The Best Budget Convertible Car Seats of 2021
For this year, we pulled together 9 budget-friendly car seats that ranged in price from $65 to $99. We installed them in two vehicles, a Honda Accord and Toyota RAV4, using LATCH and seat belts. We buckled infants, toddlers, and big kids (ages 2 months to 4 years) into the car seats, and tested out the adjustments, safety features, comfort, and quality.
We were surprised overall by the number of options available at this price point, and think all parents should give these a fair shot. Here are the top 5 budget convertible car seats we found, followed by in-depth reviews of a few additional options.
|Model and Link to Amazon||Our Rating|
|#1. Graco Contender 65|
|#2. Safety 1st Jive|
|#3. Safety 1st Guide 65|
|#4. Evenflo Sonus|
|#5. Evenflo Tribute|
Since we're only considering cheap convertible car seats under $100, we are not focused on the extras. We're not expecting double or triple side impact protection, high quality breathable fabrics, super plush padding, quick-connect LATCH systems, adjustable harness height without rethreading, or stylish patterns and colors.
Instead, we went back to basics a bit, focusing on weight, ease of use, basic comfort, safety, and reliability. We were looking for something to fulfill somewhat basic needs: not too heavy, easy to get in and out of the car, not too bulky/large, easy to buckle/unbuckle, decently comfortable and supportive padding, good build quality, and something that seems sturdy and like it won't fall apart any time soon.
Before we start, we want to point out that it's getting more difficult every year to find a good quality convertible car seat for under $100. The sweet spot is between $100-150, where you will find front-runners like the Graco Extend2Fit and Slimfit, both of which can be found for about $125. If you can splurge a bit, check out both of those options here.
Here are the Best Inexpensive Convertible Car Seats for 2021!
At the time of this writing, the Contender 65 was available for $99. This is an awesome budget convertible car seat that is versatile, safe, and has some great features, especially at this price point. It supports rear-facing from 5-40 pounds, and front-facing from 20-65 pounds (and up to 49" tall), giving it a slightly higher maximum weight than most others on this list. For safety, this seat uses a 5-point harness, side-impact protection, EPS energy-absorbing foam, and the LATCH system. Because one of the most important safety features of a car seat is an easy installation, let's consider that process. The Contender includes the LATCH system for lower anchors and the upper tether. They are the traditional hook-style LATCH connectors, which are a bit less convenient to connect and tighten, but they definitely do the trick. The LATCH system can be used until your child is 45 pounds, at which point you'll switch over to installing with the vehicle's seat belts. With this method, you'll need to rely on the seat belt's locking mechanism or a locking clip, as there are no belt lock-offs in rear-facing or front-facing mode. Once the seat is installed, you might be surprised to learn that this budget car seat includes no-rethread headrest and harness height! Simple push the button at the top of the headrest and slide it up or down to adjust. That's extremely rare for a convertible car seat in this price range, and an excellent convenience factor that is worth considering. It also includes an infant insert, a cup (or snack) holder, two recline settings using a flip-up wedge, and in our testing we found it to be very comfortable with sufficient padding in all the right places. The cloth was also soft and easy to clean. We were very surprised by how well-made this car seat was for the price, and think it's an excellent convertible car seat! Interested? You can check out the Graco Contender here.
At the time of this writing, the Safety 1st Jive was available for $99. The Safety 1st Jive is the least expensive convertible car seat offered by Safety 1st, and a step down from the popular Grow & Go model. The Jive supports rear-facing from 5-40 pounds (or up to 40" tall), and forward-facing from 22-65 pounds (or up to 49" tall). It can be installed using the included hook-style LATCH connectors (lower anchors and tether), or using the vehicle's seat belts. The LATCH install (up to a 40 pounds child weight) is not as easy as with the Contender, nor is the seat belt installation; there are no belt lock-offs and it's relatively challenging to get a tight install. This is especially the case in rear-facing mode. There are two recline positions using a pull-down recline stand on the bottom. For fit, there are 5 harness heights and 3 crotch buckle slots; unfortunately adjusting the harness height requires rethreading. While that's a bit of an inconvenience relative to the Contender, there are definitely some great convenience features with this seat: removable and washable cup holders, two removable (upper, lower) infant inserts, and machine washable fabrics. Coming in at 14 pounds, it's not a particularly heavy car seat, and it is FAA certified for use on an airplane. To be fair, you're getting some great front-facing comfort and versatility with the Jive, but we're not excited about its use as a rear-facing car seat. If your child is transitioning out of the infant car seat and you're looking for an inexpensive forward-facing car seat, this could be a good bet; however, in that situation you might also want to consider a harness booster seat instead. Overall, we think the Contender is a better option, but this might be a bit more comfortable for kids over about 40-50 pounds in forward-facing mode. Interested? You can check out the Safety 1st Jive 2-in-1 here.
The Jive is the newer version of this car seat, though this one is sitll available for about $90 at the time of this writing. The Safety 1st Guide 65 supports infants and toddlers from 5 to 40 lbs rear-facing, and then 22-65 lbs forward-facing. Those are excellent ranges for a convertible car seat under $100. It also has a huge height limit of 52" tall, which is fantastic! It has the 5-point harness, side-impact protection, adjustable head rest that our testing kids thought was soft and comfy, and overall compact dimensions that leave enough space in our back seat for up to 2 other car seats or whatever else life throws your way. If you have a particularly small car, like a compact or coupe, this is a relatively narrow car seat option (especially in front-facing mode). Like most of the other models on this list, adjusting the shoulder straps requires re-threading through the back of the seat. The seat itself comes in at 14 lbs., which is middle of the road for weight. We thought the infant inserts were plush and provided ample padding, but we worried a bit that the lowest shoulder strap setting wasn't quite low enough for a newborn baby. The buckles were easy enough to use, and the fabric was soft and seemed like it would be easy to clean. It is also equipped with the LATCH system, which is a great bonus. The build quality didn't seem quite as good as the Graco Contender, but it's also a more compact car seat overall. So, this is a great option, especially if you have a smaller car or need to fit 3 car seats in a row. Interested? You can check out the Safety 1st Guide 65 here!
