Best Affordable Car Seat, Infant: Chicco KeyFit 30

After researching and reviewing 34 different infant car seats, we pick the Chicco KeyFit 30 as the Best Affordable Infant Car Seat for Infants. You use this seat from birth to 30 lbs. (about a year or two of age).

The KeyFit gets high scores from our readers on ease of use—installation is a snap and adjusting the harness is easy. The seat also features EPS foam and a newborn insert.

What We Liked

• Excellent crash protection. Based on independent crash testing, the Chicco KeyFit 30 is the best bet in our opinion. The added side-impact protection is impressive.

• Easy to use. Installation is a snap and adjusting the harness is easy. The seat also features EPS foam and a newborn insert. We liked the unique center-pull LATCH connector—easier than other seats that require two hands.

• Stroller compatible. Works with both Chicco strollers and other brands with adapters—better compatibility than other brands.

What Needs Work

• Manual harness adjustment. You must rethread the harness to change the harness height. As your baby grows, you have to do this manually—other seats make this easier with no-rethread harnesses. Not a deal killer, but just a heads up.

• Skimpy canopy. The KeyFit’s sunshade has its share of critics. Some readers tell us they think it is too small and doesn’t offer enough coverage (even with the extended visor that tucks away when not in use). When you fold the canopy back, it is sometimes hard to reach the handle to release the car seat from the base—especially if you drive a smaller vehicle where the front seats are close.

Weight. The KeyFit carrier weighs 9.4 lbs., a tad heavier than other similar seats. It takes two hands to release/rotate the handle on the seat.

FYI: Chicco makes several different versions of this seat. Read our detailed discussion here on which one is right for you.

Best Affordable Car Seat, Infant + Toddler: Graco Extend2Fit

The Graco Extend2Fit is our top pick for folks looking for an affordable seat that works for both infants and toddlers. It converts from a rear-facing seat for infants to a forward-facing seat for older toddlers. We compared 23 of these convertible car seats before picking this model.

Extended use of rear-facing car seats is the recommendation for babies since 2011, when the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended all kids ride rear-facing until age 2 or longer if possible. That’s because crash testing shows young children are better protected in a crash when facing the rear of a vehicle.

Sounds easy? Well, most seats are only rear-facing to 30 or 40 lbs. That’s why this seat is special—it is rear-facing to 50 lbs. Here are more details:

What We Liked

• Extended rear-facing use to 50 lbs! This seat has a special pop-out panel that provides five-inches of leg room (see above).

• 10-position adjustable headrest that grows as your baby does.

• Recline in six positions—deeper for infants and less for napping toddlers.

• Adjust harness without rethreading.

• Machine washable cover.

What Needs Work

• May not work in smaller vehicles. When fully reclined with the leg rest extension, this seat takes up a significant amount of back seat real estate. It may require the front passenger seat to be moved to the most forward position.

• Cover. We like the machine-washable feature, but we found it challenging to put the cover back on the seat when cleaned.

• No premium features like harness strap covers.

Best Affordable Car Seat, Infant + Toddler + Older Kiddos: Graco SlimFit

If you are looking for a budget-friendly seat that can last from baby to older kid, our pick is the Graco SlimFit. This seat scored well in crash-testing and overall ease of use at a price that doesn’t break the bank.

This seat is a “3-in-1″—that is, it is used for infants (rear-facing to 40 lbs), toddlers (forward-facing (22-65 lbs) and older kiddos as a belt-positioning booster up to 100 lbs. Here are the pros and cons:

What We Liked

• Integrated harness and 10-position headrest. As you move the headrest higher, the harness adjusts with it—no need to rethread the harness and fit it through harness slots.

Narrow. The Graco SlimFit is just 17″ wide (with the cup holders folded in). Hence, this seat may work better in smaller vehicles—or if you need to install three seats across a backseat for a carpool.

• Affordable. With some new car seats priced like they are pulled from a hotel mini bar, it’s nice to find a safe, well-designed seat that is affordable.

What Needs Work

• Limited recline. There are just four total recline settings (two for rear-facing, two for forward-facing). While we found this acceptable in our testing, we realize some folks may want more recline positions.

• Doesn’t convert to a backless booster. Some “all-in-one” seats covert to backless boosters for older kids up to 120 lbs. The SlimFit only works to 100 lbs. as a belt-positioning booster.

Best Best Splurge-Worthy Car Seat: Britax One4Life

Ok, this one isn’t a bargain. But what if you are getting a car seat from a generous friend or relative? This is the one we’d pick.

This seat debuted in 2019 from premium car seat brand, Britax. Known for its best-selling line of convertible car seats, this is Britax’s first effort in the all-in-one car seat category—a seat for newborns, toddlers and older kids up to age 10.

