great features and safety reputation that might make it worth the cost. It's one of the easiest to install and use infant car seat we've tested. This is for three primary reasons. First, it uses a great automatically tightening LATCH system with a convenient indicator to tell you when the base is fully secured to the seat. If you're using the vehicles belts, it does have a lock-off. Second, also helpful during installation, it has a 4-position foot that helps you level the base correctly in the car (there is also a level indicator on the side). Third, the headrest and shoulder straps adjust easily between five height positions without any rethreading (the crotch buckle adjusts between 2 positions, but with rethreading from the bottom. So there are a lot of nice convenience factors with this seat. Now for safety. The seat has nice plush dual-layer side impact protection, that according to UppaBaby performs up to 4-times better than on side impact crash tests than any other premium infant car seat on the market. To absorb impact in the event of an accident, the seat also uses energy-absorbing EPS foam. An infant insert is included to accommodate babies (and premies) as small as 4 pounds, and the seat goes up to a 35 pound weight capacity (32" height). Coming in just under 10 pounds, there's a lot of convenience and safety features given a relatively low overall weight (the base adds another 9 pounds). It's also not so wide either, with a 15.5" wide base, and adding another 2 inches to that due to the handlebar levers sticking out on the sides. It is a good option for fitting three car seats in a row, because the bottom of the base is very narrow, to allow LATCH and buckles to fit close together. Additional things we liked were how easy the chest buckle was to use, and how easy the shoulder strap adjustment was using the front button and strap. Downfalls? Well, you need to use two hands to adjust the handlebar, the canopy isn't as big as we'd like and it does get a bit too close to the handlebar when both are up, and the entire thing is pretty heavy to lug around. We also want to note that the fabric wasn't quite as soft as others on this list. Speaking of fabric, the new (2017-2018) Henry version does add chemical-free fire-resistant fabric by using merino wool. A great concept, but we didn't like the feel of it so much and were worried that it would get super hot in the summer. Wool is highly breathable though, so we'll need to test that theory. Also, no steel-reinforced frame here, and it's made in China (for what it's worth). Overall, this is one of the best infant car seats on the market and would be higher on this list if it weren't for the $300 price tag and the less than comfortable fabric.
Usually about $300. This is a stylish, simple, sophisticated infant car seat made by Nuna International, a boutique baby gear company based in Amsterdam. They have european styling and simplicity, and some safety features that are very common in the EU but relatively rare in the USA. The seat itself is made in China, like most on this list, and can be pretty hard to find. It's generally available at Nordstrom and a few other high-end department stores. In our testing, we really loved this infant car seat. It has super soft and high quality feel materials, with micro knit fabrics, soft and thick padding where it's needed most (like on the crotch buckle!), and a truly amazing canopy that has a nifty "dream drape" extension that basically covers the entire baby to protect from the elements (UPF 50+). It supports babies as little as 4 pounds with the included infant insert, making it an ideal infant car seat for premature babies. And it supports up to 32 pounds or 32 inches long. All that weight and height range while weighting under 8 pounds! The base is about 14 pounds, but nobody walks around with the seat attached to the base. This is one of the safest infant car seats we've ever tested, for a few reasons. First, it has the basic 5-point harness, but also deep and thick side-impact protection and EPS energy-absorbing foam. Second, it includes a stability leg, which is becoming very common in the EU: the stability leg attaches to the back of the seat and extends down to your car's floor. It limits rotational forces by absorbing impact in the event of a crash. Installation was a breeze using the easy LATCH connectors. Note that the LATCH connectors on this seat are stiff and attached to the base. For that reason, they will not allow you to connect to non-traditional LATCH positions (like center seat), you'll need to use the car's seat belt for that. In our testing, we were really impressed with this infant car seat, and thought that it was quite luxorious with its fabrics and overall fit and finish. And we loved the safety features, which are a welcome addition to the typical US features. Downfalls? Well, it's difficult to find in the online and brick-and-mortar stores you might be used to. It also does not have a quick-adjust harness unlike most others on this list; this means you need to re-thread the harness from the rear every time you need to adjust its height. That issue, combined with the high price (about $300), are the primary factors bring this car seat down on our list. Also, it can be difficult to find a stroller that fits it, unless you also purchase a Nuna stroller (though they do have some great ones!). Finally, no steel-reinforced frame, unlike the Britax B-Safe. Is it one of the best infant car seats available on the market? Yes, especially if you value the style and lightweight build quality, but you'll need to shell out some extra bucks and possibly be annoyed by the re-threading issue.
Usually under $150. This is a great bang-for-the-buck infant car seat, with a lot of great features and attributes. For the price, it was a bit of a toss-up with the Graco Snugride (below), but there were some great features with this car seat. The Safety 1st line of "Air" car seats uses the Air Protect side impact protection system, which basically looks like puffy airbags along the sides of the head and shoulders. These highly salient, comfy, and safe looking pillows surrounding the baby likely increased sales considerably for Safety 1st since they were first introduced. We get a lot of messages from parents mentioning how these seats really stand out against the others. And there are some good reasons for that, though we want to mention that all of the car seats on this list have exceptional safety features and records. Another safety feature is the GCell honeycomb HX energy-absorbing foam along the sides of the torso. This rear-facing baby car seat supports babies from 4 to 35 pounds, with an included infant insert, and for very little babies it also includes a preemie insert and super low harness setting. Of course, it has a 5-point harness, and uses the LATCH system; the test unit we purchased came with the old style LATCH connectors (not the type that you can simply push-on and click off). We really appreciated the overall support this seat provides, especially for smaller babies, and we thought the fabric was soft and nicely padded while still being durable enough for easy wiping to clean. The cover can be completely removed and machine washed as well, if necessary. There are also some cons to this seat that are worth mentioning. First, while it does have 4 harness heights, they require rethreading from the rear of the seat, and 3 crotch buckle positions that also require rethreading. The frame is not steel-reinforced, and the canopy doesn't provide much coverage, and to move the carrying handle you need to use both hands to push the release buttons on each side. The base itself does have multiple height adjustments, and there is a small level on the seat to help you get things correctly installed. It can be installed with the LATCH or vehicle's seat belts, though note that there is no lock-off if you're using the vehicle's seat belts (like most car seats). So overall this is a great addition to our best infant car seats list, but with some definite drawbacks relative to some of the front-runners.
About $250. This is truly an adorable infant car seat, with some really plush and soft fabric. One of our most popular pinterest posts of all time, the Maxi Cosi infant car seats not only look amazing, but they are definitely the coziest and comfiest infant car seat on our list. It is, indeed, Maxi-Cosi! The soft fabrics are not just comfy for the baby, but also for you, and they are easy on the eyes as well. This infant car seat supports from 4 to 30 pound babies. The infant insert can be used with babies from 4 to about 11 pounds. A great specification with this car seat is that the height range is up to 32" tall, without having the higher weight limit (which in our opinion isn't usually as important as the higher height limit). It's also a very light-weight car seat, and features a detachable canopy. The Maxi Cosi Mico Max 30 uses the inflated air side protection cushions, which our reviewers thought were big and made them feel more secure. Couple those with the EPP energy-absorbing foam (not EPS, which can be more brittle) and the anti-rebound bar, and you've got yourself a very safe car seat. We thought the fabric was very easy to wipe clean, and easy to remove for machine washing. The canopy covered a good area over the baby, but was a bit flimsy and didn't do a great job blocking the wind or rain. We have a few more gripes. First, the base was really large and will definitely be an issue if you're trying to squeeze three seats in a row, or trying to fit a passenger in between two car seats in a smaller vehicle. Second, to attach or detach from the base, there are two buttons that must be pushed, which we found very frustrating and difficult. The one-handed detach of the better options on this list is far easier to use. Third, when you adjust the handle, it makes a loud clicking noise, which our test reviewers thought was loud enough to wake a light napper. Finally, the tightening strap tends to flop down under the seat and get trapped when attaching to the base. That means you need to take the seat back out of the base to tighten the shoulder straps. And no steel-reinforced frame, if you're looking for that feature. Overall, this is a super comfortable and safe infant car seat with a great height limit, good styling, and reasonable functionality. There are several limitations that have bumped it down on this list, and we're not 100% certain it's worth the high price tag (usually around $250).
