美国最佳婴儿汽车座椅推荐(2023年)

Two infant car seats side by side, with baby toys.Photo: Michael Hession
Before you make that cautious, white-knuckled first drive home with your new baby, you need to be armed with the proper equipment. You can use an infant car seat from a child's birth until they measure around 30 inches or weigh 30 pounds. It varies by family, but the seat is likely to be in the mix until the child is between 9 months and 2 years of age. All infant seats sold in the US are required to meet the same safety standards. But since there are more than 60 models available to choose from, navigating the purchase can be daunting. We've spent the past five years consulting safety experts, scouring reviews, talking to fellow caregivers, and putting our top contenders to the test in the real world. And we have settled on four infant car seats that do the best job of providing a safe and comfortable experience for you and your precious cargo: The Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is our top pick, the Chicco KeyFit 30 is our runner-up, the Chicco KeyFit 35 is our also-great pick, and the Clek Liing is our upgrade pick.

How we picked


  • A correct fit is crucial to safety, so we prioritized seats that were intuitive to install, without the need for excessive force.
  • We evaluated independent crash-testing scores and ease-of-use ratings (if available), as well as the seats' individual safety features.
  • Safety experts encouraged us to focus on how the seats performed in the real world, rather than conducting our own crash testing.
  • We made sure that our picks were pleasant to carry, adjust, and operate.

If you have no experience with infant car seats, here's what you need to know: An infant car seat is a bucket-like carrier that secures a baby with a five-point harness. It is designed to face the rear of the car, and the bucket carrier clicks in and out of a base that stays installed in the back seat. (The seats in the photograph above are shown clicked into their bases.) You install the bases using either the vehicle's seat belt or the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system, which lets you attach a pair of metal hooks built into the base to a set of anchors built into the car. If you choose, you can buy multiple bases, so you can use the same seat in different cars without having to reinstall anything. You could also install the seat on its own with just a seat belt (no base)---say, if you're traveling or taking a taxi. Whichever infant seat you choose, we've included helpful tips on how to safely use and maintain it.

Our pick: Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX

Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX

The SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is easier to install, adjust, and operate than seats that cost far more. And it has an added safety feature: an anti-rebound base.

$207 from Amazon | $230 from Walmart

The Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX provides the total package of user-friendliness, quality, and value. It's one of the simplest infant car seats to install when you're using the base, whether you install it with a seat belt or the LATCH method. The SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is a stylish seat with a high-end feel. And it has some bells and whistles usually reserved for pricier seats, such as a removable seat pad for quicker cleanup, harness straps that you don't have to undo and rethread to adjust, and one-handed handle adjustment. This seat also has the added safety feature of an anti-rebound base (a metal bar built into the base of the seat), which can help limit the amount the seat rotates (or rebounds) after the initial impact of a crash. At 10½ pounds, the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is the heaviest of our picks. But our testers didn't think it was too heavy to carry comfortably, and we found it was easy to operate and to click in and out of its base. The seat can accommodate babies up to 32 inches or 35 pounds (this is the upper range of the category, and it's likely more than most people end up needing). The only real drawback to the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is that we found its no-base, seat-belt-only install tricky to pull off; we had difficulty getting the seat in snugly (a common problem with infant seats that have an American belt-path configuration, including this one). Most people prefer to use the base with their infant seat anyway, so this may not be an issue for you. However, if you plan to often go without a base---say, for frequent taxi rides or travel---you might want to consider our also-great pick, the Chicco KeyFit 35, or our upgrade pick, the Clek Liing, both of which are better for baseless installs. Also, the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is not as compatible with as many strollers from various brands as our other three picks are.

Seat weight (without base): 10½ pounds

Baby height, weight limits: 32 inches, 35 pounds

Stroller compatibility: Without the purchase of an extra adapter, this seat works with Graco strollers, the Baby Trend Snap-N-Go, and many Joovy strollers (PDF). With an adapter (sold separately), it's compatible with more brands' strollers, including those from Baby Jogger, BOB, Mockingbird, and Thule.

Runner-up: Chicco KeyFit 30

Chicco KeyFit 30

The Chicco KeyFit 30 is easy to install and to use, and it delivers on its good reputation.

$202 from Amazon | $175 from Walmart

The Chicco KeyFit 30 is the Coke Classic of infant car seats: It's a crowd-pleaser, and it's been a longtime favorite for a reason. The KeyFit 30 is easy and intuitive to install, particularly when you're installing the base with the LATCH system. Installing the base with the seat belt is also simple, though that method does require some force to get the base in tightly (we had to physically sit on the base to apply enough pressure). As with our top-pick Graco seat, this Chicco model's seat-belt-only, no-base install leaves a lot to be desired, and installing it snugly is a challenge. The KeyFit 30 is relatively lightweight---about a pound lighter than the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX---and comfortable to carry, and it's simple to adjust. The bucket seat smoothly clicks in and out of the base. It has a lower weight and height limit than our other three picks, so it may not be ideal for larger-than-average babies or for families that want to use an infant seat longer. But it should be able to accommodate most tots for over a year, which is usually plenty. Although the KeyFit 30 typically costs a tad more than the Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX, the KeyFit 30 is missing some of the convenient extras that the Graco seat has, such as a no-rethread harness, a removable seat pad for easy cleaning, and one-handed handle adjustment. The KeyFit 30 also lacks an added safety feature, like the anti-rebound base on the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX and the Chicco KeyFit 35 or the load leg on the Clek Liing. We consider those to be bonuses rather than essentials, however. (Note: The Chicco KeyFit 30 ClearTex is the same seat, available at the same price. But rather than the standard polyester fabric, its cover is made with Chicco's newer ClearTex fabric, which has no added chemicals and has received a Greenguard Gold Certification for lower chemical emissions.)

Seat weight (without base): 9½ pounds

Baby height, weight limits: 30 inches, 30 pounds

Stroller compatibility: Without the purchase of an extra adapter, this seat works with many Chicco strollers (not all Chicco strollers accept infant car seats, and some require an extra adapter), the Baby Trend Snap-N-Go, and many Joovy strollers. With an adapter (sold separately), it's compatible with strollers from many more brands, including Baby Jogger, BOB, Britax, Mockingbird, Thule, and Uppababy. (Note: We've been alerted that the Chicco adapter no longer fits as it should on the Baby Jogger City Mini 2 stroller, following a minor model update to the stroller in 2021. It also doesn't work with the Britax B-Lively.)

Also great: Chicco KeyFit 35

Chicco KeyFit 35

This seat is just as simple to install and use as the KeyFit 30, and it has some upgrades---including an anti-rebound base and a European belt path for easier no-base installs when you're traveling.

$270 $192 from Albee Baby | $216 from Amazon | $237 from Walmart

The Chicco KeyFit 35 offers all of the things we love about the Chicco KeyFit 30, our runner-up pick---namely, it's super user-friendly and easy to install---plus a few appealing upgrades. The KeyFit 35 comes with the added safety feature of an anti-rebound base, like our top pick, the Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX. And like our upgrade pick, the Clek Liing, the KeyFit 35 has a European belt path (a rarity in the US); this allows you to install the seat more securely when you're not using the base---a major plus for families that frequently travel or take taxis. This seat also has a convenient no-rethread harness (similar to the Graco seat's), so you won't have to take apart and reassemble the harness to make height adjustments as your child grows. The KeyFit 35 can accommodate passengers up to 32 inches and 35 pounds (hence the "35"), in contrast with the KeyFit 30's 30-inch, 30-pound maximum; this may not be an issue for most folks, but it could be helpful if you have a bigger baby or you'd prefer to use your infant seat longer (before switching over to a convertible seat). The main downsides of the KeyFit 35 are its weight and price: It's half a pound heavier than the KeyFit 30, and it costs more than the KeyFit 30 or the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX; the KeyFit 35 is still a very good value considering its combination of desirable features. (Note: The Chicco KeyFit 35 ClearTex is the same seat, available at about the same price. But its cover is made with Chicco's newer ClearTex fabric, which has no added chemicals and has received a Greenguard Gold Certification for lower chemical emissions.)

Seat weight (without base): 10 pounds

Baby height, weight limits: 32 inches, 35 pounds

Stroller compatibility: Without the purchase of an extra adapter, this seat works with many Chicco strollers (not all Chicco strollers accept infant seats, and some require an extra adapter) and many Joovy strollers. With an adapter (sold separately), it's compatible with strollers from many more brands, including Baby Jogger, BOB, Mockingbird, Thule, and Uppababy. (Note: We've been alerted that the Chicco adapter no longer fits as it should on the Baby Jogger City Mini 2 stroller, following a minor model update to the stroller in 2021.)

Upgrade pick: Clek Liing

Clek Liing

This model is amazingly easy to install and is engineered to prevent user error (color-coding galore!). Plus, it has a huge sun canopy and the added safety feature of a load leg.

$470 from Amazon

If it weren't for the price of the Clek Liing, we'd tell everybody to get one---it's an exceptionally well-designed, well-executed car seat. We've never come across another infant seat that is quite this easy to install; it is so cleverly engineered that installing it with the base (using either the LATCH system or the seat-belt method) requires minimal effort. Part of what makes the Liing so simple to install and operate is that Clek has incorporated color-coded indicators throughout the seat (green means you're good, red means something is amiss), which takes the guesswork out of using it correctly. And unlike the Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX and the Chicco KeyFit 30, the Clek Liing is also easy to install snugly if you're using it without the base. This is because, like the Chicco KeyFit 35, it has a European belt-path configuration, which provides a more secure fit than the American configuration. The Liing comes with the added safety feature of a load leg, a metal support rod that sits between the car seat and the vehicle floor; in an accident, the load leg absorbs some of the initial impact of the crash and limits the amount that the seat can move. At 9 pounds, the Liing is the lightest of our picks to carry. The seat has the same height and weight allowances (32 inches and 35 pounds) as the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX and the KeyFit 35, and it comes in a range of stylish, high-end fabric options. Unlike our top pick from Graco, this Clek seat does not offer a no-rethread harness, a removable seat pad to make cleanup easier, or one-handed handle adjustment, and those omissions are disappointing (especially considering how much this seat costs). But the Liing's sun canopy is the biggest we've seen, and this seat has the longest life span and best warranty of our picks.

Seat weight (without base): 9 pounds

Baby height, weight limits: 32 inches, 35 pounds

Stroller compatibility: Without the purchase of an extra adapter, this seat works with the Baby Trend Snap-N-Go and many Joovy strollers. With an adapter (sold separately), it's compatible with a wide range of strollers from other brands, including Baby Jogger, Babyzen, Bugaboo, Colugo, Thule, and Uppababy. (See the full list on the Clek website.)

Everything we recommend {#everything-we-recommend}

The research

Why you should trust us

Over the course of researching this guide, we spoke with more than 20 industry experts, including current and former employees of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency responsible for vehicle and car seat safety. We consulted multiple certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs), engineers, and physicians, and we conducted interviews with representatives from seven leading car seat manufacturers.
We also talked to scores of caregivers about their car seat experiences, scanned hundreds of online owner reviews, and read dozens of articles and reviews from reputable sources, such as BabyGearLab and Car Seats for the Littles.
The 2018 version of this guide was written by Rebecca Gale, a Washington, DC--based reporter; as part of the research and testing process, Rebecca became certified as a CPST herself. Rebecca's articles on policy and parenting have appeared in outlets including The New York Times and The Washington Post. She's also the author of Wirecutter's guide to the best booster car seats.
Christina Szalinski, the current author of this guide, is a Philadelphia-based science writer with a PhD in cell biology whose reporting on health has appeared in Scientific American, Undark, and more. In addition to writing Wirecutter's updated guides to infant car seats and convertible car seats, she is responsible for Wirecutter's guides to the best baby formula and kids face masks. Christina has three children, ages 3, 5, and 8; she can frequently be found ferrying them to soccer practice and play dates in her Honda Odyssey minivan.

