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Top Infant Car Seats

Don’t need the car seat primer? Skip to the list of recommended seats.

Car Seat Guide for New Parents: Options

Unless you never drive or take taxis, you’ll need a car seat for your baby. Some say it must be new because it’s the only way to ensure the seat hasn’t been in an accident. I mean, what kind of mean mother-effer would sell a wrecked car seat? Ha! JERKS.


Hey guys, I am Meg Collins, the founder of Lucie’s List. I am also a former CPST (child passenger safety technician). Needless to say: I’ve seen a lot. Infant car seats were the very first thing I wrote about when I started this site in 2010 – and I believe it is as important now as it was then. One thing I want to impart is that you don’t have to spend a lot to keep your kids safe in cars… but more on that later.

Not to be morbid, I feel it is important to get your head around this fact… motor vehicle crashes are STILL the #1 cause of fatal injuries in children (AND adults) up to the age of 34. People get their panties in a knot about kidnapping and COVID and whatnot… and then they ride in a taxi with their masked baby on their lap. The truth is that in 2011, 9 kids were kidnapped and murdered by strangers, while 1,140 died in vehicles that same year (source). The risk of your child dying of COVID is an order of magnitude less likely than dying in a car accident.

Yet auto deaths don’t really make the news because they’re so common… but if a baby dies from COVID or gets kidnapped or “drowns in the sand”? The whole entire world will hear about it.

My point is… if you want to be logical about risk assessment… car seat safety is SUPER duper important when it comes to our kids. I’m a fairly permissive parent, but there are 2 things I don’t mess around with: car seat safety and drowning.

The good news? Car seats do an incredible job of protecting children in car crashes, even the very cheapest/most basic seats. I’ve been covering car seat safety for 12 years and I will tell you I have seen the most horrific crash scenes where the baby/child doesn’t even come away with a scratch. It’s amazing!

YAY car seats!!

[steps down from soap box]

And yet… I will be the first to tell you that car seats are a HUGE pain in the ass. They just are. Yes, you will be cursing your child’s car seat for the next 6-7 years (until they get into a simple booster) — Alas, we have no choice in the matter but to suck it up and do the right thing.

For your baby… there are three options for transporting him/her: an infant seat (a.k.a. “the bucket”), a convertible seat, so called because it starts as a rear-facing seat and “converts” to a front-facing seat later on (around age 2+), and nowadays, the all-in-one seat (we have not reviewed these yet, sorry).

infant car seat (left) – convertible seat (right)

The majority of parents start with the infant seat (above, left) because of its portability. You can see that the convertible seat is much bigger, heavier and difficult to transport.

However, you may (yes, you may) skip the infant seat altogether and go directly to the larger, heavier convertible seat or double down and go with an all-in-one seat. You can save money this way, but keep in mind you won’t be able to use it in conjunction with a stroller, which is a major (major, major!) con. Nowadays, you can also get the Doona car seat, which is essentially a car seat with wheels (that becomes a stroller, of sorts).

car seats and strollers
A supermodel I’ve never heard of

*If you choose to go straight to the convertible seat for your newborn, be sure to choose a seat with low bottom harness slots, as this can be a problem area for newborns, especially preemies. See my recommendations for convertible car seats for newborns. [See also: car seats for twins and preemies]

Infant seats are smaller, lighter, and portable. They last until your babe is about a year old (give or take). They also come with a sunshade, which is extremely handy (convertible seats don’t have sunshades).

car seats and strollers
Baby Alice falling asleep while running errands

You see, most parents end up using the infant car seat for more than just riding in the car. There is a good reason for this: say, your newborn baby falls asleep in the car on the way to the grocery store. The last thing you want to do is unearth your peacefully slumbering baby from the bucket. What’s that saying about letting sleeping dogs lie? Yeah, well, the same goes for babies.

With an infant seat, you can simply remove the car seat from the car, snap it into your stroller base, and get on with it. Your baby finishes his nap in situ and everyone is happy. You can’t do this with a convertible (or all-in-one) seat.

Britax travel system: car seat + stroller

With an infant car seat, you can also easily share the seat with partners, nannies, etc., by purchasing additional car seat bases (one seat, multiple bases). This prevents you from having to buy multiple seats (despite the fact that most car seat bases are grossly overpriced). Note that you can also install (most) infant car seats without a base.

Note: The Chicco Fit2 actually goes up to 2 years or so, which is great for city dwellers who Uber and taxi around. It allows you to use it with a stroller until age 2 (vs age 1 for most other seats).

Since 90% of parents start with an infant seat for the first year, that’s what we’ll discuss here.

Best Practices

There is no one “best infant car seat” out there…

Why? Mainly because everyone drives a different car, and what fits properly and safely in a Honda Accord may not do the trick in an Audi A3, for example. And sometimes, to complicate matters, what fits in your sedan may not fit in your partner’s pick-up truck. Ack!

