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In-depth reviews guided by a Pediatrician

Best Infant Car Seats of 2019

We contracted with the same national testing facility used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for crash tests  and also obtained NHTSA's crash test data for analysis. Above you see the Phil and Teds Alpha seat on the test sled with a 12 month old crash test dummy strapped in.
Friday December 6, 2019
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Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

Buying the best infant car seat is an important decision for most parents. We evaluated 45 seats before crash testing more than 13 of best infant car seats and subjecting them to extensive hands-on testing. We evaluated each product for crash test safety, ease-of-installation, carrying weight, and more. We've done the groundwork so you have all the details necessary to choose the best option for your baby and wallet. This review includes a performance comparison of each seat by metric which can help you find the right seat for transporting your new baby with safety, style, and ease.

Related: Buying Advice for Infant Car Seats


Top 13 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 13
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award  Editors' Choice Award  
Price $300.00 List
$244.99 at Amazon - 18% off
$320.00 List
$209.99 at Amazon - 34% off
$350.00 List
$349.99 at Amazon
$280.00 List
Check Price at Amazon
$350.00 List
$349.99 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Better crash test results, anti-rebound bar, easy installBest crash results, easy LATCH, additional safety features, comfyLoad leg, easy belt install with and without baseSuper easy LATCH install, easy to use, nice comfort and qualityEasy install, nice harness adjustment, naturally flame resistant fabric
Cons Heavier, harder to install LATCH system, few strollers are compatibleHigher price, hard to usePrice, heavy carrierHeavy, only compatible with limited strollersHigher price, heavy carrier
Bottom Line A great all-around seat with good crash test results, but limited stroller optionsCompelling, quality seat with additional safety features and the best crash test scoreImpressive performance but somewhat heavy and more money than mostEasy to install and use seat made with quality materials, but has limited stroller optionsStylish and impressive option that is easy, but pricey
Rating Categories Peg Perego Primo... Cybex Aton 2 Peg Perego Nido Chicco Fit2 UPPAbaby Mesa
Crash Test (20%)
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Ease Of Install LATCH (20%)
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Ease Of Install Belt (10%)
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Ease Of Install W O Base (5%)
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Ease Of Use (15%)
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Comfort Quality (15%)
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Weight Size (15%)
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Specs Peg Perego Primo... Cybex Aton 2 Peg Perego Nido Chicco Fit2 UPPAbaby Mesa
Minimum Passenger Weight 4 lbs 4 lbs 4 lbs 4 lbs 4 lbs
Max Passenger Weight 35 lbs 35 lbs 35 lbs 35 lbs 35 lbs
Max Passenger Height 32" 30" 32" 35" 32"
Belt Routing Style European European European American American
Seat Weight 9.6 lbs 9.3 lbs 10.2 lbs 12.1 lbs 10.4 lbs
Recline Positions Infinite 4 Infinite 5 4
Shoulder Harness Positions 6 3 6 7 5
Crotch Strap Positions 1 1 2 2 2
Built in Lock Off Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Anti-rebound Device Yes High Back Base Yes Yes High Back Base
Load Leg No Yes Yes No No
Locking Handle Positions 5 3 5 4 3
Allowed Handle Positions For Auto Travel 1 for Base Install (even with the top of the seat),
1 for Seat Only Install (all the way forward)
Carry Position 1 for Base Install (even with the top of the seat),
1 for Seat Only Install (all the way forward)
Stage 1: Any
Stage 2: Base Storage Position (behind the seat)
Any
Head Support Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Newborn Insert Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
No Rethread Harness Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Onboard Manual Storage Stores in a hard flip down pocket on the back of the seat. Stashes in a pocket under the bottom of the seat. Stores in a hard flip down pocket on the back of the seat. Slot in head of base Under the base.
Level Indicator On Base Bubble Vial Ball In Tube Bubble Vial Bubble Indicator Weighted Wheel/Dial
Level Indicator On Seat Line On Decal Line On Decal Line On Decal Level Line On Seat Label Line On Decal

Best Overall Infant Car Seat


Cybex Aton 2


Cybex Aton 2
Editors' Choice Award
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$209.99
(34% off)
at Amazon
See It

