How to choose a Convertible Car Seat
Moving on from your infant car seat? Magic Beans has you covered! Although it is tough to leave the convenience of an infant car seat behind, we are here to make the transition a bit easier. Watch Eli explain convertible car seats in the video below and then read on to find out our best tips for transitioning into a convertible car seat.
What is a Convertible Car Seat?
A convertible car seat is a 5 point harness seat that can be used both rear and forward facing. Most convertible car seats can be used from birth with an infant insert, but parents typically chose to start with an infant car seat for convenience and stroller compatibility.
Most state laws require rear facing until the age of 2, but we do recommend rear facing beyond age 2 and as long as possible.
Why is Rear Facing best?
Rear facing is best because this riding position offers the most protection for developing spines. Because rear facing is so important, many of our favorite baby gear brands are now designing their convertible car seats to offer extended rear facing to 50lbs. It may be hard to imagine older kiddos rear facing to 50lbs. You might be thinking, where do their legs go? When utilizing extended rear facing car seats, older children can sit cross legged which is actually more comfortable for them than forward facing with their legs dangling down.
Convertible Car Seats with extended rear facing to 50lbs:
How long can a Convertible Car Seat be used?
Now that we have established that children should stay rear facing as long as possible, let’s go over forward facing use. Most convertible car seats can be used forward facing to either 65 lbs or 49 inches. Children typically reach the end of their convertible car seat life cycle around age 5-6 years old and are then ready for a booster seat.
Do Convertible Car Seats have a base?
It is important for parents to know that convertible car seats are not stroller compatible, they also do not sit in a separate base like infant car seats. Convertible car seats are all one piece and once installed become a permanent fixture in the vehicle. Most parents opt to purchase a separate convertible car seat for each vehicle their child will ride in. If you prefer to settle on just one seat, you will want to make sure you have a seat that is easy to install and transfer in and out when swapping between cars.
Can Convertible Car Seats be installed with LATCH?
Another important difference to note between infant car seats and convertible car seats is the installation process. Most infant car seat bases are easily installed with LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) with an option to install with the seat belt if LATCH anchors are not present in the vehicle. Infant car seats can be used for their entire life cycle with LATCH installation, this is because most infant car seats have a weight limit of 35lbs. LATCH installation also has a weight restriction. While most car seat manufacturers are equipping their convertible car seats with LATCH installation options, it is important to touch on the fact that a transition to a seat belt installation is inevitable based on the weight limits associated with LATCH installation.
Do all convertible car seats offer the same safety features?
All US convertible car seats models pass the same safety tests. But, there are some that offer additional safety features that exceed US safety standards. Some of these important added safety features to look for are, anti-rebound bars or panels, stability legs, extended rear facing weight limits, and extra side impact protection or side impact pods.
Convertible Car Seats with Anti-Rebound Protection:
Most premium car seat manufactures are moving to using only naturally flame resistant materials, thus eliminating the spraying of toxic and chemical flame retardants. Britax, Clek and Nuna all offer flame retardant free options.
Check out some of our favorite flame retardant free convertible car seats:
Besides safety features what other features are important in a convertible car seat? Fit, Convenience and Comfort:
The size of your vehicle may narrow your convertible car seat options. Convertible car seats come in many shapes and sizes. While we love Clek and Diono car seats, these seats are taller than most and fit best in larger vehicles. Britax, Peg Perego and Nuna seats are a bit more compact and offer the best fit for smaller vehicles and taller parents requiring more front seat leg space.
Compact convertible car seat options:
Can 3 convertible car seats fit across one row of seating?
Car seat tetris is also a game parents become familiar with. If you need to fit three convertible car seats across one row of seating, it is possible but you will need to choose your car seats wisely.
Our favorite narrow, 3 across options are:
Once you have narrowed your choices based on safety and fit you may look to convenience features to aid in your decision. Easy installation is very important! A car seat will never be safe unless it is installed properly. It is essential that parents and caregivers opt for seats that they are comfortable installing. Britax and Nuna both offer quick and easy seat belt installation.
