Last updated: May 24th, 2017
Choosing and using the right convertible car seat can be a matter of life and death. Literally.
Car accidents are one of the leading causes of preventable child deaths and injuries. And that means you can’t afford to compromise on the safety of the seat, or on its quality.
So in this article, we’ve done the legwork for you. We’ve analyzed each seat for safety standards and easy installation, to present you with the five best convertible car seats of 2017.
Our priorities, in order, were:
- How it installs in a vehicle
- Ease of use
- And the seat’s height and weight limits
Let’s get started.
The top five convertible car seats, in descending order, are:
Table of Contents
Britax’s Marathon ClickTight has everything going for it: easy installation for both forward- and rear-facing positions, an anti-rebound bar which can be bought together with the seat, a no-rethread harness, and a crash protection rating of “better.”
The Marathon ClickTight’s main advantage is its super-easy installation, no matter what position, no matter what car. This is because the ClickTight series has a unique seatbelt threading system and a very clear indicator showing when the car seat is properly installed and when it is not. It’s not just fail-safe – it’s practically impossible to mess up the installation.
In addition, Britax’s Marathon offers a “no-rethread” harness, so you won’t have to rethread the entire belt every time your child grows and you need to adjust the straps. This is a huge advantage, because many parents rethread the harness wrong, twist it, or simply leave it too loose.
The Marathon is comfortably padded and shaped, so kids are comfortable sitting in it for long rides. It also uses the least amount of flame retardant chemicals, offers easy cleanup, and is just 18.5 inches wide, making it one of the easier car seats to fit in a three-car seat back row.
#2. Clek Fllo 2017
The Clek Fllo offers several important safety features: An anti-rebound bar for the rear-facing position, seatbelt lock-offs, easy installation, and a Consumer Report crash protection rating of “better.”
Clek’s anti-rebound bar is a unique feature which adds stability during a crash, lessening the impact of the rebound and reducing the seat’s rotation and movement during and immediately following the impact.
When used forward-facing, the Fllo offers an easy installation system which holds the seat tightly and requires minimum effort to install properly. Plus, the seat includes seatbelt lock-offs, which not all seats have. (A lock-off is a little clip which prevents the seatbelt from moving or adjusting due to pressure.)
The seat also offers longer extended rear-facing, since it has a weight limit of 50 lbs instead of the standard 40 lbs – so even slightly heavy children will be able to rear-face until about age five. Another bonus: Clek doesn’t use toxic flame retardants on its car seats.
When it comes to comfort, this Clek is also a star: Even though the seat is relatively heavy, it’s narrow and can fit easily into a back row with another booster or car seat. Plus, the Fllo is easy to clean, soft, and very comfortable to the touch.
One more thought: Clek’s website has all the information you need, easily accessible. And the company offers transparency with regards to its crash statistics – and none of the others do.
This three-in-one convertible car seat is a win on several counts: First of all, it converts from a car seat capable of keeping a five-pound newborn safe, to a forward-facing car seat and then to a harnessed booster.
Secondly, the seat is relatively easy to install and includes an automatically retracting “Sure LATCH” system which tightens the seatbelt around the car seat – so you don’t have to. And third, the harness is easily adjustable, saving you the hassle of rethreading it every time you need to adjust for a growth spurt.
It’s also nice that Evenflo’s Symphony offers cup holders and has a sleeve to cover the buckle so it won’t get too hot. Plus, the seat has shoulder strap indicators to aid you in adjusting the straps properly, both to fit your child and the seat’s orientation.
Bear in mind, though, that this seat doesn’t have seatbelt lock-offs, and your child may become too tall for it before he grows out of the booster stage.
#4. Chicco NextFit
The NextFit’s SuperCinch system helps tighten the straps so the seat doesn’t move – whether you use the car’s seatbelt or the LATCH tether system. And considering how hard it is to properly tighten a car seat’s belt so the seat can’t move – the SuperCinch is pretty revolutionary.
One of the other benefits of the NextFit is that it can rear-face a child up to 49 inches – by which time he will probably have outgrown the weight limit as well.
