Car seats


Car seats

Car seat buying guide

Last updated: September 2015

Getting started

Of all the things you'll buy for your baby, a car seat should be at the top of your list. As your child grows, you'll need to get new ones to maintain a consistently safe and comfortable fit.

Selecting a car seat isn't as simple as just grabbing a discounted model off a shelf. There are a number of things you'll need to be familiar with to choose and install a child seat. Although you may be tempted to put off some of that homework, don't. Some child seats can be difficult to install securely and others may not fit at all. It's best to not put it off until your baby is ready to arrive.

Here are some important things you'll need to know:

New parents

  • Plan ahead! When you’re in labor is not the time to be deciding on a seat.
  • Purchase seats early. Try retailers that allow you to test install the child seat in your vehicle OR accept returns.

Know your child

Though new parents may not have all the important stats on their children yet, get used to being up-to-date on not only your child’s age, but also their height and weight as they are important in choosing the right seat. Be aware of how any medical conditions or behavioral issues may affect your seat choice.

Know your car

Carefully read the chapters of your owner’s manual dedicated to child safety and the vehicle features you’ll need to familiarize yourself with.

Where to buy seats

  • Large department stores like Kmart, Target, and Walmart offer a range of options and moderate prices.
  • Dedicated baby stores like Babies “R” Us  offer a wider selection, both in stores and online.
  • Others like Kohls, Sears, JCPenney, and Macy’s offer a smaller range of seats and in many cases have them online only.
  • Higher-end models are available at specialty stores or boutiques.
  • Many other large retailers also offer seats.
  • It’s best to make online purchases only after you’ve had a chance to evaluate some models in person.

Getting some help

  • Don’t be surprised if installing the seat proves more complicated than you anticipated, about 80 percent of parents and caregivers get it wrong in some way.
  • Get some installation help by finding a Car Seat Check-up event near you to have certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians double check your installation.

Not your first seat?

  • Check the child seat timeline on the following page for our recommendations on when to transition your child to the next level and what type of seat you may next need.
  • Be sure to watch our installation videos (below) to see how to properly install an infant car seat, convertible seat, and a booster seat.

Best practice recommendations

  • Keep your baby rear-facing until at least 2 years old.
  • Keep your child in a forward-facing harness until they outgrow the harness height/weight limits.
  • Keep your child in a booster seat until they are 57 inches tall and between 8-12 years old and fit the vehicle belts correctly.
  • Keep your child in the rear seat until they are 13 years old.

See our ratings for all child seat types.   

Types and timeline

Waiting until Mom gets labor pains is too late to decide on a car seat. Not only will you need one for your newborn’s ride home from the hospital, but over your child’s early life you’ll also need a range of seats designed for different ages and sizes. Even seasoned parents may be fuzzy on which seat type is correct and when to make a move to the next one. Below you'll find a guide to various seat types and a handy timeline for when to transition your child to the next seat.

These estimations, based on best practices and child-seat height/weight limits, are our recommendations for the minimum number of seats you’ll need until your child is ready to use just the vehicle’s seat belts.

To maximize car seat safety it’s important to use the right type of seat, to ensure it remains a safe, comfortable, and convenient fit for your child. Spending more doesn’t necessarily get you the best performing seat, but it may buy you more features. Many midpriced models perform as well as or better than pricier ones. Seats can be reused, but they have expiration dates. And you should always retire the seat after a crash or if it sustains any damage.

Seat 1: Infant (rear-facing only) car seat

For children 4 to 40 lbs.

$55 to $300

  • Install in a rear-facing orientation only.
  • The first seat for most new parents.
  • Provides the convenience of a detachable carrier.
  • Provides the best fit for newborns and smaller babies.
  • Kids are likely to get too tall for these seats before they get too heavy.

Seat 2: Convertible seat

For children 5-45 lbs. rear-facing / 20-70 lbs. forward-facing

$40 to $450

  • Install in both rear- and forward-facing orientations in your car.
  • As kids outgrow their infant seats, a rear-facing convertible is necessary as a second seat to keep them rear-facing until their second birthday per best practice recommendations.
  • Though the seat weight limits allow for newborns or smaller infants, they don’t provide the best fit and they lack the convenience of a detachable carrier.
  • Can be positioned forward-facing once your child outgrows the rear-facing height and weight limits and has reached at least the age of 2 years.
  • Most have forward-facing weight limits of 65 lbs. or more.