73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Crash Test 9
  • Ease of Install - LATCH 9
  • Ease of Install - Belt 7
  • Ease of Install - w/o Base 5
  • Ease of Use 5
  • Comfort / Quality 7
  • Weight / Size 6
Passenger Weight: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight: 9.3 lbs
Best crash test results
Easy LATCH install
Comfy & high quality
Higher price
Harder to use

The Cybex Aton 2 is a high-quality seat with the best crash test results in our selection, making it an Editors' Choice winner and one we highly recommend. This seat combines a top crash-test score with a sleek design, and safety features such as a load leg and the side impact crumple zone attachment. With an easy to install LATCH system (that can translate to potentially 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 straightforward. It also has a higher than average list price, so families on a strict budget may need to plan ahead for this one. 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. If your budget allows, and safety crash test results and easy installation are what you prize, then the Aton 2 (with the load leg) is a contender for you.

Read review: Cybex Aton 2

Easy to Use and Lasts Longer


Chicco Fit2


Editors' Choice Award
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$280.00
See It

71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Crash Test 7
  • Ease of Install - LATCH 10
  • Ease of Install - Belt 7
  • Ease of Install - w/o Base 8
  • Ease of Use 7
  • Comfort / Quality 8
  • Weight / Size 2
Passenger Weight: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight: 12.1 lbs
Easiest LATCH install
Easy to use
Can use for longer
Heavy
Limited stroller compatibility

The Chicco Fit2 is a high-quality Chicco seat with a perfect score for LATCH installation, making it a smart choice for parents who stress about installing their car seat correctly (which studies indicate correlates to safety during an accident). This innovative car seat also has the potential to work for several months longer than the average seat, something unique in this review. This stylish seat has easy to use features and additional padding for comfort, making it a car seat that parents and baby will enjoy for the long haul.

While we love this product, it may not be the first choice for parents for those who live in the city. Thanks to a higher than average carrier weight, we suspect some folks will hate carrying the Fit2 for very long. 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 with space for a stroller. While it also costs slightly more than average, this may be less of a concern as you can theoretically 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 Options


Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35


Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
Editors' Choice Award
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$244.99
(18% off)
at Amazon
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Crash Test 8
  • Ease of Install - LATCH 7
  • Ease of Install - Belt 9
  • Ease of Install - w/o Base 10
  • Ease of Use 7
  • Comfort / Quality 8
  • Weight / Size 6
Passenger Weight: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight: 9.6 lbs
Better crash test results
Easy install without base
Comfortable
Higher price
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


Chicco KeyFit 30
Best Value Award
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$200.00
See It

68
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Crash Test 8
  • Ease of Install - LATCH 9
  • Ease of Install - Belt 6
  • Ease of Install - w/o Base 4
  • Ease of Use 7
  • Comfort / Quality 5
  • Weight / Size 5
Passenger Weight: 4-30 lbs | Carrier Weight: 10.1 lbs
Easy to install
Better crash test results
Reasonable price
Heavier
Rougher fabric

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 style and compatibility with many of our favorite strollers, and you have a seat 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 for the Smallest Budget


Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35


Best Value Award
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$169.99
(6% off)
at Amazon
See It

66
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Crash Test 7
  • Ease of Install - LATCH 7
  • Ease of Install - Belt 9
  • Ease of Install - w/o Base 7
  • Ease of Use 5
  • Comfort / Quality 5
  • Weight / Size 7
Passenger Weight: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight: 8.5 lbs
Inexpensive
Easy to install
Better crash test results
Lower quality
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 rivaled by few 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 annoying. This seat is a smart choice if you have a small budget, or you 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

Top Pick for Urban Life and Taxis


Doona


Top Pick Award
  • 1
  • 2
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  • 4
  • 5

$499.00
at Amazon
See It

60
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Crash Test 3
  • Ease of Install - LATCH 7
  • Ease of Install - Belt 6
  • Ease of Install - w/o Base 8
  • Ease of Use 8
  • Comfort / Quality 7
  • Weight / Size 5
Passenger Weight: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight: 16.8 lbs
It's a stroller!
Fills a public transportation niche
Easy to use
Heavy
Price
Lower than average crash tests

The Doona is a unique, innovative seat that doubles as a stroller for a cool all-in-one product. This capability makes the Doona a standout option for parents who live in the city and 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 making your baby safer than forgoing a seat (which is legal on public transportation in some big cities).

