Bottom line: Graco 4Ever DLX is reliable from cradle to classroom
When buying a car seat, safety is the priority.?In our search for car seats, we made sure our top picks meet federal compliance guidelines, and we looked into essentials like steel-reinforcement, seat size, ease of installation, lifespan, and weight range.
The car seat we found with all the best of those features and more is the Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 Car Seat. With a 10-year lifespan and convertible positions, it’s the one-time purchase that can protect your kids from the first day home to the first day of school. Plus, it has a steel-reinforced frame and moves easily between cars.
How to avoid counterfeit car seats
Did you know that some online retailers sell car seats that are counterfeit and dangerous? To ensure your car seat is federally compliant, look for a label reading, “This child restraint system conforms to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).” Also, register your seat's serial number with its manufacturer to confirm validity and receive future safety/recall information.
Your children’s safety is important to us, so we worked hard to come to these results. We started by surveying over 50 parents about safety, convenience, price, and common features in car seats. This helped us align our priorities with those of many parents and caregivers.
Once we had all the data we needed, we compared top product lists with the features parents want most. The best car seats matched parents’ priorities and got high marks on professional reviews. From there, we compared features, read user reviews, and reviewed NHTSA standards for car seats.1 Find out more about how we review in our full methodology.
Looking for booster seats? Check out our review of the top booster seats on the market.
Graco recently launched the?Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 Car Seat, (AKA the convertible car seat of your dreams, and we're impressed. This new-and-improved seat has a rubberized harness. And it has fabric that can be removed in 60 seconds for machine washing (no need to uninstall the whole seat on laundry day).
It also has a steel-reinforced frame?and 10 different harness and headrest positions to keep your kiddo safe and comfortable. We even found a review from a customer saying their child survived an accident without injuries thanks to this Graco seat.
Weight range capacity 4 –120 lb.
Steel reinforcement for added safety
Machine washable cushions
Not compatible with strollers
Proper installation is essential to your child’s safety in a car seat. Thankfully, this seat is easy to install in any position. The Graco 4Ever can use your car’s LATCH system, adult seat belts, or both.
The Graco 4Ever DLX convertible car seat is pricey, but it’s a one-time payment for four stages of car seats. We were most impressed by its weight range (4–120 pounds) and its ability to shift between rear-facing, front-facing, high-backed booster, and backless booster seat positions.
Top that off with a 10-year lifespan, and this may be the only car seat your child needs until they fit an adult seat belt.
Chic, sleek, and safe, the Peg-Pérego Primo Viaggio is the Italian sports car of car seats. It’s fashionable, but also has several unique safety features other car seats skipped.
This car seat has adjustable side-impact protection, a contoured steel back plate, and expanded polystyrene to absorb energy in a crash. It’s also got a shock-absorbing foam element (SAFE)—a crumpling device under the seat that absorbs force in a crash.
Reversible rear-facing and forward-facing options
Energy-absorbing foam and crumpling device
Luxurious, machine-washable upholstery
Steep price tag
No level indicator
No built-in cupholder
All of this is lined in machine washable jersey fabric to keep your little ones comfy during long rides, hot summers, and cold winters.
If you’re willing to drop a bit of cash on a high-quality car seat that will last for years, the Primo Viaggio is a safe and stylish choice.
The Chicco KeyFit is a popular choice with parents and critics alike for how easily it clicks into the base and compatible strollers. It’s a light nine pounds, so it’s easy to transport baby from one car to another.
Easily transferrable from stroller to car
Compatible with a fleet of strollers
Suitable only for infants
Not steel reinforced
It’s easy to install in your back seat too. The base secures by LATCH connectors or the adult seat belt in the back seat. Once the base is stable and level, just click the seat into the base and secure baby in. The easy-pull straps and five-point restraint system keeps your infant snug and secure for the whole ride.
It’s a great choice for an infant car seat, but with a max height of 30 inches and max weight of 30 pounds, your baby might outgrow it quickly. It has a six-year lifespan, so you can reuse it if you have a new baby in the family after your toddler outgrows the KeyFit.
