Many parents are not sure which car seat to get for their toddler.
The usual dilemma is whether to keep a toddler in an infant seat even when they are older than one.
Let me tell you, the rear-facing seat is not the only car seat for your toddler.
Yes, you should keep them rear-facing for as long as possible, but child passenger safety technicians say you should follow the height and weight limits provided by the car seat's manufacturer rather than rely on age.
In the following text, I shared my piece of wisdom and composed a list of the popular car seats parents usually choose for their toddlers.
Also, I singled out the best toddler car seat sold in 2022, so if you need help, dive in!
Table of Contents
- My 8 Go-to Toddler Car Seats
- #1. Graco Extend2Fit - The Best Infant-to-Toddler Car Seat
- #2. Britax Grow with You - The Most Reliable Harness-to-Booster
- #3. Evenflo EveryFit - Multiple Car Seats in One
- #4. Safety 1st Grow and Go - Excellent Quality Per Value
- #5. Diono Radian 3R - Easy to Fit Three Across
- #6. Chicco MyFit Harness - Fantastic Harness to High-back Booster Seat
- #7. Graco Tranzitions 3 in 1 - Great Combination Car Seat for Toddlers and Preschoolers
- #8. Britax Allegiance 3 Stage - Easy-to-use Forward-facing Car Seat
- Buyer's Guide
- How to Choose a Car Seat for Your Toddler?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the best car seat to buy for a toddler?
- What car seat does a 3-year-old go in?
- How do I stop my 3-year-old from unbuckling his car seat?
- Can an 18-month-old face forward in a car seat?
- At what age do you switch to a toddler car seat?
- What are the differences between infant and toddler car seats?
- How much should a baby weigh before forward-facing?
- When did you stop using infant car seat?
- When can a baby be in a car seat longer than 2 hours?
- Do American Airlines accept toddler car seats?
- What is the best toddler car seat for travel?
- Can you put toddler car seat in front?
- Does UPPAbaby make a toddler car seat?
- Does a toddler car seat need a base?
- How to install toddler car seat without base?
- How to install toddler car seat with seatbelt?
- How tight should toddler car seat straps be?
- How to keep toddler warm in car seat?
- What is Florida toddler car seat law?
- Does Uber require car seats for toddlers?
- What's the Best Toddler Car Seat?
$$ — Graco Extend2Fit ~ 19 pounds - This is an excellent convertible car seat to keep your child rear-faced as long as possible. It offers ten headrest positions and six recline positions, and it's easy to install. It's very hard to tighten the straps, though.
$$$ — Britax Grow with You ~ 23 pounds - This is a harness-to-booster car seat that's a perfect transition for your toddlers once they get out of the rear-facing system. It has an excellent capacity and a very safe design, but the headrest can become wobbly.
$$ — Evenflo EveryFit ~ 19 pounds - Here, we have one all-in-one budget option from Evenflo. It follows your child's growth through four stages, from four to a hundred and twenty pounds. It's adjustable and breathable, but some parents find it wobbly.
$ — Safety 1st Grow and Go ~ 15.4 pounds - What we have here is one lightweight three-in-one convertible car seat with an adjustable headrest and a no-rethread harness. It has three recline positions and soft cushioning, but the Latch system is not good enough.
$$ — Diono Radian 3R ~ 25.9 pounds - If you need a portable but sturdy car seat with a convertible design, this is your stop. This model features a three-in-one design, has excellent weight capacity, and folds down. But it doesn't include the infant inserts, so it's really the best choice for toddlers.
$$ — Chicco MyFit Harness ~ 25 pounds - This is another model for toddlers and preschoolers. It's safe, rigid, and durable and accommodates kids from 25 through 100 pounds. It's adjustable and ergonomically designed but can't be installed in every vehicle.
