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.
Table of Contents
We’ve analyzed each of the best seats for safety standards and easy installation, to present you with the 8 best convertible car seats of 2018…
including the exact information you need in order to decide which car seat is the best and the safest for your child and for your specific needs.
Our priorities, in order, were:
Let’s get to it right away.
Here are the 8 best and safest convertible car seats, in descending order:
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.
What We Like Best:
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 Clek 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.
What We Like Best:
The Graco 4Ever is a convertible car seat which seats babies and children from birth until they can go booster-free.
Like most Graco car seats, the Graco 4Ever fits babies as small as 4 lbs. However, the 4Ever can only be used rear-facing until your baby reaches 40 lbs. That’s not bad, but it’s not unusual, either – there are seats which allow for rear-facing up to 45 or 50 lbs.
What makes the 4Ever unique is that it’s pretty much the only safety seat on the market which can be used as a rear-facing and forward-facing car seat, and as a high-back and backless booster. Sure, there are other convertible (and combination) seats, but they don’t offer all four options – they either skip the rear-facing option or they skip the backless booster option.
The Graco 4Ever offers easy headrest and harness adjustment, allowing you to adjust both with a single pull or push. The seat also offers an easy LATCH installation system, which means parents have a higher chance of installing the seat correctly. However, this seat doesn’t have seatbelt lock-offs.
Comfort and ease are prioritized: The Graco 4Ever is well-padded and comfortable for kids in all four positions.
Parents are well provided for, too: The 4Ever can transition from forward-facing car seat to high-back booster without being taken out of the car. There’s a place to store the harness, user manual, and LATCH tethers when not in use – and it’s super-simple to access the belt paths and snap the fabric back into place.
What We Like Best:
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 the Evenflo 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.
What We Like Best:
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 Chicco 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.
What We Like Best:
Graco’s Extend2Fit is a convertible car seat that allows babies and toddlers to ride rear-facing or forward-facing. It does not, however, convert from car seat to booster.
This seat isn’t listed on Consumer Reports’ site, but its rear-facing weight limit is 50 lbs – higher than that of several other seats, and allowing children to remain rear-facing for longer. It doesn’t give a rear-facing height limit, though, other than that the top of the baby’s head needs to be at least 1″ “below the red handle.”
Forward-facing, the seat is suitable for infants and toddlers weighing between 22-65 lbs (9.98-29.48 kg) and who are up to 49 inches (124.5 cm) tall.
Its seat cushion is machine-washable, but the harness needs to be spot-cleaned with a damp cloth.
It’s worth taking into consideration that while this seat does have an easy LATCH installation system, seatbelt installation may still be difficult.
What We Like Best:
At just 19 inches (48 cm) in width, Safety 1st’s Grow and Go convertible car seat is a slim car seat which allows children to ride rear-facing, forward-facing, or using the seat as a high-back booster.
The seat can be used rear-facing for infants weighing between 5-40 lbs (2.27-18 kg) or up to 40 inches (101 cm) tall, as a forward-facing car seat for children weighing 22-65 lbs (9.98-29.5 kg), and as a booster for children weighing between 40-100 lbs (18-45 kg).
While it’s relatively easy to use forward-facing, Consumer Reports notes that a rolled towel needs to be used to adjust the rear-facing recline, and using it rear-facing with just a seat belt is not the easiest.
The Grow and Go’s harness system is easy to adjust without rethreading for larger children, but for small infants, adjustment is more complex, requiring several steps. Consumer Reports also noted that when used as a booster, the shoulder belt sometimes slips out of the guide.
This car seat is machine washable and dryer-safe, and the cover comes off easily – there’s no need to remove the harness to wash the seat. It also has an easily-adjustable headrest and side impact protection.
What We Like Best:
Like the Evenflo, this car seat is a three-in-one and can be used as a rear-facing car seat, as a forward-facing seat, or as a booster.
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.
What We Like Best:
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.
|Car Seat||Rear-facing weight range:||Forward-facing weight range:||Height limit:||Installation method:||No-fail installation?||Seat weight:||Seatbelt lock-off?||Good from birth?|
|Clek Fllo||14 – 50 lbs|
(6.4 – 22.7 kg)
(from 5 lbs with infant thingy)
|22 – 65 lbs||25 – 43 in |
(64 – 110 cm)
30 – 49 in
(76 – 127 cm)
(infant thingy supports rear-facing from 19”)
|Rear facing using base |
Both seatbelt and LATCH capable
LATCH and seatbelt installation are not mutually exclusive
|No, but if you watch the video, you're not likely to mess it up.||25 lbs,|
28 lbs with anti- rebound bar
|Yes.||Yes, but needs their "infant-thingy" insert.|
|Britax Marathon ClickTight||5 – 40 lbs||20 – 65 lbs||49” or less||Seatbelt installation and LATCH (using lower anchors only)|
Both Australian and Swedish tethers are supported
|Yes, proprietary ClickTight installation.||28.5 lbs||Yes - the ClickTight button.||Yes.|
|Chicco NextFit||5 – 40 lbs||22 – 65 lbs||Up to 49 “ rear facing||Complete support for both LATCH and seatbelt||Claims to be easiest and simplest, but users have reported failures.||25.5 lbs||Yes.||Yes.|
|Diono Radian R100||5-40 lbs||20 – 65 lbs|
Converts to booster for up to 100 lbs
|Rear facing < 44”|
Forward facing < 57”
|Seatbelt and Latch||Unique super latch system “that makes installation easy.”||~26 lbs||No.||Yes.|
|Evenflo Symphony DLX||5 – 40 lbs.|
(2.3 – 18 kg)
|22 – 65 lbs|
(10 – 29.4 kg)
As booster 40 – 110 lbs
(18 – 49.8 kg)
|19 – 40 in|
(48 – 102 cm)
28 – 50 in
(71 – 127 cm)
as booster 44 – 57 in
(112 – 145 kg)
|Both Seatbelt and latch||No, but has an automatic retract system.||~21 lbs (9. 53)||No.||Yes.|
Convertible car seats convert from rear-facing infant car seats to forward-facing car seats for toddlers. Rarely, the same seat will convert to a high-back booster. These seats will have detailed guidelines on how tall and heavy your child must be in order to use the seat in a forward-facing position, and will have instructions for both rear- and forward-facing installation.