Busy families on the go shouldn’t be tied down by bulky car seats. If you plan to travel with your baby often, the Graco SnugRide is safe on the ground and in the air. This travel car seat is easy to move from stroller to car seat base and is Federal Aviation Admission (FAA) approved.
FAA-approved design for planes
Easy to move from stroller to car
35-lb weight limit
While your child may outgrow its 35-pound weight limit in a couple of years, it’s reasonably priced for the life you get out of it.
If you want a safe car seat with a few extra features, the UPPABaby MESA is a good place to start. It has a canopy, machine washable cushions, and compatible strollers for when you head to the park or zoo. We really like the stain-resistant fabric that repels liquids like milk, juice, and inevitable accidents.
Strap tightness indicator
Steep price tag
It also has a tightness indicator on the strap and pockets on the side to tuck the buckles in while you settle baby in. All this comes with a steep price tag for a baby car seat, but it’s one small way to make parenting a little easier.
Things to consider before you buy
According to a 2016 report from the NHTSA, 49% of car seats and booster seats are used improperly.3?To us, that means the best car seat isn’t just safe, it’s easy to install. Seats with fool-proof installation will be less likely to malfunction or fail no matter how many other features they have.
Your child should also fit within the car seat’s weight and height requirements for the best installation and safety results.
You’ll also want to look at lifespan. Car seats typically expire in about six to ten years. This is long enough for your child to outgrow their car seat or grow into their adult seat belt in time to pass down to a sibling.
Remove the car seat. Shake it upside down and vacuum to remove all crumbs.
Check your manual for which parts can be removed or machine-washed. Don’t machine-wash the harness.
If machine-washing is off limits, scrub cloth surfaces with detergent or warm soap and water. Don’t use bleach. Avoid soaking materials enough to risk mold or rust.
Wipe all plastic and metal surfaces with disinfecting wipes.
Clean the straps and buckle with warm water and gentle soap. Avoid vigorous scrubbing or harsh chemicals, as both can compromise strap strength.
Air dry all pieces of the car seat completely before reinstalling it in your car.?
Each car seat attaches to your car differently, so it’s essential that you read all the instructions along with your vehicle’s manual. These manuals can make installation and adjusting the car seat easier for you and safer for your little one. You can also find important information like safety specs, compatibility with airline seats, and more.?See “The 5 Keys to Car Seat Safety” illustration below.
If you need some help or just want confirmation you’ve installed the car seat correctly, you can take it to your local fire or police department to get help from a certified Child Passenger Safety technician. If there are no CPSs at your local emergency center, you can check the?CPS registry?to find one near you.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children ride in a rear-facing seat as long as possible.2?Most rear-facing car seats have a weight range up to 40 pounds and allow your kiddo to ride in this position until they’re roughly two years old.
The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or?LATCH system, is designed to make car seats easier to install and more compatible with vehicles. Since 2003, all vehicles have been required to provide lower anchors in and on the back seats making it easier to attach strong clips from the car seat. It’s an easier alternative to threading seat belts through the frame of your child’s car seat.
Most infant car seats are compatible with FAA standards, but it’s best to check your manual. Once you convert a car seat into a booster seat, you may not be able to take it on an airplane since these seats need a cross-body belt to function properly.
How long should kids use rear-facing seats?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible ("until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the seat's manufacturer").2 The Primo Viaggio follows allows children up to 45 pounds to fit in the rear-facing position. After, they can ride in the front-facing position until they reach 65 pounds. This should suit your kiddos for the seat’s entire seven-year lifespan.
Car crash stats: States with the highest (and lowest) child fatality rates
In 2017, vehicle crashes involving children happened every 32 seconds.5While safe driving can certainly help prevent events like these, a properly installed child safety seat can reduce fatal injuries by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers in standard passenger cars.6
Reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed which states had the most (and fewest) child fatalities in vehicle crashes between 2013 and 2017. In honor of Child Passenger Safety Week, we took a close look at how you can prevent these incidences with the right car seat.
According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System database from the NHTSA, fatal car crashes involving children (ages 0 to 9) happened most (and least) frequently in these 10 states. The numbers shown are representative of every 100,000 children in each state. For example, for every 100,000 children in Wyoming, 6.44 were killed in a motor vehicle crash.