$ — Graco Tranzitions 3 in 1 ~ 17.31 pounds - Here is another harness-to-booster seat, but this one also includes the backless booster mode. It has a forward-facing position only, but it's packed with safety features and is easy to use. The Latch is hard to tighten, though.
$$ — Britax Allegiance 3 Stage ~ 19.5 pounds - Here we have a rear-facing seat that converts into a forward-facing toddler seat. It's budget-friendly, easy to install, and easy to clean. The headrest and harness can be adjusted between ten positions, but parents complain the harness is easy to unbuckle.
My 8 Go-to Toddler Car Seats
Here we have one of the best convertible car seats on the market.
It accommodates your child from four to sixty-five pounds and offers some really neat features that make the transition as smooth as possible.
The first thing that's great about this seat is the five-position extension panel that offers five extra inches of legroom in a rear-facing position.
The weight capacity in this mode is from four to fifty pounds, so you can definitely keep your child rear-face longer.
And with a six-position recline system, you can find the most convenient angle to keep them comfy.
Then, as your toddler grows, you can move to the forward-facing mode for up to sixty-five pounds.
What makes the transition smooth is the no-rethread harness that's easily adjusted with the headrest.
All you should do is press the handle at the top of the headrest and pull it up. It locks in ten different positions.
The installation is a breeze with the In-right LATCH system, and Graco's ProtectPlus engineering ensures safety since the seat passed the most rigorous series of tests.
Once you remove the infant inserts, your child's neck is still protected with thick side impact protection.
On the negative side, one thing that's continuously mentioned is how hard the straps are to tighten.
It's almost impossible to do it, and that's something that Graco should definitely look into.
Although this model looks quite similar to the Graco Extend-2-Fit, this one is actually for a different stage in your toddler's growth.
While Graco covers the period from infancy to toddlerhood, this one's for toddlers and preschoolers.
It accommodates toddlers from twenty-five to a hundred and twenty pounds.
So, I wouldn't use it until your child is at least two because they can stay in a rear-facing mode up until then.
So, when it comes to this Grow with You booster seat, the first thing I love about it is that it's packed with safety features.
It has double side-impact protection, an industrial-strength steel frame, and the SafeCell technology that absorbs the pressure in the case of a crash.
Then, at the back of the seat, the tether has these slow-release stitches that also control the movement and keep the seat in place even in a collision.
Now, this is obviously a seat meant for bigger kids, so is your toddler actually safe in it? Yes!
The seat has a five-point harness in the forward-facing mode, and you can adjust the headrest and the harness between nine different positions.
So, it's super-easy to find the perfect fit.
Once your child outgrows the forward-facing seat, you can transform it into a belt-positioning booster seat and keep them safe until they reach 120 lbs.
As for the drawbacks, some parents have complained about the quality of the headrest, stating that it becomes wobbly and doesn't portray the best quality.
This is probably the best quality for the value you'll get on the market nowadays.
It's an all-in-one car seat from Evenflo, designed to follow your child's growth from infancy until they are ready for the seatbelt.
You can install this seat with the LATCH system or the seatbelt, and either way, installation is a breeze and doesn't take more than a few minutes, really.
The total weight capacity is phenomenal; it goes from four to a hundred and twenty pounds and accommodates your kid in four different modes: rear-facing, forward-facing, belt-positioning booster, and backless booster seat.
When the time for transition comes, you can adjust the harness and the headrest between twelve different positions with only one motion.
And there are three recline positions in a rear-facing mode and one in a forward-facing mode.
Without any adjustments, your child can ride rear-facing for up to two years due to the exquisite design of this car seat.
And it meets all federal safety standards, so it's perfectly secure.
Another great thing about it is the mesh material that offers great breathability and prevents overheating.
The one thing that many parents think needs improvement is the sturdiness of the seat. Once installed, the seat is not completely steady, it wiggles a bit, and parents consider it a safety issue.
#4. Safety 1st Grow and Go - Excellent Quality Per Value
Here we have a solid three-in-one model from Safety 1st, probably the lightest of this kind that I found.
It's perfect for toddlers because it converts from an infant seat into the forward-facing harness and then into a high-back booster.
The first thing I like about this seat is the comfort.
