Car Seat Buying Guide: Choosing the Best Car Seat For Your Family

A car seat is a must-have. But there are tons of options out there, and picking a car seat is a highly personal decision. This guide introduces the different types of car seats and who they work best for, so you can make the right choice for your family.

Before You Buy: Car Seat Stages to Know

Rear-Facing: A rear-facing seat is the best seat for kids under the age of 3, because in a crash, it reduces stress to the child's fragile neck and spinal cord.

Forward-Facing: Once your kiddo exceeds the height and weight limits on their rear-facing seat, they can move to forward-facing—typically around 3 or 4 years of age.

Booster Seat: Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it’s time for a booster seat—where they’ll stay until somewhere between 8 and 12 years old.

Seat Belt: Somewhere between 8 to 12 years—when they can pass the five-step seat belt test—your child will likely be ready for a lap belt, but should remain in the backseat.

💡 For more information on car seat stages and how to know when your little one is ready for the next stage, check out our guide on When to Change Car Seats.

Frequently Asked Questions

Before we begin… let’s cover some important car seat questions and info:

  • What is the average cost of a car seat? The average cost of a car seat is about $150. There are perfectly safe budget-friendly models as inexpensive as $80, but there are also more sophisticated models that can run as much as $300 or more.

  • How many car seats do I need? How many car seats your little one will need will depend on the initial seat you buy and the expiration of that seat. However, most kiddos will need around three car seats: an infant seat, combination seat and a backless booster seat.

  • When should you buy a car seat? You should buy a car seat before your little one is even born, since you’ll need a properly-installed car seat to take your baby home from the hospital.

Infant Car Seats

Stage
Rear-facing only

Age Range
0-1 year

GoodBuy Gear Pricing
$60-$450

Best for: Families with infants who want the convenience of a car seat that clicks right into their stroller

Infant car seats are designed specifically for newborns and small babies and can only be used rear-facing. Most babies outgrow their infant seats before their first birthday, but many parents find them to be a highly convenient first car seat. That’s because infant car seats typically have both a base and a seat, so you can take baby out of the car without unstrapping them from the seat—a big time-saver that also allows your kiddo to keep snoozing while you’re on the go. What’s more, most infant car seats click into stroller systems for even more convenience. (Some require adapters, sold separately.)

Our Recommendations:

Maxi-Cosi Mico 30

Doona Infant Car Seat

UPPAbaby Mesa

Babyark


Convertible Car Seats

Stage
Rear & Forward-facing (Must use 5-point harness the whole time)

Age Range
0-7 years

GoodBuy Gear Pricing
$110-$425

Best for: Families who want to skip the infant car seat and by a seat that can grow with their child

As a child grows, convertible car seats can be changed from rear-facing to forward-facing. And although the seats themselves are on the larger side, many convertible car seats can be used for infants as small as 5 pounds. To save money, some parents opt to purchase only a convertible car seat rather than invest in an infant car seat, too.

Our Recommendations:

Cybex Eternis S

Chicco NextFit

Maxi-Cosi Pria

Graco 4Ever


Combination Seats

Stage
Forward-facing & booster

Age Range
2-12 years

GoodBuy Gear Pricing
$80 - $235

Best for: Families who want a forward-facing seat that will last for many years

Combination car seats are forward-facing only, but have a five-point harness to keep kids ages 2 and older secure. Once kids exceed the harness height and weight requirements (usually around 49 inches and 65 pounds, but always consult your own car seat’s manual for specifics), combination seats can be converted to a belt-positioning booster seat that can be used with the vehicle lap and shoulder belt. 

Our Recommendations:

Chicco NextFit

Cybex Eternis S

Maxi-Cosi Pria All-in-One

Evenflo Gold Revolve


All-in-One Car Seats

Stage
Rear & forward facing, booster

Age Range
0-12 years

GoodBuy Gear Pricing
$170-$380

Best for: Families who want to purchase only one car seat that will grow with their little one through every stage

An all-in-one car seat is a type of convertible seat that’s meant to serve as a one-stop shop for your kiddo until well beyond their toddler years. All-in-one car seats generally come in one of two options: a 3-in-1 that functions as a rear-facing car seat, a forward-facing car seat and a high-back booster and a 4-in-1 that functions as all of that, plus a backless booster. Depending on what seats you’re eyeing, an all-in-one may be more expensive, but they’re meant to be a better investment in the long run.