It’s important not to confuse convertible car seats with combination seats:
While convertible car seats can safely restrain newborns (check your seat’s minimum weight), combination seats are forward-facing only. These seats convert from forward-facing car seat to high-backed (and sometimes backless) booster seats.
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 over infant car seats 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.
That depends on what you need. If you’re okay with using an infant insert, you can choose pretty much any of the convertible car seats listed for your newborn. However, if you prefer to avoid inserts, you’ll want to choose Graco’s Extend2Fit, Chicco’s NextFit, or Britax’s Marathon ClickTight.
If your baby was born slightly early (or if you’re at risk for delivering a preemie), you’ll want a seat with a minimum weight limit of 4 lbs, not 5. For that, choose the Graco Extend2Fit, or the Graco 4Ever.
Toddlers will enjoy the extra legroom offered by Safety 1st’s Grow and Go.
Parents of tall children will want to go with Chicco’s NextFit, which can rear-face children up to 49″ tall.
Next in line for tall toddlers is the Diono Radian R100, since it has a forward-facing height limit of 57″. For tall babies, the Diono has a rear-facing height limit of 44″, and the Clek Fllo’s limit is 43″.
If you’re looking for the safest convertible car seat out there, the prize would have to go to either Britax’s Marathon ClickTight (or their Advocate or Boulevard ClickTight seats), to Clek’s Fllo, or to Chicco’s NextFit.
It’s worth mentioning, though, that Chicco’s seat is slightly harder to install than the Britax and Clek seats.
The easiest car seat for airline travel would be the Diono Radian R100, since it offers the option to wear it as a backpack. However, another good option – which is somewhat safer in general – is the Clek Fllo.
Bear in mind that you don’t need to buy a special car seat for airline travel – all you need to do is ensure that the seat you buy (or the one you already have) is approved for air travel.
If your child is big enough for a booster, there are inflatable backless boosters which are safe, lightweight, and convenient.
Parents on a budget are in a tight spot: On the one hand, you don’t want to skimp on safety. On the other, you really do need to choose the best car seat for the least amount of money.
If you’re tight on cash, choose either the Safety 1st Grow and Go or Graco’s Extend2Fit.
For parents who need to fit three safety seats in the back row, each additional inch of width is crucial. If you’re looking for a compact convertible car seat, Clek’s Fllo wins hands down, at less than 17″, followed by the Britax Marathon ClickTight at 18.5″ and Safety 1st’s Grow and Go at 19″.
If your vehicle is small in general, go for the Clek Fllo.
If you’re looking for a lightweight, portable car seat, you’ll want to choose Safety 1st’s Grow and Go. At just over 18 lbs, it’s about 2.5 lbs lighter than its runner-up – the Evenflo Symphony DLX.
Choosing a car seat, especially a convertible car seat, is complicated. Here are some points to take into consideration before making a purchase:
1. Easy installation: As we mentioned earlier, the vast majority of children use car seats which aren’t properly installed. The best way to prevent improper installation is by buying a car seat with a fail-safe installation system.
2. Safety: Be sure your car seat meets or exceeds safety guidelines. Register your seat with the company, so that you’ll be aware of any recalls or “fix it” kits the company provides.
3. Easy adjustment: Harness adjustment can be tricky! Try to find a seat with easy harness adjustment, and be sure you can’t pinch the harness between two fingers when your child is strapped into the seat.
4. Side impact protection: Be sure the seat you choose has proper side impact protection. It doesn’t have to be cushy, but it needs to be there.
5. LATCH: Most cars today are equipped with LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). LATCH makes it significantly easier to install safety seats properly. Whether or not your current vehicle is LATCH-equipped, be sure the car seat you choose offers that option.
6. Expiration: Many seats today expire after 10 years, but some expire after only 7 or 8. Never use a car seat which has passed its expiration date, even if it looks perfectly fine. And, check how long you have before the seat expires: If you plan to have only one or two kids, you should be able to buy each of them a single convertible car seat, to last from when they’re born until they’re ready for a backless booster or a seatbelt.
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 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.
Chana Roberts has spent over 100 hours researching, testing, and writing about products for families. She cares deeply about safety and everything kid. Chana is a freelance writer, editor, and mompreneur, with a passion for helping small businesses succeed.