Although it's one of the most budget-friendly offers you'll find, this seat is well cushioned and very comfortable.
It includes removable infant inserts and side-impact protection, so your child is really safe and sound.
Next, the adjustability is great.
It also includes a no-rethread harness like the more expensive models we reviewed. So the headrest and harness can be adjusted together in a single motion.
Like the Evenflo model, it offers three recline positions in a rear-facing mode, so you can somewhat manipulate the rear-facing mode and prolong it as much as possible.
Although one of the cheaper seats on the market, I like that this seat exhibits a very neat design.
It has some high-end details like harness holders, thick cushioning, and dual cup holders.
The covers are also removable and washable, so it's easy to keep the seat clean over the years.
And this is an important factor for convertibles. If you plan to use it for years, you need to keep it hygenic.
As for the negative points, they all go to the LATCH system.
The anchors are just not tight enough, and even if you manage to tighten them at first, after some time, they loosen up.
With the Diono Radian 3R, you get three car seats in one.
Its slim-fit design was specially engineered to let you fit three across, but it also supports rear-facing mode for longer, up until your little one is fifty pounds.
This means you could keep your child in a rear-facing mode for approximately 3-4 years, which is ideal for toddlers.
However, when you eventually choose to switch to a forward-facing mode, there's a lot of flexibility too.
You can choose between multiple harness positions, but it does require rethreading, though.
So it's a bit more effort-consuming than on the car seats we previously reviewed.
When it comes to rigidity, this is one of the best car seats you can find. It has an automotive-strength steel core that keeps everything stable. And, on top of it, thick padding.
The seat transforms into a belt-positioning booster too, and it supports your child for a long time, having the highest weight capacity on the market.
What I also like about it is its portability. You can fold it down and bring it along to your trips or store it conveniently.
I don't like that it doesn't come with infant inserts and has no independent headrest that you can adjust. They did improve this on the later versions Radian 3RX, 3RXT, though.
This seat is for toddlers exclusively.
It's a two-in-one model from Chicco, designed for toddlers between 25 and 65 pounds in a harnessed mode and 40 to 100 pounds in a booster mode.
Like every other model from Chicco, this seat is incredibly safe and well-made. It has a deep ridged shell, two layers of side-impact protection, and EPS foam.
The entire seat is very neat and well-padded, so your child will most certainly be very comfortable in it.
What is more, it has a 9-position adjustable headrest to make the conversion smoother and more accurate.
Installation is pretty simple due to the LATCH anchor system, and there's also a Lock-Sure belt-tightening system for additional assistance.
Many car seats that don't have a rear-facing mode don't have a reclining system, but not this one.
This car seat has four recline positions, so you can find the correct seat angle for your child.
When it comes to Chicco, I love that their seats are ergonomically designed and genuinely safe, so there's never a reason to worry.
The only negative remark I found was that this seat doesn't fit every vehicle; apparently, It cannot be installed in an SUV, so some parents ended up not using it.
Here we have another model from Graco, but this one is meant for toddlers and preschoolers.
It's another harness-to-booster car seat that's recommended for kids between twenty-two and one hundred pounds.
The seat includes a 5-point harness, and it has side-impact protection, so it's perfectly safe and in accordance with federal recommendations.
Also, the padding is very thick and comfy, so your little one will feel cozy and relaxed.
This forward-facing car seat has a no-rethread harness, so it's pretty simple to adjust it.
You simply pull up the headrest and adjust both the harness and the headrest in one motion.
You can install it with a latch or with a seat belt. Either way, it's pretty simple.
And since this car seat doesn't weigh too much, it's great for carpooling and traveling.
When your child overgrows the harness, you can transform the seat into a high-back booster, and later even remove the back and just use it as a backless booster.
As for safety, this seat is engineered with SafeSeat Engineering Standards that meet and exceed federal requirements.
When it comes to the negative features, it is very hard to tighten the LATCH, and multiple parents reported this issue.
And the last model for today is another infant car seat that transforms into a comfortable toddler car seat that supports your child until they reach sixty-five pounds.
