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Consumer Reports: Best Convertible Car Seats

The seats that provide the best balance of safety and ease of installation
John Powers / Consumer Reports
/ Source: Consumer Reports

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A convertible seat is a must for parents to stay in step with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to keep a child rear-facing for as long as possible. He should stay there until he has reached the height or weight limit of the seat.

Once a child outgrows an infant car seat, a convertible seat is the next step up. It can be installed in rear- and forward-facing configurations, and it’s likely to be the one a child sits in for the longest period of time.

Most kids will outgrow an infant or rear-facing-only seat because of their height first, rather than their weight. Based on our recent tests, Consumer Reports recommends that parents transition their children to a rear-facing convertible seat by age 1.

That’s because of a key potential safety benefit. We found that in more than half of the infant seats we tested, the head of a 12-month-old child dummy came into contact with the simulated front seatback. That type of impact could result in an injury to a child.

By contrast, in almost all the rear-facing convertible seats, the head of the dummy avoided contact. (Learn more about how we test car seats.)

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The shell of a convertible model provides additional space above a rear-facing child’s head to allow room for the head to move while still avoiding contact with the back of the front seat. In addition, most rear-facing-only infant seats have maximum weight limits of 35 pounds or less, but convertibles in most cases have maximum weight limits of 40 pounds or more when used rear-facing.

The top convertible car-seat models we’ve identified offer balanced performance in three test areas: how they fit in a vehicle, ease of use, and performance in a crash test.

They have features that help in getting a secure installation, particularly when using a vehicle’s seat belts. Some models, such as the Nuna Rava, indicate that using a seat belt is the preferred installation method.

Below are the convertible models with the highest Overall Scores in CR’s testing.

Using CR’s Car-Seat Ratings

Consumer Reports’ crash test evaluates the ability of a child seat to reduce the risk of injuries in conditions that simulate the inside of a car and the forces that would be encountered in a crash. Each convertible seat is crash-tested in all its configurations and installation methods with age-appropriate child-sized dummies.

Our fit-to-vehicle ratings reflect the differences between using LATCH (the anchors that are built into a car) and using the standard three-point seat belt, with separate ratings for the different orientations and installations. Overall Scores take into consideration regulations regarding the 65-pound weight limit (seat plus child) for LATCH lower-anchor use. This means that with heavier seats, you might be limited as to how long you can keep the seat installed using LATCH connectors and when you must switch to installing them with a seat belt.

Bottom Line

Most children will need to move from an infant seat to a convertible seat to remain rear-facing. All convertible seats meet at least the minimum requirements for safety, and our ratings and recommendations will help you differentiate which ones provide a greater margin of protection and increase your chance of getting it securely and correctly installed. See CR’s recommended car-seat use to determine whether your child should be in a convertible seat.

The highest-scoring convertible car-seat models below cost $45 to $450. A higher price doesn’t necessarily reflect greater quality or safety. You can buy a safe, top-performing seat without breaking your budget.

Full details and ratings can be found on the seats’ individual model pages.

Chicco NextFit Zip

The NextFit iX Zip builds on the solid design and performance of the original NextFit convertible, adding newly designed lock-offs that are a bit easier to use for seat-belt installations. A score of Best for crash protection balances nicely with high scores for ease of use and fit for both seats. With push-on LATCH connectors and SuperCinch tensioning technology, the Next Fit seats make LATCH installations easier. It’s also simple for parents to adjust the height of the harness for a growing child. Zip versions make cover removal easier, too. One challenge could be the seat’s weight.

Britax Boulevard ClickTight

The Britax ClickTight convertibles—Britax Marathon ClickTight, $280, Boulevard ClickTight, $300, and Advocate ClickTight, $350—earn high Overall Scores for their combination of crash protection, ease of use, and fit-to-vehicle ratings. The technology makes getting a secure installation easier using the LATCH system or a seat belt by reducing the need for human strength to tension the belts. The Britax ClickTight convertible seats also stand out because they’re almost as easy to install rear-facing as they are to place when forward-facing. A secure installation increases the chances of the seat providing the best level of crash performance, as demonstrated in our simulated crash tests.

Nuna Rava

The Nuna Rava does a good job providing features that help achieve a secure installation whether rear- or forward-facing and using the LATCH system or seat belts. Its easy installation, combined with level crash performance that scores Better in our simulated crash tests, help place this model high on our ratings chart. Nuna’s True Tension doors help parents secure the seat without a lot of muscle, particularly with seat belt installations. Rava’s price may be a deterrent, but its performance may warrant it.

Graco Sequence 65 (out of stock)

The Graco Sequence 65 and the Graco Sequel 65 are very good performing, straightforward seats in all of their modes of use. The no-rethread harness also makes adjustments easier for parents. The combination of its performance and value earn it CR’s Best Buy designation.

Cosco Scenera NEXT

The Cosco Scenera Next exemplifies the notion that safety doesn’t always have to come with a hefty price. It isn’t loaded with fancy features, but this seat is straightforward to use, and it scores well for forward-facing fit-to-vehicle and crash performance. It’s a great seat at a bargain price, earning it a CR Best Buy designation. One caution: This seat has a maximum weight capacity of 40 pounds, much lower than the 65-pound forward-facing limit for many other models in this category.

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