About $115-150. The Graco is one of the most popular and all-time best selling infant car seats on the market. For over a decade, Graco has been offering the SnugRide line, and people are perfectly happy with it, but it's certainly without frills. Not as soft or plush as the B-Safe or Chicco, and maybe not as stylish or available in funky patterns (like the Britax Elite Cowmooflauge, which is killer), but works pretty nicely and parents tend to like it. It's also about $50-75 cheaper than the Chicco or Britax, so that's something to keep in mind. Like our top-ranked car seats, this holds babies as small as 4 pounds (with the infant insert) and goes up to 35 pounds, and has a 32" height limit (which is quite high). It attaches with the traditional "hook" style LATCH system, or with the car's safety belt. It's side impact tested, and uses EPS energy-absorbing foam for safety. Like the Britax (non Elite), the shoulder straps do require rethreading from the back as your baby grows. The seat itself is surprisingly lightweight, coming in at about 7 pounds, and we personally liked how easily it snapped into and out of the base. With the base, the combo weighs only about 15lbs (seat + base). In our testing, one of our chief complaints about this seat is that it didn't seem big or wide enough to fit babies over 25 pounds baby, especially if the baby has broader shoulders. We also thought the fabric wasn't quite as breathable or comfortable as it could have been, and some of the plastics felt flimsy. And no steel-reinforced frame here. Overall, this is a relatively basic car seat that will function quite well, is safe and reliable, but may not last your baby's growth for quite as long as the others. The SnugRide is the least expensive of the group, coming in at around $115-150.
The Evenflo LiteMax 35 Platinum is the best and most expensive ($99-160 or so) infant car seat option in the LiteMax lineup, which also includes the basic LiteMax 35 for about $50 cheaper. For reference, our comparison of the two LiteMax seats revealed that the Platinum is definitely worth the extra cash. It has an easy to use sure-safe LATCH system, a full-body infant insert, super soft padded straps, a much larger canopy, and a soft and breathable fabric. So there's a lot to like about the Platinum version. The seat accommodates infants from 4 to 35 pounds, using the provided infant insert. We appreciated the soft and ergonomically shaped carrying handle, and the leveling indicator on the side was very helpful during installation. If you use the LATCH system installation is super easy, and if you use the vehicle's belt, there is a belt lock-off to help keep the belt at a consistent length and tension. Our reviewers loved how lightweight this seat was. Off the base, you're looking at about 8 pounds, which is on par with the Chicco and SnugRide. They also thought the fabric was soft and breathable, and easy to spot-clean with a cloth or wet wipe (it's also machine washable). Finally, they loved the buckle storage slots on the sides, which are great for keeping the buckles out of the way when putting baby in or out of the seat. Many seats use velcro for this, which wears out with time and crumbs, so this was a nice touch. So there are a lot of great things going for this seat. What are the cons? First, we found the seat excessively narrow in its seating area. The overall size of the seat is not particularly narrow (about 17.5" wide), but the seat area itself was too narrow for any of our babies over about 20-25 pounds. Second, while the base functioned quite well, the plastic was a bit more flimsy than other options. Third, the chest buckle worked fine but did not have an audible "click" when closing it (which is usually comforting to hear), and the lower buckle kinda hurt our fingers a bit to release. And no EPS energy-absorbing foam or steel-reinforcing on the frame. So overall, this seat has a lot of great features going for it, including a great handle, canopy, infant insert, LATCH system, padded harness, and soft fabrics. The downfalls are its narrow seating area overall cheaper-feeling build quality. Maybe not surprising given the excellent price-point on this seat; definitely a good choice if you're looking to save some cash!
The Evenflo Embrace Select Infant car seat is the least expensive option on our list, at less than $100! If you're interested in seeing some of our best infant car seats under $100, check out our reviews here. This car seat accommodates infants from 4 pounds up to 35 pounds. The car seat itself weighs about 13 pounds and most moms commented on how lightweight it feels compared to some other car seats. This seat includes an easy to use LATCH system for the base and the seat is easy to snap into and out of the base, and EPS energy-absorbing foam (though it does not have a steel-reinforced frame). The fabric is easy to clean though some complained that the fabric can get warm and is not very breathable. This car seat also comes with 3 shoulder harness positions so that you can adjust the seatbelt straps to their appropriate positions as your baby grows. It's important to note that this car seat can only be used rear-facing. One of the biggest complaints that parents had about this car seat is that the canopy is not very large. Parents were also disappointed that there weren't many color options to choose from. Overall, though, this is one of the best infant car seats for the price, and great for the budget-conscious buyer! Here is the Evenflo Embrace LX Infant Car Seat, with different color options: Evenflo Embrace Select Infant Car Seat
Baby Trend makes a great line of baby products that tend to be a bit less expensive than the major brands, but we also find that their products are not quite up to par with craftsmanship. This Baby Trend Flex Loc is no exception. All the major features are here: a nice 5 to 30 pound weight range, adjustable leveling base, no-rethread shoulder strap height adjustment, EPS energy absorbing side impact foam, a reasonably large canopy, and the ability to snap easily into several Baby Trend strollers like the Expedition Jogger and the Snap N Go EX. There are also some other great features. We really liked the soft multi-grip handle that allows you to carry it with your hand at a 45-degree angle or aligned with your body. This made it much easier for longer hauls, allowing us to switch hand positions to relieve some hand and arm pain! Not that it's particularly heavy: the car seat itself is only about 9 pounds, and the base is 6 pounds. It also has the typical removable infant insert for the little ones around 5-15 pounds. So with all these great features, why is it toward the bottom of our top 6 list? Well, we had a few gripes. First, the handle was a bit finicky to use, and we had repeated troubles getting it to go back easily. The mechanism isn't very easy to use, requiring you to push two finicky buttons (one on each side) to adjust. We looked around at other reviews and turns out this is a pretty common problem. Second, Baby Trend uses a somewhat unique crotch buckle design that is a little harder to buckly relative to others on this list. Finally, we also do not like the positioning of the lever to release the seat from the base, which is positioned at the front of the seat near the baby's feet. The problem is when rear-facing that side of the seat is jammed up against the seat of the car, making it difficult to use. So this unit has a lot of great features, but also some more design decisions that had us scratching our heads. Low cost, but also a bit lower on the ease of use!
Here are some of the most important factors we considered when finding a great infant car seat for you family:
Our hands-on testing and focus groups with over two dozen moms got down to the nitty-gritty on over a dozen of the best infant car seats on the market. Their reviews and ratings helped us identify several of the best and safest infant car seats for 2018, made by brands such as Britax, Graco, Baby Trend, Peg Perego, UppaBaby, Maxi Cosi, and Chicco.
All of the car seats on our list are not only well-rated, safe, and comfortable, but they also pass the test of time: reliability is very important for baby products, and sometimes the best-looking and functioning car seats can lead to disappointment after a few months. For example, malfunctioning chest buckles, finicky harness adjusters, and rips from poor fabric stitching. As always, our reviews are impartial and honest, and we did not accept any freebie or discounted car seats for this hands-on review. Our best and safest infant car seats range in price from about $80 to $300; if you're looking for something a bit cheaper, we suggest checking out our list of the best infant car seats for under $100, here.
Ease of Use: This is probably the most important factor to consider when purchasing a new car seat. You do not want to deal with a frustrating latch, annoying seat belt mechanism, clumsy chest buckle, two-hands required handle folding, or an uncomfortable carrying handle multiple times a day. You won't care if you have the most stylish car seat on the market if you pinch your finger every time you fold down the handle, or find yourself cursing at the chest buckle while your baby is screaming. To put together our list of the best infant car seats, we tried out over two dozen options, putting them to the test with both calm and wiggly babies, with summer and winter outfits, and made sure they were not only intuitive to use, but also easy to buckle, unbuckle, attach to and detach from the base, adjust incline, rotate the handle, adjust the sun visor, and remove the cover for washing. In general, we found the pricier car seat options were the ones that are more user friendly, but that doesn't mean you need to break the bank. There are some really great options for under $150.
Price: Speaking of price, infant car seats vary widely in quality, style, and (importantly) price. You will notice that some car seats sell for under $100, whereas others are upwards of $300. There are usually very good reasons for the price differences. In general, the more expensive car seats tend to be plusher, softer to the touch, more user friendly, use higher quality parts (snaps, handles, hinges, clips, fabric, stitching), lighter parts, and come in a more stylish array of color and pattern options. Are more expensive car seats safer? No, when used correctly all car seats are safe and must meet requirements of the NHTSA. However, some of the less expensive brands may meet NHTSA minimum requirements whereas others go beyond those standards. A good example of going beyond NHTSA requirements to increase safety is using an anti-rebound bar to reduce rotational forces due to accident impact, or double and triple side-impact protection. Overall, expect to spend under $150 for a good quality car seat, between $150-250 for a high quality car seat, and over $300 for a fancy seat with extra safety and convenience features. It's nice to know, however, that you can get one of the best infant car seats on the market for only about $150 and rest assured that it is a safe option for your baby.