Seat 3: Booster seat

For children 30-120 lbs.

$14 to $300

  • Necessary to allow the vehicle seat belts to sit correctly on your child’s frame after they’ve outgrown their harnessed seat.
  • Needed for most kids until they are about 57” (4’9”)  tall and can fit the vehicle belts correctly—usually between the ages of 8 and 12.
  • High-backed versions are a better choice than backless as they include some side bolsters to better protect kids in side-impact crashes and the guides better position the shoulder portion of the belt.

Your child can sit on a vehicle seat without the need for a booster when you can answer "yes" to all these questions:

  • Does your child sit all the way back against the vehicle seat?
  • Do your child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
  • Does the vehicle belt cross your child's shoulder evenly between the neck and arm?
  • Is the lap belt as low on the abdomen as possible, near the top of the thighs?
  • Can your child stay comfortably seated like this for the whole trip?

All-in-one car seat

For children 5-45 lbs. rear-facing, 20-65 lbs. forward-facing in a harness, 30-120 lbs. in booster mode.

$100 to $330

  • As the name implies, designed to take a child from birth to booster use.
  • Provides value by covering a number of years and orientations.
  • Our evaluations show that though they do a lot in terms of use, they don’t do any of their tasks especially well when compared to more dedicated seat types.
  • Lacks the convenience of a detachable carrier and may not fit smaller babies well.
  • Large and heavy seats that may not fit smaller vehicles well.
  • May be a good option for a caregiver that transports a child less frequently or as a ‘backup’ seat in another vehicle.

Toddler booster / combination seat

For children 20-90 lbs. harnessed, 30-120 lbs. in booster mode

$55 to $250

  • Provide the protection of an internal harness up to a certain height and weight and then transition to a booster seat with removal of the harness.
  • Offers a safe option where an older child that is not yet ready for a booster seat needs a seat so that a younger child can use a previously purchased convertible seat to stay rear-facing.
  • Many are a less expensive alternative to convertible seats for a forward-facing child.


Child seat terms

Carrier: Part of your rear-facing infant seat used to transport your child that includes the carrying handle. Attaches to infant seat base. Check your manual to see if the carrier can be secured to the vehicle without the accompanying base.

Base: Part of your rear-facing infant seat where the infant carrier connects in the vehicle. Secured to the vehicle by either LATCH or vehicle seat belt. Check your manual to see if the carrier can be properly used without the accompanying base.

Handle: Portion of an infant carrier that is grasped to move your child in and out of the car. Some handles may also double as a rebound bar. Check your manual to determine what position the handle should be in while traveling in a vehicle.

Shell: The hard plastic that surrounds your child when they are seated in the the child seat.

Harness: Built-in straps that go over child’s shoulders and thighs, coming together as a five-point restraint system once secured. All child seat types, with the exception of boosters, include some type of internal harness.  

Chest clip: Plastic clip that slides up and down the harness straps and clips together at the child’s chest. Meant to be a pre-crash positioner for the shoulder straps and should be kept at armpit level when the child is secured in the seat.

Child seat buckle: Portion of the harness where the harness straps are inserted when secured. Buckle typically comes through a slot in front of the child.

Recline level indicators: Used to determine a safe recline angle for rear-facing seats. This angle is important for crash protection as well as ensuring a baby can breathe properly. Typically, the indicator is a line or a ball/bubble type.

Recline adjuster: Adjustment mechanism for rear-facing seats that allows for changes in recline position. Can be a a knob, recline ‘foot’, or pre-designated recline positions.

LATCH (Lower Anchor and Tether for CHildren) connectors: A dedicated system of anchor points and connectors designed to make car seat installation easier. LATCH was mandated on all child car seats and most vehicles starting in 2002. Hook or push-on connectors found on child car seats provide the connection between the child seat and vehicle anchors. 

Top tether: A strap found on the back of the child seat, typically with a hook connector, that attaches to a tether anchor in your vehicle to secure the seat. This tether is designed to prevent forward motion in a crash. In forward-facing installations, Consumer Reports recommends to always attach the top tether.

