Help me choose a convertible car seat.
December 11, 2012 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I need to get a new car seat for my 9 month-old, but there are so many options out there and I have no idea what all the little numbers and details mean. Help!

I've had an infant car seat from my baby's birth until now, but he's outgrown it and I need a new one fast. Can you help me figure out what I need and what I don't need? I could spend anywhere from $100 to $300 but I really don't want to end up with luxury over function.

I could get this online or go to a store (I'll be in south Texas the week between Christmas and New Year's).
posted by CrazyLemonade to Travel & Transportation (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We have a Britax Marathon 70 for our little guy. It is reversible for rear to front facing, and is highly rated.
posted by Fleebnork at 10:26 AM on December 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

If it matters, I have a Honda CRV. Also, how soon can I have my baby facing the front? I know rear-facing is safer, but it takes up way too much space, so is there some sort of "ok, at least keep him rear-facing until X"-limit?
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:27 AM on December 11, 2012

Well, we swear by Britax Boulevard 70CS, but that's us - mostly because it's easy enough to swap around between vehicles and the cover comes off pretty easy for washing.

We kept our 3 foot, 31lb toddler rear facing till she crossed 2 years. Facing backwards is better.

The guidelines say 2 years, but longer is better in aggregate.
posted by iamabot at 10:32 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

We had very good luck with the Britax Roundabout (it was one of Consumer Reports highest rated at the time), and it seemed a lot smaller than other options.

To answer your forward-facing question, it looks like the Roundabout says rear facing at least until 1 year and 20 pounds (both conditions need to be satisfied), though everything I have seen says rear facing for as long as possible (again, Britax says it can be rear facing until 40 pounds). Good luck with keeping a kid rear facing for that long, though.
posted by dforemsky at 10:33 AM on December 11, 2012

We have a Sunshine Kids (now branded Diono) Radian RXT. It's rear facing to 45lbs. We chose this based on safety ratings and the high weight limit on rear-facing. Our 2 year old is nowhere near that weight limit, but we're about to turn him around based on height.
posted by Jacob G at 10:34 AM on December 11, 2012

We have (and very much like) our Britax Marathon 70-G3 (this one) and it fits great behind the passenger's seat in our CR-V.

The minimum standard for turning a baby around is often when the baby is both 1 year old and 25 pounds. However, you should really reconsider the tradeoff of turning your child around. Here is a crash-test video that compares the rear-facing with front-facing which really drove the point home for me. Rear facing, the baby dummy hardly moves; front-facing, there's a lot more movement. This is what convinced me to keep Baby Betelgeuse rear facing for as long as possible.
posted by Betelgeuse at 10:34 AM on December 11, 2012

I love our Britax Marathon.
posted by purpleclover at 10:35 AM on December 11, 2012

All car seats need to meet safety standards, so in that regard it doesn't matter if you spend $39 or $379...I have owned both the cheapies and the expensive ones, and I actually prefer the cheaper ones myself, and the baby/toddler doesn't seem to care.

You can also get a 2-in-one or 3-in-one...rear facing + forward facing + booster seat all in one. We have one of those and we love it. $189 now, and no more to ever spend later (unless you have another kid and the seat expires).

The law usually is rear-facing for "1 year AND 20 pounds". The recommendation is "as long as possible." We changed my first kid's seat to forward facing on his 1st b-day since he was already 28 pounds. We changed our 2nd kid at 22 months because he didn't fit. My friend kept her kid rear facing til 3 and a half!!!

Most car seats do not fit rear facing in a mid-size car or even SUV while leaving ample room up front. So, most people install them incorrectly (not leveled right) to give themselves more room up front. So, if you feel crammed in the front passenger seat, you are not crazy, especially because the CRV is TINY, imo. The only time I have seen a rear facing seat fit behind the front seats while leaving lots of room up front is in a minivan or Crown Vic.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:40 AM on December 11, 2012

We have multiple different kinds of britax car seats in the various vehicles we drive, depending on size of the car. We have marathons, bulevards and advocates. Albee baby is having a sale.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:46 AM on December 11, 2012

We have an Evenflo Symphony for my daughter, which is a convertible that should lost her until she's ready for a booster.

Please review the recommendations for when to forward face here:

We kept our son rear facing until he was 20 months and well over 20 lbs. It was a few weeks after we turned around that the recommendations changed, and at that point we couldn't back. We'll rear face our daughter longer (but she is also a lot smaller than my son ever was).

This video makes a compelling argument for why we waited as long as we did.
posted by zizzle at 10:47 AM on December 11, 2012

My mom has the Honda CRV and when we visit, we put our Britax Boulevard in there rear facing with no problems. It lasts to 40lbs rear facing and 70lb forward facing. Also, the latch installation is super quick and easy, especially compared to the First Years TrueFit we have as our spare seat. I hate that thing and wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
posted by chiababe at 10:59 AM on December 11, 2012

As an addendum, my son is 26 months and 27lbs, and we will continue to rear face until he outgrows the weight limit.
posted by chiababe at 11:00 AM on December 11, 2012

We have a Britax Advocate 70 CS. I love the "click safe" to make sure the straps are tight enough. It rear faces to 40 lbs. It's the "top of the line" as far as Britax goes, but I wanted to make sure to put my child in a comfortable and secure seat. It's the only seat that has additional protection for side impact.
posted by litnerd at 11:04 AM on December 11, 2012

All car seats need to meet safety standards, so in that regard it doesn't matter if you spend $39 or $379...I have owned both the cheapies and the expensive ones, and I actually prefer the cheaper ones myself, and the baby/toddler doesn't seem to care.

Just wanted to reinforce this: the standards these days are stringent and convoluted enough that a lot of the seats have very, very similar safety design. Therefore I tended to look based on ergonomics, price and convenience.

We currently use a First Years True Fit and it works great. It fits rear facing in our 2007 RAV4, you just can't put the seat back far enough to accomodate Manute Bol or anything. I've found that these all have their moments of annoying design... for the First Years it's that the snaps on the fabric cover are really hard to get back in once the seat is installed. This sort of thing tends to vary from car to car, though.
posted by selfnoise at 11:06 AM on December 11, 2012

We used both a Britax and a Graco convertible carseat for my son. I prefer the Graco because it was a) cheaper and b) the straps aren't nearly as difficult to find. My husband is the opposite way. He hates the Graco and loves the Britax.

For the money, I'd go with the Graco.
posted by Leezie at 11:20 AM on December 11, 2012

We have a Graco MyRide 65, currently rear-facing in a Honda Fit. It's tight but doable for average-sized people: I'm 5'10" and my wife's 5'6" and driver's seat is closer than i'd prefer, but not unbearable. I have no complaints about the seat. Works just fine for us and installs easy using the latch system (you have latch in the CRV, yes?).
posted by that's candlepin at 11:31 AM on December 11, 2012

I just want to say that you're not a terrible parent if you want to switch to forward-facing once your baby has reached the age/weight threshold under the law.

My husband is quite tall, and it was uncomfortable for him to keep the seat pushed so far forward while we had our daughter rear-facing. Not to mention that she much prefers facing forward - she went from crying/whining throughout a car ride while rear-facing, to happily looking around and babbling to herself while forward-facing. At any rate, we switched once it was legal to do so and we don't regret it at all. 99% of our driving is in the city anyways, at very low speeds.

That being said, we have an Evenflo Symphony 65 and are very happy with it.
posted by barnoley at 11:37 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's Amazon's lowest price ever on the Roundabout 55

Personally I'd go for the 55 pounder rather than the 70. My son is now 40+ pounds and we moved up to the next size seat, which is a BIG BOY seat. The seats that are convertible weren't comfortable for my 4 year old.
posted by k8t at 11:47 AM on December 11, 2012

Rear facing as long as possible. Even if his legs are squished. Better a broken leg than a seriously injured neck.
posted by pearlybob at 11:59 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

We use the Radian XRT as well, and I recommend it.

Pluses: Very well constructed, good up to 80 lbs, and is FAA certified for use on aircraft.

Downside: Taller than some seats (potential problem for the front seat adjustment), and heavier than most at 24 lbs (but you can get a backpack to carry it through airports and such).

Overall recommendation: find something that best suits your circumstances. Any seat that is properly designed and certified, and is properly installed and used, should be good.
posted by 1367 at 12:16 PM on December 11, 2012

Nth'ing the recommendations for Britax. We've got a Marathon 70 for our now-2-year-old. Made it to 22 months rear-facing; after that, he was communicating to us just how uncomfortable his legs were (he's a pretty long kid), so we turned him around. That seat fits well in our Subaru Forester both rear- and front-facing. We placed it behind the driver's seat; I'm 6' and do most of the driving, and never had a problem with either my room nor squishing the seat.
posted by hanov3r at 12:25 PM on December 11, 2012

Thanks for your answers. The Britax Marathon seems to be getting many mentions. Can anyone tell me the diiference between the Marathon and the Pavillion in terms of why you chose one over the other? Or why the Marathon is so great?

Thanks for the info about rear-facing the baby, I'll definetly keep him that way for at least a few months before considering the issue again.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 12:44 PM on December 11, 2012

Haven't had a chance to read through everything, but let me say quickly that I have a Honda CR-V and we have a Britax Roundabout 55 rear-facing for our 1 year old. It does not take up too much room. It was easy to install. It was cheaper than the Marathon and has the same footprint. The Marathon has some extra features (a no re-thread harness being one), and the Marathon has a higher weight rating, which you may care about if you've got a bigger kid (I don't).
posted by devinemissk at 12:48 PM on December 11, 2012

Oh, and we have the Roundabout installed rear-facing in the center, via LATCH, which is allowed in our 2008 Honda CR-V. From what I can tell, though, it would do just fine behind one of the seats, too.
posted by devinemissk at 12:49 PM on December 11, 2012

I have my a Diono Radian RXT rear-facing in the middle seat of my Hyundai Elantra Touring wagon, and I love it. Diono sells something called an angle adjuster that is basically a square flat piece of foam that you can use under the seat to make it more upright, so that the seat takes up less space front-to-back. With this, combined with the middle seat installation, we have plenty of leg room in the front seats. The other thing I love about the Radian is that it is very narrow, so you can fit two adults plus the car seat in the back. It even leaves enough room on either side to install the base for an infant seat--this was important to us in case we have another kid any time soon.

I really want to encourage you to leave your baby rear-facing as long as you can stand it. The way I see it, riding in a car is one of the most dangerous things my baby does--anything I can do to minimize the risk of injury just makes sense.
posted by Jemstar at 1:10 PM on December 11, 2012

Mr. Bibbit has been tasked this week with finding our next car seat for Baby Bibbit, so I'm in the same boat with you. The Car Seat Lady has a lot of good information and suggestions, including a list of recommended car seats for the age/weight you're looking at. We're looking at the convertible seats, all of which have been recommended already on this posting.

We are planning on heading to Buy Buy Baby and trying out each of the seats in our current car to find out what actually fits before purchasing. My understanding is that most baby stores will allow you to do this, and it's probably your best option for finding your best fit, literally & figuratively.
posted by bibbit at 1:24 PM on December 11, 2012

We have two. The Graco My Ride 65 for my car and the Britax Marathon 70 for my wife's car. My wife and I both hate hate hate the Britax, so we put it in her car where it rarely gets used.
posted by sanka at 1:25 PM on December 11, 2012

sanka, why do you hate the Britax?
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:35 PM on December 11, 2012

It doesn't seem to fit well in either my car or my wife's car (front or rear facing, Subaru Legacy and Hyundai Elantra). The angle of the bucket seats in the rear of my car essentially mean the front seat has to be mashed all the way to the front. It seems like it "lays down" instead of sitting up. The Graco has a little fold out "leg platform" thing, so it fits in a seat much better. There is also a lot less leg room in a rear facing situation in the Britax than the Graco. She can still sit rear facing in the Graco at 17 months if she had to, there would be no chance at all in the Britax.

It also seems, paradoxically, to sit higher despite the laying down feel of it, so you really have to dip down and bend into the door to get the critter in there. The lack of cupholders for easy toy and drink access is also a bad one. We didn't think we'd mind, but our daughter sure does.

The only thing I don't like about the Graco is there is no strap storage, so you have to pull them out from under the kid every time. The Britax has little velco things, but in my experience they are 1 notch above useless. I'm going to get some velcro myself and just make my own strap holders.
posted by sanka at 1:51 PM on December 11, 2012

It doesn't seem to fit well in either my car or my wife's car (front or rear facing, Subaru Legacy and Hyundai Elantra). The angle of the bucket seats in the rear of my car essentially mean the front seat has to be mashed all the way to the front. It seems like it "lays down" instead of sitting up.

It may please you to learn that the Marathon 70 has a recline adjustment. It sounds like you have it fully reclined instead of sitting upright. See page 20 of the instruction manual.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:04 PM on December 11, 2012

We have an expensive one ($250+) and a cheap one (less than $100). They were both convertible: rear facing, front facing and booster. We bought the expensive one for baby #1 and then cheaped out on seat #2 and it was a mistake.

The pricier one has a back that can slide up and down which is great when the kid grows, but also when they start wearing snow pants each winter and then taking them off in the spring, or when you want to switch where the kids are sitting without switching the chairs. It also has way more padding and better side head support when the child falls asleep. It reclines a bit more as well - also great for sleeping.

When we bought the second one I was trying to save a few bucks since we had gone overboard on some stuff with baby number one. This was not the place to be tightfisted though. Babies are out of clothes really fast but I should have calculated that the kid would be in that seat for the next 7-8 years. I won't give you a specific brand recommendation but I will say that if you find yourself hesitating because of cost, just cough up the extra cash because you will be driving that seat everywhere for a long, long time.
posted by Cuke at 6:22 PM on December 11, 2012

@Fleebnork. The problem with rear bucket type seats is that it essentially has to be in the "laid back" position, because of the slope of the seat when rear facing. If not the car seat is almost verticle and your critter can't sit comfortably in it. Before getting my Graco seat I wrapped a towel around a 2x4 and stuck it under there to level things out a bit, but that was definitely less than ideal.
posted by sanka at 6:33 PM on December 11, 2012

I would like to highly recommend the Combi Coccoro. It is very compact, and in fact a selling point is that you can fit three side by side in a standard back seat. Length-wise it is also pretty comfy in our Prius.
We got ours when it was time to upgrade from the infant seat, and although it can be used both rear and forward facing, we haven't used it rear facing. Also, my daughter is pretty scrawny, so I can't say how comfortable it would be for a bigger kid. We like it because of its size, and the ease of moving it between vehicles. We just took it on a 10 day trip in CA, and used it on the plane and in and out of rental cars, with very minimal hassle.

To weigh in on the conversation about rear facing as long as possible, I look at it as a benefits vs. risks sort of thing. Yes, it is safer in a crash to have child rear facing, but if it is so uncomfortable for them to be scrunched up in the seat, I'm not sure it is worth it. I am a little concerned about the repercussions of a growing body being forced to sit in a way that is ergonomically suspicious. A car accident is potentially fatal no matter what kind of restraint you use; I don't feel like a negligent parent for following the minimum safety standards .
posted by purpletangerine at 6:46 PM on December 11, 2012

We have a Britax Marathon and really like it. It's a piece of cake to install with either the LATCH system or the standard buckle, and it has a high rear-facing and forward-facing weight limit so I don't have to worry about my kid growing out of it in a couple of months. We have a 2001 Chevy Cavalier and my husband is just shy of 6' and we haven't noticed any space issues with the driver's seat pushed all the way back.

Also, because you asked about rear-facing vs forward-facing, the current AAP guidelines are as follows:
AAP advises parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. (link)
In addition (from the same article),
A 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention showed that children under age 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding rear-facing.
We are "extended-rear-facing" parents, in that my kid is 3 months shy of three years old and is still rear-facing. The fact that their legs scrunch up (scroll down) should not be a factor in turning a child around; many children (my own included) do not seem to care in the slightest. Your kid may feel differently, but rear-facing is still safer.
In Sweden, it is standard practice to keep their children rear-facing up to the age of 5, or as much as 55 lbs. From 1992 through June 1997, only 9 children properly restrained rear-facing died in motor vehicle crashes in Sweden, and all of these involved catastrophic crashes with severe intrusion and few other survivors. (link)
I am not a safety nut in really any other aspect of parenting (I let my kid eat food he drops on the kitchen floor, we did minimal babyproofing, etc.) but I will keep him rear-facing as long as I can because the safety difference is so dramatic.
posted by meggan at 7:33 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks everyone! I got an email about a sale on Britax car seats from and so I chose the Pavillion. I wanted to go to a store and look at them first, but for around $60 off, I just went ahead and ordered it already.

I will be keeping my baby rear-facing as long as practically possible, thank you for all the helpful info on that.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 8:32 AM on December 12, 2012

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