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A family shopping the Best All-in-One Car Seats

Best All-in-One Car Seats

Top models show balanced performance even under tougher crash-test conditions

As the name implies, all-in-one car seats are designed for children from birth to booster-seat age, usually 7 to 10 years old. The idea of paying for just one seat for all those years is tempting, but CR's past ratings have shown that by covering such a large age range, the car seats prove less effective than seats designed for more dedicated applications. Consequently, tested all-in-one seats typically prove to be jacks-of-all-trades, masters of none. Our latest car seat tests show that some of the newest all-in-one products are better all-around performers than previous competitors.

These updated ratings mark the first time this group has been tested using our revised crash-test protocol

This Consumer Reports test is designed to evaluate seats in conditions that closely replicate the interior of current-model vehicles. Plus these tests subject the seats and their child-sized test dummies to forces and energy higher than the requirements of standard federal government tests. Ratings of Basic, Better, and Best are intended to provide comparisons of which seats provide an additional measure of safety vs. their peers.

Based on these newly updated tests, three models—the Graco Milestone, Graco 4Ever, and Evenflo Symphony—stand out for their balance of crash protection, ease of use, vehicle fit in harnessed use, and seat-belt fit in booster mode. It's interesting to note that these three seats also topped our ratings before the implementation of the new crash test.  

Despite the high level of performance, CR still recommends that all-in-one car seats serve as a “fill in” product rather than a primary-use seat. As an example, though all-in-ones can be used for newborns, we think that the fit and carrier convenience provided by a dedicated infant seat still make it your best bet. In practical terms we know that kids can be messy, and using the same child seat for 10 years or more may take a toll on cleanliness. As a transition seat between children, or as an extra seat for a relative’s car, all-in-ones make financial sense, and these examples are fine choices:

1
Graco Milestone: $230
Graco Milestone

Graco Milestone

Rear-facing, 5 to 40 pounds; forward-facing, 20 to 65 pounds; booster, 30 to 100 pounds.
The Milestone covers the full range of use while being less bulky and heavy than many other all-in-one models. We were successful in getting secure installations in rear- and forward-facing directions. The Milestone provided excellent belt fits in our test vehicles when used in booster mode. An impressive seat, the Milestone scores a Best (our highest rating) for its performance in our challenging crash test. The Milestone is also designated a CR Best Buy based on its balance of performance and price. 

 

See complete Graco Milestone test results.

    2
    Graco 4Ever

    Graco 4Ever

    Rear-facing, 4 to 40 pounds; forward-facing, 20 to 65 pounds; booster, 30 to 120 pounds.
    Though one of the more expensive all-in-one models, the 4Ever does a good job of covering all of its orientations (whether the child needs to be forward- or backward-facing) and use modes (infant seat, booster, etc.) very well. It excels at providing a good seat-belt fit when used in booster mode, and it scores a Best for its performance in our simulated crash tests.

     

    See complete Graco 4Ever test results.

      3
      Evenflo Symphony (With SureLATCH)

      Evenflo Symphony (With SureLATCH)

      Rear-facing, 5 to 40 pounds; forward-facing, 22 to 65 pounds; booster, 40 to 110 pounds.
      The Symphony model has been around for a number of years and has done well in our ratings over time. It has undergone some changes, with the most recent being its name from Symphony 65 back to just Symphony. The ratings for this model reflect versions that include Evenflo’s SureLatch technology, which can help achieve a secure installation in harnessed modes. The Symphony provides excellent seat-belt fit in booster mode and scores a Best for its performance in our tough crash test. The Symphony also is designated a CR Best Buy for its balance of performance and price.

       

      See complete Evenflo Symphony test results.

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        Jen Stockburger

        I never anticipated that engineering, the auto industry, and a few hundred tire changes and child seat installations would have brought me here: director of day-to-day operations at Consumer Report's fabulous 327-acre Auto Test Center. The bonus is that the track's location in rural Connecticut leaves me close enough to home to also enjoy my children and husband while still squeezing in time for gardening, riding horses, and hunting for antiques.