When it comes to comfort, there’s no question this seat is a good pick: The padding is comfortable, kids like the seat, and it’s easily adjustable. The NextFit seat also offers nine reclining positions and a zipper feature allowing you to easily remove the fabric for washing.
It bears mentioning, though, that it was slightly difficult to find solid information on the safety of Chicco’s NextFit car seat – despite the seat’s popularity and high ratings.
The Radian R100 is narrow, which means you’ll have an easier time fitting multiple safety seats into the back row.
The seat has a crash protection rate of “very good” (it’s not listed with the other convertible seats, for some reason), but it doesn’t have an easy, no-fail installation system – or a seatbelt lock-off.
Also, it might be hard to properly install this car seat in a rear-facing position, and rear-facing installation requires the use of a separate platform (which is included when you buy the seat). However, the Radian R100 does work very well as a booster seat.
One of the cool things about this seat is that it has a “backpack” option. Though the seat is on the heavier side, you can fold it up and strap it onto your back. Think: Walking through airports, trips abroad when you want to ensure your child is strapped safely into a taxi, and so on. Note, though, that the backpack straps are sold separately.
The Raidan R100 also offers a machine-washable cover, an option to add a cup holder or two (these are sold separately), and a comfortable plush fabric.
Want to see how the technical details compare?
It’s true that we’ve gone over the safety and comfort features of each seat – but there’s more to choosing a convertible car seat than just words.
In the table below, you’ll see the “specs” of each seat, including child height and weight, seatbelt lock-of info, and a summary of what we wrote about installation.
What else do you need to know?
For this article, I checked each car seat (except the Symphony DLX, which wasn’t listed) on Consumer Reports, but wasn’t happy with the amount of detail they gave.
The reason is this: Consumer Reports writes “crash protection” and rates each car seat with a score of “best,” “better,” or “basic” – but doesn’t tell us what those scores mean. The Car Seat Lady said it perfectly when she pointed out that each of these crash tests was done rear facing, forward-facing, with a seatbelt, with LATCH, etc., but Consumer Reports don’t provide us with all the information.
Consumer Reports also doesn’t tell us if the dummies that faced forward were simulating children under or above age two.
Why does this information matter, anyways?
Even though infants can technically be placed in a forward-facing seat from about the age of nine months, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends leaving your child rear-facing *at least* until age two, or until they outgrow their safety seat.
Convertible seats have an inherent advantage when it comes to rear-facing children. This is because they’re made to accommodate taller children and are usually able to accommodate heavier children rear-facing longer than a regular infant seat.
However, Consumer Reports doesn’t give us any of the specific info which could help us decide on an appropriate safety seat.
Their general “better,” “basic,” or “best” rating does not tell us if a specific car seat works well rear-facing but is not worth using forward-facing, or if it flunked the test rear-facing but is great as a forward-facing seat or as a booster.
The other issue is that even “basic” crash protection will properly protect your child. However, even the “best” crash protection will ONLY protect your child if the seat is installed correctly.
Statistics show that 73% of car seats and 95% of parents make at least one mistake when using car seats. So it’s safe to say that the most important aspect of buying a car seat is not what Consumer Reports rated its crash protection as – but how easy it is to correctly install and use it.
That’s why easy installation is so important.
If you’re looking to buy a car seat, make a list of your priorities first. What do you *need* to have, and what can you do without?
If you own a car and are looking for the sturdiest, safest seat out there, with fail-safe installation – your best bet is the Britax (either the Marathon ClickTight, or its wider sibling Advocate ClickTight).
If you need to fit three safety seats in your back seat, you might not be able to fit the the Marathon ClickTight or the Symphony DLX.
In that case we recommend the Chicco NextFit:
And if you don’t have a car, but are willing to practice installing your car seat on someone else’s, the Radian R100 might be just right, since it folds up compactly and can be carried on your back.
What do you think? Have you owned any of these? Have a question we didn’t answer? Let us know in the comments.