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 mess with a separate stroller. Its lower crash analysis score may make it a less desirable choice for parents who don't need an all-in-one solution. Still, 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 car 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 skipping a seat.

Read review: Doona


The American belt path can also be chosen for the Nido by only utilizing the lap portion of the belt across the lower half of the carrier.
The American belt path can also be chosen for the Nido by only utilizing the lap portion of the belt across the lower half of the carrier.

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 information on how the seats compare to one another and how they fare in crash testing compared to the federal guidelines and one another. Our expert panel 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. As a result, our testing includes crash testing each car seat, as well as hands-on evaluation of ease-of-installation, and everyday use, to create a comprehensive 360-degree assessment of the factors that impact safety and practical day-to-day use. 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. Our Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz, mother of two, has been leading the 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 competitors.

Our testing starts with crash testing each car seat and continues with more than 200 hours of in-house testing. We put each seat through the wringer, taking them in and out of three vehicles, installing them with LATCH and seat belts, carrying them, and assessing every detail. While others rely on second-hand review research and make recommendations based on popularity or manufacturer offered free products, BabyGearLab performs an extensive side-by-side comparison to provide details to guide your decision. To ensure complete independence, we purchase two of each car seat in our review, one for crash testing, and another for extensive hands-on analysis. Our review process provides you with the most current information on infant car seats (without outside pressure) to help you make the best decision.

Related: How We Tested Infant Car Seats

The flip out foot on the Nuna base can help you find the best angle for installation without the use of a towel or pool noodle.
The clip style of LATCH anchors is easy to attach but harder to remove than the push button style of anchor.
The level on the Aton 2 is a ball in groove design that typically functions well and is easy to read.

Analysis and Test Results


We conducted a side-by-side analysis and testing for several months on each product in this review.

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 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. We conduct comprehensive testing to 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 of the federal government, they are not all easy to use or have impressive crash-test results.




Value


Finding the right infant car seat with a wallet-friendly price is easier than you think, with multiple contenders sporting a price significantly lower than average. The Chicco Keyfit 30 is an easy to use infant car seat that performed well overall. The Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 also performed well with a list price far below the average, giving you a few options to consider. While other award winners cost more, their features and performance offer a good value depending on what is important to you.

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.
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 Impact Tests and Ratings


A key part of our testing is the analysis of the crash test results we commissioned. We also established a relationship with NHTSA to utilize their crash test data for analysis.

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 an analysis of the crash test sensor data. For example, if a seat measures significantly lower impact forces (better) in the head sensors of the crash test dummy, resulting in a lower Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score, we believe the seat offers a higher margin of protection than competitors with higher (more forces) HIC scores.

We analyzed the crash sled tests data of each car seat to determine how they performed compared to the competition and the federal safety standard. We include graphs comparing the actual crash test data 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)

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).
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.

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).
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.

Analysis of child auto crash injuries shows that head and chest injuries present the two highest risks for serious or fatal injury.

The Peg Perego offers a solid anti-rebound bar on its base
The Peg Perego offers a solid anti-rebound bar on its base

Additional Crash Safety Features


Some seats have features that potentially improve safety. For the most part, we didn't consider these features or claims in our analysis because there is no real-world or test data available to confirm, dispute, or analyze the claims. While you might be curious about a seat that boasts side impact protection (SIP) or an anti-rebound bar, we caution not to make a decision based solely on claims because information about their efficacy is significantly lacking. Also, there aren't agreed-upon definitions or test procedures in the industry to test these claims and features. We think you 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 the leg (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, indicating a more significant margin of safety not using the leg with the Nido. So, while there may be some validity to features like the load leg, we don't think parents should be swayed by every safety claim manufacturers toss around. We can't account for the difference in efficacy from seat to seat and leg to leg.

Ease of Installation is Related to Safety

Crash tests and results are important, but most parents don't know 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 car seat misuse is a more significant safety issue than the differences between crash test performance. A NHTSA study showed that 84% of infant seats exhibited critical misuse, either in the installation of the seat or restraint of the infant. A study of 267 families by Portland's top Children's Hospital shows that "95% of parents made at least one error in either the positioning of the infant or installation of the car safety seat." These kinds of mistakes could place their infant at an increased risk of injury in a crash.

Given the extreme importance of proper installation to keep your baby safe, we strongly urge you to seek help for installation. It is vitally important that your car seat is installed and used properly every time without exception. To ensure your seat is installed correctly, seek advice from a professional car seat inspection technician. Also, consider consulting an expert when you move the seat to a different vehicle or position.

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 on a 1-10 scale to identify the products that, in our opinion, offer an extra margin of protection, over and beyond the required protection found in all of 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 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 clip score in this review and the second-lowest HIC score. Given its performance in other test metrics, we think the Cybex Aton 2 is an excellent choice for parents who value crash test sensor data and analysis as its results indicate that it offers an extra margin of protection over other seats. Also notable for offering additional protection are the Chicco KeyFit 30 with the lowest HIC score, and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35.

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.
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 car seats are installed incorrectly or have the baby improperly 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 the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system. The good news here is that your infant seat and car are likely LATCH-compatible 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 seats on the left or right side. Most choose the passenger side so that the driver can easily see the child. The middle position 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.
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 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 connector type. 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 Aton 2 has the easier to use LATCH anchors with the red release button
The clip style of LATCH anchors on this Graco are harder to disconnect than the other type of anchor

The Cybex Aton 2 uses a push-button connector that clicks onto the LATCH anchor point (above left). The Chicco Fit2 earned a 10 of 10 for the LATCH installation. The top-scoring seats all have unique LATCH anchors or tightening systems that make installation significantly more manageable than their counterparts. This group includes the UPPAbaby Mesa with 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.



Our Child Passenger Safety Technician swiftly installed the UPPAbaby Mesa using LATCH. After clicking the Mesa connectors to the LATCH anchor bars, you push down on the base and the straps self-retract to tighten. Once adequately tight, the indicator turns green.

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
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


LATCH 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 installation. We love the UPPAbaby Mesa's self-retracting straps, and the Chicco Keyfit 30 has an easy to adjust mechanism. In contrast, most of the Graco LATCH straps are difficult to tighten or loosen. We gave more points to products that don't require body weight to tighten or significant struggling for a secure attachment, including the Nuna Pipa and Chicco Fit2.

Best Rated Seats for LATCH Installation





The 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. Easy installation theoretically translates to a safer experience in the event of an accident as many injuries 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.
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 plan to place your car seat in the center of the rear seat, which is considered the safest location for car seat placement, then for most vehicles you'll likely need to master seatbelt installation. Our tests reveal which seats make this process a no-brainer.


Find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station
Certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians are a free nationwide resource in the US who can help you learn how to install your infant car seat correctly . We highly recommend this service.

A Seat Belt Lock-off is Key


Some car seats are much easier to install using a seat belt than others, and the "lock-off" feature is the reason why. About half of the seats in this review offer a base with a belt lock-off. A lock-off helps prevent the base from sliding back and forth across the seatbelt. A lock-offs helps make seatbelt installation as secure, if not more so than LATCH installation. So, if your car lack LATCH anchors or you want to install the car seat in the middle, then you can still install the seat using the seat belt.

The belt lock off on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 shown in light grey with a yellow mock seatbelt running through it. Notice the side belt threads are open as opposed to closed like the majority of bases we looked at
The belt lock off on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 shown in light grey with a yellow mock seatbelt running through it. Notice the side belt threads are open as opposed to closed like the majority of bases we looked at

The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the Peg Perego Nido have the best belt lock-off systems in our review.

Best Rated Seats for Seat Belt Installation


The lock-offs on the Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35, Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35, and the Peg Perego Nido make installation a breeze compared to seats without a lock-off or with hard to use lock-offs. The lock-off on the Chicco Keyfit 30 is challenging and makes installation frustrating. We struggled to get the vehicle belt in the lock without the strap curling or bunching. However, with other things being equal, we prefer a problematic lock-off over no lock-off. We feel a lock-off is a critical component to achieve a secure installation using the vehicle belt on the base.