Coming in at only about $80, Evenflo is the king of budget convertible car seats! The Sonos can be used rear-facing as an infant car seat from 5-40 pounds (19" to 40" tall), then front-facing as a toddler car seat from 22-50 pounds (28" to 50" tall). In the context of other convertible car seats, that's a very restricted weight range: when you hit 40 pounds and transition to front-facing, you'll find that you will grow out of it within another year or two (10 pounds later). In contrast, most other convertible car seats support at least a 65 pound child front-facing. However, we do note that the 50" height limit is the highest on our list; if you have a tall and skinny child, this could be a good bet. For features, it comes with an upper LATCH tether, hook-style lower LATCH connectors, five shoulder harness heights (rethreading required), two crotch strap positions (newborn/infant and toddler), an adjustable headrest pillow (using velcro), two cup holders, and a removable and washable cover. In our testing, we liked a few things about this car seat: the bottom cushion is super soft and comfortable, keeping bums happy on long trips. The harness clip and buckle were easy to use and adjust, there is plenty of air flow to keep the back cool and ventilated, and the seat itself is pretty lightweight and easy to swap between vehicles. And the price - we love a cheap convertible car seat when it provides nice functionality, safety, and comfort. Howver, there were a lot of things we didn't like about this seat: the fabric felt cheap and isn't soft to the touch, the recline indicator is hard to read and therefore the seat was hard to install, the cup holders can't be used for snacks because they are elastic bands on one side, and the entire seat feels somewhat low quality in terms of construction and fabrics. Also, the harness height requires rethreading, there are no seat belt lock-offs, we didn't see any energy-absorbing foam, no steel-reinforced frame, and minimal side impact protection. We don't expect much from an $80 car seat, but this one left a bit too much to be desired; relative to the Evenflo Tribute, however, the extra $10 gets you an extra 10 pounds of weight limit. Interested? You can check out the Evenflo Sonus here.
Here's another excellent contender for a budget convertible car seat, coming in at only about $70 and offering some limited versatility. The Evenflo Tribute supports children from 5 to 40 pounds (or up to 37" tall) when rear-facing, and from 22 to 40 pounds when front-facing (or up to 40" tall). That's a 25 pound lower weight limit, and 9" lower height limit than the Contender or Jive. These lower weight and height limits can be very inconvenient if you're not one of the parents who switches to a booster car seat by then. In our opinion, you should not consider a booster car seat until your child is about 50 pounds, which leaves us in a tricky situation: if your child will phase out of this car seat at 40 pounds, but shouldn't be in a booster until about 50 pounds, then what happens in the interim? This is why we prefer convertible car seats that can support children to at least 65 pounds in forward-facing mode. While it has some limited versatility, the Tribute does have some decent safety and convenience features, including side-impact protection, a 5-point harness with 4 height positions (with rethreading), a removable and machine-washable cover, removable cup holder, and two-position recline. It does include hook-based LATCH connectors, but does not include any sort of belt lock-offs or locking clip. Given that the car seat is relatively lightweight and has a very limited weight limit, you can use the LATCH system throughout the life of the car seat. The Tribute also includes a removable head pillow, but in our opinion, this is not sufficient to keep a newborn head sufficiently stabilized in a car seat, and there is no lower infant insert. From our testing, we suggest this seat is suitable from about 12 months to up to 40 pounds. This is a pretty limited range of use, but then again, it's really cheap. In terms of comfort level, it's not great, but no major complaints from the kids. Also, it is only about 9 lbs., which is extremely light for a convertible car seat. Overall, as the cheapest convertible car seat on our list, the limitations aren't especially surprising. For parents with a very restricted budget, this could be a decent bet! Interested? You can check out the Evenflo Tribute here.
About $70 at the time of this writing. If your kid loves Disney, this is really the budget car seat for you. The little girls in our group went wild over the Minnie version of the seat. It's a bit different than the others on our list because its strength is in its style rather than its functionality. The Minnie has its cute pink color, swirly stitching, Minnie signature, and bowtie and Minnie ears. The Mickey has similar features but is black and deep red. These seats are super cute and pack some basic functionality. First, it has a 5-point harness with front length adjustment, side-impact protection, is LATCH equipped, has 3 crotch buckle locations, 6 harness heights, and 2 little cup holders. But the weight capacity isn't so great, with 5 to 40 lb. rear-facing, and 20 to 40 lb. front-facing maximums. The maximum height is 43". Those numbers are pretty poor overall. Like all budget convertible car seats other than the Contender, the harness heights require rethreading, which is a pain to reconfigure for a growing baby. It was also really difficult to figure out how to attach Minnie's or Mickey's ears to the car seat, though we figured out that you have to thread the little black straps on the back of the ears through the slots above the shoulder strap slots, all the way to the rear of the seat. There were some little perks, however: kids find it adorable and comfortable, it has two cup holders, and the cover is removable and machine washable. With its restrictive weight and height limits, and what we thought seemed like not the best build quality, this seat is not worthy of a higher place on our list. But, given that it's definitely the cutest car seat below $100 for kids who love Disney, it's holding strong in this position on our list. Interested? You can check out the Disney Convertible Car Seat here!