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Best Car Seats for Toddlers and Preschoolers

After the infant car seat days are over, it’s time to look at car seats for toddlers.

Big picture:

Convertible seats: called so because they start out rear facing, usually for babies from 0-24 months (preferably longer!), then “converts to a forward facing seat (with harness!) for 2 to 4 or even 5-year-olds.

14-month-old Alice in her Britax Boulevard
14-month-old Alice in her Britax Boulevard

Forward Facing Seats: for toddlers and preschoolers who are already forward-facing (you don’t need a convertible seat if you’re past the rear-facing days!)

All-in-one seats: There are also “all-in-one” seats, such as the Evenflo Symphony, Everystage, the Graco Milestone and the Graco 4Ever. These seats can be used rear facing, forward facing, or as a BPB (belt-positioning booster seat).

“Well heck, why doesn’t everyone just buy an all-in-one seat?” you ask.

Good question… it’s because most of them are not tall enough for bigger kids who still need to be in a booster. Translation: You would still have to purchase another/taller booster seat anyway.

All the Hubbub About Rear-Facing

If you are good boys and girls (which I know you are, ahem), you know you should be using your convertible seat rear-facing until at least 2 years of age (as long as possible, in fact).

A child is 75% more likely to sustain a serious injury if he is forward facing.

front crash

Yeah, yeah, yeah – I’ve heard it — he doesn’t fit, you say? That’s what everyone says. Remember: It doesn’t matter that his legs are touching the backseat – he’s NOT going to break his legs in an accident. If he’s forward facing, however, he’s way more likely to break his spinal cord, which could kill or seriously maim him. Once you watch this video (cue to 1:30), you will totally understand (seriously, the video speaks for itself).

Having said that, here’s the deal: rear facing car seats recline (usually at 30-45 degrees) and therefore, take up a lot of space (i.e., depth) in your backseat – perhaps even more than your infant seat (yikes!). Therefore, space (i.e., will the darn thing fit?) is probably the #1 consideration.

Size and Weight

Compared to infant seats, convertible seats and all-in-one seats are monstrously big — they look like giant baby thrones. With a few exceptions (travel car seats, for example) they are also quite heavy (20+ lbs). Unlike with infant seats though, weight is not as big of a deal because you’re not taking the seat out of the car every day and plopping it into a stroller. Nope, these are just too big for those shenanigans.

Diono Radian Convertible Seat — tall and heavy!

Forward-facing seats, on the other hand, tend not to be quite as heavy; they are a little easier to get in and out of the car.

Thus, most people end up buying a seat for each (main) car their child will ride in (theirs and their partner’s, for example). Sorry. I wish I had a better solution. Trust me, you don’t want to be taking this thing in and out of the car every day, no siree.

Nowadays, you’ll see many of the higher-end convertible seats going up to 70 or even 80 lbs, which is overkill unless you have a special needs child. Or a baby giant. Just remember that a child will almost always outgrow a seat height-wise before they hit the max weight. An 80 lb seat is… let’s just say I’d be shocked to see a 10-year-old (~80 lb) child riding around in a convertible car seat… gimme a break. You’re never going to hit the upper weight limit, and if you do, your seat will have expired anyway! Hence, a 50-60 lb (weight limit) seat should be sufficient for the vast majority of the population. So don’t get sucked into the idea that you’ll get “more for your money” with these ridiculously high-weight rated seats.

Ok, onward.

Having seat all that (I need a drink), what kind of seat would you like to explore, my precious?

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