Lower LATCH anchor

Car terms

Latch plate: The metal end of the seat belt that is inserted into the seat belt buckle to secure the seat belt. Some latch plate designs can lock to secure a child restraint.

Automatic Locking Retractor (ALR): A seat belt system designed to secure a child restraint. ALR systems are typically found at the upper engagement point of the belt and are engaged by pulling the seat belt completely out. Once out, the seat belt will retract (often with an audible clicking) but cannot be pulled out again. ALR systems release by allowing the belt to retract again fully.

Emergency Locking Retractor (ELR): A seat belt system designed to lock with significant forward motion, such as in heavy braking. ELR systems alone will not secure a child restraint and will require some other locking mechanism such as ALR (see above), a belt locking clip, or a locking mechanism on the child seat.

Top tether anchor
Photo: IIHS

Lower LATCH anchors: Round metal bars between (approximately 1/4 inch in diameter) located in the area where the seatback and cushion meet (seat bight) and where child seat LATCH attachments are connected. Found most often in second row outboard seats though more vehicles are coming with them in center and third row seats also.LATCH anchors are designated with this symbol to show their location: Check your owner’s manual for locations. Available on passenger vehicles after 2002.

Top tether anchors: Metal anchor locations where top tether straps are attached. Typically on the rear parcel shelf(deck) in sedans, on rear seatbacks or cargo floors in minivans and SUVs, and at the top of the seatback in pickup trucks. Top tether anchors are designated with this symbol to show their location: Check your vehicle owner’s manual for top tether anchor locations.


Baby Trend arrow  |  Britax arrow  |  Chicco arrow  |  Clek arrow  |  Combi arrow  |  Cosco arrow  |  Cybex arrow  |  Diono arrow  |  Dorel arrow  |  Evenflo arrow  |  Graco arrow  |  Harmony arrow  |  Kiddy arrow  |  Lamaze arrow  |  Mia Moda arrow  |  Orbit Baby arrow  |  Peg Perego arrow  |  Recaro arrow  |  Safety 1st arrow  |  Summer Infant arrow  |  Sunshine Kids arrow  |  Teutonia arrow  |  The First Years arrow

You can compare car seats by brand. If you don’t see a model in our Car Seat Ratings (available to subscribers), these profiles can help you learn about a manufacturer and what it offers (listed below in alphabetical order).

Baby Trend

A manufacturer of juvenile products from bouncers to child restraints, Baby Trend distinguishes itself as a manufacturer of innovative child products such as the Snap-N-Go and Sit-N-Stand stroller systems. Baby Trend infant child seats incorporate their own unique LATCH connector.


A British company that now manufactures seats in the U.S. as well. Britax seats are often considered a high-end product and incorporate many safety and ease-of-use features but often also have a higher price.


An Italian company that is one of the newest manufacturers to enter the child-seat market in the U.S., Chicco currently offers only an infant child seat for the U.S. market.


A relatively new name in child restraints, Clek currently offers a range of booster seats with premium materials, some with LATCH attachments, and unique names such as Oobr and Olli. Some seats even carry designer patterns such as those from Paul Frank.


Combi offers a variety of child products, including child seats, strollers, and bouncers, that are most often found in boutique-type retail stores.


One of the brand names of child products under the Dorel Juvenile Group, Cosco is known for child products at a value price.


A Europe-based company, Cybex is new to the child-restraint market in the U.S. Cybex offers a full line of innovative child travel products and carriers in Europe, and is known for its innovative designs and fabrics. Cybex seats are distributed in the U.S. by Regal Lager, based in Georgia.


Previously known as Sunshine Kids juvenile products, the new Diono brand name represents a worldwide company that makes "thoughtful car seat and family travel safety accessories and products."


The Dorel Juvenile Group manufactures and distributes seats under the Cosco, Eddie Bauer, Maxi-Cosi, Quinny, and Safety 1st names in the U.S. Safety 1st is known not just for child restraints but for many child-care and home-safety products. Cosco and Eddie Bauer are popular child-restraint and child-care-product brands. Maxi-Cosi and Quinny are European-styled child seats and products.


A popular manufacturer of baby care and juvenile products. Evenflo products are available at popular large retail outlets such as Walmart.


One of the world’s best-known names in child-care products. Graco originated popular products such as the Swyngomatic baby swing sold in the 1950s, and later Pack n’ Play portable play yards. Graco has the largest share of the child-seat market in the U.S. and is part of the Newell Rubbermaid group of companies.


Harmony Juvenile Group currently makes a group of backless and highback booster seats, including those under the Secure Juvenile Group name. Harmony markets its products as being "bigger than most, providing more room for your child to grow."


Kiddy is a 40-year-old, family-owned company based in Germany.  It manufactures strollers, car seats, and accessories.  Kiddy products are mostly available online:


A group of child products previously under The First Years name that is now marketed to select retailers as Lamaze.

Mia Moda

An Italian company known for its European-styled child products, including car seats, strollers, and travel systems. Mia Moda means "my style" in Italian. 

Orbit Baby

Orbit Baby products are often differentiated by their versatility and features that allow movement and easy integration between its child-seat bases and other products using its unique hub system. Orbit Baby's high-end products often appear in testimonials by celebrities and are marketed to them as well, with available features such as a sun-shade cover for its seats called a "paparazzi cover."

Peg Perego

An Italian manufacturer of many child products, including child seats. Like Britax’s, Peg Perego's products are often considered high-end and are available mostly in boutique-type retail outlets.


A German company more commonly associated with automobile seats than child seats, Recaro’s reputation is well known in original equipment automobile and motorsport seat technology but extends to a full line of child restraints and aircraft seats as well. Recaro offers a range of child restraints from convertibles to boosters in the U.S.

Safety 1st

One of the brands offered under the larger Dorel Juvenile Group company, Safety 1st is well known for its home safety products, but also makes play and travel safety products. Safety 1st  offers the widest range of products in the Dorel group.

Summer Infant

Covering a range of baby products from bath to bedtime, Summer Infant's innovative Prodigy infant seat is new to the child-restraint market, and offers innovative Smartscreen technology and a belt-tightening mechanism intended to help parent's achieve a correct and secure installation.

Sunshine Kids

Sunshine Kids Juvenile Group is known for its line of steel-reinforced child restraints with innovative features intended to address common issues related to child safety. Sunshine Kids child car seats were some of the first to incorporate higher harness-weight capacities for larger kids. It has changed its name to Diono.


A German company originally known for its stroller designs, Teutonia became part of the Newell Rubbermaid group of companies in 2007 as Teutonia USA. Graco—another well-known child-product brand—is also part of the Newell Rubbermaid group.

The First Years

The First Years brand offers child seat, travel, feeding, and care products, some of which bear other recognizable names such as Thomas & Friends Wooden Railroad, Chuggington, and Lamaze (all under parent company Tomy).

Installation checklist

Studies conducted by NHTSA and in the field indicate that car seat, booster seat, and seat belt misuse rates vary from 74 to 90 percent. That’s right, the vast majority of child seats are not installed correctly.

Here are five key tips to ensure you have a secure and safe installation and fit for your little one.

Right seat

Check the child seat’s height and weight limits, as well as best practice recommendations to make sure you’ve selected the correct seat for your baby. Be sure to refer to the real child seat timeline in this buying guide.

Seat tight

Once installed in your vehicle, the seat should not move more than 1 inch side-to-side and front-to-back. Don’t get discouraged, as it can be difficult to get a tight fit and it is possible that the seat and car combination simply doesn’t work together.

Harness height

In rear-facing installations, harness straps should be at or below the baby’s shoulders. In forward-facing installations, harness straps should be at or above the child’s shoulders. In all installations with a harness, the chest clip should always be at armpit level.

Harness tight

You shouldn’t be able to pinch any fabric when you grab the harness straps at child’s shoulders if the harness is tight.

Final check

Recline angle for rear-facing: Check the recline of rear-facing seats. That is critical, especially for infants. An overly upright seat may allow an infant’s head to fall forward, obstructing his or her breathing. Nearly all rear-facing seats have an indicator to let you know when it’s right.

Top tether for forward-facing: Always attach and tighten the top tether for all forward-facing seats installed with either LATCH or the seat belt. The top tether reduces the forward motion of the seat which can reduce the potential for injury, particularly to the head.

For help with any or all of these tips, visit to find an installation checkpoint or event near you.

Booster seat fit checklist

Booster seats will be the last car seat your child will use before they are big enough to use the vehicle’s seat belts alone.

Most states have child restraint laws that require booster use. Although those laws often refer to age and weight as key measures of when to transition out of a booster, the truth is that age and height are actually more important factors. Age is important in determining when a child’s muscles, tendons, and skeleton are developed enough to better withstand the forces of a crash. Height, and in particular seated height, is important in determining when the seat belt fits correctly over a child’s frame.

Typically, boosters are necessary for children starting between the ages of 4 and 8 years who have outgrown the height and weight limits of their harnessed seat. Children will need to stay in a booster to properly position the vehicle belt until the child is at least 57 inches (aka 4’9”) tall, which usually occurs between the ages of 8 and 12 years. 

But all vehicles and children are proportioned differently. Ultimately, it’s better to evaluate your child’s need for a booster in your car on a case-by-case basis using the booster fit questions below.

Your child can sit on a vehicle seat without the need for a booster when you can answer "yes" to all of these questions:

  • Does your child sit all the way back against the vehicle seat?
  • Do your child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the vehicle seat?
  • Does the vehicle belt cross your child's shoulder evenly between the neck and arm?
  • Is the lap belt as low on the abdomen as possible, near the top of the thighs?
  • Can your child stay comfortably seated like this for the whole trip?

If your child requires a booster seat (you answered “no” to any of the above questions), these tips will help you achieve proper belt fit:

  • The shoulder belt should cross the middle of the shoulder between the collarbone and neck and centered across the sternum.
  • Lap belt should ride low across the hip bones on the upper thigh.
  • Based on our tests, high-backed boosters (those with a backrest) often do a better job than backless versions at positioning and maintaining the shoulder portion of the seat belt.
  • High-backed boosters also provide some additional protection for side-impact crashes and the added convenience of a surface for sleeping children to rest their head, more so than backless boosters.
  • For most seats, the lap portion of the belt should pass under the booster’s armrests.

How we test

For decades, Consumer Reports has been working to make car seats and the marketplace safer for transporting children in order to help reduce child fatalities on the roads. We first crash-tested child seats in August 1972. Since then, we have continued to provide a unique evaluation of child seats. As an independent, non-profit consumer group that accepts neither advertising nor corporate donations, Consumer Reports uses internal research to provide you with real-world experience and expert advice, free of outside influences. We also purchase the seats we test from retail markets, just as you would, rather than accepting free samples from manufacturers.

Our rigorous test methods evaluate ease-of-use, fit-to-vehicle, and crash performance. We combine the results of these three tests to determine the overall rating for each child seat, giving more weight to the combined scores of the ease-of-use and fit-to-vehicle testing than to the crash performance testing because optimal crash protection cannot be expected without proper use and secure installation.


At Consumer Reports certified child passenger safety technicians evaluate how easy the child seats are to use. This is an important part of our testing, as ease of use and understanding the directions helps you properly install the seat in your own vehicle. Our evaluation includes the clarity of instructions, installing the seat, adjusting harness positions, placing a child in the seat, securing the harness, and removing a child.


Child passenger safety technicians rate how easy it is to securely and correctly install each seat using the LATCH system and vehicle seat belts in a variety of vehicles and how well the seats fit each vehicle. These vehicles are selected because aspects of their geometry or restraint systems make child seat installations challenging. Every child seat is installed in each of its configurations, in multiple vehicle seat locations, and with vehicle belts or LATCH as applicable.

Crash performance

All child seats are required to meet minimum federal safety standards. We evaluate a child seat’s potential for providing an additional margin of safety in simulated 35 mph frontal crashes when compared to the performance of similar models. The evaluation is based on injury criteria measured on standardized child-sized dummies, head contact with the back of a simulated front seat, and the child seat’s ability to remain intact during the course of testing.

Find Ratings blob logo

Car seats Ratings

Subscribers can view and compare all Car seats Ratings.

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters!
Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Babies & Kids News


and safety with
subscribers and fans

Follow us on:


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more
left arrow right arrow
See also:
12 rated down arrow
See buying guide down arrow
See buying guide down arrow
See buying guide down arrow
See buying guide down arrow
20 rated down arrow