Car Seats in the US: Legal Mandates, Types, and Top Recommendations

Every U.S. state mandates car safety seats for babies and children. These seats protect kids during abrupt stops, turns, and accidents. Before driving a newborn home from the hospital, a safety seat must be installed. This article explores legal rules, car seat types, purchase advice, and top models, including Infant Seats, Convertibles, All-in-Ones, and Boosters.

U.S. Car Seat Laws

Laws vary from state to state, but most mandate the following:

  • Babies under 20 lbs (9kg) and 2 years old must use rear-facing car seats.
  • Toddlers between 20-40 lbs (9-18kg) and under 4 years old should use front-facing car seats.
  • Kids under 80 lbs (36kg) and 8 years old should be in a booster seat.

Types of Car Seats

According to legal requirements, the main types of car seats available in the market include:

  • Infant Car Seats: standard car seats, usually rear-facing.
  • Convertible Car Seats: can be used rear-facing and then converted to front-facing.
  • All-in-One Car Seats: versatile seats that can be rear-facing, front-facing, or used as a booster.
  • Booster Car Seats: designed to elevate kids so that seat belts fit them correctly. Without a booster, the seatbelt may sit too high on a child’s neck, which isn’t just ineffective—it’s dangerous.

Infant car seats face the rear and are mainly for newborns. Many kids outgrow them by their first birthday due to height or weight. These seats often come with a detachable carrier that can be removed from the base, which stays fixed in the car.

Buying Tips

  • Height and Weight Limits: Once your child exceeds the height or weight limit of their car seat, you’ll need to transition to the next stage. A seat with higher limits means you’ll be able to use it longer.
  • Weight of the Car Seat: Baby car seats get carried around a lot. If the seat itself is too heavy, add in your baby’s weight, and you’ve got an arm workout you didn’t ask for.
  • Stroller Compatibility: If you have a stroller, getting a compatible car seat makes transitions smoother. The last thing you want is to disturb a sleeping newborn by having to remove them from their seat.
  • Ease of Cleaning: Ideally, seat cushions should be removable and washable. Just as baby clothes and sheets get dirty, car seats do too.
  • Installation and Safety Indicators: Most modern car seats use a combination of seat belts and the LATCH system for installation. Most cars manufactured after 2002 are LATCH-compatible. Many seats also have liquid indicators to ensure correct installation.
  • Airplane Use: If you’re a frequent traveler, look for FAA-approved car seats for airplane use. Look for a label that says, “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”

Comparison of 7 Infant Car Seats

In the table below, weight limits and seat weights are given in lbs.

Model Weight Limit Height Limit Seat Weight Price
Chicco KeyFit 35: 4-35 32″ 10 $209.99
Britax B-Safe 35: 4-35 32″ 10 Amazon
Graco SnugLock 35: 4-35 32″ 7.5 $149.00
UPPAbaby MESA: 4-35 32″ 9.9 Amazon
Doona: 4-35 32″ 16.5 $550.00
Clek Liing: 4-35 32″ 9 $472.57
Maxi-Cosi Mico Luxe: 4-30 32″ 8.9 $199.99

Chicco KeyFit 35

Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat and Base | Rear-Facing Seat for Infants 4-30 lbs.| Infant Head and Body Support | Compatible with Chicco...
3,926 Reviews
Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat and Base
For babies 4-30 lbs, rear-facing

Pros

  • One of the most popular infant car seats;
  • Easy-to-install base;
  • Comes in Zip and Magic versions: the Zip has a zipper around the seat, allowing for the canopy to be removed for washing; the Magic includes an extended canopy and a foot cover;

Cons

  • The canopy is relatively small; may require additional shade in direct sunlight or bright lights;
  • Somewhat heavy, around 10 lbs.

Britax B-Safe 35

Britax B-Lively & B-Safe Gen2 Travel System Cobblestone SafeWash
616 Reviews
Britax B-Lively + B-Safe Gen2 Travel System

Pros

  • Features energy-absorbing foam, a steel frame, and a shock-absorbing base for all-around baby protection;
  • Base has a built-in lock to ensure stability;
  • B-Safe Gen2 infant carrier is suitable for babies 4-35 lbs or up to 32″ in height; B-Lively stroller can handle up to 50 lbs.

Cons

  • Due to its steel frame, it’s on the heavier side.

Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35

Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 Infant Car Seat, Harleigh
4,020 Reviews
Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 Infant Car Seat

Pros

  • Lightweight carrier at just 7.5 lbs;
  • SnugLock technology offers a simple and secure installation;
  • Very affordable.

Cons

  • Lower price means fewer bells and whistles; might not appeal to parents who prioritize aesthetics.

UPPAbaby MESA

MESA Infant Car Seat - JORDAN (charcoal mélange|merino wool) + MESA Base, 1 Count (Pack of 1)
2,847 Reviews
UPPAbaby MESA Infant Car Seat + Base
$329.99 at strolleria.com

Pros

  • One of the easiest seats to install without needing to mess with car seat belts; just align and push down using the LATCH system;
  • Indicator light shows if the seat is installed correctly, making it very user-friendly;
  • Seat fabric is made of Merino wool, fire-resistant and washable.

Cons

  • Tends to be heavy;
  • Can be challenging to install in cars without the LATCH system.

Doona Infant Car Seat

Doona Infant Car Seat & Latch Base - Rear Facing, Car Seat to Stroller in Seconds - US Version, Greyhound
14,084 Reviews
$550 at strolleria.com
Doona Infant Car Seat with Locking Base

Pros

  • Innovative design, doubles as both a car seat and a stroller;
  • Features four retractable wheels: when used as a car seat, wheels fold behind; with a push of a button, it transforms into a regular stroller;
  • Perfect for city living and traveling.

Cons

  • Pricier option;
  • Given its wheels, it’s pretty heavy at 16.5 lbs;
  • Once your baby outgrows the seat’s height and weight limits, the stroller function becomes obsolete.

Clek Liing Infant Car Seat

Clek Liing Infant Car Seat, Thunder
9 Reviews
$459 at strolleria.com
Clek Liing Infant Car Seat

Pros

  • Made with top-of-the-line safety materials for enhanced side protection;
  • The newborn head pillow is plush and offers maximum comfort and protection;
  • Features an adjustable metal load leg;
  • Can be installed using either the LATCH system or car seat belts.

Cons

  • On the pricier side.

Maxi-Cosi Mico™ Luxe Infant Car Seat

Maxi-Cosi Maxi-Cosi Mico Luxe Infant Car Seat, Rear-Facing for Babies from 4-30 lbs, Midnight Glow
91 Reviews
Also available at Maxi-Cosi
Maxi-Cosi Mico Luxe Infant Car Seat.

Pros

  • Currently, this is the easiest infant car seat to clean. Its cushion is a breeze to remove for cleaning;
  • The fabric is quick-drying, ensuring the baby stays dry and comfy;
  • When it comes to safety, it boasts an EPS material back, known for its impressive shock resistance. Additionally, it has an anti-rebound bar;
  • It can be installed without a base using the car seat belt, which is great for traveling.

Cons

  • The unique anti-rebound bar makes the seat a bit bulky.

Top 6 Convertible Car Seats Recommendations

These can be adjusted to face either forward or backward. Convertible car seats are mainly designed to extend the duration babies can sit rear-facing. These seats are fixed in the car, so you’ll need to lift the baby out when getting off.

Buying Tips

When you’re in the market for a convertible car seat, many of the considerations are the same as for an infant car seat. But don’t forget to check the size. Some of these seats can be pretty chunky, and if you’ve got a compact car, it might be a snug fit.

Now, a question I hear a lot from soon-to-be moms: “If convertible car seats can face both ways and some even have those nifty newborn headrests, can I just skip the baby carrier and get one of these?” Well, in theory, sure. But here’s the thing: some hospitals might insist on a baby carrier. Plus, newborns sleep a lot. With a baby carrier, you can lift your little one, carrier and all, without waking them. But with a convertible seat, you’d have to scoop up your snoozing baby, and nobody wants to be the one who woke the baby.

Brief Comparison of 6 Convertible Car Seats

The table below showcases the first 3 products by default. You can choose products that interest you for a side-by-side comparison. Due to screen width constraints, you can compare up to 4 products at a time.

Britax
Boulevard
Chicco
NextFit
Nuna
RAVA
Graco
Extend2Fit
Clek
Foonf
Cybex
Sirona S
Rear-Facing Weight Limit 5-40 lbs 4-50 lbs 5-50 lbs 4-50 lbs 14-50 lbs 4-50 lbs
Rear-Facing Height Limit 49″ 43″ 49″ Below handle by 1″ 25-43″ 49″
Forward-Facing Weight Limit 20-65 lbs 22-65 lbs 25-65 lbs 22-65 lbs 22-65 lbs 22-65 lbs
Forward-Facing Height Limit 49″ 49″ 49″ 49″ 30-49″ 65″
Price $349.99$329.99$550 $199.99$375.99 $399.95

Britax Boulevard ClickTight

Britax Boulevard Clicktight Convertible Car Seat, Green Contour SafeWash
1,499 Reviews
$349.99 at strolleria.com
Britax Boulevard Clicktight Convertible Car Seat

Pros

  • This seat boasts a full steel frame for added durability. It’s got side-impact protection on both sides, and the base is designed to absorb shocks.
  • ClickTight technology makes installation a breeze and ensuring a tight and secure fit. Many car seats require a lot of muscle to install snugly, and if a parent lacks strength, the seat can be too loose, compromising safety.
  • 14 adjustable positions; comes in multiple color options.

Cons

  • It’s pretty bulky, which might pose a challenge for smaller cars.
  • Lacks a cup holder, making it less convenient for holding kids’ drinks or snacks.

Chicco NextFit Zip Max

Chicco NextFit Zip Max Convertible Car Seat - Q Collection
3,734 Reviews
Chicco NextFit Zip Max Convertible Car Seat

Pros

  • Seat cover is zippered and easily removable for individual washing;
  • Rear-facing weight limit goes up to 50 lbs, and it provides 25% more legroom than other Chicco models, allowing kids to sit rear-facing for longer;
  • Uses the LATCH system for installation, eliminating the need for car seat belts; offers 9 adjustable positions;
  • Comes with two cup holders that are dishwasher safe.

Cons

  • The seat’s sides are high, which is safer for younger kids. However, older children might find it challenging to climb in or out on their own, requiring assistance.
  • It’s also a bit bulky, posing a challenge for smaller cars.

Nuna RAVA


189 Reviews
4.9
Nuna RAVA Convertible Car Seat
Priced at $550 on strolleria.com
Also available on bloomingdales.com

Pros

  • Nuna RAVA showcases the brand’s meticulous craftsmanship.
  • A full steel frame, energy-absorbing foam, and additional side protection heighten the seat’s safety level.
  • Rear-facing weight limit of 50 lbs and added legroom.
  • 10 recline positions and 10 headrest adjustments.
  • Installation is easy and doesn’t require Herculean strength (as seen in the video above).
  • Comes with a removable newborn pad and retractable cup holders.

Cons

  • It’s a bit on the pricier side.

Graco Extend2Fit

Graco Extend2Fit 2-in-1 Car Seat, Redmond
73,589 Reviews
Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat

Pros

  • An affordable convertible car seat option;
  • Supports up to 50 lbs when rear-facing, and features an extended leg rest for more leg space;
  • 6 recline positions and 10 headrest adjustments;
  • When rear-facing, the seat can be almost vertically positioned, saving space for the front seat passenger—ideal for compact cars;
  • Seat pad is machine washable.

Cons

  • The seat is somewhat wide, taking up more space in the back row.

Clek Foonf


4.7
$579.99 on strolleria.com
Clek Foonf Slim Convertible Car Seat
With Anti-Rebound Bar

Pros

  • Stylish design with a variety of vibrant color options;
  • Big on safety – their proud slogan is “Built like a tank”;
  • Main frame made of steel and magnesium, equipped with an anti-rebound bar. The deep headrest and dual-layer energy-absorbing foam on the sides enhance side-impact protection.

Cons

  • This seat is quite high, which might obstruct the driver’s rear view;
  • Needs additional accessories for newborns.

Cybex Sirona S

CYBEX Sirona S with SensorSafe, Convertible Car Seat, 360° Rotating Seat, Rear-Facing or Forward-Facing Car Seat, Easy Installation,...
540 Reviews
Priced at $439.96 on strolleria.com
CYBEX Sirona S Convertible Car Seat
Features a 360° Rotating Seat

Pros

  • The first U.S. car seat that offers a full 360° rotation, making it super convenient for parents to place and retrieve their child from the car;
  • Comes with sensors that alert parents if the safety belt unexpectedly unbuckles or if the car interior gets too hot or if child is left behind in vehicle;
  • Even as a convertible seat, the Sirona S includes a stability load leg, boosting its safety quotient;
  • Offers 12 recline positions, and it’s suitable for newborns.