Quick and easy installation:
Some other popular convenience features to be on the lookout for: a non rethread harness, adjustable recline, harness holders, and cup holders.
Convertible car seats are designed to be used for years, therefore, cleaning and maintenance may also be a deciding factor for parents. Britax offers their one of a kind “safewash” fabric that is machine and dryer safe. Nuna fabrics are removable and machine washable but need to be line dried. Clek offers their unique “C-Zero Plus Performance” fabric that is stain, odor and moisture resistant and easily wiped clean.
What is a Rotating Car Seat?
Rotating car seats, similar to convertible car seats, are all one piece, but the body of the car seat has the ability to spin/rotate on its base. This rotating design allows caregivers to spin the car seat towards the door of the vehicle to easily load and unload infants and toddlers. Rotating car seats are also great for grandparents or caregivers who frequently transport children of different ages, these seats can be easily transitioned from rear to forward facing orientations without having to uninstall and reinstall.
Our favorite Rotating Convertible Car Seats:
What is an All-In-One Car Seat? Birth to Booster:
All-in-one car seats can be used from birth to booster. When a convertible car seat’s height and weight restrictions are exceeded children are ready to transfer into a booster seat. All-in-one seats eliminate the need for parents to purchase more gear. All-in-one seats cover the same rear to forward facing stages as convertible car seats but once the 5 point harness height and weight limit is exceeded the harness can be removed and the seat can be converted to a high back booster and used until a car seat is no longer necessary.
Our favorite All-In-One-Car Seats:
What is a booster car seat?
Booster seats can be used from 40lbs and up. However, it is recommended to keep a child in a 5 point harness until either the height or weight restriction is reached. Booster seats are used to prop kiddos up to a height where a vehicle seat belt will fit properly and therefore be effective in the event of a crash.
What is the difference between a Highback Booster and Backless Booster?
Highback boosters are equipped with belt positioners and belt paths to ensure a secure seat belt fit. Highback boosters are also typically lined with energy absorbing foam that continue to provide your precious cargo with the same level of side impact protection found on convertible car seats. Backless boosters, in design, are not able to provide this important layer of safety.
Can Booster Seats be used if there is no way to install with LATCH?
Most booster seats feature a LATCH installation option, however, if LATCH connectors are not available, no need to worry! The vehicle seat belt is enough to hold both the weight of the child and the seat itself in place. LATCH installation is featured as a safety measure for parents when the booster seat is not occupied by a little rider. The LATCH installation secures the unoccupied booster seat in place and prevents it from becoming a projectile, therefore minimizing risk to the driver or other passengers in the vehicle. If a booster seat can not be installed with LATCH, parents should strap it in with the vehicle seat belt when it is not in use.
How can Magic Beans help me select the right car seat for my family?
Magic Beans has been helping parents select the right car seats for long over a decade. Our gear experts perform car seat fittings every day. Our team is tuned in to what parents need and the features that are most important to families. We are able to offer car seat safety education and through years of experience can advise on what car seats fit the best in specific vehicle models. Families can schedule car seat consultations with our team. In store consultations are available for local MA families. During an in-store consultation, families are able to bring their little ones in to test the fit and comfort of car seats and we are also able to test each convertible car seat models fit in their family vehicle.
If you can't make it in to our MA store, we are still able to work with families nationwide! Through our virtual zoom consultations, families are able to connect with our team in a video call. During a zoom consultation, families are able to enjoy our in store experience virtually. Virtual appointments allow our gear experts the opportunity to interview families to best determine their car seat needs and match them with the most appropriate models, we can then present these options and compare them side by side all we families watch from the comfort of their own home.
To schedule a virtual zoom consultations visit our website here:
For more car seat information visit our Resource Center to download our car seat buying guides:
View our full Convertible Car Seat Collection here: