When parents need to buy a car seat, it’s often a struggle to find the right fit and feel good about the purchase. After all, a car seat is instrumental in keeping a child safe while in the vehicle.
But when parents consider that most people are installing their kids’ car seats incorrectly, that means a seat may not be safe at all, even if it has some of the best ratings on the market.
There’s also a lot of confusion over how to best install a car seat for a child’s age, height, and size. Some car seats are convertible while others are designated for specific developmental or size stages, and then kids outgrow them.
In general, the NHTSA recommends keeping children rear-facing for at least two years if not longer. This means parents will need either an infant seat and then a convertible car seat, or a convertible seat which fits infants through toddlers.
That’s not the end of car seats though: kids should stay in a five-point harness seat until they grow out of the seat. Then, they should stay in a booster seat until they meet all the minimums to sit in a vehicle seat alone.
Of course, there are other reasons car seats just aren’t great for every parent, and there’s a lot to know—so let’s start with the car seat models with the lowest ratings.
25 Infant: Phil & Teds Alpha
Reviewers say it’s super comfortable for babies and has some awesome features, but the Phil & Ted’s Alpha infant seat just isn’t the most accessible option for new parents. Not only that, but the seat costs right around $200, making it a hefty investment that parents will probably just struggle to get into their cars later.
It also didn’t do so great on Baby Gear Lab’s independent crash tests, scoring a four out of ten overall. The canopy is also not the greatest, if parents care about that aspect.
24 Infant: Cybex Aton 2
It might look fancy, but the Cybex Aton 2 is also a bit complicated. One of the safety features might help keep babies better protected in the event of a crash, but the “load leg” also kind of gets in the way. The load leg—a literal “leg” that sticks out from the back of the seat—also can’t be used in vehicles with Stow and Go floors, and you can’t lock it into place.
Kind of an odd feature that overall makes the seat tough to manage. Also, installing with a seatbelt is difficult, and the seat is heavier than many other infant-only models.
23 Infant: OnBoard 35 Air
A budget-friendly pick that many parents choose for that reason—after all, your kiddo will only use this infant seat for about a year—the OnBoard 35 Air seems like a good general pick. But it is super heavy, is tough to install with LATCH, and isn’t compatible with many strollers. So if portability is a big perk for parents, this might not be the best seat for that use.
Overall, Baby Gear Lab rates its ease of use at a six out of ten, whereas there are a ton of seats that rank seven or higher.
22 Infant: Doona
This one-word infant car seat is not just a car seat—it’s also a convertible stroller! At first glance, this seems like a great addition to the standard infant seat lineup. You don’t need a stroller or a carrier—you just click a button and the wheels pop out. The problem is, converting it to a stroller can be a challenge, and installation isn’t that intuitive either. Car Seats for the Littles notes that installing without the base is almost easier, something most parents don’t want to hear!
Another reason to leave this seat? Those soiled stroller wheels getting all over your upholstery!
21 Infant: Baby Jogger City GO
If you’ve never heard of Baby Jogger, don’t feel bad—they’re relatively new to the car seat market. And apparently, they’ve got a lot to learn, if Baby Gear Lab’s review is anything to go by. The seat didn’t perform well overall, starting with the features offered for the staggering price point (over $200!). But it also didn’t perform great in the reviewer’s crash tests—earning a six out of ten.
Overall, it’s below average for such a high price point—leading Baby Gear Lab to suggest parents pick something else.
20 Infant: Britax B-Safe 35
Britax is basically a powerhouse when it comes to providing parents with car seats that are both safe and easy to use. And I say that as a proud owner of one of them—the ClickTight seats are the best! But the B-Safe 35 didn’t earn great marks from Baby Gear Lab. While the LATCH was easy to use, the reviewers noted that the seat was heavy and difficult to use otherwise.
It was tough to install without the base, and its bulk made it hard to maneuver—even though the base is pretty narrow.
19 Infant: Graco SnugRide Click Connect 35
It’s important to note that Graco is a leader when it comes to the car seat industry—they’re always making changes and improvements. Which is why the SnugRide Click Connect 35 is one of half a dozen similar models of infant car seats. This one gave a lackluster performance for Baby Gear Lab, though, and they weren’t impressed with its LATCH or seatbelt installation.
As far as ease of use, the seat didn’t fare well—Baby Gear Lab suggests the next model up (the Click Connect 40) if you really want a well-performing Graco infant seat.
18 Convertible: Evenflo Tribute
The Evenflo Tribute has been around since 2015, but even with updates over the years, it’s still not a parent favorite.
Baby Gear Lab notes that it’s hard to install, and the NHTSA echoes that sentiment. The seat works in both rear- and forward-facing modes to fit kids up to 40 pounds. And that’s another issue: this seat is great for rear facing until your kiddo outgrows it, but they may also outgrow the forward-facing mode at the same time. Then you’ll have to buy another seat (or two) to fill the gap!
17 Convertible: Graco MyRide 65 LX
Not only did Baby Gear Lab find the MyRide 65 LX hard to install, but they also didn’t think it was very easy to use. Changing the height of the harness—you have to rethread it through the seat—was a challenge, and they also called the seat “boring” overall. Okay, so maybe entertainment value is low, but other factors affecting its score were a tough install with LATCH and a lower-than-average crash test rating based on Baby Gear Lab’s own testing.
And let’s be honest—those high sides aren’t doing our arms any favors, either.
16 Convertible: Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65
This convertible seat fits kids from rear-facing infants to kids up to 100 pounds in a booster. But according to Baby Gear Lab, the Alpha Elite 65 is really tough to install with LATCH—which is crazy since LATCH is supposed to be a lot easier and more convenient than using a seatbelt. The NHTSA also notes it’s really tough to install in rear-facing mode, and it’s difficult to secure the kiddo in booster mode.
Seems like this seat is an overall headache for parents—especially given that Car Seats for the Littles says it’s not a good fit for babies or booster kids—only those rear facing or harnessed.
15 Convertible: Safety 1st Guide 65
This seat goes by a lot of names—Safety 1st Guide 65, Safety 1st SportFit 65, Cosco MightyFit, and Eddie Bauer XRS 65—but it’s made by a single company (Dorel Co). And although it seems like a versatile seat that is much-loved, there are a few key complaints about this convertible seat. First of all, the seat says it fits infants five pounds and up, but the harness height doesn’t fit newborns well—the straps should be at or below the kiddo’s shoulders for rear facing, and this seat doesn’t work for that. Installation can be tough, and the seat often winds up lopsided because it’s so lightweight.
Head slump is an often-cited issue for parents, too.
14 Convertible: Cosco Scenera Next
The Cosco Scenera Next is so common, you can find one at every Wal-Mart, Target, and every other department store. And it’s a decent seat—it meets the same crash test ratings as all other seats on the market—and the price is right (about $50 or less)! There are also a lot of adorable prints to choose from. But the NHTSA notes the Scenera Next lacks clear labeling and it’s hard to install in both rear- and forward-facing positions.
It’s also difficult to buckle your kiddo and adjust their straps as necessary—no user-friendly features here.
13 Convertible: Evenflo Sonus
It’s affordable (under $80), but that doesn’t mean the Evenflo Sonus is worth the money. According to the NHTSA, this seat is difficult to use in both rear- and forward-facing installations, the labels aren’t helpful with installing, getting your kiddo buckled isn’t easy, and the installation features are lacking, especially for rear-facing. Parents on Amazon also said getting the seat installed right is practically impossible, and the materials felt cheap and scratchy, too.
Kids were also wary of it, too, because of the buckles’ tendency to pinch!
12 Convertible: Graco Extend2Fit
This seat took the car seat market by storm, and for good reason! It helps keep kids rear facing longer with a 50-pound limit and the harness height adjustment rethreads without having to take the seat apart. It’s also pretty affordable (about $200) when you consider it might just be the only seat you’ll have to buy! The problems? It’s huge—it measures almost 19 inches wide and is super heavy, making it tough to move around. Getting it installed can also be a challenge, and Baby Gear Lab says the materials aren’t that great quality.
Safety, yes. Comfort and accessibility? Not really.
11 Convertible: Diono: The Struggle Is Real
I have two Diono seats and I love them, full disclosure. You may never need another seat since these go from infant to booster—you can rear-face kids to 50 pounds with many models, and then harness to 90 pounds—and they last nine years, 12 if the last three years are as a booster. They also fit in narrow vehicles well—great for side-by-side installs. But the NHTSA highlights that these seats are a bear to install.
They rate between one and two stars for ease of use in all configurations, even though the features they offer are higher-rated.
10 Forward-Facing & Booster: Graco Nautilus
I’ll be honest here: I’m not surprised that the Graco Nautilus earned low marks on being easy to use in booster mode per the NHTSA. I’m also not surprised that Baby Gear Lab called it “wider and heavier” than average.
It’s an affordable seat that converts from a forward-facing harnessed seat to a high-back and backless booster, but the crash test results weren’t great with Baby Gear Lab’s independent tests. And, from my experience, it’s tough getting a bigger kid to fit well—these seats are oddly narrow in the shoulders.
9 Forward-Facing & Booster: KidsEmbrace Character Seats
Although KidsEmbrace harness-to-booster seats come in all kinds of cool characters—everything from Paw Patrol to Spiderman to Mickey and Wonder Woman—they’re a bit of a bummer overall. First, kids must be at least two years old to ride in them, and the seats only fit a specific weight and height range, so there are no guarantees this will be the last seat you have to buy either. Installation is made difficult by the narrow belt path and moving the straps around to use the seat in booster mode isn’t fun either.
Essentially, there are many more affordable and easier to install (and use) seats out there.
8 Forward-Facing & Booster: Baby Trend Hybrid Booster 3-In-1
Although a 3-in-1 sounds great in theory, this Baby Trend seat starts as a forward-facing harness seat (only appropriate for ages two and up) and converts to a high-back and backless booster. So it could last your kiddo until they’re out of a car seat altogether, but then again, the fit might not be quite right, and you’ll be on your third car seat in no time.
And, lots of parents on Amazon complained about installing the seat in harness mode, getting the straps to tighten and fit properly, and adjusting the harness as their children grew.
7 Booster: Dream On Me Deluxe Turbo Booster
Honestly, there’s nothing “deluxe” about this booster seat. Sure, it’s affordable—about $30—but that’s about all that’s appealing. The padding is practically non-existent, and the fabric is thin—two things that bigger booster-age kids are likely to complain about. It’s also a smaller seat—not ideal if you’re trying to keep a bigger or heavier kiddo in a booster. Some people highlighted that even their five-year-old child barely fit in the seat, which isn’t ideal since kids that age should mostly be in a harness still.
If it won’t fit an average five-year-old, though, it won’t fit an older child who still needs a booster, either.
6 Booster: Evenflo Big Kid Amp & Sport
Evenflo’s two high-back booster modes—the Amp and Sport—both receive “Check fit” ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The NHTSA also says securing a kiddo in the seat is not intuitive for either of these, but still, the seat gets plenty of positive reviews from parents.
Odds are, at least some of those parents aren’t using the seat correctly, which is unfortunate on its own. But since using it right is tough, it makes the list of worst seats on the market.
5 Booster: Clek Olli, Oobr, & Ozzi
Clek has a high-back booster option (the Oobr), but its backless version of the Oobr and the other two backless booster options are rated “Check fit” by the IIHS, which means these seats aren’t a best bet for most kids. IIHS used to give consumers a list of “best” and “good” bets, plus a list of “Not recommended” options—but now they just instruct parents to check their kids’ seat fit. Fit can also vary by the vehicle you’re in, but the fact remains that Clek’s boosters aren’t suitable across a range of situations, so you’re rolling the dice as far as whether they’ll work for your child in your vehicle.
4 Booster: Cosco Backless
Cosco’s backless boosters—including the Pronto, Stack-It, and Top Side, all receive a “Check fit” rating from the IIHS. This means they’re either not a great fit across different sizes and ages of kiddos or that they’re tough to use depending on the vehicle you’re in. Neither is an ideal scenario, since you need your kiddo’s car seat to work properly every time you use it.
And while backless boosters might be relatively cheap, it’s not worth buying one of these unless you’re sure they’ll fit your child and car.
3 Booster: Harmony Folding Travel Booster
A folding booster seat sounds like a great concept, right? After all, your kiddo may not need it all the time, just in some cars and some configurations. But according to the IIHHS, this booster is another one that depends on your kid’s proportions and the way the seat fits in your car.
Remember, the safest seat is one that’s used correctly every time—and if this one isn’t, it’s not much better than not using a booster at all.
2 Booster: Kiddy Cruiser 3
If you’ve never heard of this brand of car seat, it’s not surprising—I’d never heard of it before seeing it on IIHS’s list of “Check fit” car seats. It looks amazing—bright color options, plenty of padding—but this is another booster that depends on the fit of your kiddo and the type of vehicle you drive.
So as tempting as it is, you’ll want to check the specs and maybe try one out in-store if possible before shelling out a couple hundred bucks for one.
1 Booster: Peg Perego Viaggio Flex 120 & Viaggio Shuttle Plus
Peg Perego has a range of great seats that are comfortable, high-end, and easy to install. But the Viaggio Flex 120 (a high-back booster) and the Viaggio Shuttle Plus (comes in high-back and backless, the backless one got a “Best bet” rating) got “Check fit” ratings from IIHS.
Although they cost a pretty penny, that doesn’t mean these suits will suit your kids or your car, so it’s best to measure ahead if possible. Otherwise, you risk buying a seat that isn’t great for your situation.
Sources: NHTSA, Baby Gear Lab, Car Seats for the Littles, IIHS