Cons

  • The 360° rotation feature requires a good amount of backseat space, making it unsuitable for compact cars.

Top 3 All-in-One Car Seat Recommendations

All-in-One car seats adds a booster function on top of what a convertible car seat offers. They’re a one-stop solution with extended usability. Their main advantage is cost-effectiveness and eliminating the hassle of buying a new seat as the child grows. However, all-in-one seats typically don’t perform as well in specific functionalities as specialized seats, and they’re not as convenient for newborns as individual seats. My take? Consider an all-in-one when it’s time to switch from an infant seat to a convertible. Selection criteria are pretty much the same as for convertible seats.

Quick Comparison of 3 All-in-One Car Seats

In the table below, weight limits are given in lbs.

Graco
4Ever
Nuna
EXEC
Diono
Radian 3
Rear-Facing Weight Limit 4-405-505-45
Rear-Facing Height Limit 49″ 49″ 57″
Forward-Facing Weight Limit 22-6525-65 20-65
Forward-Facing Height Limit 27-52″ 49″ 44″
Booster Weight Limit 40-12040-12050-120
Booster Height Limit 38-57″ 38-57″ 57″
Price $299.99$750.00 $259.99

Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1

Graco 4Ever DLX 4 in 1 Car Seat, Infant to Toddler Car Seat, with 10 Years of Use, Fairmont
23,696 Reviews
Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 Car Seat
Infant to Toddler Car Seat

Pros

  • This seat evolves with your child, transitioning from a rear-facing to a forward-facing seat, then to a high-back booster, and finally to a backless booster;
  • 6 recline positions, 10 headrest heights, and a washable seat cushion.

Cons

  • It’s pretty standard in design, which might not appeal to parents looking for something stylish.

Nuna EXEC All-in-One


128 reviews
4.7
Priced at $750 on strolleria.com
Also available at bloomingdales.com
NUNA EXEC™ Multi-Functional Car Seat

Pros

  • Offers more than the brand’s RAVA model, featuring a high-back booster function and an added leg rest/footrest for a more comfortable ride for the child;
  • Solid steel frame, anti-rebound bar, and side-impact protection system, with 8 recline positions and 12 headrest heights.

Cons

  • One of the priciest car seats on the market. While it adds a booster function, it’s $200 more than the brand’s RAVA model.

Diono Radian 3RXT All-in-One

Diono Radian 3RXT SafePlus, 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat, Rear and Forward Facing, SafePlus Engineering, 3 Stage Infant Protection, 10 Years...
172 Reviews
$279.99 at strolleria.com
Diono Radian 3RXT 4-in-1

Pros

  • Super compact design allows for fitting three seats side-by-side in most cars, ideal for families with multiple kids;
  • Entirely steel-made with a side-impact protection system;
  • Looks great with eight available color options.

Cons

  • Weighing 28 pounds, it’s on the heavier side among car seats, making it less convenient for traveling.

Top 6 Booster Car Seat Recommendations

Boosters mainly raise the child’s height so they can use the vehicle’s own seatbelt. They typically come as High-back boosters and Backless boosters.

Things to Consider When Buying

By the booster stage, kids usually have their own preferences, like design, color, and comfort. Safety-wise, any added protective features are a bonus.

Quick Comparison of 6 Boosters

Height Limit Weight Limit Price
Chicco KidFit 38-57″ 30-110 lbs $109.99
Graco Tranzitions 27-57″ 22-100 lbs $89.99
Evenflo GoTime LX 40-57″ 40-110 lbs Amazon
Graco TurboBooster 2.0 43-57″ 40-100 lbs $28.98
BubbleBum Inflatable N/A 40-100 lbs $39.99
Clek Oobr 38-57″ 40-100 lbs $399.99

Chicco KidFit 2-in-1 Belt-Positioning Booster

Chicco KidFit 2-in-1 Belt Positioning Booster Car Seat
8,968 Reviews
Chicco KidFit Dual-Mode Belt-Positioning Car Seat

Pros

  • Offers both high-back and backless modes;
  • Features 10 height adjustments, with the adjustments beginning at the waist, not just the head, for increased safety and comfort;
  • Designed with double foam padding and side energy-absorbing foam for enhanced side impact protection.

Cons

  • Some parents reported that cleaning the seat can be a bit challenging.

Graco Tranzitions 3-in-1 Harness Booster

Graco Tranzitions 3 in 1 Harness Booster Seat, Proof
23,367 Reviews
Graco Tranzitions Triple-Mode Harness Booster Seat

Pros

  • Equipped with a 5-point harness suitable for kids weighing 22-65 lbs. Some parents might use it as a forward-facing seat, while others extend the 5-point harness usage time (other boosters usually use the car’s seatbelt directly);
  • 8 height adjustments and a machine-washable seat cushion.

Cons

  • Although it features a 5-point harness, its safety and comfort levels aren’t on par with a genuine convertible car seat.

Evenflo GoTime LX Booster

Evenflo GoTime LX Booster Car Seat (Quincy Blue)
2,877 Reviews
Evenflo GoTime LX Booster Car Seat

Pros

  • Great value for money;
  • Offers both high-back and no-back modes;
  • 7 height adjustments;
  • Energy-absorbing foam lining ensures safety and comfort.

Cons

  • It doesn’t use the LATCH system for anchoring but instead uses the vehicle’s seatbelt to secure both the child and the booster.

Graco TurboBooster 2.0

Graco TurboBooster 2.0 Backless Booster Car Seat, Denton
70,063 Reviews
Graco TurboBooster 2.0 Backless Booster Car Seat

Pros

  • A backless booster mode seat, smaller than the high-back boosters, weighing just 5 lbs, but without compromising safety;
  • Comes with 2 hideaway cup holders, making it quite convenient and perfect for travel.

Cons

  • Like the previous model, it solely relies on the car’s seatbelt to secure it to the vehicle’s seat.

BubbleBum Travel Car Seat

Bubble Bum Inflatable Travel Portable Booster Seat, for Kids 40-100 lbs - for Car - Backless, Foldable & Narrow Slim Fit - Perfect for...
5,843 Reviews
BubbleBum Portable Car Booster

Pros

  • A foldable backless booster seat, perfect for temporary use in taxis or other vehicles;
  • Inflates to its functional size when needed and deflates for storage in its pouch, easily fitting into a backpack.

Cons

  • While it meets U.S. and EU safety standards, it’s advised not to use it as a full-time booster replacement.

Clek Oobr Booster

Clek Oobr High Back Booster Car Seat with Rigid Latch, Cloud
139 Reviews
Also available at strolleria.com
Clek Oobr High-Back Booster Car Seat
With Rigid Latch

Pros

  • Known for its modern and stylish design, this booster is no exception, boasting a contemporary look that stands out;
  • Clek is recognized for its high safety standards, featuring a metal frame and energy-absorbing foam for all-around child protection;
  • A versatile booster that offers both high-back and backless modes. In high-back mode, the back can also recline;
  • Available in multiple patterns and colors.

Cons

  • It’s on the pricier side.

When and Where to Buy Car Seats in the U.S.

A good deal on car seats is typically around 20% off. From my own experience, here’s how you can snag these deals or even better ones:

  1. Black Friday: Many baby products websites pull out all the stops on Black Friday, often offering discounts deeper than 20%. Even brands or styles that rarely go on sale might have discounts during this event. We’ll keep an eye out for the top Black Friday deals for you.
  2. Storewide Sales: For instance, bloomingdales.com has one or two major sales each year. During these sales, a range of car seats might be discounted directly, or they might offer a certain amount off with a minimum purchase or even gift cards. Discounts usually hit 20% off or even 25% off.
  3. Baby Registry Discount: Don’t forget to set up a Baby Registry at Amazon and Target if you’re an expecting parent! Along with the registry, they typically offer a 15% discount code which can be used on almost all baby products, including car seats. While the discount might not be as deep as Black Friday or storewide sales, it offers flexibility—you can buy whenever you’re ready without waiting for a sale.
  4. Target Car Seat Trade-In Program: Target hosts a car seat trade-in event a few times each year. Not only do they accept old car seats for free recycling, but they also provide at least a 20% off coupon in exchange, which can be used towards a new car seat.

Besides the aforementioned sites like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Amazon, and Target, there are specialized baby product websites, such as strolleria.com and Albee Baby. Albee Baby is primarily online and often sends out 20% off coupons to registered members. Plus, they don’t charge sales tax for most states, which is a boon when buying high-priced items like car seats.

Fan Zhao

A smart and thrifty homemaker who loves baking.

Disclosure: We are an Amazon Associate. Some links on this website are affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission or receive a referral fee when you sign up or make a purchase through those links.

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