Baby Weight and Height: Babies come in all shapes and sizes. If you're lucky you will have a 7-9 pound baby, but many moms deliver a bit early, or deliver a baby bigger than they expected. So you might be on the lower end of the spectrum with a cute little 4 pound baby, or on the higher end with a chunky-monkey 12 pound baby (like me!). It's important to realize that every car seat has its own unique minimum and maximum infant weights and heights. These guidelines are very important and can influence your baby's safety and comfort. Most infant car seats have a minimum baby weight of 4 pounds (1.8 kg), and maximum of either 30 pounds (13.6 kg) or 35 pounds (15.9 kg). But be sure to check the box or label because even within a single brand, different models have different specifications. Also, some models will include an insert for particularly small babies (4-11 pounds) to help support their body, these can also give them a snug fit and help them not feel like they're swimming in the seat. We also want to point out that it's unlikely you'll reach the weight limit before reaching the height limit on many of these seats. In other words, your baby will end up too tall before they end up too heavy, with their legs bent and feet pushing against the vehicle's back seat. That's expected, but keep that in mind when you're considering whether weight limit or height limit is the more important factor (we suggest focusing on height limit more than weight limit). If you want something that can support infants (rear-facing) as well as toddlers (front-facing), check out our list of best convertible car seats, some of which can support babies as small as 4 pounds and bigger kids all the way up to 100-120 pounds. In our opinion, you will be best served by an infant car seat, then transitioning to a convertible later in development. The primary reason for this advice: infant car seats detach from the base and have a handle for carrying a sleeping baby, convertible car seats do not.
Safety: Car seats sold in the USA must meet federal (NHTSA) safety requirements, so no matter which car seat you choose, you can rest assured that it has been thoroughly safety tested. It is important to note, however, that some seats go far beyond the federal safety standards. There are a few good examples of that. First, some car seats have larger cushioned side impact protection near the shoulders and head. At a minimum, these will provide greater comfort for your child's droopy head during naps; at the most, it might provide some extra security during a side-impact crash. Second, anti-rebound bars are becoming more popular, such as the one seen on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio (see below on our list); the idea here is that the anti-rebound bar can reduce rotational forces in the event of a crash. This means that, for instance, in the event of a front-end crash, the car seat will not have such an extreme rebound toward the back seat. Similarly, some modern infant car seats are also using a load leg that extends down from the back of the car seat down onto the floor of your vehicle. A good example of this is the new Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Nido infant car seat, which is an upgrade from the regular Primo Viaggio. The load leg is also designed to reduce rotational forces, and together with the rebound bar can reduce rotational forces by up to about 50%. Worth the cost over a traditional car seat design? That's for you to decide. Even if some extra peace of mind is important, then it might be worth the extra $100 (or so).
Car Size: If you have more than one child, or a smaller vehicle like a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, you definitely must consider the size and fit of the car seat. Mainstream car seats are bulkier than ever, with more padding, big side impact protection wings, more safety features and foam, and thicker plastic. Gone are the days when your car seat is only slightly larger than the baby itself. The increasing size of infant car seats is a good thing, given the increased comfort and safety. However, it can also lead to two fitment issues. First, when trying to fit multiple car seats into the back seat, particularly more than 2 at once. Most cars will NOT fit 3 infant car seats into the back seat, so unless you drive an Escalade make sure you take some measurements before you go buying something. To see our article about narrow car seats for fitting 3 in a row, click here. Second, the larger infant car seats can be problematic when rear-facing. This is especially true with smaller cars like a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, and especially with taller drivers and passengers. With the vehicle's seat slid back for a taller driver, it will likely press against the top of the infant car seat. So keep that in mind if you have a smaller vehicle, because these newer infant car seats are getting huge!
Stroller Type: What do you intend to do with the car seat once it's out of the car? If your baby is sleeping, do you want to be able to pop the seat out and stick it into a stroller? If so, be careful to make sure that the seat will fit your existing stroller, or if you want to be able to use one of the relatively universal snap-in strollers, be sure to check compatibility. Though we definitely recommend buying the folding snap-in stroller that's the same brand as your car seat (for Graco car seats: Graco Snugrider Elite Stroller and Car Seat Carrier; for Chicco car seats Chicco Keyfit Caddy Stroller Frame), here is an example of a snap-in stroller that can accomodate several brands of car seats: Baby Trend Snap N Go EX Universal Infant Car Seat Carrier.