Who should get this

Amid all the lengthy lists of baby "must-haves," the one item that's not up for debate is a car seat. If you're going to ride in a car with your baby, you need one. And most hospitals, in compliance with guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), do not discharge a newborn until a staff member has visually confirmed the presence of a car seat to transport the baby safely home.
Several qualities distinguish dedicated infant car seats from larger convertible and all-in-one car seats, many of which have been designed to accommodate a wide range of weights and heights (from newborns on up). For starters, while convertible and all-in-one seats start out in a rear-facing position for younger passengers and then eventually get turned around (we have tips on when to make the switch), an infant seat is designed to be used rear-facing only. And with good reason: This position is the safest, and it provides the most protection for small children.
Unlike convertible car seats, infant seats are bucket-shaped and come with a detachable base and a handle so that parents or caregivers can easily click the seat in and out of the vehicle and carry the baby around in the seat (or attach it to a compatible stroller). This is a handy design because it saves you the trouble of taking your baby out of their infant car seat every time you need to make a transition---say, from the car to the pediatrician's office. Just keep in mind that even though infants do sleep a lot---and they're likely to doze off during outings---it is not safe to use car seats as primary sleeping devices or to let your baby sleep in one for an extended period of time. (They should be sleeping on a flat, firm surface instead.)
Babies outgrow most infant car seats by the time they reach 30 to 32 inches in length or weigh 30 to 35 pounds, whichever comes first. The average baby reaches that height range sometime between 12 to 19 months. But they'll probably be over 3 years old before they hit 35 pounds, so for most people the height limit is more relevant than the weight limit.
Many of the caregivers we interviewed acknowledged that they had moved their child to a rear-facing convertible car seat long before the child officially outgrew their infant seat---typically at the point when the caregivers found the baby had become too heavy to carry in the bucket seat. Most people don't use an infant car seat for more than a year or a year and a half before switching to a convertible. But the click-in, click-out option during those early days, when the child is still light enough to be easily portable, is certainly convenient.
For trips that involve plane travel and a different car at the destination, we recommend that caregivers use their regular infant car seat, but without the base---that is, installed with the seat belt only. And for caregivers who expect to travel quite a bit, or those who rely heavily on taxi services and want to have a single seat-and-stroller combination, we recommend the Doona, a pick in our guide to travel car seats.

How we picked

Three different infant car seats lined up on the floor.
Photo: Michael Hession
There are more than 60 infant car seat models for sale in the United States. To cull the herd, we studied online customer reviews and coverage from other media outlets, including BabyCenter, BabyGearLab, The Car Seat Lady, Fatherly, and Mommyhood101. We interviewed nearly 20 experts on car seat safety, policy, and installation. And we considered the available research data and safety ratings.
All manufacturers selling seats in the US must subject their car seats to crash testing and meet NHTSA safety standards (PDF). To ensure that manufacturers are adhering to the regulations, the NHTSA conducts what it terms "safety compliance testing" of multiple seats each year, running the car seats through the prescribed crash-testing protocols to confirm that they're in compliance, as promised. And the NHTSA collects those results in its database. We studied the results and factored them into our decision-making when possible. (Unfortunately, not every seat we considered had a report in the database. Since our top pick, the Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX, is a relatively new seat, its report was not yet available at the time of our research and testing.)
But we were cautious not to be directed by crash-testing data alone. Although some seats have better crash-testing scores than others, it's challenging---even for experts---to know whether those small variations actually translate to meaningful differences in real-world performance. (See What about crash testing? for more details.) Since proper installation has such a significant impact on how a car seat performs, we also consulted NHTSA ease-of-use ratings, which rank seats on a scale from one to five stars. Keep in mind, however, that those star ratings are based on multiple categories: an evaluation of the instructions (that is, how clear and thorough the manual is), the vehicle installation features (how the seat's features perform in an install), an evaluation of the labels (how clear and thorough the labeling is on the seat), and securing the child (how the seat's restraint features work).
All four categories are pertinent. But the NHTSA may dock a seat's rating for, say, the seat's label not having a complete illustration of a child wearing the restraint; in our opinion that's less important than whether a layperson can install the seat's base snugly. So even though the NHTSA ease-of-use ratings are helpful, they don't always line up with our own field-testing experiences and takeaways.
We also took into account that since the first version of this guide, in 2018, many more infant seats have begun offering added safety features, such as load legs and anti-rebound bases (see Understanding optional safety features for details). These features are designed to reduce the seat's motion or absorb some of the impact in a crash, and we can appreciate their potential benefits. But we had to weigh their overall importance carefully, since they can add to a seat's cost and are still less vital to a baby's safety than a proper install.
Another issue we faced as we were finalizing our short list of infant seats was trying to sort through the often-confounding differences among the models and model names, many of which sound like they've been chosen for journeys into space. (Think we're exaggerating? Our top pick, the Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX, has a whole host of cousins, including the SnugRide SnugFit 35, the SnugRide SnugFit 35 LX, and the SnugRide SnugFit 35 Elite.) Many major car seat manufacturers sell multiple versions of similar infant car seats but with slight variations to the features that typically affect the name and price. For example, a manufacturer may make two seats that are nearly identical, except they have different infant height and weight limits. Or a manufacturer may offer a "base model" of a seat as well as different iterations of it, all with their own names and corresponding prices; each of these versions may have upgrades, such as a handle that you can adjust with one hand (versus the standard handle, which requires two hands), more recline positions for the base, or a no-rethread harness (which lets you adjust the strap height without taking the straps out and threading them back through).
After extended discussions with experts, we concluded that most of those optional upgrade features are generally not necessary (though in some cases they're nice to have) and often not worth the added expense. When it came time to decide which infant seat models we would be field-testing---and whether we would be opting for any upgrades---we evaluated the features on a case-by-case basis to determine whether we thought they would be worth an extra cost. We also took availability into account: Sometimes the model with a few upgrades was easier to find through national brick-and-mortar retail chains, and the base model was available only online; in this case we opted for the model with wider availability. But this is not a perfect science, so we encourage any car seat shopper to use their own judgment to determine which seat model has the combination of features that works for them.
Our 20 total hours of background research led us to conclude that the ideal infant car seat should have the following attributes:

  • Be simple to install: Since proper installation is so intrinsic to a car seat's safety---and since NHTSA data (PDF) shows that many car seats are installed incorrectly---we prioritize ease of install. We look for seats that a diligent adult who is following instructions can install correctly within a few minutes, without expert assistance. (Harried caregivers who've had to install a car seat in a relative's car or in a rental know that an intuitive installation system trumps a well-crafted set of instructions. Even so, we definitely consider excellent instructions to be a bonus.) We also want seats that are manageable to install multiple ways, namely by using the base with LATCH (clipping the base to the car's built-in anchors, forgoing the lap belt), using the base with the car's seat belt, or installing just the seat itself without the base. (All of those methods are considered equally safe, as long as the fit is secure. But you should never use multiple install methods simultaneously, unless instructed otherwise.) Regardless of the install method, the goal is the same: If you grab the seat or the base near the attachment point and pull back and forth, it should move less than an inch in any direction.
  • Be as safe as possible: Whenever possible, we consider NHTSA crash-testing reports and ease-of-use data (see above for details). And though added safety features---such as a load leg or an anti-rebound base---are not essential, we consider them to be a plus, particularly if they are offered on a standard seat model at no additional cost. (In some cases, a car seat manufacturer makes the same seat with and without an added safety feature; we've noted if that's an option, where applicable.)
  • Be easy to carry: An infant seat should be manageable to carry. If it already feels too heavy before you've even loaded in the passenger, it's failing one of its key purposes. The seat's handle should be easy to grasp and to adjust between positions.
  • Be user-friendly: Life with a newborn can be intense---an infant car seat should not be a source of frustration. The harness straps on the seat should buckle and adjust without any resistance or hassle. The bucket should click in and out of the base smoothly. The seat should be compatible with a variety of popular strollers (with or without the addition of an adapter). The seat's fabric cover should be easy to keep clean. And finally, we appreciate thoughtful touches that save time or effort (even though they aren't necessities), such as a no-rethread harness or an especially well-designed LATCH system.
  • Have a reasonably high height and weight limit: You don't want your child to outgrow their infant seat before you're ready and willing to switch over to a convertible seat. We look for seats that can accommodate babies of average to above-average size for over a year or more.
  • Be accessible: We focus on seats that are readily available---ideally in a choice of colors or designs---and that can be found at a variety of major retailers. Although we do consider models in a wide price range---and we recommend one high-end seat, the Clek Liing, as our upgrade pick---we give extra credit to seats that provide an especially good value.
    Based on the criteria above, in our latest round we narrowed our list of contenders to eight infant car seats, which we tested (or in some cases retested) for the first 2022 update to this guide:
  • Britax B-Safe Gen2
  • Chicco KeyFit 30
  • Clek Liing
  • Evenflo Gold SecureMax
  • Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX
  • Maxi-Cosi Mico XP Max
  • Nuna Pipa
  • Uppababy Mesa (since replaced by the Uppababy Mesa V2)
    Later in 2022, we tested (or retested) four additional seats:
  • Chicco Fit2
  • Chicco KeyFit 35 (specifically the KeyFit 35 Zip ClearTex)
  • Clek Liingo
  • Uppababy Mesa V2

What about stroller compatibility and stroller "systems"?

When we wrote the first version of this infant seat guide, stroller compatibility (the ability to click an infant seat into a stroller base, with or without the help of an added adapter) was one of the main criteria we considered. This time around, we haven't highlighted stroller compatibility as much. That's not because we don't think it's important---many caregivers appreciate the convenience it affords, and we've included a list of the major stroller brands whose models are compatible with each of our car seat picks. However, stroller compatibility is now pretty common: With some notable exceptions, you can match up most popular infant seats with a wide range of popular strollers. Therefore, we do not consider this to be a feature that truly sets an infant seat apart or one that deserves the same weight as the other criteria listed above.
We also caution car seat shoppers against getting talked into infant seat and stroller "systems" where compatibility is the main selling point, since the payoff is bound to be short-lived. The time period in which most families actually use an infant seat and a stroller together is relatively brief---usually around a year or so---whereas a stroller is likely to be around a lot longer. So we believe it makes sense to choose the best infant seat and the best stroller individually, each on its own merits, rather than settling for a subpar version of either.

Understanding optional safety features

Some infant seats---including three of our picks in this guide---come with an anti-rebound base or a load leg, added safety features that can improve the seat's performance and stability in a crash. (The Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX, our top pick, and the Chicco KeyFit 35, our also-great pick, have an anti-rebound base; the Clek Liing, our upgrade pick, has a load leg.) Both features have been popular on infant seat models sold in Canada and abroad for years, but they have only recently become more common in the United States.
An anti-rebound base, also known as an anti-rebound bar, is a metal bar built into the foot end of the seat base, which rests flush against the vehicle seat; it's designed to help decrease the car seat's movement. In a front-impact collision, an infant seat moves forward and down and then "rebounds" back, potentially sending its passenger face-first into the back of the vehicle seat. The anti-rebound base can minimize that rebound effect.
A load leg is a metal pole that connects from the base of the infant seat to the floor of the car, making the seat more stable and absorbing some of the impact of a crash. Load legs can be installed in most---but not all---cars. So before you buy a seat with a load leg, you should confirm that your car's make and model can accommodate one. And you should find out if there's a particular position in the back where you must install it.
Both anti-rebound bases and load legs have the potential to improve the performance of an infant car seat. Of the two features, a load leg may be more effective, since the load leg serves the dual function of reducing movement and absorbing some of the initial impact of the crash without transferring it to the child.
Consumer Reports, in its independent crash testing of infant car seats, concluded that the risk of a head injury was about 46% less with the use of a load leg. (CR also noted, however, that a load leg isn't required to achieve the best-possible crash-testing results; some of the seats it tested that didn't have a load leg still achieved those results.) Another example: Clek put its Liing infant seat through crash testing with and without the load leg, as documented in this video. Clek found that using the load leg could reduce the potential for injury by up to 40% compared with using the same seat without the load leg.
Although support for using load legs and anti-rebound bases is growing---as is buyer demand---there's still a long way to go before these components can be required as standard safety features. For one thing, the crash tests that the NHTSA performs do not currently allow for the use of load legs, so the safety advantage that load legs may provide is not reflected in current government data. Miriam Manary, lead research engineer at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, pointed out this strange disconnect: "The US does not regulate or encourage the use of load legs, [but they do] have a safety benefit, for sure."

How we tested

Someone lining up eight different infant car seats near a parked car for testing.
Photo: Courtney Schley
For the initial wave of testing in 2022, I subjected the eight infant car seat finalists to a series of at-home tests that mimicked the real-world infant car seat experience. For each seat, I read and analyzed the instructions. Then I practiced installing each seat (in a 2016 Honda Odyssey minivan) three different ways: with the base using LATCH, with the base using the vehicle seat belt, and without the base using the seat belt only. I adjusted the harness straps, played around with the sun canopy and handle, repeatedly clicked the seat in and out of its base, and carried the seat around by the handle for about 25 feet (from the garage to inside the house).
I also spent six hours comparing our top infant car seats with Gina Duchossois---an injury-prevention expert with the Injury Prevention Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), as well as the chair of Safe Kids Southeastern Pennsylvania and a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST)---and with Wirecutter senior editor Courtney Schley, who has four kids (the youngest recently aged out of his infant seat). Courtney and I took turns installing the seats in our own cars parked in Gina's driveway on a freezing-cold winter day, and then Gina evaluated our installs. (Again, we performed all of the installs three ways---with the base using LATCH, with the base using a seat belt, and without the base using a seat belt.) Together, the three of us discussed the merits and drawbacks of each seat; Gina also offered her expert feedback and installation tips.
Later in 2022, we tested four additional seats, putting them through the same paces as the previous batch. Courtney and Gina did not participate in that round of testing.

What about crash testing?

For the first version of this guide, published in 2018, we elected to perform independent crash testing on the infant car seats that we considered as our top contenders. We commissioned MGA Research, a lab in Burlington, Wisconsin, to conduct the tests, and we factored the results into our final recommendations.
When we began working on the newest update to this guide, in late 2021, we were open to pursuing independent crash testing once again. We were eager to take a thorough and comprehensive approach, one that would arm us with information to inform and improve our decision-making. To help us better understand the latest crash-testing protocols, we reached out to three industry experts: Alisa Baer, a pediatrician, CPST, and co-founder of the website The Car Seat Lady; Matt Maltese, an engineer and crash-testing expert who has worked for both NHTSA and CHOP; and Jessica Jermakian, VP of vehicle research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to automotive safety.
Much to our surprise, the more we learned about independent crash testing, the less certain we became that it made sense in our particular circumstances. (To be clear, this in no way diminishes our faith in the mandatory, regulated crash testing that the government requires of all car seat manufacturers; this is essential to maintaining high safety standards and accountability.) Our conclusion: Although we could certainly conduct a series of crash tests that would generate plenty of data, that data would likely not be meaningful or serve its intended purpose---that is, to provide us with information that would help us zero in on the best options among a small group of high-quality seats.
Our plan had been to crash test the four to six infant seats that had already performed the strongest in our field testing, based on the criteria laid out in How we picked. But as advanced as today's crash-testing tools are, we learned that they still aren't advanced enough to help reviewers reliably differentiate among a number of well-engineered seats or to tease out an A+ from an A-. In a nutshell, crash testing can be extremely useful for determining good versus bad. But it is less helpful for determining really good from really, really good. Jermakian said, "I'm not sure that crash testing would give you meaningful results. If you've already picked the four best seats from all the other perspectives, then you can feel confident that engineers have spent a lot of time designing those seats for a good and safe user experience."
Here are some of our key takeaways in this regard:

  • Crash testing is an imperfect science. It's difficult to simulate in a lab the real environment of a car and the real circumstances of a crash. Also, dummies aren't all that sophisticated or lifelike. (In dummies' defense, their name doesn't imply otherwise.) "Humans are very complex," Jermakian said. "Dummies are not so sophisticated that they act exactly as a real human would in a crash, or give us the level of confidence needed to differentiate between similar results."
  • Numerical results don't tell the whole story. After a crash test, seats are assigned injury measure scores, ratings that predict the likelihood of injury. And it would be logical to conclude that if one seat gets a better score than another, it's clearly the safer seat. But unfortunately, it's not that simple; those scores come with some complex caveats and asterisks, which raise questions about how accurately they translate to differences in real-world injury risk. "Everybody wants the easy, intuitive answer---one number is bigger and one is smaller---but it's so much more nuanced than that," Jermakian said.
  • Crash-testing results tend to vary. Crash testing tends to involve some level of test-to-test (and lab-to-lab) variability. Testers can run the identical scenario multiple times and come away with different injury measure scores each time. Without repeating the tests on each seat multiple times (a process that can cost thousands of dollars, plus the cost of providing for each setup a brand-new seat that's disposed of afterward), we would have to assume that minor differences in scores could be random rather than meaningful.
    After careful consideration and consultation with experts, we decided that field testing alone, without crash testing, should dictate our picks in this guide. If anything, our research has confirmed that caregivers can take comfort in knowing that most car seats do their job very well. "Five-point harness child restraint seats are highly effective in reducing the chances of injury and death," Maltese said. So the most effective strategy for keeping your kids safe on the road is to choose a car seat that works well for your family, and for you to use it correctly. "The best car seat is the one that fits your kid, fits your car, and is used properly on every trip," Maltese said.

Our pick: Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX

Our pick for best infant car seat, the Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX.
Photo: Michael Hession
The Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is a shockingly good value. We'd willingly pay a lot more for this infant car seat, but we're glad we don't have to. This seat is easy to install, convenient to carry, and reasonably attractive. It's loaded with little extras that make it more pleasant to operate, and it has generous height and weight limits. The SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX also comes with a welcome (if not essential) added safety feature: an anti-rebound base. Yet it still costs less than many other infant seats, including our other picks.
Installing the base of the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is intuitive, with guides and instructions incorporated into the base itself. One such guide is a liquid-filled bubble level indicator (like a carpenter's level), which shows you how much to adjust the foot of the base once it's on your car seat. To make that adjustment, you squeeze the lever located at the front of the seat, after which you shift the base into the recline position (it offers five options) that's right for the angle of your vehicle's seat and your child's age.
A close up showing how the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX car seat is strapped in.
Here we've installed the base of the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX using the push-button LATCH connectors that hook into the car's built-in anchors. Photo: Michael Hession
Then you attach the included straps via LATCH (see this video for a demonstration) to the vehicle's anchors and close the lock-off (a lever that ratchets down the strap to remove the extra slack). Or, if you prefer to rely on your car's seat belt (see this video for a demonstration) instead of the LATCH system, you thread the seat belt through the belt path, buckle it in, and close the lock-off. (Graco calls this lock-off mechanism the SnugLock, and we found that it works as advertised.) To uninstall the base, you lift the lock-off and either push the red buttons on the LATCH clips to release them or unbuckle the seat belt.
Graco claims that it's possible to do the base install, with either LATCH or the seat belt, in less than a minute. In our experience, that wasn't far off; the first time I tried it myself, the process took about two minutes. By the time I'd gotten the hang of it, a minute was plenty of time. The instructions in the manual are detailed and clear, but as mentioned, the markers and guides on the seat itself are a big help, too.
An easy-to-use lever helps you adjust the angle of the base for installation. Video: Michael Hession
Once you have installed the base and clicked in the bucket seat, the setup feels satisfyingly secure. Regardless of which install method you use for an infant seat, the goal is the same: If you grab the seat or the base near the attachment point and pull back and forth, the seat should move less than an inch in any direction. (All of the installation methods are considered equally safe, provided that the fit is secure, so use whichever one works best for your vehicle and seat. But unless otherwise directed, never use multiple methods at the same time, because the seats weren't designed for that.)
The SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX's secure fit is due in part to the anchoring effect of the anti-rebound bar at the foot of the base, which rests flush against the vehicle's seat back. The anti-rebound base is an extra built-in safety feature that helps to reduce the secondary motion caused by a front-impact crash. After the impact of a crash, a car seat can surge forward in the car and then rebound back, potentially sending a baby face-first into the vehicle seat back; the anti-rebound bar can limit that rebound effect. (For more information, see Understanding optional safety features.) Regardless of whether you consider this feature to be important, it's pretty uncommon on a seat that costs around $200.
The SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX car seat inside a vehicle.
The anti-rebound base, an added safety feature on the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX, is a metal bar that sits flush against the back of the vehicle's seat; it limits the amount the infant seat can move in a crash. Photo: Michael Hession
We were not nearly as successful in installing this seat without the base---that is, using just the bucket portion of the seat and the car's seat belt. Like the Chicco KeyFit 30, our runner-up pick, the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX uses an American belt-path configuration, which requires the seat belt to be routed through guides across the top front of the bucket, above the baby's legs. This configuration makes it hard to get a super-secure install because it's tough to push down on the seat with one hand and remove slack from the belt with the other---and the belt tends to slide through the guides if there's any slack. The end result is that the seat feels a bit loose and wiggly.
By contrast, infant seats that use a European belt path---such as our upgrade pick, the Clek Liing, and our also-great pick, the Chicco KeyFit 35---route the shoulder belt around the back of the seat and the lap belt across the top of the seat; this arrangement makes the infant seat nestle in tighter and more securely (as demonstrated in this video from The Car Seat Lady). To address the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX's wiggliness in this type of install, CPST Gina Duchossois recommends wedging a rolled-up towel or a shortened pool noodle into the gap between the infant seat and the vehicle seat to make the fit more snug.
The SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX car seat inside a vehicle without the base.
Here we've installed the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX without the base, using only the vehicle's seat belt. Photo: Michael Hession
Once you've installed the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX, it's easy to use. Many infant car seats require you to use two hands to adjust the handle position. But the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX has a button conveniently located at the top of the handle---you just press it and then move the handle using one hand. Releasing the bucket from the base is also a one-handed maneuver, as you simply lift up a handle at the back of the seat.
We appreciate how this Graco seat's handle allows adjustments with just one hand. Video: Michael Hession
Securing and releasing the chest clip on the harness is easy; not much hand strength is required. The SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is one of the few infant seats we've tested that have a no-rethread harness: As your baby grows and needs the headrest and harness straps set to different heights, all you have to do is push the Adjust button on the headrest and pull up to move the straps. (With most car seats, every time you make an adjustment, you have to undo the harness straps and rethread them through the slots in the back of the seat; this task is not particularly onerous, but one more thing is one more thing.)
To adjust the headrest and harness as your baby grows, you simply pull up---no need to disassemble the straps and rethread them. Video: Michael Hession
The SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is attractive, and it comes in several appealing color combinations. The seat cover is made of a polyester fabric; to the touch, it feels slightly coarse, a little like a wet suit. You can spot-clean it or take it off and machine-wash it on the gentle cycle and air-dry it. The SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX also features what Graco calls a "rapid remove" seat pad, which means you don't have to take apart and unthread the harness in order to remove the cover for washing. The portion of the cover that's most likely to be a casualty of a classic up-the-back-of-the-diaper blowout is actually a separate piece that you can unsnap, wash, and put back on without taking off the rest of the cover. (That piece covers the back area as well as the headrest, so it may also be beneficial for catching sideways spit-up.) A Wirecutter staffer who has been testing the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX for 10-plus months confirmed how well the seat has held up, noting that the fabric cover wipes clean and is easily removed for washing.
The SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX has a noticeably thicker headrest than many models we've come across. In addition, the sun canopy provides decent coverage; if necessary, you can detach it in the back, so your baby can be shaded at the front if the sun is shining in. According to Graco, the canopy is designed to be adjusted quietly, so as not to disturb a sleeping baby. In our tests, we moved the canopy around, and nothing struck us as particularly different about it. We didn't have a dozing infant to test it out on, and truth be told, in the past we've never noticed a canopy being loud enough to ruin a nap. But in theory, sure, quieter is always better.
The sun canopy is stretchy and provides decent coverage; it can also detach from the back to provide more shade at the front. Video: Michael Hession
Measuring 29 inches long from front to back, the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is the longest of the seats we recommend, but only by about an inch, so it should have no trouble fitting in a compact car. And this seat is approximately 17½ inches wide, making it the widest of the seats we recommend (but only by a little over half an inch). Depending on the vehicle type and the other car seats in the mix, it may be possible to fit three car seats across in a row. Without the base, this seat weighs about 10½ pounds---the heaviest of all our picks, and a pound and a half more than our upgrade pick, the Clek Liing, which is the lightest model in our lineup. We didn't find that extra weight to be particularly noticeable, but because babies get heavier over time, it can definitely be an advantage to start with a lighter seat.
The seat arrives with the newborn insert in place; you can remove it when you no longer need it. Video: Michael Hession
Since the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is designed to accommodate babies as small as 4 pounds, it's an option for some preemie infants. (The seat also comes with an installed newborn insert, an additional support cushion that helps provide a better harness fit for smaller babies, up to 12 pounds.) The maximum size limit of the seat is 35 pounds or 32 inches long, the high end of the infant seat range; we suspect you'll tire of carrying your baby around in this seat before your baby actually outgrows it. Because the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is relatively new to Graco's lineup, crash-testing data and an ease-of-use rating from NHTSA are not yet available. This seat has a lifespan of seven years before it expires, and it comes with a limited one-year warranty that covers defects but not misuse or damage caused by normal wear and tear.
Graco offers a number of models that are similar to the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX, including the Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35, Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 LX, Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 Elite, and Graco Premier SnugRide SnugFit 35 Elite. We opted to test the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX because it's the company's best-selling model, according to a Graco spokesperson. It's also among the most widely available---I found that it's the one carried at my local Target. But all of these Graco models offer the same easy install, so choosing comes down to prioritizing which features matter most to your family and deciding how much you want to spend. The SnugRide SnugFit 35, for example, has a four-position base, versus the five positions of our pick, the DLX; more base positions may allow the base to fit more easily into a wider range of vehicles. The handle on the SnugRide SnugFit 35 requires two hands to operate, and that model has less head padding than on our pick. We wouldn't consider any of those things to be dealbreakers, so if you're looking to save about $60, the SnugRide SnugFit 35 is a good alternative to our pick. The SnugRide SnugFit 35 LX, meanwhile, provides the one-handed adjustable handle and the five-position base but has less head and body padding than our pick, the DLX. However, the LX usually costs around $30 less than the DLX, so it's another strong option. For around $40 more than our pick, the SnugRide SnugFit 35 Elite has the same padding, plus fancier-looking fabric and a removable all-weather boot (aka partial cover). Finally, the Premier SnugRide SnugFit 35 Elite provides all of the features of the SnugRide SnugFit 35 Elite, as well as a see-through peek-a-boo window in the sun canopy and even fancier fabric, for around $60 more.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Our biggest complaint about the Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is that installing it tightly and securely is difficult if you aren't using the base. This problem isn't unique to this seat---we encountered the same issue with our runner-up pick, the Chicco KeyFit 30, which also employs the American belt-path configuration.
If you're planning to use the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX mostly with its base, this shouldn't be a big deal. But families that regularly rely on taxis, or that plan to travel frequently and leave the base at home, may be better served by a seat with a European belt path (such as our upgrade pick, the Clek Liing, or also-great pick, the Chicco KeyFit 35); this allows for a tighter no-base install.
Also, the SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX is not compatible with as many strollers from various brands as our other picks, including strollers from the popular Uppababy line. If you have your heart set on using an Uppababy stroller with your infant seat, you may be better served by our runner-up pick (Chicco KeyFit 30), upgrade pick (Clek Liing), or also-great pick (Chicco KeyFit 35), all of which are compatible with Uppababy strollers.

Runner-up: Chicco KeyFit 30

The Chicco KeyFit 30, our runner-up pick for best infant car seat.
Photo: Michael Hession
The Chicco KeyFit 30 infant car seat is one of the easiest to use and install, especially if you're using the LATCH method. The first version of this seat debuted in 2006, and Chicco (pronounced "KEY-co") has made very few changes to the core design since then; this is a model that caregivers and friends recommend and pass along to each other. The KeyFit 30 was previously our top pick in this guide, and Wirecutter staffers who've now used the seat for many years, over multiple babies, continue to vouch for its quality.
A baby fastened in the Chicco KeyFit 30 infant car seat.
If you're using the LATCH method, securing a tight install with the Chicco KeyFit 30 doesn't require a lot of time or strength. Photo: Michael Hession
The KeyFit 30 comes with clear instructions in a detailed booklet, as well as supplemental instructions and illustrations printed on the seat, and you'll find a convenient little drawer within the seat for stowing away the manual between uses. In our tests, this was one of the easiest infant seats to install with the base and LATCH method; thanks to a liquid-filled bubble level indicator on either side of the base, you have a straightforward, intuitive gauge for achieving a proper seat angle. (Although there is no ease-of-use rating for this seat, the NHTSA gave the Chicco KeyFit 30 Magic---a discontinued seat that had the same base as the KeyFit 30---four out of five stars.)
The base of the KeyFit 30 car seat latched into the back seat of a car.
The KeyFit 30's base has a bubble level indicator on both sides to help you identify the correct angle. Photo: Michael Hession
To secure the base using LATCH (see this video for a demonstration), you click the push-button LATCH hooks into the car's anchors. And then to tighten, you pull up on a single strap located at the center of the base (labeled with the words "Pull Strap Storage"). Getting a tight fit with this Chicco seat took relatively little strength in our tests, though it did require us to use a bit more force than with our top-pick seat from Graco or our upgrade pick from Clek. That's because with the KeyFit 30, you have to push down on the base while pulling up on the LATCH pull strap; with the Graco seat, the lock-off arm does the work of making the straps tight; with the Clek seat, you merely push in. The first time I tried to install the KeyFit 30, the process took about three minutes; after that, it took about one minute. To uninstall the base, you lift the button labeled "Lift to Release" to extend the LATCH straps, and then you press the red buttons on the LATCH hooks to remove them.
A closeup of the LATCH site of the KeyFit 30 car seat in the back seat of a car.
The base of the KeyFit 30 has push-button LATCH hooks that connect to the car's anchors. Photo: Michael Hession
Installing the KeyFit 30's base with the seat belt (see this video for a demonstration) is not complicated, either, but it does require more force. First you route the seat belt through the openings in the base, and then you push on the base and pull the seat belt tight; while maintaining pressure on the base, you route the shoulder belt through the lock-off on the side of the base. During our installation session with CPST Gina Duchossois, she encouraged me to climb on top of the KeyFit 30's base so that I could apply enough pressure to tighten the belt---I wasn't quite strong enough to do the job with my arms alone. (As we previously mentioned, you can know whether you've installed a seat or base tightly enough by grabbing it near the attachment point and pulling back and forth; it should move less than an inch in any direction.)
The bottom line: Installing the KeyFit 30's base with LATCH is way easier. So if you're able to use that method with this seat, you should do so. But if your vehicle is older than 2003 (before the introduction of LATCH), or if you're installing the infant seat in a position in the car that doesn't have LATCH (such as the center of a bench seat or in a third row), and the required strength is a concern, you may want to consider other options that have an easier seat-belt-and-base install.
Our attempts to install the KeyFit 30 without its base were not particularly successful---but that problem is not unique to this seat. Like our top pick from Graco, this Chicco seat has an American belt path, which routes the seat belt across the top front of the bucket, above the baby's legs. And, as with the Graco seat, that makes installing the seat snugly particularly challenging. (For this install method, CPST Gina Duchossois recommends using a rolled-up towel or shortened pool noodle to help fill in the gap between the infant seat and the car's seat.) A Wirecutter staffer who used the KeyFit 30 with her baby for around 15 months struggled with no-base installs. "I can confirm that installing it without the base is tricky---and it was especially tricky in cars with slippery leather seats," she said. "You really have to get the car seat at the right angle, tilted pretty far back, or it just slips out from under the seat belt."
The KeyFit 30 car seat strapped into the back seat of a car.
When using the KeyFit 30 without its base, you slide the seat belt through tabs at the front of the seat (known as the American belt path). We were the least happy with this install method. Photo: Michael Hession
We found the KeyFit 30 to be user-friendly overall. The handle is easy to adjust between positions, though unlike the handle on our top pick, the Graco seat, it does not allow adjustments with one hand. The harness is simple to tighten and to loosen, with a strap mechanism located at the foot of the seat bucket. To adjust the height of the harness straps as your baby grows, you must remove the belts from a plate on the back, pull them through the holes in the seat, and thread them back through at the desired height, since this seat doesn't have a handy no-rethread harness like the Graco seat and Chicco's KeyFit 35 do. "Not that you have to do it that many times, but inevitably it was the kind of thing I remembered to do just as we were trying to get on the road, when it was not convenient to take the whole thing out," noted the Wirecutter staffer. "Now that I have a [convertible] seat with a no-rethread feature, I'm sold!"
The KeyFit 30 is one of the easiest infant seats to click in and out of its base; to remove it, you just lift the orange handle on the back of the seat. (As with our picks from Graco and Clek, on this Chicco seat, you can do this task using one hand.) The chest clip on the harness is simple to open, and with "PUSH" etched into the plastic, it's been rendered sleep-deprived-parent-proof.
A closeup of a person pulling the tightening strap of the KeyFit 30 car seat.
An intuitive tightening system makes it a no-brainer to tighten the harness from the foot-end of the seat. You pull the strap to tighten the harness, and you press the orange button to release it. Photo: Michael Hession
Aesthetically, the KeyFit 30 is pretty unremarkable. It's not particularly stylish---from a looks standpoint, we prefer both the Graco seat and the Clek seat. But it's not offensive, either. The KeyFit 30 comes in a range of muted color combinations. The seat cover is made from a slippery-feeling polyester material that's easy to spot-clean; you can also remove it and machine-wash it on the gentle cycle and air-dry it, if necessary. Unlike with the Graco seat, with this Chicco seat you have to take apart the harness system to remove the cover for washing, which does make the process a bit more time-consuming. In 2022, Chicco released the Chicco KeyFit 30 ClearTex, which is the same seat, available at around the same price, as the KeyFit 30. But the seat cover on the ClearTex version is made with fabric that contains no added chemicals, and it has received a Greenguard Gold Certification for lower chemical emissions. A spokesperson for Chicco confirmed that both models will continue to be sold, so this is simply a matter of preference.
The KeyFit 30 has an average sun canopy; it's smaller than the canopies on our other picks, but it's fine. Like the one on the Graco seat, it allows you to detach it from the back of the seat and shift it forward to block the sun from coming in at the front.
The KeyFit 30's canopy doesn't provide quite as much coverage as the canopies on our other picks. But it does detach from the back to shade your baby if the sun is in their face. Video: Michael Hession
The KeyFit 30 is the narrowest and shortest of the seats we recommend, at 16½ inches wide and 27½ inches front to back; like our other picks, it's a good candidate for a three-across seat configuration. At 9½ pounds, it's the second-lightest infant seat among our picks, after the Clek Liing.
This seat works for babies ranging from 4 pounds up to 30 pounds or 30 inches; like our other picks, it can accommodate most preemies who are able to travel in a car seat. (It comes with a two-part newborn insert cushion, which provides additional head and body support for babies weighing 4 to 11 pounds.) The KeyFit 30 lasts six years before it expires (the shortest lifespan of our picks, aside from that of the Chicco KeyFit 35, which is also six years), and it comes with a one-year warranty. This seat performed well in NHTSA crash testing (PDF).

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Like our top-pick seat from Graco, the Chicco KeyFit 30 is tricky to install tightly without its base, since it uses an American belt-path configuration. We wish that weren't the case, and if no-base installs are a priority for your family, the KeyFit 30 probably isn't your ideal seat. (Our also-great pick, the Chicco KeyFit 35, is very similar, except it has a European belt path that allows for more secure no-base installs.) Also, although installing the KeyFit 30 with the base using the seat belt (rather than the LATCH method) is not difficult or complicated, it does require some force.
The KeyFit 30 has the lowest child height and weight limit of our picks (respectively, 5 pounds and 2 inches less than the limits of the Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX, the Chicco KeyFit 35, or the Clek Liing). That is unlikely to be an issue, but it is something to keep in mind, especially if you have an unusually tall baby. The car seat technicians we interviewed confirmed that a child is likely to reach an infant seat's height limit before they reach the weight limit. Still, many parents choose to switch over to a convertible car seat well before a child reaches either of those limits, simply because it's no longer comfortable or easy to carry a bigger baby around in a bucket seat.
Though this is not necessarily a flaw, note that the KeyFit 30 is a bit no-frills. It lacks some of the bells and whistles that we'd put into the "nice but not necessary" category, such as a no-rethread harness or an added safety feature like an anti-rebound base or a load leg. These features can be a bonus, but they are ultimately not required for a quality infant car seat.
This seat is compatible with strollers from many brands. But we have learned that the Chicco adapter no longer fits as it should on the Baby Jogger City Mini 2, following a minor 2021 model update to that stroller. There are workarounds for the problem, but they're a hassle. So until the issue is resolved on a deeper level, it is unlikely that the KeyFit 30 and the City Mini 2 will work together seamlessly.
Another consideration: If you anticipate more babies in your future and you'd like to reuse your infant seat for the next round or more, keep in mind that the KeyFit 30 expires after six years, so it has a shorter lifespan than our top pick from Graco (seven years) or our upgrade pick from Clek (nine years).

Also great: Chicco KeyFit 35

Our also-great pick, the Chicco KeyFit 35, propped upright in front of an orange background.
Photo: Connie Park
In several ways, the Chicco KeyFit 35 is an even better infant car seat than its close relative, the Chicco KeyFit 30, our runner-up pick. Like the KeyFit 30, the KeyFit 35 is notably easy to install and use. But the KeyFit 35 has the added safety feature of an anti-rebound base, a European belt path (especially important for families that use their seat frequently without the base), and a convenient no-rethread harness. This seat is half a pound heavier than the KeyFit 30, though, and it's more expensive.
Installing the KeyFit 35 with its base is very similar to installing the KeyFit 30. As with the KeyFit 30, the task is easier when you're using the LATCH method, and it requires a little more force when you're using the vehicle seat belt. The KeyFit 35 does have a different base than the KeyFit 30, since it (like our top-pick seat from Graco) is equipped with an anti-rebound base (an added safety feature), though that doesn't affect the installation process. (Also, the recline-angle adjuster is situated on the top of the base, rather than at the two sides---as on the KeyFit 30---a location that's a bit easier to access.) The curved, elongated metal front of the base rests flush against the back of the vehicle seat and is intended to reduce secondary (or rebound) motion in the case of an accident. (For more information, see the Understanding optional safety features section.)
The anti-rebound base of the Chicco KeyFit 35 installed into the backseat of a car.
The Chicco KeyFit 35 comes with an anti-rebound base, which sits flush against the vehicle seat to help reduce the rebound motion of the infant seat in the event of a crash. Photo: Christina Szalinski
Another distinguishing feature of the KeyFit 35 is that, like our upgrade pick, the Clek Liing, it has a European belt path. The belt path comes into play when you're installing the seat without its base and using the vehicle seat belt only---usually for taxi rides or other travel situations where you aren't lugging the base around with you. Most infant car seats sold in the US use an American belt path, which routes the seat belt over the top of the seat only; in our tests, we've found it nearly impossible to install a seat securely with an American belt path.
The European belt path (pictured here on the KeyFit 35 Zip ClearTex model) allows you to thread the vehicle's lap belt over the top of the seat and put the shoulder belt around the back, for a more secure no-base install. Photo: Christina Szalinski
A European belt path, on the other hand, routes the lap belt over the top of the seat and the shoulder belt around the back of the seat, reducing the amount that the seat can wiggle and slide. (CPST Alisa Baer demonstrates the proper installation technique in this video.) This approach still isn't as snug and satisfying as installing an infant seat with a base, but there's a vast difference between a seat installed with an American belt path and one installed with a European belt path. So if riding without the base is a frequent occurrence, the type of belt path your infant seat has should be a consideration---and the KeyFit 35 offers this rare feature for hundreds of dollars less than our upgrade pick, the Clek Liing.
Many of the KeyFit 35's other core features are the same as on the KeyFit 30, including the carrying handle. But one noteworthy upgrade is the KeyFit 35's no-rethread harness: As your baby grows, you don't have to take the harness straps off the splitter plate, manually thread the harness straps through the holes in the back of the seat, and then reconnect them. Instead, you just slide the harness up or down into the correct position (the headrest adjusts automatically along with it), and you're done. Although rethreading harness straps isn't the end of the world, this design touch is a thoughtful and time-saving feature that we especially appreciate on our top-pick seat from Graco, as well.
Although the KeyFit 35 and KeyFit 30 have no dramatic aesthetic differences, the KeyFit 35 does have a perceptibly sleeker and more high-end feel. The KeyFit 35 has its own range of fabric options, different from the KeyFit 30's. There are several choices, all variations on black, navy and gray, as well as the Chicco KeyFit 35 ClearTex (this is the same seat, usually at the same price, but its seat cover fabric has no added chemicals and has received a Greenguard Gold Certification for lower chemical emissions). Spot-cleaning the KeyFit 35 is fairly easy, and the cover also tolerates being removed and machine-washed and line-dried.
The sun canopy on the KeyFit 35 extends out a bit farther than the KeyFit 30's, but it's not as large as that of our upgrade pick, the Clek Liing. If you want a more generous sun canopy, the KeyFit 35 Zip ClearTex (which is the exact test model we tried for this guide, and the one pictured) has a canopy that can unzip to shade the seat completely; it costs about $30 more. The KeyFit 35 Zip ClearTex's seat (in the ClearTex fabric) also has a quick-remove seat pad that allows you to remove the top portion of the seat cover for easier washing; several parents on the Wirecutter staff singled this out as a feature they wish their infant car seat had. If you're comfortable paying more, it's certainly a nice plus, but we think most people would be content with the standard KeyFit 35 model, as well.
Like the KeyFit 30, the KeyFit 35 is 16½ inches wide, so it's a good candidate for a three-across car seat configuration. At 28 inches long, the KeyFit 35 is half an inch longer than the KeyFit 30, and at 10 pounds, it weighs a half-pound more. (But it's still half a pound lighter than our top-pick seat from Graco.)
The KeyFit 35 has a slightly higher passenger height and weight limit than the KeyFit 30, though the minimum weight is the same (4 pounds, which makes it an option for some preemies). Whereas the KeyFit 30's maximum limits are 30 pounds and 30 inches, the KeyFit 35's are 35 pounds and 32 inches. We don't think that difference alone is worth paying more for; by the time your baby is about that size, the main benefit of an infant seat---its portability---is likely lost anyway, and transitioning to a convertible seat is the next natural step. But the higher size limits could get you a few more months of use from the KeyFit 35 before you need to buy another seat. Like the KeyFit 30, the KeyFit 35 comes with a newborn insert (which you must remove when the baby reaches 11 pounds) and a head-rest cushion (which you can use even after your baby has outgrown the newborn position).
The KeyFit 35 expires after six years and comes with a one-year warranty, the same as the KeyFit 30. No crash-testing data is available for this particular seat model.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Many of the things we consider to be flaws of the KeyFit 30, including its American belt path and barebones features, are resolved in the KeyFit 35; the seat even looks a little more stylish. It does weigh half a pound more than the KeyFit 30---10 pounds instead of 9½---but that's still less than our 10½-pound top pick from Graco. It costs more than the Graco seat and the KeyFit 30, but we've concluded that what it delivers---in particular, an anti-rebound base and a European belt path---justifies the price. As with the KeyFit 30, you could encounter compatibility issues in using this seat with the Baby Jogger City Mini 2 stroller, following a minor 2021 model update to that stroller. Also, if you'd like to reuse your seat, note that the KeyFit 35, like the KeyFit 30, expires after six years, so it has a shorter lifespan than our top pick from Graco (seven years) or our upgrade pick from Clek (nine years).

Upgrade pick: Clek Liing

The Clek Liing car seat and its base.
Photo: Michael Hession

Upgrade pick: Clek Liing

Clek Liing

This model is amazingly easy to install and is engineered to prevent user error (color-coding galore!). Plus, it has a huge sun canopy and the added safety feature of a load leg.

$470 from Amazon
Clek is a Canadian car seat manufacturer best known for its high-end convertible car seats, which have a reputation for weighing a ton and being built like tanks. The company came out with its first infant car seat, the Clek Liing, in 2019, and it has yet to appear on some people's radar. But during our recent round of testing, we were---at the risk of gushing---blown away by the Liing's functionality, engineering, safety features, and overall design.
The instruction manual for this seat is detailed, but don't let the thoroughness intimidate you: Installing the Liing with the base is impressively straightforward. (As one CPST pointed out, it's so simple that her 5-year-old could do it, with some adult oversight. We don't doubt that.) Like our other picks, the Liing has additional guides and instructions printed on the seat itself. Those on-seat instructions are the most thorough we've seen, and they repeat some of the most essential information from the manual on the part of the seat where it applies. Installing the seat took me a couple of minutes the first time I tried; after that, it took about a minute.
To begin the install, first you pull out the load leg from the bottom of the seat. The load leg is an added safety feature on the Liing; it's a metal rod that telescopes out and serves as a support beam between the base of the seat and the vehicle floor. If an accident occurs, the load leg can help to absorb some of the initial impact of the crash, and it also limits the amount that the seat can rotate or rebound. You can install the base without the load leg, too, but in Clek's crash testing of the Liing (video), the company found that using the load leg could reduce the potential for injury by as much as 40%. (For more information on load legs, see Understanding optional safety features.)
The Liing's load leg can help absorb some of the initial impact of a crash as well as reduce the rebound motion (the secondary motion in a crash, when the infant seat rebounds back toward the car's seat). Photo: Michael Hession
To fasten the Liing's base to your car with the LATCH system, you extend metal arms built into the base and push them straight into your car's LATCH anchors. (When you make the connection, the color on the indicator window next to the connectors turns from red to green.) This type of LATCH system is known as rigid LATCH, and it's our favorite kind because it facilitates the safest and most secure install. (Releasing the base with rigid LATCH is also easy: You just push down and slide back the red LATCH release buttons near the LATCH anchors.) The final install step is to adjust the base into one of seven recline positions; a liquid-filled bubble level indicator shows you which recline setting to choose, according to the baby's weight. Between the rigid LATCH and the load leg, once you've installed the Liing's base, it doesn't budge or even wiggle---it feels as if it's built into the vehicle.
A closeup of the Liing carseat's LATCH system, connecting the car seat to the back seat.
The Liing has a rigid LATCH system. You line up the connectors with your car's LATCH anchors and push until they click into place and the indicator turns green. Photo: Michael Hession
A Wirecutter staffer who has been using the Liing for around five months was less impressed by her first attempt to install the base with LATCH. "It was actually not as easy as I expected," she said. "The LATCH rods sort of got stuck in their retracted position, and I fought with them for five to 10 minutes." She did, however, appreciate how clearly and explicitly the instructions were spelled out on the base itself: "[Our past] car seats had no such innovation---with the Liing we could largely rely on the concise, sequenced steps on the base."
To install the base using the seat-belt method instead, you open the belt tensioner with a lever on the base, feed the seat belt through the bright blue plastic threader on the top edge of the base, pull tight, and then close the belt tensioner. Though this install method still felt very secure in our tests, it wasn't quite as rock-solid as the LATCH method.
Whether you're installing the base with the LATCH system or the seat-belt method, color-change indicators let you know when the components have properly locked in (red means not locked; green indicates locked). Additionally, you'll find a color-change indicator at the foot of the load leg; you lower the load leg with the tab labeled "Pull" until the indicator turns green.
When you're ready to click the seat bucket into the base, yet another color indicator on the side of the bucket confirms that it's inserted properly. If it's not attached securely, the indicator displays red; when the seat is locked in, it turns green. Because of the copious color-coding (the Liing has more such indicators than any other seat we've tested), it's nearly impossible to inadvertently goof anything up along the way.
The base of the Liing car seat latched into the back seat of a car.
The Liing's base has a number of indicators that turn from red to green when the components are clicked in properly, including on the LATCH connectors and on the load leg. It also has a bubble level indicator to let you know how much to adjust the angle of the base, according to your infant's weight. Photo: Michael Hession
The Liing is one of the few seats we tested in 2022 with a European belt path---our also-great pick, the Chicco KeyFit 35, is another---rather than the far more common American belt path. The European belt path routes the vehicle's seat belt over the infant car seat in two directions: The lap belt goes across the top of the bucket, while the shoulder belt goes around the back. (The American belt path goes over the top only.) As a result, we were able to install the Liing without its base, using the seat belt only, much more securely and easily than our top pick, the Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX, and our runner-up pick, the Chicco KeyFit 30, both of which use the American belt path. (Clek provides video instructions for installing the Liing without the base, and CPST Alisa Baer has a video with tips for installing an infant seat with a European belt path.) If you're planning to use the seat-belt method frequently---say, for travel or taxi rides---note that the two picks in this guide with European belt paths were the only seats that performed well in this type of install during our tests.
The Liing car seat strapped into the back seat of a car.
The Liing has a European belt path, so you route the car's seat belt over the infant seat in two different ways: over the top of the bucket and around the back. It's a secure and easy install without the base. Photo: Clek
Like our picks from Graco and Chicco, the Liing seat allows you to remove it from its base using one hand (though the release lever is located on the base, rather than on the bucket seat itself). For adjustments, the handle requires that you use two hands (unlike on our pick from Graco), but it moves smoothly and is comfortable to hold. As your baby grows, you have to adjust the harness straps the traditional way, by removing them and rethreading them. (A no-rethread harness, like that found on the Graco seat and the Chicco KeyFit 35, is quicker and easier to manage.)
During our comparison testing, we found the buckles on the Liing's harness simple to clasp and unclasp. But the staffer who has been using this seat for five-plus months reports that she frequently struggles with releasing the crotch buckle. "I wrestle with the button on the harness almost every time I have to get the baby out---it does not give easily," she said. We were unable to find similar complaints online, but reviews of the Liing are fairly limited in number. We reached out to a spokesperson for Clek. They said this is not a common complaint and that the company uses a standard buckle on the Liing that should not require any special force; the representative offered to send a new harness for the Liing and to look into the issue with the buckle on the old one when the company receives it. (We'll update this guide again in the future with those findings.)
The Liing's handle adjusts smoothly, but you have to use two hands. Video: Michael Hession
The Liing is a sophisticated-looking seat. It has an upscale, tailored style, and it's sleeker than many infant seats. This seat is available in three fabric types: a jersey knit that's a bit less expensive than the other two but harder to spot-clean; a mid-priced stain-, odor-, and moisture-resistant option that's easy to wipe clean (and Greenguard Gold Certified for lower chemical emissions); and the priciest option, a wool blend. You can remove the entire cover (Clek shows you how in its video manual), hand-wash it or wash it in a front-loading machine on the gentle cycle, and then air-dry it. Our staff tester disliked that there's no quick and easy way to remove the seat cover, or just a portion of it, for cleaning, as with our top-pick seat from Graco.
The sun canopy on the Liing is made from a stretchy material that unzips to expand, providing more coverage than the sunshade on any other infant seat we tested. At the rear of the shade is a peek-a-boo flap that opens to a mesh window, so you can check on your baby through the canopy. Note that in 2021, Clek issued a recall on the Liing concerning a canopy stay that could be forcefully broken and introduce a choking hazard. The company has addressed that design flaw, and the seats it sells today use a different, more flexible stay. If you already own a Clek Liing, you can find out whether your particular seat is affected and request a replacement canopy stay (PDF).
Once you unzip the Liing's sun shade, it can expand dramatically. Video: Michael Hession
The Liing is narrow and compact---16.9 inches wide and 27.7 inches deep, just a fraction of an inch larger than the Chicco KeyFit 30 and KeyFit 35, the smallest of our picks. So the Liing, like our other picks, is a good candidate for fitting three across. At 9 pounds, the bucket carrier without the base is more than a pound lighter than our top-pick seat from Graco. Again, we didn't find the weight differences among our four picks to be all that noticeable. But as your baby grows and you reach the limit of what you can comfortably carry, that extra pound might make a difference.
Despite the Liing's compact front-to-back dimensions, it can hold an infant up to 35 pounds or 32 inches; it also works for infants as small as 4 pounds, so it's an option for some preemie babies. The Liing comes with removable support padding that you should use for babies who weigh less than 11 pounds. Clek describes this padding as "two-stage" because it comes in two pieces, a headrest and a support cushion. You can use the headrest until the baby outgrows the seat, and you can use the bottom support cushion until their shoulders reach the top harness slot.
Because the Liing lasts for nine years before it expires---two years more than our top-pick seat from Graco and three years more than the Chicco KeyFit 30 or KeyFit 35---it's the most hand-me-down-worthy of our picks. It also has a three-year warranty, if you register it within 90 days of purchase, or a one-year warranty, if you don't. (Graco and Chicco each offer a one-year warranty.) NHTSA crash-testing data (PDF) showed that the Liing fell well below the government requirements for head-injury criteria (which is a good thing), even though the NHTSA tests evaluated the Liing's performance without the load leg, which in theory could have improved its scores further. Clek also publishes its own crash-testing data. The NHTSA gave the Liing four out of five stars for its ease of use.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

When you're paying this much for a seat, it's easy to start nitpicking and finding slight room for improvement. For example: As your baby grows, you have to adjust the Liing's harness by removing the straps and rethreading them. The task isn't tough to do, and the absence of a no-rethread harness keeps this seat lighter, since that feature adds a bit of weight. Still, once you've experienced the convenience of a no-rethread harness (as on our top pick from Graco and our also-great pick, the Chicco KeyFit 35), you're likely to miss it when it's not there. Ditto for an easy-off seat cover and a handle that you can adjust using one hand.
Finally, we have to address the elephant in the room: Even by upgrade-pick standards, the price of the Liing is pretty eye-watering. This seat costs about twice as much as some of our other, perfectly good picks; as far as we know, the Liing is the most expensive infant seat available. We understand how spending this much on an item that you may own for just a year could be seen as egregious. In the lead-up to publishing this revision to this guide, we had multiple internal conversations about the implications of giving such a glowing recommendation to an infant seat that is inaccessible to so many people, particularly when you consider that this is a product intended to save children's lives. And, unfortunately, due to the practical safety concerns related to secondhand car seats, we can't suggest (as we would with a bike or a stroller) that you try to find a used one---unless you are certain of the seat's history and confident that it has never incurred any damage.
Ultimately, we didn't think it was fair to eliminate the Liing or ignore its merits purely because of its price. Although we acknowledge that it is cost-prohibitive for many families, we have made an effort to include other excellent options in this guide that suit a wide range of budgets, and we're confident in all of our picks.

