by Amy Venzke December 31, 2020 12 min read
Some baby items are outgrown in a matter of weeks: the bouncer you never ended up using, the never-worn outfits in the size your baby skipped.
But a convertible car seat is one of the longest-lasting products your child will use—starting rear-facing from around her first birthday (or from birth, if you forgo an infant car seat) until she reaches the forward-facing height and weight limits around age 6.
You'll want a convertible car seat with top safety technology, of course, but also longevity and features that make your busy life just a little bit easier.
In this post, we'll explore the best convertible car seats for 2021—including the most popular toddler car seats, the best-rated convertible car seats, and top choices for using convertible car seats in specific situations, like with in a small car, with a tall toddler, when traveling and more.
First, let's take a look at Strolleria's top convertible car seats and what makes them best sellers, including their safety technology, innovative features, warranty coverage and more.
As our best-selling convertible car seat, the Nuna RAVA checks all the boxes for many parents.
It's simple to install, easy to use and clean, highly regarded for safety and comfortable for a growing child—all while looking nice in your car, too. Consumer Reports agrees, ranking the RAVA among its top convertible car seats.
The Nuna RAVA is one of the few car seats with an all-steel frame, and it's also one of the easiest to install. Other convertible car seats put parents to work, requiring them to push, pull and struggle to achieve a tight fit. With the RAVA, simply open a color-coded door in the bottom of the seat, thread and buckle the seatbelt, and close the door for secure installation in an instant.
The RAVA has one of the widest recline ranges of any car seat, adjusting to 10 positions to help you find the best fit for your car and your child. Extras like a no-rethread harness, dual built-in cup holders, and harness holders simplify your daily life on the road.
The Britax Boulevard ClickTight may have the best report card of any car seat: It's the No. 1-rated convertible car seat by both Consumer Reports and Baby Gear Lab in their safety and ease-of-use testing.
A Britax slogan helps summarize why its seats are so popular: "If you can buckle a seatbelt, you can install our car seats," the company says. With ClickTight installation, twist a dial to open the bottom of the seat, thread and buckle the seatbelt, then close the seat—click, and it's tight.
The Britax Boulevard ClickTight includes a steel frame with a base that compresses to absorb forces in a crash. Select models also include a steel anti-rebound bar, used rear-facing, that inhibits movement of the seat in a crash.
Another bonus: Based in South Carolina, Britax is one of the only companies that manufactures car seats in the United States.
Our vehicles protect us in a collision by getting crushed on purpose, with crumple zones that compress in a controlled pattern to absorb energy from a crash.
Founded in Canada by automotive-industry veterans, Clek makes car seats that are made of steel, from the frame to the headrest, with aluminum honeycomb zones that crumple in a crash.
In rear-facing mode, the Clek Foonf includes a steel anti-rebound bar to prevent movement and rotation in a collision. When used forward-facing, the Foonf is the only convertible car seat in the U.S. with rigid LATCH—connectors that are made of steel for the strongest and quickest installation.
The crumple zone in the base of the UPPAbaby KNOX is made with Koroyd, a welded tube technology developed through aerospace research and used in high-performance helmets. Additionally, the KNOX is the only convertible car seat that offers a rear-facing tether strap (typically used only forward-facing), which inhibits rotation to reduce the risk of injury by 45 percent.
It's easy to say that the Cybex Sirona S sets itself apart: It's the only car seat in the U.S. that swivels, includes a load leg and even talks to your smartphone (seriously.)
The Sirona S rotates 360 degrees, allowing you to turn the seat to the side for easier entries and exits. In theory, installing the Sirona S could be a one-time experience because you can simply rotate the seat from rear-facing to forward-facing.
Among the car seat's unique safety features are a load leg (otherwise seen only on infant car seats), which Cybex says can reduce rotation in some crashes by up to 30 percent. And like all Cybex car seats, the Sirona S includes SensorSafe technology in the chest clip. SensorSafe pairs with your smartphone to alert parents of unsafe situations, like an unbuckled chest clip or a child left in a car.
Most convertible car seats have an expiration of 7-10 years before their foam and materials degrade, making them no longer safe to use. But what if something breaks or wears out in the meantime?