Everyone’s situation is different.

prince william
The young prince prefers the Britax B-Safe

The only way to know if a seat will fit – FOR SURE – is to try it out right after you buy it (keep the tags on!!). If installing the car seat requires you to push the passenger seat all the way forward (rendering the passenger seat useless), take the darn thing back and get a smaller one.

I’m serious.

This is a very common problem, so don’t get stuck in this situation, lest the only thing riding shotgun will be your diaper bag…

Take comfort in knowing that even the cheapest of infant car seats (rear-facing seats in general, that is) are extremely safe. Thus, you don’t have to go crazy spending money on an infant car seat (unless you really want to). Also? You’ll only use it for 9-12 months or so, so we recommend saving your money for a nicer stroller, for example, or a nicer crib that you’ll get more miles out of. Capiche?

You see, rear-facing seats inherently cradle the neck and head, which are fully supported in the direction of impact. According to Kristy Arbogast, PhD, engineering director at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “Our investigations of real-world crashes over the past ten years found infants in rear-facing car seats had an extremely low risk of injury in a crash. Of the crashes studied, very few infants in rear-facing seats were injured.”

Yet another reason to keep your baby rear-facing for as long as possible.

How to Install your Infant Car Seat <– Subscribe to the newsletter to get the good stuff right when you need it.

Types of Car Seats

Essentially, there are American-style infant car seats and European-style infant car seats, even though few people use this nomenclature.

Stay with me.

The European seats are typically more expensive because they *usually* (not always) have additional safety features, such as an anti-rebound feature.

What’s an anti-rebound feature, you say? It’s a device that prevents the head of the seat from flipping up into the seat-back (or “rebounding”) after a front or rear impact collision.

An infant seat “rebounding”

An anti-rebound feature can take the form of a load leg (as seen in the Cybex Aton and the Nuna Pipa seats) or an anti-rebound “bar” that’s built into the base (as seen in the Maxi-Cosi Mico Max, below). The Britax Endeavours also has this as does the newer higher end Graco SnugRide.

An anti-rebound bar (in her left hand)

“Euro seats,” as I affectionately call them, usually also have a “European-style” belt path (shocking, I know), which simply means that the shoulder portion of the lap/shoulder belt is routed behind the seat (below), which makes for a more secure “baseless” seat belt installation. To see what I mean, watch this video and cue to 3:09 (it really helps to see it on video).

eurostyle belt path
A European belt path

Don’t let any of this make your head explode! 

The takeaway here is that if you are a city dweller who plans on taking taxis, Ubers and other cars you don’t own, I’d definitely recommend a Euro-style infant car seat so you can install it quickly and securely without a base (with the caveat that Euro-seats are often more expensive and have better safety features to boot).

The rest of you will be just fine using an American-style (regular ol’) car seat — unless you want a specific safety feature(s) (more on that below).

Yes, it’s true: we are a bit behind our European counterparts when it comes to car seat safety standards, but that doesn’t mean American seats are necessarily inferior. In fact, the vast majority of Americans use American seats and it’s just fine – so there ;-).

There are loads of infant car seats to choose from, but here are our favorites in each price category —

Read more important caveats to infant seats down below ~

Big Picture

$ — Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 ~ $159 – Economy Pick ~ A decent infant seat for a great price

$$ — Britax B-Safe 35 Gen 2 ~ $209 – Good safety features for the price (steel reinforced), but must use Britax/BOB stroller; is an excellent value when paired with B-Free or B-Lively strollers

$$ — Chicco KeyFit 30 ~ $219Editor’s Choice ~ Great mainstream value, compatible with most strollers, best all-around value

$$$ — UPPAbaby Mesa ~ $299Favorite “American” luxury seat, pairs with UPPAbaby strollers, which are fab; also very easy to install and can go in center seat; the Merino Wool version ~ $349 – “The seat I would buy if money were no object”- this wool version has NO fire retardants added and is exquisite

$$$ — Nuna Pipa ~ $319+ – Lightweight luxury seat, great safety features, pairs with Nuna strollers; uses rigid LATCH connectors, so best for installing in a window seat

$$$ — Maxi-Cosi Mico XP ~ $319 – A popular Euro seat, but not our fave

$$$ — Chicco Fit2 ~ $319 – Specialty seat; best for urban dwellers who don’t own a car (benefit: can use with a stroller for up to 2 years vs. 1 year for most other infant seats)

*Got twins? Check out our recommended car seats for twins & preemies list.

Compatibility Considerations

Ideally, you should select an infant seat that’s compatible with your stroller of choice. It will save you money for a special “car seat adapter” alone. Yes, this is tricky because it’s a chicken and egg problem (the seat you choose kinda depends on your stroller; the stroller you get kinda depends on your seat).

Here’s the lay of the land in the best infant car seat department:

Our Economy Pick:

Also consider:

Editor’s Choice

“Old Faithful” — the Chicco KeyFit is rated #1 by consumers on multiple 3rd party sites, including Consumer Reports. And I agree! The KeyFit is a high-quality, beautifully designed car seat that won’t break the bank.

Alice in her KeyFit on a plane

Also Consider:

The Choice for Urban Families (who don’t own a car):

The Chicco Fit2 is the Chicco Keyfit, but… longer. It was designed specifically to be used longer (for babies/toddlers up to 2 years of age vs. 1 year with a regular infant seat) – and still in conjunction with a stroller. That’s the beauty of this seat.

It’s great for urban families who may need to use a car or taxi on occasion (for your 1.5 year old, for example), and need a way of transporting the car seat (via the stroller) once at your destination. Toddler car seats, on the other hand, are very big and heavy and hard to carry around/transport when you’re out and about — and you can’t click them onto a stroller.

Please don’t say to me, “but I live in NYC and we don’t have to use car seats in taxis.” Unless you have a death wish, you absolutely should use a car seat at all times.

American Luxury:

Euro Awesome:

Worth Mentioning: The Sexy German Choice, but very hard to find!

The German-engineered Cybex Aton M is a cool new edition to the Cybex lineup. It’s been VERY difficult lately to find Cybex seats in the US, unless you live in NYC, so I’ve shied away from reviewing them lately. Also, it’s $399, which is… pretty cray.

But the Cybex Aton M is out at BuyBuyBaby. Its bragging rights are a super huge canopy with a very easy “baseless installation” (a true “European belt path”) – this is great for city-dwellers who often install their seats in various vehicles, like taxis.

This seat is really well-constructed and the fabrics and hardware are really, really sexy. It has safety features galore, including a side impact protection feature, called the LSP, a load leg, which is an anti-rebound feature that reduces rotation in an accident.

Downsides: they are having a major quality control problem with the car seat base; parents have had great difficulty getting the seat in and out of it, while others haven’t had this problem. Also, the headrest is quite small, so taller babies will outgrow the seat sooner. It’s also not recommended for preemies.

Important things to know before you buy ~

Infant Seat Weight Limits

You don’t need a 35 or 40-lb weight limit infant seat. Most people upgrade to a convertible car seat around 12 months of age anyway, so 90% of you will be just fine with a 22 lb weight capacity seat… and 100% of you will be just fine with a 30 lb seat. 35 and 40-lb infant seats are ludicrous. Again, there’s NO WAY a 2, 3 or 4-year-old is going to sit in an infant bucket (3 year olds weigh between 30 and 35 lbs). Also remember: car seats (of all types) are outgrown height-wise BEFORE your kiddo reaches the max weight. Promise.

Can you use a USED car seat?

Technically, yes. Provided that a) it hasn’t expired (see below), and b) it has never been in a crash or been otherwise structurally compromised. If you have a reliable friend or family member who wants to give you their old seat that meets these requirements, then go for it!


Car seats expire *roughly* six years after the date of manufacturing, unless otherwise noted. The date can always be found on a sticker on the bottom or side of the seat. Check the base as well (they should have the same manufacturing date, unless they weren’t purchased together). Is this a gimmick? No. In fact, the plastic degrades over time, especially when exposed to cold, heat… puke, apple juice. It doesn’t magically implode into dark matter right at six years, but experts agree that it’s about time to be replaced at that point.

example of car seat expiration sticker

Car Seat Bases

Many people don’t know this, but car seat bases are simply for convenience. You install the base very snug and secure in your back seat and leave it in place. The car seat simply snaps in and out of it. This is good if you doubt your ability to properly install and remove the seat every time, especially if you are always in a hurry (like me!). However, you don’t *have to* use the base.

car seat base

In fact, if you are caught across town in the rain with your car seat/stroller, you can hail a cab, install the car seat (only), throw your frame-stroller in the trunk, and be on your merry way. The same goes for renting a car, flying on a plane, etc.

Bottom line: Just buy a base for the vehicles you use most frequently (the seat itself should come with ONE base). You don’t need a base for every member of the extended fam-damily. And for God’s sake, don’t bring the base when you fly. What a pain {learn more about airline travel in mah book, Flying with Baby!}.

Take it upon yourself to become a car seat expert — it’s really not very hard! Oftentimes, parents throw their hands up in the air when it comes to car seats, but don’t. Go on Youtube and search for installation videos. Take some time with it. You’ll get it!

Practice a few times, and for God’s sake, don’t wait and do this on your car ride home from the hospital after you deliver! By then your brain will have lost the ability to learn or deal with anything new. Click here for tips on installing your infant seat.

Yes! Those are our half-dozen (or so) favorite infant car seats. We hope you found something you like!

Stay the course, you’re doing so well!

*Got twins? Check out our recommended car seats for twins & preemies list.


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