So what makes the Britax One4Life so splurge-worthy? Here’s a look:

What We Liked

• Extensive side-impact protection. Britax was one of the first car seat brands to bring extensive side-impact protection to the US—and this seat continues that trend with two layers around the head, neck and torso. (Less expensive seats just use side-impact protection in the headrest).

Simple install. This seat has Britax’s ClickTight installation—in our tests, we found this system easier to use than competing brands. Impressive, rock-solid installations.

• 9-position recline. Less expensive seats may only have one or two recline positions—the One4Life lets you dial among nine different choices.

• No added flame retardants. The One4Life has a “SafeWash” cover that can be machine washed and dried.

• Premium features: harness covers, 15-position headrest, fancy/comfy fabrics and more. Bonus: you can use this seat up 120 lbs. as a belt-positioning booster for older kids.

What Needs Work

• Pricey. Yep, this seat is probably best when given as a gift at a baby shower (hint, hint).

Heavy. At nearly 30 lbs., this seat won’t be easy to lug from car to car. If you need a car seat for carpools, this probably isn’t the best bet.

• Too new for crash testing. As of this writing, this seat has not been independently crash tested by third parties. However, given Britax’s past track record, we expect crash protection to be excellent.

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing convertible car seats since 1994. In addition to hands on inspections of car seats, we have also visited manufacturer facilities, watched crash tests and met with safety regulators—and when we travel, we pay our all of our own expenses.

We look to our reader feedback to give us a real world perspective on car seats—our message board on car seats has 23,000 (!) threads. We also evaluate consumer reviews posted online. Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples for contests, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Baby Bargains is your independent and unbiased source for expert baby gear reviews.

7 Things No One Tells You About Buying A Car Seat!

1. Pro tip: how easy is it to remove the cover for washing?


Yes, all car seats come out of the box looking fabulous. But any experienced parent will tell you how things can get ugly there in the back seat: spit up, juice spills and diaper blow outs. (Let’s not visualize. Let’s just move on). So then what? You have to remove the cover for cleaning.

That sounds simple, but the truth is some covers remove (and go back on) much easier than others. The best have zip-off or “easy remove” covers. Not so good: seats with multiple loops, snaps and other attachments.

Also: check to see if the cover is machine washable and dryable? Can you remove and wash the harness?

2. Some reclines are easier than others.

How easy is it to recline the seat, especially rear-facing?

Most convertible seats recline for napping babies, but how EASY is it to recline? Remember that when a convertible seat is REAR-FACING, a lever on the front of the seat will be jammed up against the back seat.

3. Twisty straps: the pain that keeps on giving.

Better quality car seats have thicker straps that don’t twist. The result: it’s easier to get a child in and out of a seat. Cheaper seats have cheaper webbing that can be a nightmare— “twisty straps” are a key reason why parents hate their car seats. Our top picks avoid the twisty strap issue.

4. Give a second look at that harness buckle.

For obvious safety reasons, the harness buckle (which holds the two shoulder straps in place) shouldn’t be too easy to unclip. Only an adult should be able to do it. But each car seat brand takes a different approach to this critical piece of safety gear. When shopping, take a second to open and close the buckle yourself. Think about any caregivers who might be buckling in baby (grandparents may have less strength, etc).

Hint: “puzzle” or compound buckles can be particularly vexing! As implied by the name, a puzzle buckle must be put together in a particular order to latch. These buckles tend to be seen more on lower-price seats.

Here’s a look at how a typical puzzle buckle works:

5.  The sun is not always your car seat’s friend.

That plush, black velour car seat cover may look stunning out of the box, but when installed in a car that sits in the hot summer sun  . . . you’ve got a recipe for Sweaty Baby Syndrome. If you have a choice between a dark color and one that is somewhat lighter, we’d go for the latter.

Another related issue: some car seats have exposed metal buckles and hardware. In the hot sun, these buckles can get toasty and possibly burn a child. Pro tip: look for a seat that has buckle clips or holders that keep metal away from direct sun.

6. Convertible does not necessarily equal portable.

Convertible car seats vary widely in weight, with some as low as 8 lbs. and others topping 34 lbs.

While you shouldn’t base your entire convertible car seat decision on weight, it may be an important factor for some parents. If you live an urban city center and don’t own a car, then you’ll need a lightweight seat when using Uber or a cab. If you see yourself moving a convertible seat between multiple vehicles on a frequent basis, buying a 30 lb.+ seat isn’t going to make that very easy.

7. There is no crash test standard for side impact protection—yet!

Side impact protection

As you car seat shop, you’ll see lots of seats promoting “side impact protection” with various headrests, cushions and gadgets. But remember this: as of this writing, there is NO federal side impact safety standard that car seat makers are required to pass. Hence, we have little information to verify which seats are best. (Manufacturers do their own internal side impact crash testing, but aren’t required to share those results with the public).

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon