Best Overall Infant Car Seat
Cybex Aton 2
: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 9.3 lbs
Best crash test results
Easy LATCH install
Comfy & high quality
Harder to use
The Cybex Aton 2 is a high-quality seat that offers the best crash test results of any seat in our selection, making it an Editors' Choice winner and one we'd highly recommend to friends. This seat combines a top crash test score with an overall sleek design, and additional safety features like a load leg and the side impact crumple zone attachment. With an easy to install LATCH system (which can translate to further increased safety), the Cybex Aton 2 is an excellent choice for most families.
While the Aton 2 is easy to install using LATCH, many of its other features are slightly less easy to use than the average seat, though not challenging. It also has a slightly higher than average list price, so families on a strict budget may need to plan for the added expense or consider a Best Value winner. The Aton 2 is compatible with many of our favorite strollers, but we recommend finding a stroller that offers click-in attachment as opposed to straps which seem more common for this seat. If your budget allows, and if safety crash test results and easy installation are what you prize, then the Aton 2 with the load leg in place should be a top contender for you.
Read review: Cybex Aton 2
Easy and Lasts 2 Years
: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 12.1 lbs
Easiest LATCH install
Easy to use
Lasts up to 2 years
Limited stroller compatibility
The Chicco Fit2 is a high-quality Chicco car seat with a perfect score for LATCH installation making it a smart choice for parents that worry about installing a car seat correctly (which directly correlates to safety during an accident). This innovative car seat also has the potential to work for up to 2 years (depending on your child's size), something no other seat in this review can boast. This stylish seat has easy to use features and additional padding for comfort, making it a car seat that both parents and baby will enjoy for the long haul.
While we love this product, it may not be the first choice for parents on a strict budget or for those who live in the city. Thanks to a higher than average carrier weight, we suspect most parents will hate lugging the Fit2 for any distance. However, the Fit2 is compatible with award-winning frame strollers, which could offset the burden of carrying it and create an excellent combination for city dwellers who have the stroller space. While it does cost slightly more, this may be less of a concern since you can use the seat for longer, potentially delaying future costs. Overall, the Fit 2 is a great long-term option for families looking for longevity and easy to use features.
Read review: Chicco Fit2
Top Performer, But Limited Stroller Support
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 9.6 lbs
Better crash test results
Easy install without base
Limited stroller compatibility
Harder to install using LATCH
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 earns the top spot with impressive scores for crash test results, installation, and comfort/quality. This seat earns an 8 of 10 for crash tests and is one of the easiest to install. Easy installation potentially translates to safer as many injuries sustained in real-world crashes are related to installation errors. This seat is lightweight, a breeze to carry, and has straightforward features that work as expected.
Unfortunately, this impressive option is not compatible with strollers from other brands which locks you into Peg strollers or babywearing (which we like). It also has one of the higher price tags in the competition, making it a potential non-starter for families on a tight budget. However, the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio has the quality and comfort to support the price, and we think it is sure to please most parents who are unconcerned about stroller combinations.
Read review: Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
Best Bang for the Buck
Chicco KeyFit 30
: 4-30 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 10.1 lbs
Easy to install
Better crash test results
The Chicco Keyfit 30 has a good overall score and a lower price than other top-ranking options which makes it a Best Value winner in our book. This car seat earns a high score for ease of installation and has some of the best crash test results. With an easy to use LATCH system and unique features that help make installation as simple as possible, this seat is a parent favorite that could translate to even "safer" as many crash-related injuries are a result of improper installation or use. Combine all of this with good looks and broad compatibility with our favorite strollers, and you have something to swoon about that also saves money.
The Keyfit 30 has a lower installation without the base score and it is over 10 lbs, which while average for the group, is somewhat heavy if you plan to carry your little one in their carrier. These concerns make it less than ideal for those who frequent public transportation. However, its better ease of use and crash test performance easily override these misgivings if you plan to use a stroller or wear your baby, and own a car where the base stays installed. For these reasons, we think the Keyfit 30 is a wallet-savvy winner that is tough to beat when budget plays a role, and even if it doesn't.
Read review: Chicco Keyfit 30
Best on a Small Budget
Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35
: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 8.5 lbs
Easy to install
Better crash test results
Harder to use
The Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 is an inexpensive car seat with some useful features that make some of its less impressive results potentially overlookable. The SnugLock 35 is easy to install with most methods and works well installed with the vehicle belt. Plus, being easy to install sans base and its lighter weight make it a potential contender for those that frequent public transportation or travel. This Graco also performs better than average in crash tests with a chest sensor result only rivaled by two competitors, making it an impressive, inexpensive safety contender parents can feel good about using.
The lower price of the SnugLock comes with less impressive comfort and quality, and we suspect this seat may look worn before you get a chance to use it as a hand me down. It is also somewhat less easy to use with a stiff buckle release and a handle canopy collision that makes holding the handle with an open canopy near impossible or at least annoying. This seat is a smart choice for those on the smallest of budgets or for those who need a second seat for Grandma's car that doesn't compromise on safety compared to most of the competition.
Read review: Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35
Great on a Budget
Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air 360
: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 9.5 lbs
Side impact tested
Easy to install
Harder to install using LATCH
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air 360 is a standout, budget-friendly option with an above average overall score. With one of the lowest list prices in the group, the Safety 1st impresses with its crash test results and two forms of easy installation. This seat earned better than average scores in most metrics, and it ranks higher than several more expensive products proving it provides a lot for a little. We feel most parents will be happy with this product, and parents on a budget can feel confident they are getting a good car seat that compared well in crash test analysis.
One of the few drawbacks to the Safety 1st is it is not compatible with many strollers (seriously, almost none). However, if you don't plan to use your car seat with a stroller (and many parents don't), then you won't be missing a thing. If your budget allows, there are other options with better stroller compatibility that may be worth the extra money if you are hoping to create a travel system. However, if you want a straightforward car seat that performs well and provides a great value, then the Safety 1st is one for your shortlist.
Read review: Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air 360
Top Pick for Urban Life and Taxis
: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 16.8 lbs
It's a stroller!
Fills a niche for public transportation
Easy to use
Lower than average crash result
The Doona is an innovative car seat that doubles as a stroller combined in an all-in-one product. This capability makes the Doona a standout option for parents who live in the city that frequently use taxis, Lyft, and Uber. With the Doona in play, you can quickly install the carrier in a vehicle and be ready to stroll within seconds of reaching your destination. This product is easy to use, easy to install without the base, and meets a need that no other car seat can fill making your baby safer than forgoing the seat.
This carrier style's higher price and heavier weight will be a turn off for some parents, but it is tough to beat for urban dwellers who may otherwise skip using a car seat in a taxi, or who don't want to lug around a separate stroller. Its lower crash analysis score may make it a less desirable choice for parents who have less need for an all-in-one solution, but we think this seat/stroller is a great way to get from your loft to a cab and back on the sidewalk at your destination with ease, and we believe it fills a niche like no other seat. If you live in a world where many legally forgo a car seat altogether, the Doona is a significantly better, safer, more convenient choice than going sans car seat.
Read review: Doona
Why You Should Trust Us
With over five years and 500 hours of hands-on infant car seat testing and crash tests, BabyGearLab is in a unique position to provide details and inside information on how the seats compare to one another and how they fare in crash testing related to the Federal guidelines and compared to one another. Our expert panel for Infant Car Seat testing was led by Dr. Juliet Spurrier, Board Certified Pediatrician, mother of two, and founder of BabyGearLab. Dr. Spurrier's background in urgent care pediatrics informed her concerns with crash-related injury and the common safety risks of improperly installed car seats, which can significantly increase the probability of injury. As a result, our testing process includes extensive crash testing of each car seat, as well as hands-on evaluation of ease-of-installation, and everyday use, to provide a comprehensive 360-degree assessment of the factors that impact safety and practical day-to-day use of an infant car seat. Our hands-on testing protocol was developed by Certified Passenger Safety Technician, Bob Wofford, to assess how difficult or easy each seat is to install correctly for maximum safety. We consulted with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) experts on their testing protocol and crash test data. For our crash testing, we hired MGA Research, the national testing laboratory that holds the compliance contract for the NHTSA crash testing protocol used to assess the safety of every car seat sold in the US. Every car seat in our review was crash tested to the same exacting standards, and we include the actual data from every seat's crash test dummy to give you the real data and inform our ratings. Our Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz, mother of two, has been leading our analysis of our infant car seat test results for five years and has examined, compared and rated the specific performance of more than three dozen top-scoring car seats.
Our testing process to find the best seats of 2019 started with crash testing of every car seat, and continued with more than 200 hours of testing by our in-house testers and real-world parents. We put each seat through the wringer, taking seats in and out of three different types of vehicles, installing them with LATCH and with seat belts, carrying them until our arms went limp, looking at every detail, such as the shading provided by the canopy, and exploring stroller compatibility. While other review sites rely on second-hand research of user-reviews and make recommendations based on popularity or manufacturer offered free review products, BabyGearLab performs an extensive side-by-side comparison to provide you with the best information available to guide your purchases. To assure complete independence, we purchase two units of each car seat in our review, one for our crash testing, and another seat for use in our extensive hands-on testing. Our review process provides you with the most up to date information on infant car seats without outside influence or pressure to help you make the best decision for you and your baby.
Related: How We Tested Infant Car Seats
Analysis and Test Results
We conduct side-by-side testing for several months on each product in this review. The seats are inspected in detail and compared to the competition.
We have tested over three dozen infant car seats for this review since its first version, including crash tests for each one. This picture includes the original lineup, several of which have been replaced as some seats have been discontinued and others replaced with new and exciting potential options.
We work under the supervision and guidance of a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician to conduct comprehensive testing that we use in combination with Crash Test data to determine how each product performs regarding measured forces of impact during crash tests. While all of the competitors conform to the minimum safety guidelines outlined by the Federal government, they are not all easy to use or have crash test results as impressive as the competition.
The crash test we commissioned for Cybex Aton 2 resulted in top performance from the dummy's sensors, which makes it clear that the load leg used in their design results in lower impact forces. Our tests with load legs in some other seats did not result in as strong a crash test performance.
Finding the right infant car seat with a wallet-friendly price can be easier than you think with three contenders sporting a price significantly lower than the average. The Chicco Keyfit 30 is an easy to use, infant style car seat that performed well in most metrics. The Safety 1st onBoard Air 35 is even cheaper, making it a car seat that fits almost every budget. The Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 also performed well with a far below average list price giving you a few options to choose from depending on your goals and needs. While several award winners cost more, their features and performance still offer a good value depending on what is important to you, as you often get what you pay for and over the years we've seen more expensive options with lower test results.
Crash Impact Testing
A key part of our testing is the analysis of the crash test results we commissioned for the infant car seats in our review. BabyGearLab contracts with the same facility used by NHTSA to perform tests using the same protocol as NHTSA under the FMVSS 213 standard. We also established a working relationship with NHTSA to utilize their crash test data for further analysis.
Parents should note that all of the products in this review passed the NHTSA Federal safety requirements, and therefore, provide a minimum or basic level of crash safety protection and are considered safe.
In our analysis, we focus on seats that offer an additional margin of safety, relative to competing seats based on our analysis of the crash test data. For example, if a seat measures significantly lower impact forces (better) in the head sensors located in the crash test dummy, resulting in a lower Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score, our view is the seat offers a higher margin of protection for the baby than competitors with higher (more forces) HIC scores. Additional details on our crash test scoring methodology are included below.
Ease of Installation and Use Matters
It is no surprise that crash tests are a major part of our review, but few parents understand that improper installation and misuse of infant car seats are a significant cause of injury in car accidents. In our conversations with safety engineers at NHTSA, they emphasized that misuse is a bigger safety issue than the difference between crash test performance. A NHTSA study showed that 84% of infant seats exhibited critical misuse, either in the installation of the seat or improper restraint of the infant. A more recent study of 267 families by Portland's top Children's Hospital conducted between November 2013 and May 2014 showed that "95% of parents made at least one error in either the positioning of the infant or installation of the car safety seat" — a mistake that could place their infant at increased risk of injury in a crash.
Learn how to install your infant car seat safely!
Given the extreme importance of proper installation for keeping your little one safe, we strongly urge parents to seek out help for tips on avoiding common installation mistakes. It is a good idea to contact a professional for assistance or to check your installation and harness fitting. Many hospitals and fire departments offer free help with learning how to install and use a car seat properly. It is vitally important that your car seat is installed and used properly every time without exception.
Related: How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes
The Mesa uses the so-called "American belt path" method over the lower portion of the carrier. This is super easy to do and helped it earn a Top Pick award in our review.
Crash Test Ratings
We analyze the data from the crash sled tests of each car seat to determine how well they performed compared to the competition as well as the Federal safety standard for acceptable performance. To help you understand more about crash tests, we include graphs comparing the actual crash test results in each product review and summarize them below.
So, what matters the most when analyzing crash impact test results?
- Risk of a head injury (HIC score)
- Risk of a chest injury (G clip score)
Analysis of child auto crash injuries shows that head and chest injuries present the two highest risks for serious or fatal injury.
Head Injury Criteria (HIC) Score
In each crash test, there are sensors placed in the chest and head of a 12-month-old CRABI test dummy (a crash test dummy designed to simulate a 22 lbs baby who is about 12 months old). The Federal safety standard developed by NHTSA uses a scoring factor called the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score, which is a measure of the likelihood of injury arising from the impact. Each seat must achieve a HIC score of 1000 or lower to pass. The further below the Federal HIC maximum of 1000, the better (lower numbers rule here).
This image shows the actual resultant G-forces on the head of the crash test dummy for the Doona (black line) and the Chicco KeyFit 30 (green line). Both the Doona and the Chicco are under the NHTSA safety HIC score requirement of 1000. However, the Chicco is the seat in our review that offers the highest margin of protection with a HIC score of 329.6 — the lowest and thus the best Head Injury Criteria score in our review.
Shown above is the percentage margin by which each seat exceeded the maximum Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score established by the Federal NHTSA standard. The higher the bar, the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).
This image uses the crash test data for HIC scores and displays the % below the NHTSA maximum of 1000 HIC score for each seat in the review. We focused on examining how large of a margin of protection each product offers below the Federal maximum HIC score of 1000. Products that are further left, with higher bars, can be considered as providing an additional margin of protection.
Chest (G) Clip Score
The crash dummy also includes sensors to measure chest impact forces. The data from the chest sensors is used to calculate a second score, called the Chest (G) Clip score, which is an attempt to create a measure of the likelihood of injury to the heart, lungs, and other organs. All seats must achieve a Chest (G) Clip score of 60 or less to pass the Federal safety standards.
The Cybex Aton 2 shows a chest sensor test result of 44 where a lower number is better, while the Nuna sensor result is 60, the maximum allowed result by Federal law.
This image compares the Chest (G) Clip score from the Nuna Pipa (black line) to the best performing Cybex Aton 2 (green line). The Nuna's score barely passes the Federal requirement (must be 60 or less to pass), while the Cybex's result of 44 means significantly lower chest forces on the crash test dummy, and thus the Cybex offers a significantly better margin of safety for this test.
Shown above is the percentage margin by which each seat exceeded the maximum chest injury score, Chest (g) Clip, established by the Federal NHTSA safety standard. The taller the bar, the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).
This picture shows the % below the Federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score of 60 that each seat achieved. As with the HIC score, we focused on how large a margin of protection each option provides below the Federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score of 60 in their crash test. Seats that are further left, with higher bars, are farther below the Federal maximum Chest score and can be considered as providing an additional margin of protection.
Additional Crash Test Safety Features
The Peg Perego offers a solid anti-rebound bar on its base
Some seats have additional features that could potentially improve their overall safety in the event of an actual crash. For the most part, we did not include these features or other claims in our analysis because there is no real world or test data available to confirm or dispute the claims or even to analyze them. So, while you might be curious about a seat that boasts side impact protection (SIP) or an anti-rebound bar, we caution making a final decision based solely on SIP claims because information about their efficacy is significantly lacking. Also, there isn't an agreed-upon safety test procedure in the industry as a whole to test these claims and features. We think parents should stick to the crash test data analysis when comparing the potential safety of each seat.
We did, however, compare crash test data from the Cybex Aton2 and the Peg Perego Nido using the load leg feature and without the load leg. Results indicate that using the load leg improved crash test performance and could potentially impact real-world crash scenarios for the Aton 2, but not the Nido. The Aton 2 has a HIC score of 340 using the load leg and 521 without using the leg (where a lower score is better); these scores indicate a higher margin of protection when using the leg. Alternatively, the Nido has a HIC score of 573 with the load leg and 430 without it. So, while there may be some validity to features like the load leg or anti-rebound bar, we don't think parents should be swayed by every safety claim manufacturers throw out there, and we can't account for the difference in efficacy from seat to seat and leg to leg.
One of the most critical things you can do to keep your baby safe is installing your car seat correctly. Car seats that are not installed or adjusted properly for your specific baby can potentially result in injury or death. To ensure your seat is installed correctly before
you have your baby, and seek advice from a professional car seat inspection technician
. Consider checking with an installation expert when you move the seat to a different vehicle or position as well.
Related: How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes
Best Rated Seats in our Crash Test Analysis
Based on crash test result analysis, we rated each product in comparison to one another on a 1-10 scale to identify the products that, in our opinion, offer an extra margin of protection, over and beyond the necessary level of protection found in all the seats.
The Cybex Aton 2 comes standard with a load leg. We crash tested two Aton 2 seats: one without the load leg deployed and then second crash test with the load leg. We found the Cybex load leg was very effective in significantly improving crash test performance.
The Cybex Aton 2 with the load leg earned our highest crash test rating of 9 of 10. The Aton 2 has impressive crash test results, with the lowest G score in this review and the second lowest HIC score. Given its performance in other test metrics and overall rank, we think the Cybex Aton 2 is an excellent choice for parents who value crash test sensor data and analysis over all else as it offers a significant margin of safety over other seats.
Also notable for offering significant extra protection are three products that earned 8 of 10 ratings. The Chicco KeyFit 30 has the lowest HIC score, and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 both offer significantly better crash test scores than the competition.
The middle of the foot portion on the Chicco Fit2 has the SuperCinch pull strap unique to the Fit 2 that makes tightening the LATCH anchor straps efficient and easy.
Ease of Installation with the LATCH System
Studies show that more than 7 out of 10 seats are improperly installed or have the baby incorrectly restrained, and 93% of parents mess up car seat use on the way home from the hospital. This information is why we consider ease-of-installation and ease-of-use critical factors and encourage parents to include these metrics results in their decision-making process.
The easiest way to install a car seat, and the method we recommend, is your vehicle's Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system. The good news here is that both your infant seat and your car are likely set up for the LATCH system on the left or right side of the rear seat. Nearly every car seat, and most vehicles manufactured since September 1, 2002, must have the LATCH system. According to NHTSA, over 60% of parents place their infant car seat on the left or right side positions. Most choose the passenger side so the driver can easily see the child, though the middle rear seat is also popular.
If you look in the crease of your car's back seat, you should find little metal bars like those shown above. These are the LATCH connectors. Nearly every car seat and most vehicles manufactured since September 1, 2002, are required to have the LATCH system.
The LATCH system was created to make correctly installing a car seat easier for parents by reducing the opportunity for mistakes.
In our tests, we find that some seats are significantly easier to install using the LATCH method than other methods.
Part of what makes a seat easier to install with LATCH is the type of connectors they have to attach to the lower anchors. Lower cost seats use clips to connect to anchors, but the easiest-to-use products provide click-in push button connectors (both are safe).
The Cybex Aton 2 uses a seat belt, push button, style anchor that clicks onto the LATCH connector (above left). The Chicco Fit2 earned the high with a 10 of 10 for this form of installation. All of the top scoring seats offer a unique LATCH anchor or tightening system that make installation significantly easier than the more basic counterparts. This group includes the UPPAbaby Mesa and its self-ratcheting LATCH straps that helped it earn a 9, as well as the Nuna Pipa with rigid LATCH connectors and the Britax Endeavours.
The UPPAbaby Mesa was swiftly installed with LATCH by our Child Passenger Safety Technician. The secret of the Mesa is you don't need to tighten the LATCH connectors manually. You click the connectors to the LATCH anchor bars, and push downward on the base; the straps automatically self-retract to tighten. Once adequately tightened, the indicator shows green. In our experience, it is swift and straightforward.
The Chicco Keyfit 30 base has a single center pull strap that tightens the LATCH anchors to pull the base firmly against the vehicle seat back
Tightening and Loosening Straps
The anchors are only the first part of the equation. Whether or not the straps are easy to tighten and loosen is also a factor in ease of install. As we noted, we love the UPPAbaby Mesa's self-retracting straps, and we find the Chicco Keyfit 30 has an easy to tighten and loosen mechanism. In contrast, most of the Graco products are very difficult to tighten or get loose again. We gave higher points to products that don't require body weight to tighten or significant struggling for a secure fit, including the Nuna Pipa and Chicco Fit2.
Best Rated Seats for LATCH Installation
Top score for installation with LATCH went to the Chicco Fit2 and Nuna Pipa with perfect 10s. The UPPAbaby Mesa, Chicco Keyfit 30, and the Cybex Aton 2 all tied with impressive 9s. Being easy to install could theoretically translate to a safer seat in the event of an accident as many injuries from accidents are related to installation errors or harness adjustment mistakes.
The level on the base of the Graco SnugLock 35 indicates when the seat is correctly positioned based on the age of your baby.
Ease of Installation with a Seat Belt
If you want to place your child in the center of the rear seat, which is considered the safest location for seat placement, then for most vehicles you'll likely need to master anchoring the seat with the seatbelt. But do not fret. We can tell you which seats make this process a no-brainer.
Find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station in Your Area
There is a fabulous free resource available for parents nationwide in the US in the form of certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians who can quickly help you learn how to install your infant car seat correctly
. This service is helpful for everyone, and we highly recommend it. You'll probably find that your local fire station or police department has one or more CPS technicians who are eager to help.
A Seat Belt Lock-off is the Key
We find that some seats are much easier to install using the seat belt than others, and they have a trick that helps this process.
Introducing your new friend, the "seat belt lock-off" feature.
About half of the seats in this review offer a base with a belt lock-off. When the lock off is in use, it helps prevent the base from sliding back and forth across the strap. Lock-offs make vehicle seatbelt installation as secure, if not more so, as the LATCH method. So if you lack LATCH anchors or you want to install the car seat in the middle, then you can still easily install the seat using the seat belt.
The Phil and Teds Alpha
(above left) and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
(above right) have the best belt lock-off
systems in our review. The Peg Perego Nido
has the same belt lock-off as the Primo Viaggio and is equally simple to use.
Best Rated Seats for Seat Belt Installation
The belt lock-offs on the Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35, Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35, Peg Perego Nido, and the Phil and Teds Alpha each earned 9 of 10, and make installing the seat a breeze compared to seats without a lock-off or seats with hard to use lock-offs. The lock-off on the Chicco Keyfit 30 is harder to use and makes installation frustrating. We struggled to get the vehicle belt in the lock without the strap curling or bunching. However, all other things being equal, we'd prefer a problematic lock-off over none at all. We feel a lock-off is a critical component to achieve a secure fit when installing a base with the vehicle belt.
Most bases without a lock-off did not perform well. We feel these options do not feel genuinely secure because they tend to travel up the shoulder portion of the vehicle belt causing the seat to tilt.
Can't find the center seatbelt?
Look up. It might be on the ceiling! Some SUVs and wagons have a center seat belt that comes from the ceiling of the car. If you've never used it, it might be fully retracted.
Parents who frequently ride in taxi cabs or use services like Uber, will want to look for a car seat that offers easy installation without the base, just using the seat belt.
Ease of Installation Without the Base
The first question that may come to mind is, why should I care about installing the seat without the base?
The answer is simple: taxis, Uber, buses, and airplanes as some parents frequent these forms of public transportation more often than a personal vehicle.
In our opinion, if you don't expect to take your infant on public transportation very often, then you can happily ignore the following advice and skip down to Ease of Use. However, if you think you may travel with your little one or need to install the carrier in a car other than your own, then this information could be relevant to your final purchasing decision.
For those living in urban environments, who frequent taxis or services like Uber, learning how to master installation without the base is an essential skill. Also, for airplane travel, the FAA recommends using an approved car seat on the plane as the safest way for babies to fly. Many parents carry their baby on their lap, saving the cost of another plane ticket, and wearable baby carriers are also common for air travel. But, if you do use an infant seat on the airplane, you'll probably install it sans base.
There are two belt path options for carrier installation without the base, European and American. Each seat in this review uses one or the other, and some offer both. If you only have a lap belt, but your carrier is a European style, then you can install it using the American path.
The American method is straightforward with the belt going directly across the leg portion of the carrier through the designated pathway. This belt path is simple and creates a secure attachment that passes all safety regulations in the US. This style does not utilize the shoulder strap on the vehicle belt even if it is part of the vehicle.
The European belt path starts the same, routing the vehicle belt across the lower part of the carrier but it adds the shoulder belt across the back of the seat threading the strap through a clip to keep it in place. We found that the additional use of the shoulder belt in the European style provides a more secure feeling with less carrier shifting, though we can't say if it is more secure or only feels this way.
We feel that seats with the European belt path score higher and offer a more secure feeling attachment with little movement after installation. However, the American method is a more straightforward process with fewer steps. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 (above left) has the European belt path, while the Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air (above right) features the American belt path.
Best Rated Seats for Installation Without the Base
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and Peg Perego Nido use the European method and have color-coded belt paths with easy lock-offs that helps them each earn a 10. This result means the Pegs have the highest ratings in our tests for two installation methods! The Phil and Teds Alpha is close on their heels with a 9.
The Doona has a European belt path and comes with a seat protector to protect your car from the dirty wheels of the stroller component of the seat.
If you live in a big city and use taxis more than your car, this metric is critical for you, and we encourage you to consider the top performers in this test seriously. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the UPPAbaby Mesa earned impressive scores for ease of installation without the base, and both are great options for city-dwelling parents. The Doona, on the other hand, earned an 8 for installation without the base, but it has stroller components that virtually eliminate the need for carrying anything, making it an excellent choice for urbanites who frequent public transportation. In fact, we think the Doona is one of the best options for city living.
Find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station in your Area
Installing a carrier without the base can be tricky, so we urge parents to find a local inspection station to help them learn how to do it properly. It is easy to find an inspection station near you by entering your zip code
The Chicco Fit 2 is one of the easiest seats to use with straightforward features.
Ease of Use
At first blush, all the infant car seats seem similar, and it looks like they would all function relatively the same when it comes to ease of use. Not so. The products in our tests are all over the board when it comes to ease of use. As it turns out, all buckles aren't the same, and adjusting a harness can be ridiculously easy or a lesson in patience and a huge time suckage.
This metric includes all the features and functions you regularly use. Features like buckles and chest clips, as well as harness adjustments and handles, are part of this metric.
Never Leave Little ones in the Car Seat Outside of the Car
While it may be convenient to leave your baby in an infant car seat outside the car if they fall asleep while driving, this practice is potentially dangerous
and not recommended. Babies left to sleep in car seats, swings, and bouncers may be at risk for positional asphyxiation
. Positional asphyxiation is where someone rests in a position that can prevent them from breathing. It potentially occurs when the baby's head slumps forward and blocks the airway. A 2015 study
of children under the age of 2 who died in a sitting or carrying device, showed that out of 31 deaths involving car seats that a little over half were related to positional asphyxiation. To be safe, always remove your baby from their car seat and put them to rest on their back in their crib or bassinet
The Cybex Aton2 has one the easiest buckle to undo on its 5 point harness
Buckle Release Buttons
The buckle buttons are stiff and hard to press for some of the seats. Getting little ones out of the carrier can be a problem if the button requires two thumbs to operate or your fingers lack the proper strength. We found all of the Graco buttons are hard to use and some also have challenging chest clips. The Peg Perego Nido and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 have the kind of buckles we dream about, those that virtually fall apart when you push the button. However, the Peg Perego Nido chest clip is a challenge to open and can even be painful. Being able to remove your baby swiftly and without complication is a must, and we favor products with consistently easy buckle and chest clip combos.
The strangely placed rear tighten and loosening system on the back of the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect is ridiculously complicated compared to the more traditional pull strap and release button found on all the other seats we looked at. It also functions as the rethread slots for harness height adjustment
For tightening and loosening the harness, the Doona impresses in our tests. The strap pulls smoothly without effort, and the release button requires less pressure compared to the competition. The Peg Perego Nido and the Peg Pergo Primo Viaggio 4-35 also have easy to use harness systems.
Adjusting the Harness as Baby Grows
Adjusting the shoulder strap height comes in two varieties. One is an involved process where you detach the shoulder straps from a splitter on the back and rethread them through a higher slot before putting them back on the splitter (above left). The other is more straightforward and includes disengaging the height adjustment assembly and sliding it up or down (above right). The latter can occur with your baby in the seat when you notice a need. The former requires an empty carrier, and some are more difficult due to the size of the straps, the slots, or how much padding is in the way when threading. We think parents are more likely to maintain a correctly fitted harness if it is easy to adjust, can be accomplished quickly, and executed as soon as they notice a need (i.e., when a baby is in the harness getting ready to go). Making changes when you first notice a problem is better than seeing the need but deciding to wait for a better time because it is a hassle. For this reason, we believe that non-rethread harnesses are potentially safer.
The height adjustment on the Fit2 is non-rethread and includes moving the headrest up and down with the pull of a tab on the top of the assembly.
Only a few options are the non-rethread harness style. They can operate from the front or back, depending on the design. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and Peg Perego Nido earned the highest scores with 10s and smooth moving, easy to operate harness assemblies. The Baby Jogger City Go and UPPAbaby Mesa are close with 9s. The Chicco Fit2 earned an 8 for its sliding height assembly. The most challenging carrier for shoulder strap height adjustment is the Cybex Aton 2 with straps that are harder to get on and off the splitter.