 

💬 “Something to note is that car seats do expire. So, they may not last the entire time depending on the expiration date and what stage your little one starts using the car seat. Always check the date or manufacture and expiration date before purchasing a car seat.”

– Amanda Brown, In-House Child Passenger Safety Technician and Director of Customer Care

Our Recommendations:

Maxi-Cosi Magellan

Graco 4Ever

Chicco Fit4

Cybex Eternis S


Booster Seats

Stage
Booster (high back or backless or both)

Age Range
4-12 years

GoodBuy Gear Pricing
$65-$190

Best for: Families with older kids who are ready to move to the booster stage

Once your child outgrows harnessed seats, they’ll move to a booster, which raises and positions them so the vehicle’s lap-and-shoulder belt fits properly over the hips and across the chest. There are two types of boosters: high-back and backless.

High-back boosters provide additional neck and head support and are ideal for smaller children or in cars that don’t have headrests or high seat backs. Backless boosters don’t offer additional neck and head support and the vehicle seat must have a headrest. Both seats are designed so your child has the correct position of the seatbelt.

Our Recommendations:

Maxi-Cosi RodiSport

Diono Radian 3

Cybex Solution B2

Graco Grows4Me


Specialized Seats

Stage
Harness

Age Range
0+

GoodBuy Gear Pricing
N/A

Best for: Families with little ones who need more support than the average seat can provide

Specialized seats, sometimes referred to as pediatric car seats, properly position children who need extra head, trunk and leg support. They tend to be more expensive, but they’re vital safety equipment for children with health or behavioral needs.

How to Pick a Car Seat

When shopping for a car seat, safety is paramount, but you can rest easy knowing that all car seats sold in the US pass the same minimum standard testing. It really boils down to fit and installation, as well as your lifestyle and budget.  

When picking out the best car seat, here are the top things you’ll want to look for and keep in mind:

  • Your Child’s Height/Weight: First and foremost, you should always check height and weight minimums and maximums. To ensure your little one’s safety, it’s vitally important they are sitting in a seat that’s age-, weight- and height-appropriate.

  • Lifestyle: Are you constantly in and out of the car? You’ll love the convenience of an infant car seat during the first year of your little one’s life. But, if you don’t drive very much, you might prefer to save money by investing in an all-in-one or convertible car seat right from the start.

  • Your Car: Not all car seats fit all cars. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for specifics to ensure proper fit and installation—also vital for safety reasons. If a car seat doesn’t fit and is not installed properly, it will not adequately protect your child in the event of a motor vehicle crash.

  • Compatibility: Do you have more than one child riding in your car? Make sure the seats can safely fit together—particularly if you have three across one row. Car seats should never be installed side by side with overlapping belts. If you’re shopping for an infant car seat, you may also want to consider stroller compatibility. Some models click right into strollers, while others may require adapters (sold separately).

  • Portability: Infant car seats are much more portable than convertible seats, especially since you can purchase more than one base for multiple cars. This is particularly helpful if your child has multiple caregivers who regularly drive them around—to and from daycare, for example.

  • Features: While all seats pass the same safety tests, some of the more expensive seats have added safety features like reinforced steel frames, added side impact protection and more. Some seats also have additional features that are nice to have, like more breathable fabrics and multiple cup holders.

  • Installation: Your child’s safety is at stake if the car seat is not installed properly. Before installing your kiddo’s car seat, read the car seat and vehicle owner’s manual on how to install the car seat using the seat belt or lower anchors and a tether, if applicable. If you still have questions or have any concerns, you can visit the Safe Kids website to find a CPST in your area.

  • Price: Budget-friendly car seats are perfectly safe—they pass all of the same safety standards as more expensive models. That said, the pricier models may have more sophisticated features, including a reinforced steel frame, added side impact protection and more comfortable fabrics. If you want a sophisticated model with all the added safety features but without the high price tag, consider shopping secondhand.

💡 Wondering if your car seat will fit with the stroller you plan to buy? Check out our guide to Car Seat Compatibility.

Buying a Gently Used Car Seat

Buying gently used is an affordable and sustainable alternative to buying new. Whether or not to purchase a gently used car seat is completely up to you, the caregiver. If you do decide to buy a gently used car seat, you can do so confidently with us, thanks to our extensive safety and quality check process: The GoodBuy™ Car Seat Safety Check.

In addition to our standard quality checks, we worked with a car seat design, engineering and safety consultant over an extensive 12-month research and testing period to create a proprietary 30-point safety inspection process for gently used car seats. The inspection process includes checking for wear and tear, certifying the seat is not recalled or expired and ensuring all necessary parts are present and the seat has not been modified. On top of this, all sellers must sign a legally binding attestation certifying they are the original owner of the car seat and that it has no crash history.

Our Director of Customer Care and in-house Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST), Amanda Brown, oversees this process, which is performed by GoodBuy Gear certified technicians on every gently used car seat before they are listed for resale. Learn more about the GoodBuy™ Car Seat Safety Check here.

💡 Interesting in selling your quality used car seat with us? Learn if your seat is eligible for resale here.

A priority of ours has been, and will always be, to provide parents with the information they need to make an informed purchase decision. If you have any questions regarding our GoodBuy™ Car Seat Safety Check please reach out to: connect@goodbuygear.com

Car Seat Features & Parts

Car seat lingo can be confusing, but it’s important to know the basic features and parts to ensure proper installation and usage—vital for safety. Here are some of the top features to keep in mind:

  • Harness Slots: These are slots in the car seat that hold and position the harness in the correct position for the seat.

  • Harness Straps: Also called “webbing,” this is the part of the harness that restrains your little one and helps protect them in the event of a crash or sudden stop.

  • Chest Clip: Found in two parts—one half on each harness strap—the chest clip is a clasp that holds the shoulder straps together over your kiddo’s chest at armpit level.

  • Buckle: This is the mechanism that secures the harness straps between your little one’s legs. It comes in three parts—one belt buckle on each harness strap and one locking piece between the legs.

  • Tether Strap: Like the harness, the tether strap is a piece of webbing, but the tether strap has a hook on the end that secures to an anchor behind your vehicle’s seat. This is typically used only with forward-facing seats, and is meant to prevent the car seat from tipping forward in a crash.

  • Center Front Adjuster: This little button can be found in the front middle portion of the car seat, generally under a little flap of fabric. When pressed, this button releases the harness webbing so you can loosen it. Conversely, if you pull the “tail” of the extra webbing threaded through the button, you can tighten the harness straps.

  • Lower Anchor Attachments: Car seats have two lower anchor attachments, which are pieces of webbing that each have a hook or connector piece that attaches the car seat to the two lower LATCH system anchors in the vehicle. This secures your little one’s seat in place. Some car seats may not include using lower anchors, so always refer to the car seat and vehicle manual for the best installation.

  • Belt Path: This is the hollow area on the car seat designed for your vehicle’s seat belt to pass through if you’re installing the seat via the car’s shoulder and lap belt.

💡 Your car seat will also come with labels that include information on how to use the seat properly. To decode what these common labels mean, read out guide to Deciphering Car Seat Labels.

Car Seat Safety & Buying Tips

Simply having the right car seat for your little one isn’t enough to keep them safe while on the road. It’s important to heed these important safety tips to maximize their safety:

  • Read the car seat manual: Always read your specific car seat manufacturer’s instructions in its entirety, paying close attention to height and weight limits, as well as the installation process.

  • Read the vehicle owner's manual: Read your vehicle owner’s manual to make sure your chosen car seat is suitable for your car. It will also provide guidance on installation using the lower anchors, the seat belt and a tether, if applicable.

  • Check your state laws: Always check your specific state car seat laws, as these differ by state. However, these laws should be considered minimum standards. To maximize safety, keep your little one in a rear-facing position for as long as possible, as long as the child fits within the manufacturer’s weight and height limits.

  • Register the seat: It’s important to register your car seat with the manufacturer to receive pertinent recalls and safety notices. You can also sign up to receive email alerts from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about any car seat and booster seat recalls.

💬 “The safest car seat is one that fits the vehicle, the child and can be installed correctly every single time.” – Amanda Brown, In-House Child Passenger Safety Technician and Director of Customer Care

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