A car seat is one of the most important purchases you make before baby arrives, but with so many options on the market, choosing the right one can feel overwhelming. That’s where we come in! Here, you’ll find everything you need to know to keep your precious cargo safe on the road.
We have simple answers to all your questions on car seat safety features—including tips on ensuring your car seat is properly installed and advice on when to size up. Or dive right in for our top picks for the seven best car seats, all reviewed by real parents.
What type of car seat are you looking for?
Best Overall Car Seat
This Evenflo convertible car seat promises up to 10 years of use for infants and children from two to 55 kilograms and 18 to 120 centimetres. It does triple duty, converting a rear-facing infant seat to a forward-facing seat to a high-back booster as your kiddo grows. It also boasts 10 positions, including two forward-facing reclining angles and three rear-facing angles for added leg room, comfort and space—for baby and passengers.
- A machine washable cover and dishwasher-safe cup holders are especially important when buying a car seat that lasts 10 years.
- Designed with a specialized LATCH function so installing the seat tightly is a snap.
- You can easily adjust the seat to allow toddlers to ride rear-facing longer—up to 22 kilograms.
I love that we will be able to adjust the headrest and straps in one easy step without having to uninstall.
Nice but big. Small car owners, look elsewhere.
Best Convertible Car Seat
Graco is a trusted name in baby gear, and this convertible car seat is one of best-reviewed on the market. Designed to be the only car seat you need, it converts four ways, from a rear-facing infant seat to a forward-facing seat to a high-back booster to a backless booster. It has 10 positions and six reclining angles so you can adjust depending on your child’s mood (reclined positions are great when they’re sleepy). This seat fits kids sized two to 54 kilograms.
- A special harness system allows you to adjust the headrest and harness in one motion.
- Installation is fast and easy with the Universal Anchorage System (UAS) and lever—it takes one second and clicks audibly, no guessing.
- The washable seat cover can be taken off without removing the harness for easy clean up—but note that the base is not separate so mess can accumulate underneath.
I love that the bottom of the seat is flat and won’t cut into my leather seats. Everything can easily be removed to wash. And you don’t have to undo the straps to adjust based on height. You just press the lever and pull to adjust the height.
In the rear facing position, the seat takes up so much room that I had to push my front passenger seat all the way forward so this would not be a comfortable ride for any adult passenger sitting next to me who was over 5’.
Best Budget Convertible Car Seat
Convertible car seats can be pricy when you consider the many options available, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Harmony Defender’s version rings in at less than $200, taxes included! It converts into three handy seat styles, from a forward-facing five-point harness seat to a high-back booster to a backless seat belt-only booster for kids 10 to 49 kilograms and 68 to 145 centimetres. It has nine different positions for kids who are particular about their favourite angles, with quick and easy adjustments that don’t require uninstalling and re-installing.
- The height can be adjusted easily with the “one-touch, no-rethread” harness height adjuster.
- One of few convertible seats that fits with two other car seats, so you can have three seats across in a standard vehicle.
- The harness can be used in high-back booster mode for kids up to 27 kilograms for increased safety.
Great seat for tall kids!
The padding around the crotch buckle is a great feature but it is not attached and comes off when the child exits the seat.
Best Infant Car Seat
Consistently well-reviewed by parents, the Graco SnugRide 35 Lite is designed for infants two to 15 kilograms and up to 81 centimetres. This rear-facing, five-point harness seat has a four-position adjustable base to fit babies growing into toddlers. (If you have a smaller vehicle, try the smaller Graco SnugRide SnugLock30.)
- At just over three kilograms (seven pounds) the seat is light to carry—for quick errands, you may not need the stroller at all.
- This model has gone through rigorous crash testing as well as temperature testing to ensure it holds up under extreme car interior conditions.
- The sun canopy slides from front to back allowing for coverage at any angle.
It’s easy to carry, easy to clean, easy to connect to the base or the stroller, just EASY!
The canopy is kind of flimsy and hard to maneuver. It is hard to move up and down.
Best Toddler Car Seat
A convertible booster is a solid choice once your baby outgrows the infant seat. This two-in-one is safe for kids 10 to 54 kilograms and converts from a forward-facing, five-point harness booster to a high-back booster with seat belt. It has a narrower frame, so it’s ideal for families with multiple car seats or smaller vehicles.
- The headrest has exclusive belt path technology that automatically adjusts the seat belt to the correct height while in high-back booster mode.
- This seat is light and easily transferable between vehicles thanks to the lower anchor and tether system.
- Removable head support provides comfort as your child grows.
This seat is lightweight, making it easy to transfer from one vehicle to another. It is more compact than other seats I’ve owned, so it will fit nicely in smaller cars.
I felt this was best for kids around 5 or older. I used with my almost 2-yr old and 4-yr old and felt for a little one who falls asleep in the car it wasn’t very good.
Best Backless Booster Seat
A backless booster is a solid option if you have older kids. It’s also a great if you don’t own a car, but rent or use car services, because it’s lightweight. It also doesn’t require a universal anchor system and is small enough to store easily. This version from Harmony is designed for kids 18 to 45 kilograms and 101 to 144 centimetres tall with a comfortable seat cushioned with high-density foam.
- The smooth seat-saver design protects your vehicle’s seat from damage.
- This seat is easy to install—simply thread the seat belt through the belt guide.
- The belt path and anti-compression cavity are designed to prevent your child from sliding under the lap belt in case of impact.
Key features are that the shoulder strap follows the same path as in those seats with a back and that it comes with a shoulder strap guide that can make things easier.
If it’s for sporadic use, I would still buy it. But for everyday use, I suggest to buy a higher quality one.
Best Car Seat Travel System
A travel system is a great option if you’re looking for a rear-facing infant car seat and stroller combined. Evenflo’s Pivot is a three-in-one that comes with an infant seat, stroller and stroller seat that converts from a bassinet to sit-up style seat. This travel system was designed with ease in mind—baby can stay in the seat for a no tears transfer from the stroller to the car (just attach the seat to the stay-in-car base).
- The infant seat is for babies from just under one to just over 15 kilograms and from 17 to 32 centimetres.
- The lightweight stroller frame makes folding and unfolding a breeze and comes with a large storage basket.
- Best suited for those who want to purchase a toddler car seat separately.
I love that this travel system is so lightweight and convenient. It has all the parts you would need as your infant grows into toddlerhood. One of my favorite things is how giant the basket is at the bottom of the stroller.
Seat also comes with a snack tray with a space for a cup. The cup area isn’t very deep and the snack area wasn’t very big but both worked for us fine.
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Your Questions, Answered
What are the different types of car seats?
- Infant car seat: Designed specifically for newborns and babies, infant car seats must be rear-facing, and most have extra padded head support. There are typically two parts: the base, which is installed in your back seat and stays there, and the car seat, which can be removed to carry the baby safely. Infant car seats have a five-point harness, which means it attaches to five points on the car seat—two at the shoulder, two at the hips, and one point between the legs.
- Toddler car seat: Once your baby outgrows the infant seat, it’s time for an upgrade. Toddler seats can hold kids up to 30 kilograms and require a five-point harness. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends keeping children rear-facing as long as possible.
- Convertible car seat: A convertible seat is a sound investment because they last through several ages and stages. There are two-in-ones that convert from a rear-facing infant seat to a forward-facing toddler seat. There are three-in-ones that transform into a high-back booster seat, and four-in-ones that offer a backless booster option too.
- Booster car seat: Booster seats are for older kids who have outgrown a traditional forward-facing seat. There are two kinds: A high-back booster has a backrest for extra support and can use a five-point harness or a seat belt, while a backless booster is simply a seat with arms or loops to guide the seat belt. Some backless boosters feature a Universal Attachment System (UAS)—read more on that below—and while others simply rest on the vehicle’s seat.
- Travel system: A travel system is an infant car seat and stroller combo that uses the same connecting system, so baby can go from the car to the stroller without being taken out of their seat. It’s a convenient and a worthwhile investment, since you’re getting an infant seat and stroller in one. Some travel systems offer a seat and a stroller base, while others include a bassinet or an additional stroller seat so that you can continue using the stroller after baby outgrows the car seat.
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What should you look for in a car seat?
- Safety features: All car seats labelled with the National Safety Mark are rigorously tested by the manufacturer and must pass strict Canadian safety standards before sale—they are designed to be safe and many exceed the testing regulations. But here are some things to know: Never use a seat without the National Safety Mark and never use a seat that has been in a collision or is damaged. You can reuse a seat you already own as long as it meets all the current safety standards, but Transport Canada recommends buying a new seat whenever possible. If you are reusing an old seat for a new kid, check the expiry date stamped into the seat—they typically expire after six to 10 years. Find more essential safety tips for pre-owned car seats—including a search function for identifying recalled seats—at Transport Canada. Car seat safety regulations vary by province, so be sure to check the guidelines in your area before buying or borrowing a car seat from out of province.
- Size and fit with your car: Think about the width of your vehicle, as most cars can accommodate two car seats, but three can be a challenge. If you do need three seats, look for a narrower base or special design. Also know that if the driver or passenger seat occupants are tall, there could be discomfort while car seats are rear-facing.
- Ease of installation: All car seats have installation directions posted on the seat, but some are easier to install than others. Read reviews from other parents and always check the manual before you try installing. And read on for more installation tips!
How do you install a car seat?
For assurance, you can contact the non-emergency line of your police or fire department for clinics where they will help ensure your car seat is properly installed. Transportation Canada also offers tips for installing each type of car seat and local child and road safety organizations may offer car seat clinics, too.
In Canada, vehicles made after September 2002 have a Universal Anchorage System (UAS) in at least two of the back seats (sometimes this is referred to as a LATCH, CANFIX or ISOFIX). In older cars, the car seat attaches to the seat belt. Please check your car manual for the location of all UAS connections.
It is important to read the car seat manufacturer’s manual before installing your car seat, because each one is unique. Once you have read the material, follow the directions to connect the car seat to the UAS and tighten as much as possible.
A secure infant seat or base should not wiggle more than two and a half centimetres from front-to-back and side-to-side. Rear-facing and forward-facing seats sit at different angles–there will be a level indicator on the side that allows you to see when the seat is installed at the correct angle. Many car seats also have a belt with a hook that attaches to a latch located either on the bottom or back of the vehicle seat (accessed through the trunk). This adds extra security and stability.
How do you put baby in a car seat?
Read the manufacturer’s manual to learn about the placement of the harness straps, how tight they should be and where the chest buckle should land. Remember that the instructions will change as your child moves from a rear-facing to a forward-facing seat, so you should always familiarize yourself with the new guidelines as your child grows. Whatever the correct alignment for your child, getting them settled in their car seat provides a good opportunity to sneak in a hug and a kiss!
How do you clean a car seat?
The first piece of advice is to let go a little—babies and kids are messy and they’re always hungry. There will be eating and drinking in the car seat. There will be spit up, drool, milk, and maybe even barf, urine or feces. Remove the cover (take note of how it connects to the frame so you can put it back on easily,) rinse off the grossest bits and toss it into the wash. Always follow the laundry instructions on the label to avoid shrinkage—you don’t want to be left with a too-small cover! Use a vacuum for the nooks and crannies of the seat itself and wipe down with an all-purpose cleaner. And if you just don’t want to clean it yourself, there are professional services that will do it for you.
- Canadian Paediatric Society, Caring for Kids. Car seat safety.
- Canadian Paediatric Society, Caring for Kids. Car seat safety.
- Transport Canada. Choosing a child car seat or booster seat.
- Transport Canada. Children’s car seats and booster seats: How long are they safe?
- Transport Canada. Stage 1: rear-facing seats.
- MyHealth Alberta. The Tether Strap and Universal Anchorage System (UAS).
- Child Safety Link. Install your Car Seat with UAS/Latch.
- Transport Canada. Stage 1: rear-facing seats.
- Transport Canada. Stage 2: forward-facing seats.
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