baby talk

How to Choose a Toddler Car Seat

Chicco NextFit Max ClearTex Toddler Car Seat image

Your sweet baby sprouted into an adventurous toddler in the blink of an eye! They’ve outgrown bottles and baby toys, so it makes sense that they've outgrown their infant car seats, too. With so much advice and so many options out there, choosing the right toddler car seat can feel like you’re trying to navigate a bustling highway. To help you decide, we’ve created a guide on how to choose the right toddler car seat for your family.

  • When choosing a toddler car seat for your growing little one, consider how easy it is to install, its height and weight limits, and how it will fit in your vehicle. You should avoid buying used car seats, as they may have hidden damage that could affect their integrity.
  • Once your child has grown out of their infant car seat, there are several options available. Some car seats, like convertible car seats, meet the needs of children up until they’re ready to transition to a booster seat. Other car seats, like all-in-one models, can meet the needs of children up until the point they no longer need a booster seat. Choosing which option works well for you may depend on how much you want to invest in your next car seat now, or in the future.
  • Understanding the maximum height and weight limits of the infant car seat you’re currently using can help you better understand when it’s time to transition. You can find this information in the car seat manual.

Now that your baby has outgrown their infant car seat (maybe a little quicker than you’d like!), there are three main types of car seats for you to choose from: convertible car seats, rotating convertible car seats, and all-in-one car seats. Other car seats, like infant car seats or booster seats, may play a transitionary role at the beginning or end of toddlerhood, too, but in this article, we’ll focus on the types of car seats that will likely accommodate the bulk of time your child is a wild and crazy toddler.

Each of these toddler car seats will keep your pint-sized passenger safe, but they have different features to suit different lifestyles. Let’s take a look!

Convertible Car Seats

Convertible car seats accommodate both rear-facing and forward-facing orientations. Initially set up for rear-facing use, they support infants who meet specific height and weight requirements. Once a child outgrows these rear-facing limits, the seat easily transitions to a forward-facing setup, continuing to provide safety for older children who meet the forward-facing criteria. Depending on the model, convertible car seats can typically be used by children ranging from 5 to 65 pounds.

Rotating Convertible Car Seats

Like a regular convertible car seat, rotating convertible car seats offer both rear-facing and forward-facing positions. However, rotating convertible car seats, like the Chicco Fit360 ClearTex, can swivel 360 degrees, making it easier for caregivers to reach and buckle up their child. While they may be pricier than regular convertible car seats, the rotating feature makes it a worthy contender for parents seeking more accessibility and maneuverability. To help offset some of these costs, parents can purchase additional bases for the Chicco Fit360 ClearTex car seat, which gives them the option of buying one car seat and multiple bases to accommodate multiple vehicles.

All-in-One Car Seats

All-in-one car seats are another great option because they can be used after children grow out of their infant seats to the point where they no longer need a booster seat. They have both rear-facing and forward-facing positions and even have multiple booster seat modes. Across all positions and modes, these seats can typically accommodate infants weighing as little as 5 pounds to children up to 100 pounds. All-in-one car seats are designed with growth in mind; they include features like adjustable harnesses and recline positions, so you’ll only have to buy one car seat per vehicle until your little one is big enough to sit on the vehicle seat itself.

When is Your Child Ready to Start Using a Toddler Car Seat?

According to the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), it’s best to keep children rear-facing as long as possible because it provides them with the best head, neck, and spine protection in a crash. However, their little bodies are sprouting like sunflowers and won’t stay rear-facing forever; eventually, you’ll need to transition them to a forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness to keep them safe and comfortable.

Kids come in all shapes and sizes, so age shouldn’t be used to determine whether they’re ready to use a toddler car seat. Instead, closely monitor your baby’s growth and follow the car seat manufacturer’s weight and height guidelines. Once they’ve exceeded their infant car seat's maximum weight and height limits, they’re ready to make the switch to a convertible car seat.

Once your child has outgrown their infant car seat (don’t worry—they’re still your baby!), you’ll need to shop for a convertible car seat with a five-point harness and a top tether. All car seats for sale in the U.S. are held to the same federal safety standards, so you can focus on finding one that checks these boxes:

  1. Ease-of-installation

    Ease of installation is a major consideration for car seats because it helps you keep your baby safe with minimal hassle. Toddler car seats with LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) systems are designed to simplify car seat installation. With lower anchors located in the crease of vehicle seats and tether anchors on the back of the seat or the vehicle's rear shelf, LATCH allows caregivers to attach the car seat directly to the vehicle without using the vehicle’s seat belt. This system makes car seat installation easier and lowers the risk of incorrect installation. Some manufacturers, like Chicco, offer additional features that make installation easier, like the SuperCinch® tightener system, which uses a force-multiplying mechanism to effortlessly achieve a secure and snug fit, allowing parents to quickly and confidently install their child's car seat.

  2. Height and Weight Limits

    Just because your little one may have outgrown their rear-facing infant car seat doesn’t mean they can’t continue to be rear-facing in their new toddler car seat. Many rear-facing toddler car seats allow children to stay rear-facing for up to 40 pounds, so be sure to check the height and weight limits set by the manufacturer. In addition to providing paper manuals with car seats upon purchase, many manufacturers have online product manual libraries parents can reference. Remember: following these limits is one of the best ways to keep your child safe while traveling.

  3. Side Impact Protection

    Different car seat models offer varying side impact protection features. Chicco car seats boast the DuoGuard® head and torso protection system and steel-reinforced frames. Beginning in July 2025, Rule 213a of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will introduce a federal standard for Side Impact Protection to which all covered car seats must comply.

  4. Comfort and Fit

    Not all vehicle seats are the same size, so not every toddler car seat may fit in your backseat. Before making a purchase, measure the height and width of the space in your car's backseat to make sure the toddler car seat you choose will fit. When measuring, you’ll want to make sure the vehicle’s front seats are in a position that will allow your passengers to sit comfortably. A proper fit not only ensures that the seat can be securely installed according to the manufacturer's instructions but also keeps everyone in the car comfortable with minimal hassle.

  5. Avoid Used Car Seats

    While buying a used car seat may be better for your wallet, unless the full history of the car seat, including its installation, use, and any incidents it may have been involved in, is known, there’s no way to tell whether it’s safe to use. When you opt for a new car seat, you can rest assured that your most precious cargo will be protected for years to come. By purchasing new, you eliminate the risk of hidden issues like cracks, recalls, or damage that may not be visible but could impact the seat's performance.

It can be bittersweet watching your little one zoom past new milestones every day, but one of the greatest joys of parenthood is helping your baby learn and grow. Just like they outgrow their bassinets and favorite pureed baby foods, they outgrow their infant car seats. As you continue to search for the perfect car seat for your toddler, remember—it's not just about finding the perfect fit for today but also about anticipating the twists and turns of tomorrow's adventures. Embrace the journey and shop Chicco toddler car seats for options!