During our research, we examined a variety of sources including reports from the NHTSA from 2013 to 2017, state laws on child safety, and pediatric recommendations for the best safety practices for children up to 13 years old. While we didn’t find a direct correlation between lax state laws and traffic deaths, there were a few interesting findings worth mentioning.
For every 100,000 children nationwide, 2.1 children died in a car crash between 2013 and 2017. Overall, there were 3,704 deaths.?
In three years, Wyoming saw a 44% decrease in child traffic deaths. From 9.1 car crash deaths per 100,000 children in 2014 to 5.1 in 2017.
There was a 213% increase in child car crash deaths in New Mexico between 2015 and 2017. From 3.2 car crash deaths per 100,000 children in 2015 to 10 in 2017.?
Oklahoma’s fatality rate is nearly twice the national average at 4 deaths per 100,000.?
The best way to prevent traffic fatalities is to drive safely and use the right safety restraint for your kids. The correct seat for your child will depend on their height, weight, and age. The?best car seats?are comfortable for your kids and easy for you to install.
Always read the instructions before installing your child’s car seat for the first time.
Always check to make sure your kids are secured tightly before every ride. The car seat shouldn’t move more than 1 inch from side to side.
Always register new child safety seats with the manufacturer. This will keep you updated on recalls and important brand news.
Always match car seat harnesses to their designated slots as shown in your car seat’s manual.
Always use the top tether when securing a front-facing car seat.
Always buckle up with your kids. It sets a good example and keeps you safe too.
Never let your kids ride in the car without a safety restraint.
Never let your kids ride in another vehicle without the right safety restraints.
Never secure a rear-facing car seat in the front passenger seat.
Never buckle in your child while they’re wearing a bulky coat or outerwear. You can use the coat as a blanket or throw, but thick outerwear can make the seat less effective.
Never let kids under 13 ride in the front seat. Avoid letting them ride in vehicles with no back seat or active front-seat passenger airbags.
Never use an expired, recalled, or damaged car seat.
As your little ones grow up, they need a car seat that fits them correctly. There are convertible car seats that shift and change with your child’s growth stages, or you can purchase a new car seat for every phase. Either way, the car seat needs to be easy to install and hold your child securely. No matter what stage your child is at, the best car seat is a properly installed car seat. Follow this guide from the NHTSA to know when to transition to the next car seat for your child.
Infants to 3 years old: Babies and toddlers need to sit in a rear-facing seat until they reach the weight limit on the car seat. You can find convertible car seats that fit from infancy to 3 years old. Infant car seats have a shorter life span, fitting babies up to 12 months, while convertible models can fit older children up to 35 pounds (depending on the car seat model).
4 to 7 years old: Once your child reaches preschool age, they can typically sit in a forward-facing car seat. These seats generally fit kids from 40 to 60 pounds. When installing these seats, it’s especially important to fasten the top tether of your car seat to the vehicle’s seat. This can reduce head and neck injuries in case of a crash.
8 to 12 years old: This is typically when your child can transition from a forward-facing car seat to a booster seat. Depending on your child’s weight and height, they can use a belt-positioning booster or a backless booster seat. These seats are best for kids between 40 and 80 pounds and up to 4 feet 9 inches. See our recommendations for the best booster seats.
12 years and up: Until your kids are 13, the back seat is the best place for them to sit. Once your kiddos reach 4 feet 9 inches, they are generally big enough to use an adult seat belt in the back seat of your vehicle. This could be the back seat’s lap belt or lap and shoulder belt.
The SafeWise team evaluated car crash data from 2013 to 2017 from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to determine which states in the country had the highest and lowest numbers of child car crash fatalities per 100,000 children.
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Katie McEntire has tested home security systems in her own apartment, installed GPS trackers in her own car, and watched her cat, Toki, nap all day through a live nanny cam feed. As an expert reviewer, she believes that firsthand experience is the best way to learn about new products (even if it requires being the guinea pig). She specializes in pet safety and DIY security and has contributed to publications like DigitalCare.org and TechGuySmartBuy.