Most bases without a lock-off did not perform well. In our tests, they felt less secure because they often move 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 in the ceiling.



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.
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


You might be wondering, why do I care about installing the seat without the base?

The answer is simple: taxis, Uber, buses, and airplanes, as some parents frequent public transportation.

In our opinion, if you don't expect to take your infant on public transportation very often, then you can happily ignore this section and skip 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 decision.


For those living in urban environments, who frequent taxis or services like Uber, learning installation without the base is essential. Also, for airplane travel, the FAA recommends using an approved car seat as the safest way for babies to fly. Many parents hold their babies on their lap, saving the cost of another 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 methods for carrier installation without the base, European, and American. Each seat in this review uses at least one way, and some allow both. If your carrier uses the European path, but your car only has a lap belt, then you can use the American path.

The American pathway threads the seatbelt across the leg portion of the carrier through the designated route. This path is simple and creates a secure attachment that passes safety regulations in the US. This style does not utilize the shoulder strap on the vehicle belt even if it is part of the belt.

The European path also routes the vehicle belt across the lower part of the carrier, and it wraps the shoulder portion of the strap around the back of the carrier through a retention clip. We find that the shoulder belt provides a more secure feeling with less carrier shifting. We can't say if it is more secure or only feels this way.

The Peg Perego Primo uses the European belt path method for installation without the base
Installing the Graco without the base is straightforward with the simple American belt path that travels across the lower end of the carrier.

We feel that seats with the European belt path offer a more secure feeling attachment with little movement than the American path. However, the American method has fewer steps. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 (above left) has the European path, while the Graco SnugLock 35 (above right) features the American path.



Best Rated Seats for Installation Without the Base


The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and Peg Perego Nido use the European color-coded belt path with easy lock-offs that helped them earn 10s. This result means they have the highest ratings in our tests for two installation methods!

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.
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 or Uber, we encourage you to consider the top performers in this metric seriously. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the UPPAbaby Mesa earned impressive scores for ease of installation without the base, and are potential options for city-dwellers. The Doona earned an 8 for installation without the base, but it is also a stroller which virtually eliminates the need for carrying anything, making it an excellent choice for urbanites. In fact, we think the Doona is one of the best options for city living.

The Chicco Fit 2 is one of the easiest seats to use with straightforward features.
The Chicco Fit 2 is one of the easiest seats to use with straightforward features.

Ease of Use


At first blush, the infant car seats all seem similar and look like they would function relatively the same. Not so. The products in our tests are all over the board when it comes to ease of use. All buckles are different, and harness adjustments can be easy or a lesson in patience and pain.


This metric includes the features and functions you regularly use, such as buckles and chest clips, as well as harness adjustments and handles.

Never Leave Baby in the Car Seat Outside of the Car
While it may be convenient to leave your baby in a carrier outside the car if they are asleep, this practice is potentially dangerous and not recommended. Babies left sleeping in car seats, swings, and bouncers may be at risk for positional asphyxiation. Positional asphyxiation occurs when a body position prevents breathing. It can potentially occur when a baby's head falls forward and blocks the airway. A 2015 study of children under two years old who died in a sitting or carrying device, showed that a little over half of 31 deaths involving car seats 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
The Cybex Aton2 has one the easiest buckle to undo on its 5 point harness

Buckle Release Buttons


Some seats have stiff and hard to use buckle buttons. Getting your baby out of the carrier can be challenging if the buckle requires two thumbs to operate. We found all of the Graco buttons hard to use, and some also have challenging chest clips. The Peg Perego Nido and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 have buckles we dream about; they virtually fall apart when you push the button. However, the Nido chest clip is stiff and can cause pain. Removing your baby swiftly and without complication is a must, and we favor products with 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
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

Harness Adjustment


For harness tightening and loosening, the Doona impresses in our tests. The strap pulls smoothly, and the release button requires less pressure than the competition. The Peg Perego Nido and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 harnesses are also easy to use.

Many of the seats used a rethread height adjustment with shoulder straps that thread through slots in the back of the seat and attach to a splitter like the one seen here.
The Mesa head assembly moves up and down to adjust the shoulder height of the harness. Pulling the tab unlocks the assembly so you can move it to the desired position.