First off, the car seat installation could not be easier.
It has push-button latch connectors and built-in lock-offs that help you get it right every time.
Safety is most definitely not an issue with this car seat model.
At the core, you may find a steel-reinforced frame, then an impact-absorbing base, and a special V-shaped tether that reduces the forward movement in crashes.
Of course, it has thick side impact protection and toddler-friendly padding for a comfortable experience.
Another important feature is that you don't need to rethread the harness straps to adjust the height.
Simply pull the headrest and adjust the harness straps along with it between ten different positions.
The seat offers a 3-position recline, so it's not the most adjustable you'll find, but it has other advantages like the soft fabric with a removable cover that's machine-washable.
One serious issue I noticed many parents reporting is that your child can easily loosen the straps.
I think Britax should definitely look into this because the seat can pass any crash test and seem like the safest car seat on the market; if your child can unbuckle, it's not safe.
I noticed that many parents are confused when the time for a toddler seat comes.
What is a toddler seat to begin with, and how to choose a high-quality one?
What we refer to as a toddler seat is usually a forward-facing seat with a five-point harness or a convertible car seat.
So, basically, this is a car seat that follows the growth of your child because, between the age of one and three, they grow really fast and often overgrow their infant car seat.
As with any other car seat, your number one concern when choosing a toddler car seat should be safety.
Although your child is not an infant anymore, he/she still needs side impact protection.
Choose car seats with thick side impact protection and energy-absorbing foam so you know you're covered in any scenario.
Make sure the seat meets or exceeds the federal safety regulations and check if it passed crash testing.
Next off, since this seat should follow your child's growth for two to three years, it needs to be durable.
When you're checking how durable a car seat is, you need to look at the core.
What is the frame made of?
Car seats with automotive strength steel frames are usually heavier and less portable than the ones with aluminum frames, but they tend to last longer and provide more stability and rigidity, so If you want the seat to last, bear that in mind.
Also, since it will be accommodating your child for years, it needs to be adjustable.
Adjustability is a must for toddlers.
Sooner than you know, your child will grow and change, and you'll wonder when they become too big for their favorite onesie.
Therefore, you need a car seat with multiple headrest positions and multiple harness positions.
No-rethread harnesses definitely have an advantage because they can be adjusted in seconds.
How to Choose a Car Seat for Your Toddler?
Toddler car seats are recommended for children between one and three years.
Now, according to the NHTSA, children between 1 and 3 can use both the rear-facing seat and the forward-facing seat, but how can we know which one to use then?
Basically, a rear-facing car seat is the safest possible solution for your toddler.
So, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping your children in a rear-facing position until they grow to the height or weight limit of the car seat.
Once that happens, you can switch to a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness.
Once again, your child should stay in this restraint system until the top height or weight limit is reached.
Then, you can think about the booster seat.
So, if we look at this table that's demonstrated on the NHTSA's website, you can see that children between one and three are good in both rear-facing systems and forward-facing ones, so it comes down to your child's weight and height.
Let these things be your guide and not only age.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best car seat to buy for a toddler?
The best toddler car seats are definitely convertible car seats.
They either include a rear-facing mode and a forward-facing harness or a harness and a booster mode.
Either way, they include a five-point harness and side impact protection which are crucial for toddlers.
What is more, they are easy-to-install, adjustable, and follow your child's growth, so you can use them longer than some other car seat models.
What car seat does a 3-year-old go in?
Well, if your three-year-old can still fit the rear-facing seat, keep them there, but most three-year-olds go into the forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness.
It all depends on your child's weight and height, but they should definitely be in a five-point harness.
How do I stop my 3-year-old from unbuckling his car seat?
Well, my method is discipline.
I had a long talk with my babe about the importance of safety in traffic and made it clear that she would bring herself in danger if she unbuckled the seat.
Now, I know some parents buy buckle clips, but these are not entirely safe.
You should not be using any additions with your car seat besides what the manufacturer has provided, so avoid these.
Instead, try to enlighten your child and talk them into staying buckled throughout the entire ride.
Can an 18-month-old face forward in a car seat?
Practically yes. It's allowed for a 1-year-old to ride in front-facing car seats as long as they have a 5-point harness.
But, it's safer to keep your child rear-facing at that age because this is provenly the safest child restraint system for a baby to be in.
At what age do you switch to a toddler car seat?
Once again. You can switch from a rear-facing seat to the front-facing seat at one, but this is not obligatory.
It's better to follow the weight and height regulations and switch only when your child can no longer fit the previous restraint system.
If your little one is still within the weight limit that the manufacturer set, don't rush into the next mode; keep them safe.
What are the differences between infant and toddler car seats?
An infant car seat is installed as rear-faced and has a generally low weight limit that accommodates infants and newborns.
In addition, the infant car seat will feature an infant insert that supports the baby's head, neck, and shoulders.
The majority of infant car seats can support babies up to 30 pounds.
A toddler car seat is reserved for a child that is nine months old and up.
Usually, a toddler can seat can also be a convertible one, so you can switch to a forward-facing riding when your kiddo is passed two.
How much should a baby weigh before forward-facing?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies ride in the rear-facing car seat until the age of two.
That being said, a baby should weigh between 40-50 pounds before they can ride in the forward-facing position.
At this point, a child should remain in the forward-facing riding position until he reaches the weight and height limits for a high-back booster seat.
When did you stop using infant car seat?
Most parents switch from an infant car seat to a convertible or a fully forward-facing car seat when their baby has passed nine months.
Infant car seats offer all the safety to babies, as they feature a five-point harness and a generously padded infant insert.
Therefore, it's not recommended you switch from an infant seat unless your baby has passed the weight and height limits of using one.
Most infant inserts in the seats are used from birth until the baby has reached 15 pounds. However, it's always best to check your car seat's manual.
When can a baby be in a car seat longer than 2 hours?
Basically never. The official recommendations are to keep your baby in a car seat for two hours tops, and even these situations should be really rare.
Apparently, babies can face breathing issues if they are in a scrunched or seated position for too long, so it's not a good idea to take risks.
Also, small babies cannot hold their heads upright, and being in this position for too long can put too much strain on their necks and cause an injury.
Do American Airlines accept toddler car seats?
Yes, American Airlines do accept toddler car seats. However, all children over the age of two must be in their car seats during the flight.
The airline rules declare that you can gate-check one stroller, one car seat, and a carry-on diaper bag for each child traveling under two. This applies mainly to lap infants that do not travel in a car seat.
When boarding on American Airlines, bring the child's birth certificate for age identification. Additionally, the toddler car seat you bring must be FAA-approved for the airplane ride.
What is the best toddler car seat for travel?
The best toddler car seat for travel is the Graco Tranzitions 3 In 1 Harness Booster Seat.
This toddler car seat is lightweight at only 17 lbs and is slim enough for three across installations, making it a perfect travel car seat!
It offers three modes of use so that you can install it as a harness booster, a high-back booster, and a backless booster.
Your kiddo won't have to get used to a new car seat every time you travel because Graco Tranzitions is there to follow all exciting journeys!
Can you put toddler car seat in front?
No, it's not recommended you put a toddler car seat in the front. Following the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, a child should not ride in the front seat until 13.
Although airbags are installed to protect the well-being of the adult during a car crash, they do not do the same for younger children.
Airbags are manufactured to protect a person tall at least 5 feet and weighing approximately 150 pounds.
Children that sit in the front prematurely risk getting severe head injuries in case of a crash.
Does UPPAbaby make a toddler car seat?
Yes, UPPAbaby makes a great Knox car seat that can be used from the ages 1-to 6.
The UPPAbaby Knox car seat can be installed in the rear-facing position with the limitations of 14-45 pounds and in the forward-facing position between the weight of 25-65 pounds.
The car seat features a 5-point harness that is easily adjusted in each position.
The no-rethread harness mechanism is followed by an adjustable headrest which benefits a growing toddler the most!
Does a toddler car seat need a base?
No, a toddler car seat does not need a base.
Usually, an infant car seat will require a base, but most models can be installed baseless in vehicles.
This allows for more convenience if you tend to move the car seat from vehicle to vehicle or use public transport often.
How to install toddler car seat without base?
Toddler car seats do not require a base for car seat installation.
But, if you are using a rear-facing car seat with prolonged use, then follow the steps of baseless installation.
Firstly, place the car seat in the vehicle. Next, pull out the seat belt and thread the lap section on the car seat slots.
Again, pull out the shoulder belt to make sure it lies flat. Buckle in the belt and pull down on the shoulder belt to activate the locking mechanism.
Check if the installation is tight enough.
How to install toddler car seat with seatbelt?
Start by positioning the toddler car seat in the center of the back seat. This is considered to be the safest spot for a car seat installation.
As most toddler car seats feature a similar design, you will need to thread the shoulder belt through the back slots of the car seat.
Buckle the seat belt.
You can also install a top rope to the car seat as it will hold the top portion of the seat tightly, preventing it from going forward.
How tight should toddler car seat straps be?
A toddler car seat strap should be at least 2 cm below the child's shoulder in a rear-facing position and 2cm above the shoulder in a forward-facing position.
To check the appropriate tightness of the straps, do the two-finger check! Only one or two fingers should be able to fit past the child and the straps.
How to keep toddler warm in car seat?
In the winter months, it's necessary to keep your child warm and cozy in their car seat.
It's always best to keep the car seat in the house rather than in the car during these months when the seat is not in use.
Additionally, you want your kiddo to be dressed in thin layers. Bulky clothes should be avoided as they can easily interfere with secure installation and harness positioning.
Once the child is buckled up, you can cover him with a blanket.
What is Florida toddler car seat law?
A toddler car seat law in Florida requires all children under the age of five to be restrained in their own, appropriate car seat.
You must either use a booster car seat, an integrated car seat or a carrier.
If the toddler has a medical condition preventing him from using a car seat, you may use a seat belt, but you will need to deliver the medical confirmation.
Does Uber require car seats for toddlers?
If you plan on taking Uber with a toddler, then you should bring your car seat. Some Ubers will supply a car seat, but most won't, so don't leave anything to chance!
Toddlers of three years old and up can travel without a car seat, with a seat belt in the vehicle's rear.
However, this compromises the safety of the little passenger and is not recommended!
Therefore, you will need to prepare ahead and let your Uber driver know you will be installing a toddler car seat in the back.
Some may even assist you in doing so!
What's the Best Toddler Car Seat?
Of all the seats I listed and reviewed in this article, the best toddler car seat to my mind is the Graco Extend2Fit.
The weight limit is great; you can keep your child rear-facing longer and convert to the next stage with ease.
The steel frame keeps everything sturdy, while generous padding adds to the comfort.
It has more reclines and headrest positions than other car seats, and the overall use is pretty simple.
- Convertible car seat grows with your child from rear-facing harness (4-50lbs) to forward-facing harness (22-65 pounds)
- Made of Steel reinforced | Product dimensions – 20.75” D x 19” W x 24.5” H | Product weight – 19.25 lbs.
- Up to 50 pounds rear facing, allowing your child to safely ride rear-facing longer
- Graco ProtectPlus Engineered | Simply Safe Adjust no-rethread headrest and harness adjust together.Do not use bleach
- Extend2Fit 4-position adjustable extension panel provides up to 5" additional legroom, allowing your child to safely ride rear facing longer
To conclude, convertible car seats seem like the best toddler car seats you can get.
They have excellent weight limits, multiple modes, and they follow your child's growth, so you don't have to spend money on a new seat every year or two.
However, when choosing the right seat, do not focus on age recommendations.
On the contrary, follow the weight limits and height limits and try to keep your child in one mode for as long as possible.
I hope you found what you were looking for in my toddler car seat picks, and if you did not, check some other articles of ours.