Other good infant car seats

If you want a less expensive version of our top pick from Graco: The Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35---which usually costs about $60 less than our pick---has a four-position base, versus the five positions of our pick. According to Graco, when a seat has more positions to choose from, it's easier for the base to fit in a wider range of vehicles. Even so, Graco's instruction manual (PDF) says on page 20 that you can use a rolled towel under the base if further adjustments are necessary. Additionally, the SnugRide SnugFit 35's handle requires two-handed operation, and this seat has less head padding. The Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 LX offers the same one-handed adjustable handle and five-position base as our top pick but has less head and body padding; it usually costs about $30 less.
If you want an upgrade to our top pick from Graco: The Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 Elite has the same padding as our top pick, plus fancier-looking fabric and a removable all-weather boot (aka partial cover); it usually costs about $40 more. The Graco Premier SnugRide SnugFit 35 Elite has all of the features of the regular Elite, plus a see-through peek-a-boo window in the sun canopy and the premium Savoy fabric (which comes in a sophisticated gray with brown piping); it's usually about $60 more. A boot can be a nice feature in certain climates, especially for providing a bit of extra warmth, since a child should not wear a thick, puffy coat under the harness. But a regular blanket tucked over the legs of the buckled-in child should work just as well.
If you want a less expensive version of our runner-up pick from Chicco, and you don't mind a lower weight limit: The Chicco KeyFit (sometimes referred to as the KeyFit 22, due to its 22-pound weight limit) has a weight limit that's 8 pounds less than that of the more popular KeyFit 30, our runner-up pick; both have the same, 30-inch height limit. Many caregivers are likely to find carrying a 22-pound baby in a 9-pound bucket seat difficult enough to warrant switching to a convertible seat at that point, anyway; others may prefer an infant seat with more longevity, considering that some babies may reach 22 pounds at as young as 6 months. The KeyFit features the same easy-to-install base as the KeyFit 30, but the bucket seat itself weighs half a pound less. The NHTSA has given this seat four out of five stars for ease of use.
If you want our runner-up Chicco pick but with different fabric options: The Chicco KeyFit 30 ClearTex is the same seat as our runner-up pick, the KeyFit 30, but it is made with ClearTex fabric rather than the standard polyester; the ClearTex fabric has received a Greenguard Gold Certification for lower chemical emissions and is made with no added chemicals. The Chicco KeyFit 30 Zip comes with a quick-remove seat pad for easy cleaning (which multiple Wirecutter staffers have prized highly), a zip-open boot (or partial cover), and a zip-open mesh panel in its sun canopy. The Chicco KeyFit 30 Zip Air, the most expensive model in the line, has the same features as the KeyFit 30 Zip, as well as a mesh-like fabric in the backrest, which Chicco claims improves ventilation and airflow.
If you want our also-great Chicco pick but with additional upgrades: The Chicco KeyFit 35 Zip ClearTex is the same seat as our also-great pick, the KeyFit 35, with a quick-remove seat cover for easier cleaning (a big draw for some people) and ClearTex fabric; the ClearTex fabric has received a Greenguard Gold Certification for lower chemical emissions and is made with no added chemicals. This seat usually costs around $30 more than the KeyFit 35. Also, the sun canopy on the KeyFit 35 Zip ClearTex can unzip completely and extend to fully shade the seat.
If you want a load-leg-equipped seat that costs less than our upgrade pick: The Maxi-Cosi Mico XP Max comes with a load leg, the same added safety feature that's on our upgrade pick, the Clek Liing. We tested the Mico XP Max in 2022 and found it was easy to use and install, though it wasn't quite as straightforward to install as our three main picks. (As a Wirecutter staff tester put it, "I liked that the instructions were plastered on the base itself, like with the Liing, but they were not as clear to read as the Liing's.") The Mico XP Max's base has LATCH connectors that automatically retract to self-tighten, as well as indicators that turn from red to green when the base is in tight. To install the base using the seat belt, you route the belt through the slots on the sides of the seat, and then a blue lock-off helps to make it secure and tight. Like most of our picks, the Mico XP Max isn't easy to install snugly with the seat belt only (that is, without the base), since it has an American belt-path configuration (we much prefer a European belt path). At 12 pounds without the base, the Mico XP Max's bucket seat is heavier than any of our main picks. The Mico XP Max is an attractive seat that comes in a range of stylish colors; a staff tester praised its fabric for being particularly easy to keep clean. "The fabric could be cleaned with a damp cloth, which we did for minor spots and messes," she said. "I found it straightforward to take the seat cover off, wash it per the instructions, and air-dry. It was also no trouble to get the seat cover back on." The sun canopy, which comes with a flip-out visor, proved problematic for this staffer, however: "It's flimsy, and it would sometimes flop all the way forward and collapse." The NHTSA has no ease-of-use rating for this seat. Note: A version of this seat, the Maxi-Cosi Mico 30, is available without a load leg for around $100 less; we did not test it.
If you love Uppababy models or want a high-end seat with a European belt path: The Uppababy Mesa V2 is an update of the original Mesa; the changes aren't dramatic, but they are welcome. If you're traveling without the base, you'll appreciate the revamped seat's European belt path (as on our upgrade pick, the Clek Liing, and our also-great pick, the Chicco KeyFit 35); it allows for a far more secure no-base install than the American belt path, which comes standard on most infant seats. Uppababy has also added more side-impact protection and a larger sun canopy to this version. The Mesa V2, like the first version, has an easy-to-use self-ratcheting system: When you're installing the base with LATCH, after you've attached the LATCH clips, you just push down on the base, and it tightens itself (an indicator turns from red to green once it's tightened properly). The seat without the base weighs a manageable 9.9 pounds, and fans of Uppababy's aesthetic will like the high-end look and feel. (And if you have an Uppababy Cruz or Uppababy Vista stroller, the seat clicks right in without an adapter.) But this is an expensive seat, and installing the base with a seat belt rather than LATCH requires a lot of force. Still, since most vehicles have LATCH anchors, that may not be a dealbreaker. The NHTSA has not given an ease-of-use rating for this seat.
If you travel frequently or rely heavily on taxis: You might like the Doona, a pricey car-seat-and-stroller combo that's a pick in our guide to the best travel car seats. Its unique design can be convenient for city dwellers who don't have their own car or for people who might not have the space for a regular stroller. The price is steep, but NHTSA gave this seat five out of five stars for its ease of use. For most families, a better choice is to have a separate stroller and car seat, since a baby is bound to outgrow the Doona long before they outgrow a standard stroller. But if you're looking for the most convenient option for when your child is small, the Doona could be it.

What's the law on infant car seat use?

Federal and state laws

All US states have child-safety-seat laws that require the use of car seats for kids under a certain age. For infants younger than a year old, that means a rear-facing car seat. Dedicated infant seats---including all the seats we review in this guide---are designed to be used rear-facing only. Convertible car seats are intended to be used rear-facing for younger children and then turned around later to be front-facing. The laws vary by state when it comes to the age and size at which a child can legally move to a front-facing seat; many states now require all children younger than 2 to be in a rear-facing child seat.
It is becoming increasingly common for caregivers to keep their children rear-facing beyond the age of 2 because research indicates that children are safer in rear-facing seats. And policy experts believe that the longer a young child remains rear-facing, the safer they are. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (PDF) both recommend that children remain rear-facing for as long as possible, ideally until they reach the rear-facing height or weight limit of their car seat. (Before 2018, the AAP had advised that it was fine to turn a child around at 2 years of age.)
The stringent rules surrounding infant car seats are warranted. Despite the fact that deaths in car crashes have plummeted since the 1970s, motor-vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of injury death for US children. (Crashes are the top injury death for those ages 5 to 19. Suffocation is an even bigger risk for infants younger than 1, and more kids ages 1 to 4 die in drowning incidents than in car crashes.) The reduction in car-crash fatalities is partly due to the now-ubiquitous use of child-restraint seats, and both car seats and cars have continued to become safer over the past 15 years. The NHTSA estimates (PDF) that the lives of 11,274 children younger than 5 were saved by the use of car seats or safety belts between 1975 and 2016. The nation's first child-restraint law was enacted in Tennessee in 1978, and within four years the number of traffic-crash deaths among children under the age of 4 declined by more than 50% in the state. By 1985, all 50 states had passed child-restraint laws. Purchasing the correct car seat for your child's age and stage and installing it correctly may be one of the most critical choices you make for their well-being.

Requirements for manufacturers {#requirements-for-manufacturers}

Although individual states are responsible for regulating how car seats are used, any car seat sold in the US must meet federal safety standards set by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. The NHTSA requires that all car seats be subjected to a set of regulated crash-testing protocols to confirm that they meet or exceed established benchmarks.
Current front-impact crash testing relies on three measurements to judge safety performance: HIC (head injury criterion), a composite measure that combines time and acceleration to measure the likelihood of a head injury in a car crash, which must be under 1,000; G-clip (also called the 3 ms chest clip), the chest-acceleration measurement, which should be under 60 g; and maximum seat-back angle (to provide adequate neck support in a crash), which should be less than 70 degrees from vertical. Lower numbers are better: With all three tests, the lower the number, the further the seat is from exceeding NHTSA front-impact injury-criteria limits (PDF).
Currently, the NHTSA compliance testing has no side-impact standard. However, there has been a push to create side-impact tests for car seats. Many car seat manufacturers voluntarily conduct their own side-impact testing, and a standard is already in place in Europe.
US car seat manufacturers are required to self-certify each model's safety. To ensure that the manufacturers are practicing due diligence and that their car seats are safe, every year the NHTSA conducts random compliance tests, in which the agency selects a subset of car seats and contracts a private crash-testing facility to run tests that simulate a head-on crash at 30 mph. If a car seat fails the test, a recall is instituted. European authorities rely on different---arguably more stringent---standards, including requiring car seat manufacturers to pass certification standards before putting a model on sale and requiring a side-impact standard in addition to front-impact standards.
The NHTSA also rates car seats within different categories on their ease of use, evaluating them on criteria including how clear the instruction manuals are and how easy it is to correctly install the seats. (It's no secret that incorrect installations are all too common; the NHTSA estimates that nearly half of all car seats%2C%20have%20been%20installed%20incorrectly.) are installed incorrectly.)
Note: Counterfeit car seats---that is, car seats that may look like the real thing but have not actually been crash tested for adherence to safety standards---are becoming more prevalent. (They're often sold online by third-party overseas retailers.) Upon closer inspection, these seats may have "tells," such as a three-point harness rather than a five-point harness. Never purchase or use a car seat that doesn't come with many prominently displayed safety labels, including a yellow warning label that states, "This child restraint system conforms to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS)." For more tips on how to spot a counterfeit seat, review this advice from a CPST.

The competition

The Britax B-Safe Gen2 is the successor to the Britax B-Safe 35, a former runner-up pick in this guide. But when we field-tested it in 2021 and 2022, we found that it couldn't stand up to the other seats in our current mix. In our tests, installing the base with LATCH was fairly intuitive. However, you have to tighten the two straps separately, whereas with many of the other seats we tested, including our picks from Graco and Chicco, you tighten just one strap. Installing the B-Safe Gen2 without the base, using the seat belt only, was one of the most difficult no-base installs; we found it nearly impossible to get this model in tightly, even when we tried using a rolled-up towel to fill the gap between the infant seat and the vehicle seat (a technique that had helped in some other cases). Plus, the B-Safe Gen2 doesn't have much padding inside, particularly compared with the well-padded Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 DLX, our top pick. We also found the bucket curvature of the B-Safe Gen2 to be quite deep; this may make it harder to get your child in and out of the bucket if you're leaving the seat in the base between trips, when you're operating at an awkward angle through the car door. If you want to add an anti-rebound base to the B-Safe Gen2, Britax sells that separately as part of a travel system, whereas an anti-rebound base comes standard with our top-pick seat from Graco and our also-great seat, the Chicco KeyFit 35. The B-Safe Gen2 weighs 10 pounds, and currently it has no ease-of-use rating from NHTSA.
The Chicco Fit2 is an infant-and-toddler hybrid seat rated for up to 35 pounds or 35 inches (the tallest height limit of all the infant car seats we considered). Intended for kids up to 2 years old, it could be appealing to caregivers who want to delay the switchover to a convertible seat. With the Fit2's base in its "toddler" position, the seat will properly fit an older child at a more upright angle. The seat also has an extendable headrest and a removable canopy. The base is similar to that of our runner-up pick, the Chicco KeyFit 30, a design that we found easy to install. And, like our top pick from Graco and our also-great pick from Chicco, it has the added feature of an anti-rebound bar on the base, which could help reduce secondary motion in a crash. However, the Fit2's bucket seat without the base weighs 11 pounds (nearly 2 pounds more than the KeyFit 30 seat), which may limit its use as a portable seat as your baby gets bigger. It's also about 0.5 inch wider and 1.5 inches longer than the KeyFit 30, so it may not fit as well in smaller vehicles. Although this is one of a handful of seats available with a European belt path---which typically enables a better no-base install---we found that because the seat is longer and wider, a standard seatbelt (as in the Honda Odyssey we used for testing) was not long enough for us to use the European routing. The NHTSA gives the Fit2 four out of five stars for its ease-of-use rating.
The Clek Liingo is a no-base infant car seat; as far as we're aware, it's the only infant seat of its kind currently being sold. It is similar in look and feel to our upgrade pick, the Clek Liing, but since the Liingo omits a base, it also lacks a load leg, the added safety feature on the Liing. The Liingo is usually around $150 cheaper than the Liing. You can install the Liingo using either the vehicle's seat belt (it has a European belt-path configuration, which allows for a more secure no-base install than an American belt path) or a pair of LATCH hooks that stow away in a compartment at the back of the seat. The LATCH hooks disappointed us because instead of being a truly integrated component of the seat, they're merely attached to a separate strap that goes through the top belt path; in our tests, installing the seat with them was not nearly as secure as using the European belt-path method. (And neither method was as secure or satisfying as installing the Liing seat with its base.) However, if you don't own a car, or if you spend a lot of time in taxis, the Liingo might be worth considering for its portability (it weighs only 9 pounds if you remove the detachable LATCH bin and newborn insert) and its significantly lower price in comparison with the Liing. If you're choosing between the two for your primary infant seat, however, we believe that the Liing---and its base, which provides a better and more secure install---is worth spending more on. NHTSA gives the Liingo three out of five stars for its ease-of-use rating.
The Cybex Aton 2, which we tested in 2018, was the most difficult of the seats in that test group to click in and out of its base; it required us to place different fingers on two release panels and then push in at the same time. We also found the Aton 2's handle adjustment (which requires gripping the widest part of the handle) frustrating to maneuver. (We could feel the strain from all those attempted adjustments in our forearms and wrists.) The Aton 2's standout feature is its steel load leg, an easy-to-install added safety feature that can help to absorb some of the initial impact of a crash and limit the subsequent motion. This seat has no NHTSA ease-of-use rating.
The Cybex Cloud Q is a high-end seat with some compelling features; we tested it in 2018. When you aren't using it in a car, the seat can go into a full recline, turning into a bassinet. (Babies should not sleep for extended periods on anything other than a hard, flat surface.) A sensor on the chest clip that monitors the baby for temperature and other safety concerns. And this seat comes with a load leg, the optional added safety feature that can help to absorb some of the initial impact of a crash and limit the subsequent motion. However, because this seat is much larger than average and weighs nearly 14 pounds---around 40% more than our picks---it's far more cumbersome than an infant seat should be. The NHTSA gave the Cloud Q four out of five stars for its ease of use.
The Evenflo Gold SecureMax is one of the lowest-priced infant seats equipped with a load leg, the added safety feature that can help to absorb some of the initial impact of a crash and limit the subsequent motion. However, we found the Gold SecureMax more difficult to install than our top picks precisely because of its load leg, which we had trouble locking into place. Also, the chest clip on the harness---which has a smart sensor that monitors for temperature extremes and other safety conditions---was a struggle for us to open. Currently this seat has no NHTSA ease-of-use rating.
The Maxi-Cosi Coral XP is a high-end seat with an inner carrier that lifts out of the car seat shell and weighs only 5 pounds (which may make it an attractive option for some caregivers). We did not test this seat because the upper weight limit is just 22 pounds and the height limit is 29 inches, which may be too low for many families. This seat has not received an ease-of-use rating from the NHTSA.
The Nuna infant seat lineup includes the Pipa, Pipa Lite, Pipa Lite Lx, Pipa Rx, Pipa Lite R, and Pipa Lite Rx, all of which are easy-to-use, lightweight, and stylish car seats. And they all come with the added safety feature of a load leg, which can help to absorb some of the initial impact of a crash and reduce the amount that the infant seat moves. (The models that have "Lite" in their name weigh a few pounds less but work only with their base, so they're not good options for people who take taxis or who travel frequently with a car seat.)
Nuna sells its seats with two different base options. The more affordable of the two is called the Pipa-series base (yes, it's super confusing that the base has the same name as the car seat itself), and it comes standard with the Pipa, Pipa Lite, and Pipa Lite Lx. We concluded that this base has a serious design flaw: It has rigid LATCH hooks that are designed to rotate for an easier fit, but the part of the base that rests against the vehicle seat back is too short. As a result, when you pull up on the bucket seat to disengage it from the base, that motion can cause the base to rotate up (as the LATCH connectors swivel) and the load leg to ratchet down, which causes the base's angle to change. In a quiet situation, you might hear this happening and have an opportunity to fix it, but if you have a crying baby on your hands, it could go unnoticed. We're concerned that the base can shift so easily under routine use, and we worry about how its tendency to swivel might translate to more rebound motion in a crash, since the whole seat could move upward toward the back of the seat. (This is the very effect that anti-rebound bases are meant to minimize.) Based on our experience with the Pipa-series base, we are not comfortable recommending it.
The other base option for the Nuna seats, called the Relx base, is better designed but also more expensive; like the Pipa base, it has a load leg and rotating rigid LATCH hooks. The Relx base comes with all of the models that have an "R" in their name: the Pipa Rx, the Pipa Lite R, and the Pipa Lite Rx. The part of the Relx base that rests against the vehicle seat is high enough to keep the base securely in place, so even with the swiveling LATCH hooks, the base doesn't rotate upward when you remove the bucket seat. (This design should also help keep it more secure in a crash.) If you're interested in a Nuna infant seat, we suggest considering only models with the Relx base. But if you're going to be spending close to $400 on a car seat, the Clek Liing, our upgrade pick, is a far better choice. Currently NHTSA offers no ease-of-use ratings for most of the Nuna infant seat models, but the agency did give the Nuna Pipa Lite LX an ease-of-use rating of four out of five stars.
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 is a high-end seat with an anti-rebound base (an added safety feature that can help reduce the rebound effect in the case of a crash) and a no-rethread harness. Aesthetically, it's highly appealing, with vintage-style stitching. But when we field-tested it in 2018, we found that the chest clip was flimsy, the harness straps were hard to adjust, and the handle was relatively difficult to shift. (The button to adjust the harness straps is tucked beneath the seat's material. And to operate the handle, you need to apply pressure from the thumbs, not just the hands.) This seat received an ease-of-use rating of four out of five stars from the NHTSA.
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air 360 is an inexpensive, no-frills seat that isn't particularly user-friendly. When we tested it in 2018, we found that the handle was difficult to adjust, requiring thumb strength at the access points. Finding the lever to adjust the straps was also harder than on other seats, since it's hidden under a layer of material. The chest clip felt flimsy, too. The onBoard 35 Air 360 has a hook-style LATCH system, which is harder to deal with than the push-button and rigid LATCH styles on many of the other seats we tested; we had to rely on manual strength to secure a tight fit. This seat has an ease-of-use rating of four out of five stars from the NHTSA.
The Uppababy Mesa---which the company is replacing with the Uppababy Mesa V2 but is still available for purchase while supplies last---is a stylish, high-end seat. Its base has a self-ratcheting LATCH system---when you push down on the base, it nestles in tighter. However, we found that system a bit harder to use than any of the simpler LATCH systems on our picks from Graco, Chicco, and Clek. Installing the Mesa with the base using the seat belt instead requires quite a bit of force, since its lock-off doesn't apply pressure (as on our Graco and Clek picks); the Mesa's lock-off merely keeps the belt in place after you've tightened the car's seat belt. Installing the Mesa without the base, using only the vehicle's seat belt, was as challenging as it was with other seats that had American belt paths. The Mesa has a convenient no-rethread harness, comes in a range of appealing color and fabric options, and is compatible with Uppababy strollers. However, considering the high price, we were disappointed to see that it had no added safety feature, neither a load leg nor an anti-rebound base. The NHTSA has not given this seat an ease-of-use rating.

Care, use, and maintenance

A baby strapped into an infant car seat.
Photo: Michael Hession
No matter which car seat you choose, below we list several ways to ensure that you're using and caring for it properly:
Check the installation: Nearly 49% of infant car seats are installed or used incorrectly (PDF), according to NHTSA data. Keep in mind that the seat's base should be very snug to the vehicle's seat. The owner's manual and online videos for your seat can be a helpful resource, but it's always a good idea to enlist the help of a pro. Many children's hospitals, fire stations, and police stations have certified staff available to double-check car seat installations---or, in some cases, to do the entire install---at no cost. (This Safe Kids Worldwide page provides information on how and where to get your car seat checked.) For a fee, you can hire a CPST to come to your home and do an installation or training with one or more car seats.
Position the seat for maximum safety: You should always place an infant car seat in your vehicle's back seat, ideally in the middle position if possible. Safety experts agree that the middle spot (rather than the passenger-side or driver-side "sideboard" seat) is the safest place for a child to travel. "Any car seat installed in the middle in the rear seat is least likely to suffer from the effects of the side impact," said Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, a pediatrician and CPST instructor who serves as an unpaid consultant to Chicco.
Keep the straps adjusted correctly: You should fasten the harness straps snugly enough on a child that no excess webbing can be pinched. On an infant seat, the chest clip should fall in the vicinity of the baby's armpits and nipples. And keep in mind that a baby is constantly growing, so the harness height settings that worked on your last trip may not work for the next one.
Follow the cleaning instructions for your seat (and don't go rogue): The correct method for cleaning a car seat depends on the particular make and model you have---the guidelines related to machine-washing, drying, and appropriate detergent and soap types vary widely from seat to seat. As we explain in our detailed post on how to clean a car seat, it's important that you follow the instructions carefully, since failing to do so can compromise the safety of the seat or its textiles.
Don't push the size limit: Your car seat has a height and a weight limit. As soon as your child reaches one or the other, it's time to get a new seat. Know that tots are likely to reach an infant car seat's height limit long before they reach the more prominently advertised weight limit. There should be at least an inch of space between the top of your child's head and the top of the seat back.
Dispose of your seat appropriately: Any seat that has been in a significant accident needs to be retired immediately. Beyond that, seats also have an expiration date, which typically starts six or seven years from the manufacture date. You can usually find the expiration date on a label somewhere on the back of the seat, or you can look up the information online or contact the manufacturer. We've written about how to get rid of a used car seat. Some stores periodically offer trade-in events; Target, for one, holds a trade-in event twice a year. Bring your old seat to the store, and the store will get rid of it for you responsibly, typically offering you a coupon toward your next purchase.
Beware of falls outside the car: It's a perhaps-surprising fact that more babies strapped into infant car seats are injured in accidents that occur outside of the car than in actual car crashes, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics. Exercise caution when placing your infant on any sort of elevated surface while they're inside the seat. Falls from the tops of cars and the tops of shopping carts are among the most common---an infant seat is safest inside the shopping cart itself, rather than perched on the cart's handle. If you're resting an infant car seat on a stable surface outside the car, rotate the handle down to give it additional support.
Additional reporting by Ingela Ratledge Amundson and Rebecca Gale.
This article was edited by Ingela Ratledge Amundson and Kalee Thompson.

Sources

  1. Gina Duchossois, CPST and injury prevention expert with the Injury Prevention Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, chair of Safe Kids Southeastern Pennsylvania, in-person interview, December 2021

  2. Alisa Baer, MD, pediatrician and co-founder of car-seat safety website The Car Seat Lady, phone interviews, November 4, 16, and 18, 2021

  3. Jessica Jermakian, PhD, vice president for vehicle research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), phone interviews, 2022

  4. Miriam Manary, senior research associate, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, phone interview, April 24, 2017

  5. Derrell Lyles, public affairs, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, email interview, May 4, 2017

  6. Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, pediatrician, uncompensated consultant to Chicco on matters of car-seat safety, phone interview, June 21, 2017

  7. Joshua Dilts, marketing product manager, Chicco USA, phone interview, June 21, 2017

  8. William Conway, engineering leader, car seats, Graco, phone interview, June 26, 2017

  9. Daniella Brown, car seat safety advocate, CPST-I, phone interview, June 28, 2017

  10. Lani Harrison, CPST, Car Seats for the Littles, phone interview, June 29, 2017

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