The Chicco Keyfit 30 and the Chicco Fit2 are the easiest to attach to the base with a 9 of 10 in our tests. They both fall smoothly into place, and we didn't have mistakes during testing. The UPPAbaby Mesa and the Safety 1st onBoard Air came in a close second. The most challenging option to connect to is the Cybex Aton 2. However, it is one of only a handful of seats that provide a visual indicator to show when the carrier is correctly attached, so while it may be harder to connect, the indicator helps prevent a mishap.
Notice that the canopy and handle are the same height on the Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35; this design flaw is one we hoped Graco would address in new car seats.
Most of the handles in this review are about the same and unremarkable. They operate by squeezing or pushing buttons simultaneously on pivot points on both sides and rotating the handle to the desired position. The number of positions and which are allowable for driving varies (see your manual), but the operation is basically the same. The major handle issue is the handle/canopy collision found in several seats in our tests. This problem is most prevalent in the Graco carriers, though the Peg Perego Nido also has trouble. All of the Graco handles are the same height as the canopies, which means it's hard to use the handle with an open canopy. It seems like a silly oversight, but it is annoying and not necessary. We hoped they would alter the design in new seats, but the new Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 has the same problem. Other issues involve rough plastic edges on the bottom of the handle where your fingers grip. The most comfortable handle is the UPPAbaby Mesa.
For LATCH anchor storage, the UPPAbaby Mesa (above left) excelled with anchors that don't need storing because they self-retract. The bases with LATCH storage that might prevent parents from efficiently and correctly installing a seat took a hit in our tests. The majority of the storage options are small rods to clip anchors located on the underside of the base. Most of the cheaper seats in our review scored poorly with straps that could prevent a proper installation.
Best Rated Seats for Ease of Use
The Doona earned top results for ease of use with an 8 of 10. Right on its heels are the Chicco Keyfit 30, UPPAbaby Mesa, and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35, Peg Perego Nido, Baby Jogger Go, and the Chicco Fit2 with 7s.
leave a baby in a car seat unattended! Also, never place an infant seat on countertops or in high places where it could fall and injure the baby strapped inside. Soft surfaces such as a bed or waterbed are also a potential hazard as the carrier can tip and potentially smother a baby. A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that more than 8,000 infants a year are treated in emergency rooms because of fall injuries suffered while using an infant seat or baby carrier outside of a vehicle
, and seats overturning on soft surfaces resulted in 15 instances of suffocation. Always think safety first, transfer your baby to a crib when you get home, and never leave baby unattended in a car seat.
Overall, the Peg Perego has a nice quality feel to it, from the fabrics to the hardware, this is one cushy seat.
For comfort and quality, we consider materials and how well the final product brings them together in a complete package. We consider factors like padding, fabric, and canopies, and how well those translate to baby's comfort, parent use, and longevity.
All of the seats share similarities in materials, like dense foam for impact protection and hard plastic for the shell. However, some offer thicker padding or friendlier fabrics than others. In the end, the products that provide increased comfort for baby and a sharp look will top the charts in comfort and quality.
Best Rated Seats for Comfort and Quality
The top in this metric is the Nuna Pipa (above left) with a 9 of 10. Other standouts include the Chicco Fit2, Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the Phil and Teds Alpha (above right) with 8s. These products provide additional padding, softer fabric, and a better overall finish than competitors.
We looked at the weight of both the base and the carrier component of each product. Some of the bases are seriously heavy, but we only considered the weight of the carrier in our scoring.
We feel the weight of the carrier you lug around is more important when determining which product to buy, given that the base typically stays in the car. If a carrier is too heavy, it will be challenging or impossible to carry for long.
Best Rated Seats on Weight
The weight of the carriers varies between 8.35 lbs for the Phil and Teds Alpha (above left) and 16.8 lbs for the Doona (above right). That is a significant difference that makes the Doona feel like a non-starter for carrying. Luckily, this unique option has stroller components on the carrier, which means you can avoid lugging it by pushing it instead. The average weight for the group is 10.5 lbs, and several of the award winners fall close to this. While we don't think weight should be your number one deciding factor, we do believe it is relevant and can potentially break a tie after narrowing your options using other metrics like crash tests and ease of install. Weight may be important if you plan to carry the baby in the seat as opposed to in a stroller or babywearing.
There is no perfect seat for every family, which is why we test so many and provide several awards and a ranking system. However, we believe our tests and analysis help narrow the field of products down to a few top contenders that meet your needs and are within your budget.