With most car seats, you'll be out of luck after a warranty period of 1-2 years. The warranty on your convertible car seat is an important factor, considering your child will likely outgrow it around age 6—and you may want to reuse it for siblings, too.
UPPAbaby is one of the only manufacturers to provide a limited lifetime warranty on its convertible car seat, covering the KNOX until it reaches its expiration period.
The Kinetic is made in Italy by Peg-Perego using high-quality materials, including leatherette fabrics that are soft and easy to clean. An anti-rebound bar helps prevent the seat from rotating in a crash, while an anti-rebound spacer adds two inches of leg room, helping to ensure your child stays comfortable while in the safest rear-facing position.
Any car seat you choose is safe, as all products sold in the United States meet strict federal safety standards.
But what's the safest convertible car seat on the market?
There isn't one definitive answer—especially because car seats should be evaluated not only for their crash protection features, but for their ease of use and installation. It doesn't matter how well a car seat performs in a simulated crash test if parents struggle to use it properly in real life.
These three sources provide insight into which convertible car seats are safest because they're both protective and easy to use.
The U.S. government doesn't rank car seats according to their crash performance, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does offer ease-of-use ratings for car seats. Ease of use is a safety feature in itself, as many car seats are installed incorrectly, negating their safety features.
The NHTSA ratings use a five-star scale to evaluate the ease of installing and seating the child in the car seat, as well as the clarity of the product manual and labels.
Not all models have been rated, but here's a sampling of NHTSA ratings for popular convertible car seats.
Consumer Reports uses a "good, better, best" system to rate car seats for crash protection, but that's not the only factor in their rankings. The organization uses a 100-point scale to evaluate car seats on crash protection, ease of use and the seat's fit to LATCH and seatbelt in both rear-facing and forward-facing modes.
Consumer Reports ranks these as the top five best convertible car seats:
Founded by a pediatrician, Baby Gear Lab brings a scientific approach to testing products like convertible car seats. Independent crash testing accounts for 35 percent of the organization's rankings, as do ease-of-install evaluations. Rounding out the rankings are factors like comfort, quality and size.
According to Baby Gear Lab, these are the top five convertible car seats:
Unfortunately, convertible car seats only add to the challenge of traveling with young kids. Unlike infant car seats, convertibles don't have detachable bases—and most weigh a hefty 25 to 30 pounds.
The WAYB Pico is a rare exception: It weighs just 8 pounds and folds to the size of a backpack, making it easy to stow in the overhead bin of a plane. The catch? The Pico can only be used forward-facing, so it's recommended for kids over age 2. And while the WAYB Pico exceeds safety standards and is made with aerospace-grade aluminum, its minimalistic design makes it intended for travel, not everyday use.
"Compact" isn't a word often used to describe convertible car seats. Large enough to protect a 65-pound child, they're bulky by nature, which can make them challenging to fit in a small car.
Clek makes some of the most compact convertible car seats on the market: While other models practically resemble a La-Z-Boy, Clek seats are tailored like the seats in our vehicles. The Clek Foonf and Fllo are 17 inches wide—or 1-3 inches more narrow than other car seats, and typically narrow enough to fit three across your backseat. The Fllo is smaller than the Foonf, sitting 1.5 inches lower.
Sometimes, length is a greater challenge than width—at least for the front passenger sacrificing leg space for the car seat behind him. In these instances, a convertible car seat with numerous recline positions can help you find a comfortable fit for both passenger and child: The Nuna RAVA has 10 positions, offering several more options than most seats.
Why buy an infant car seat, convertible car seat and booster seat over the course of your child's riding lifetime when you could purchase a single car seat that serves as all three?
That's the philosophy behind all-in-one car seats, a new category of seats that transition from a convertible car seat to a booster seat. All-in-one seats can be used from birth until your child no longer needs a car seat, with weight limits as high as 120 pounds.
All-in-ones may also make the best car seats for tall toddlers: When your child reaches the convertible forward-facing height limit (typically 49"), you can store the harness inside the seat to allow use of the vehicle seatbelt instead. Plus, all-in-one car seats tend to be larger and roomier than convertibles: The Nuna EXEC, for one, has an extendable leg rest and additional headrest positions compared with its convertible counterpart, the Nuna RAVA.
While all-in-one car seats are largely too new for safety rankings, many have the same safety features seen on well-rated convertibles. For example, select models of the Britax One4Life include an anti-rebound bar to minimize rotation in a crash, while the Cybex Eternis S features SensorSafe smart technology that alerts parents to unsafe scenarios.
One other factor in considering an all-in-one car seat: keeping it clean for as long as 10 years. The Nuna EXEC includes a slipcover to protect the seat from dirty shoes, while the fabrics on the Maxi-Cosi Magellan XP Max are safe for both the washer and dryer.
All convertible car seats have recline angles that are safe for rear-facing and forward-facing positions. But some have a greater range of recline than others—which can help to soothe a fussy baby, add comfort during naps, or better fit the car seat in your vehicle.
Here's a look at convertible car seats ranked by the total number of recline positions they offer.
Research makes it clear what kind of convertible car seats are safest: those that are rear-facing.
A rear-facing car seat better supports a child’s head and neck, distributing crash forces across their entire torso. In a forward-facing position, the child is supported by the harness, but their head can fall forward in a collision, causing serious injury.
That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids sit rear-facing until they reach the height and weight limits of their car seat—ideally, until they're about 4 years old, but at least until their second birthday. Some states, like California and New Jersey, require rear-facing seats for children younger than 2.
Most convertible car seats have a rear-facing weight limit around 40 pounds, and most have the same height limit of 49.” Some car seats allow for extended rear-facing use with a weight limit as high as 50 pounds—which most kids won’t reach until after age 4.
The convertible car seats with the longest rear-facing weight limits are:
Anti-rebound bars can inhibit the movement of your car seat in a crash, preventing it from rotating and rebounding against the vehicle seat.
The anti-rebound bar, typically made of steel, extends from the end of the car seat and rests against the back of the vehicle seat. Several car seat manufacturers assert that an anti-rebound bar provides an extra measure of safety, although the federal government doesn’t have standards to confirm the effectiveness of the device.
Anti-rebound bars can detach from the seat—although some manufacturers, like Clek, say they are required for safe use of the rear-facing car seat. While anti-rebound bars can be used as your child grows—it’s OK if their legs are crossed or bent while riding rear-facing—all anti-rebound bars will be removed once your child sits forward-facing.
The Cybex Sirona S is the only American car seat that uses a load leg instead of an anti-rebound bar. Both features have the same goal of preventing movement, but the load leg extends from the base of the car seat to the floor of your vehicle. A leading safety feature in infant car seats, load legs can reduce the risk of head and neck injury by as much as 40 percent, according to research from Consumer Reports.
The best convertible car seats with anti-rebound bars include:
Concerned about the potential health risks of chemicals, some parents are looking for convertible car seats that are free of flame retardants.
All car seats are fire-resistant, but some protect your child by using natural materials instead of chemicals.
Clek and Peg-Perego are among the few manufacturers that use merino wool in select models of their convertible car seats. In addition to being fire-resistant, merino wool is soft, hypoallergenic and helps regulate your child’s body temperature, keeping kids cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
All colors of the Nuna RAVA use a bamboo blend fabric that is naturally fire-resistant, while the SafeWash version of the Britax Advocate ClickTight uses a proprietary fabric that's easy to wash and free of chemicals.
In addition to its merino wool colors, Mammoth and Full Moon, all other colors of the Clek Foonf and Fllo are free of chlorinated and brominated flame retardant chemicals.
The best flame-retardant-free convertible car seats are:
Strolleria is a family-owned and operated retailer dedicated to making the baby gear buying experience less overwhelming for parents. If you have more questions about the best convertible car seats for 2021, feel free to contact us by starting a live chat, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 480-442-9433.
Amy Venzke is the co-owner of Strolleria, along with her husband. Together, they have a mission to make the gear-buying experience easier on parents. Contact the Strolleria team with questions at email@example.com or 480-442-9433.