Adjusting the Harness as Baby Grows


Adjusting the shoulder strap height has two styles. 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 can be challenging to thread and adjust depending on the straps, the slots, or padding. We think parents are more likely to maintain a correctly fitted harness if it is easy to adjust, can be accomplished quickly, and executed when they notice a need (i.e., when a baby is in the carrier). Making adjustments when you first see a need is better than deciding to wait for a more convenient time. For this reason, we believe 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.
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 UPPAbaby Mesa received a 9. The Chicco Fit2 has an 8 for its sliding assembly. The most challenging shoulder strap height adjustment is the Cybex Aton 2 with challenging strap and splitter connection.

Base Attachment


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 experience mistakes. The UPPAbaby Mesa came in a close second. The most challenging to connect is the Cybex Aton 2. However, it provides a visual indicator when the carrier is correctly attached, so while 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.
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.

Handles


Most of the handles in this review are similar and unremarkable. They operate by squeezing or pushing buttons simultaneously on side pivot points 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 and canopies are the same height, which makes it 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'd alter the design in new seats, but the new Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 is the same. Other issues involve sharp plastic where your fingers grip. The most comfortable handle is the UPPAbaby Mesa.

The LATCH anchors on the UPPAbaby Mesa automatically retract into the base body and the connection clips store in a little pocket to keep them out of the way
The Peg Perego has anchors that resemble slim seat belts that push onto the U anchor on the vehicle and release by pressing the red button. We feel this anchor style is easiest to use. You can also see the anchor storage location in this photo

LATCH Storage


LATCH storage can impact the ability to attach the carrier to the base. Features that could prevent efficient and correct seat installation lost points. Small rods on the base are standard LATCH storage features. Many of the cheaper seats in our review have straps that could hinder the connection of the carrier.

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 (above left), and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35, Peg Perego Nido, and the Chicco Fit2 with 7s.

NEVER leave a baby in a car seat unattended! Also, never put a carrier on countertops or in high places where it could fall, leading to injuries. Soft surfaces such as a bed or waterbed are also a hazard as the carrier can tip and potentially smother your baby. A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that more than 8,000 infants a year are treated in hospitals because of fall injuries suffered while using an infant seat or baby carrier outside of a vehicle. Seats overturning on soft surfaces resulted in 15 instances of suffocation. Safety first! Transfer your baby to a crib when you get home, and never leave them 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.
Overall, the Peg Perego has a nice quality feel to it, from the fabrics to the hardware, this is one cushy seat.

Comfort/Quality


For comfort and quality, we consider the materials and how well the product brings them together. We consider factors like padding, fabric, and canopies, and how well they translate to comfort, use, and longevity.


All seats share similarities such as dense foam for impact protection and hard plastic for the shell. However, some offer thicker padding or friendlier fabrics. Overall, the products that increase a baby's comfort and attention to detail score well for comfort and quality.

The Nuna is a high-quality seat with padding and fabric designed for comfort  but some of the features are harder to use than they need to be.
The Nuna is a high-quality seat with padding and fabric designed for comfort, but some of the features are harder to use than they need to be.

Best Rated Seats for Comfort and Quality


The top for comfort and quality is the Nuna Pipa (above left) with a 9. Other standouts include the Chicco Fit2, and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 with 8s. These products provide thicker padding, softer fabric, and a better overall finish than competitors.

The Doona infant car seat is a different kind of seat with stroller capabilities  giving parents more opportunities to move baby from home to destination without toting a heavy carrier.
The Doona infant car seat is a different kind of seat with stroller capabilities, giving parents more opportunities to move baby from home to destination without toting a heavy carrier.

Weight


We looked at the weight of 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 because 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 carrier weights vary between 8.48 lbs for the Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 (above left) and 16.8 lbs for the Doona; the average weight for the group is 10.5 lbs. That is a significant difference that makes the Doona feel like a non-starter for carrying. Luckily, this unique option has stroller components, which means you don't have to carry it. While we don't think weight is the number one factor, we do believe it is relevant and can break a tie.

Conclusion


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 can meet your needs and are within most budgets.


Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz