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To find the best car seats on the market, the choice for Hearst Autos was relatively simple. Do we (1) enlist a bunch of gearheads and car nerds like ourselves to acquire, examine, and test every child car seat on the market, figuring it out as we go and hoping we get it right? Or do we (2) lean on the 120-plus years of product knowledge and testing expertise of our colleagues at Good Housekeeping? As you may have guessed, we packed up our egos and took a walk down 57th street to visit our friends at the Good Housekeeping Institute.
The Best Child Car Seats for 2023
When it comes to testing products—notably those intended for child safety—Good Housekeeping takes things seriously. The venerable home and lifestyle magazine has been awarding its highest honor to products and services for over a century. Today the Good Housekeeping Institute employs dozens of engineers, scientists, testers, and editors whose job is to evaluate products and inform consumers. Their lab takes up an entire floor of the Hearst Tower in Manhattan. For us, that's right up the block.
We reached out to Rachel Rothman, chief technologist and executive technical director of Good Housekeeping, who oversees product testing at the Institute. The GH Institute still puts thousands of products to the test every year to determine the best of the best. The Good Housekeeping testing lab evaluates everything from home goods and appliances to garden tools and outdoor furniture to automobile gadgets and, you guessed it, child car seats. Rothman oversees the testing and evaluation of it all.
The testing lab had just finished putting a ton of new child car seats through its proverbial wringer, and Rothman was more than happy to share her team's findings with Hearst Autos. So what's the best car seat for your child? Review the testing results below.
The Best Child Car Seats of 2023
For its May 2022 issue, Good Housekeeping tested dozens of new child car seats, and selected winners in key categories: Best for Infants, Best Convertible, Best Booster, Best All-In-One, and Best Combination. When it comes to consumer products and testing procedures, the folks at the Good Housekeeping Institute are the best in the business.
"At the Good Housekeeping Institute, engineers and analysts assess car seats for how easy it is to properly install a car seat in a variety of vehicles, as well as how simple it is to secure a child," Rothman said. "We look at the ease of releasing and carrying the seat and more. We ultimately want to make sure the car seats work for the individual family."
Here are the top-rated child car seats in 2023, according to Good Housekeeping.
Best Car Seat for Infants
Good Housekeeping's testing lab picked the Chicco KeyFit 30 as the Best Infant Car Seat, saying, "This infant car seat stood out to our lab experts for its ease of installation, which is crucial to ensuring your child's safety. The carrier also clicks from the car-seat base directly into a range of compatible strollers, making the entire transportation process a breeze. Plus, it's approved for infants as little as four pounds with removable support for head and body."
The rear-facing KeyFit 30 is designed for infants from four to 30 pounds and up to 30 inches tall. It comes in four distinct styles and a variety of colors. It's available directly from Chicco and at major retailers like Walmart and Target.
Dimensions: 27.5 by 16.8 by 24.0 inches
Weight: 16.6 pounds (with base)
Harness Type: 5-point
Best Convertible Car Seat
The Britax Boulevard ClickTight Anti-Rebound Bar was Good Housekeeping's pick for the best convertible car seat. The team's findings about the Britax: "The higher height and weight limits allowed kids to stay rear-facing longer, which the American Pediatric Association advises for increased safety." Convertible car seats can accommodate young children well into toddlerhood. They're more expensive, but most parents believe they're worth it. Because the seats "grow" with your child, you won't have to size up just because your child did.
The Boulevard ClickTight Anti-Rebound Bar car seat is available direct from Britax and at Bed Bath & Beyond.
Dimensions: 18.5 by 23.5 by 23.0 inches
Weight: 29.4 pounds
Harness Type: 14-position adjustable
Best Car Booster Seat
For the best booster, the Institute found that the high-backed Diono Monterey XT "achieves a more custom fit than other options. You can also remove the back completely for kids who don’t require the added support. The expanded weight and height means it can safely accommodate children up to 120 pounds and 63 inches tall, with a wide comfortable seat and two retractable cupholders." While the wider seat can be a blessing, it means less space for others in the back seat.
The Monterey XT comes in four shades and is available at Nordstrom, Target, and Buy Buy Baby.
Dimensions: 26.0 by 16.0 by 20.0 inches
Weight: 13.9 pounds
Harness Type: Seatbelt
Best All-In-One Car Seat
While a convertible car seat will last a few years, an all-in-one might be the only child car seat you'll ever need. The GH Institute found that this Graco 4Ever DLX car seat "transitions from a rear-facing car seat to forward-facing car seat to high-back booster to backless booster, allowing your child to fully utilize the 10-year life span of the product. Our experts love that it installs easily with LATCH and is highly adjustable with a 10-position headrest, six-position recline, and a no-rethread harness. It also comes with two cupholders and machine-washable seat pads."
Dimensions: 20.0 by 21.5 by 24.0 inches
Weight: 22.8 pounds
Harness Type: 5-point
Best Combination Car Seat
The Doona Car Seat & Stroller has a clever design. It transitions from rear-facing car seat to complete stroller in seconds. GH said of the Doona: "This car-seat-and-stroller combo is a single piece. It expands and retracts quickly and can easily be fitted into the car-seat latch base without disturbing your little one. Our reviewers were impressed with its all-in-one design and safety features."
The Car Seat & Stroller can be purchased directly from Doona, or you can find it at Target and Dillards. It's also available at stores like Buy Buy Baby.
Dimensions: 23.6 by 26.0 by 17.3 inches
Weight: 16.5 pounds
Harness Type: 5-point
How Good Housekeeping Tested Child Car Seats
How do you choose the best child car seat? For the experts at Good Housekeeping, it meant evaluating car seats based on ease of use, available safety features, the functionality of each, ease of installation and removal, and harness adjustment. The engineers tested these car seats in cars and SUVs of various sizes and configurations over a period of several weeks, diligently following their instruction manuals for installation and use.
Rothman made clear that Good Housekeeping's testing standards and practices are scientific and analytic, always with the customer at top of mind. "For us, after ensuring it meets industry safety standards and performing our own supplemental in-lab checks, we want to make sure that they not only perform their primary function but are easy to use," she said.
Good Housekeeping's Little Lab and Engineering departments evaluated the safety, ease of use, and company customer service of car seats. Ease-of-use tests include the ease of securing the child in the car seat, ease of seat installation, ease of adjusting car seat angle, ease of removing seat from base (infant seats only), ease of adjusting harness height, ease of adjusting harness tension, ease of removing car-seat cover, care instructions, instruction manual, and customer service or warranty.
What to Look for in a Child Car Seat
With so many brands and models on the market, consumers can have a hard time deciding which one to purchase. So what are the top considerations if you're shopping for a car seat? Here are some tips from the Good Housekeeping testers, engineers, and editors based on their testing process and findings:
Getting a secure fit of the car seat was the most difficult aspect of the test; many seats required lots of strength to be secured according to the instruction manuals and achieve the recommended movement of less than one inch when secured.
Make sure that the car seat isn't up against the front seat when installed; you won't be able to take it out otherwise.
There are traditionally three different types of adjustment for shoulder straps: (1) basic changing slots, 2) headrest and shoulder-strap adjust, and (3) independent variable shoulder and headrest adjustment.
Covers vary from being straightforward to being a nightmare to take off and clean; infant seat covers are generally easiest. Some can be machine washed in a gentle cycle with mild detergent; others are hand wash only. Extra care is required when cleaning the buckle, harness system, and plastic frame. Mild soap and water must be used to avoid degradation of materials.
Are Child Car Seats Really Necessary?
Old-timers—especially us car enthusiasts—love to lament the passing of "the good old days." While some of us may have survived childhood without ever wearing a seatbelt, contemporary data is clear: Child car seats save kids' lives.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the CDC, securely buckling your child into a car seat reduces the risk of injury in a crash by 71 to 82 percent. However, those same organizations told Good Housekeeping that 46 percent—nearly half—of all car seats used in the U.S. are either not installed properly or being used incorrectly.
Is that surprising? Not to us. Gearheads and garage rats are notorious for tearing open the box and putting a product into service without bothering to read the instruction manual, and that's acceptable when you're talking about a hand tool, an accessory, or a device that can't affect a vehicle's operation or put anyone in danger. A child car seat isn't that.
You keep your kids safe by putting your power tools out of reach or locking up your handgun. You should also keep your kids safe in the back seat by installing car seats correctly and using the harness the right way. Even if you've used car seats in the past, when you get a new one, learning to install and use it correctly by reading the manual is important. Car-seat technology, materials, and requirements are constantly changing.
What does that mean for 2023 and beyond? "More companies are thoughtfully considering sustainability these days—in terms of the materials used, packaging, end of life, and more," Rothman says.
That's why Good Housekeeping went through the rigorous process of comparing dozens of car seats category-wide again, even though its previous test was just a few years ago. Child car seats are distinct enough from one another to require slightly different installation and application. Plus, not only are there plenty of new car seats on the market, but established brands have updated and improved their most popular product lines since 2018. It was time for a refresh for this essential piece of lifesaving safety equipment.
"New safety features are being incorporated, from more anti-rebound bars to built-in sensors to help monitor your child's safety," Rothman notes. "We're starting to see more 360-degree rotatable baby car seats to make loading and unloading your child easier as well."
Tips for Shopping for a Car Seat
Always check the store's return policy on car seats because some seats will fit better in certain cars than others and every car seat will fit every vehicle differently. So make sure you can return it if it doesn't fit.
Get a seat that suits both the weight and height of your child, and one they won't outgrow in a matter of weeks. Car-seats specs should be noted on the packaging.
Know the height and weight limits of your model, and keep track of your child's weight and height. As soon as your kid hits the maximum of either, it's time to move on to a bigger car seat.
Look for car seats that are compatible with LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), an easy-to-use system of straps that connect to hooks in the crook of the back seats of most modern cars.
Measure the available space in your back seat before deciding which car seat to buy. If you’re purchasing a convertible seat, check all the dimensions, as you’ll want it to fit in your car for years.
Be sure to register your product with the manufacturer after purchase, so you can be notified of recalls. You can also sign up for notifications directly with the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Why Trust Us
With a combined 206 years of automotive publishing experience, Hearst Autos—Car and Driver, Road & Track, and Autoweek—knows cars better than just about anyone, and the Gear Team delivers honest evaluations, hands-on tests, and product reviews driven by decades of knowledge and experience. We get our hands on almost every product, tool, and piece of gear we feature; we evaluate gear on its own merits, and tell you the truth.
If we can’t get our hands on the gear, we rely on the combined wisdom of our writers and editors, as well as auto experts we trust. We’ll never say anything is “the best” if we wouldn’t recommend it to our friends or buy it ourselves, and we won’t tell you we’ve tested something if we haven’t. Learn more about our product testing here.
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