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There’s nothing more important than your baby’s safety. Much like shopping for the best toys for your one-year-old and beyond, shopping for a convertible car seat is one of the most pivotal purchases you’ll make, ensuring that it’s made well and makes your baby happy.
Because your baby can sit in one of these grow-up-with-you seaters for up to five years (yes, it truly grows up with your baby!), I turned to a certified baby safety expert, perused and pored over a litany of consumer-written reviews and tested two popular models on my two-year-old and one-year-old nieces: the Britax and the Nuna.
What’s more, given my nieces unique ages, one is currently forward-facing while the other is rear-facing, which gave this weeks-long review both convertible car seat perspectives.
“Using a convertible car seat from birth, one that rear faces and then forward faces when the child is older, versus a rear-facing-only seat (also known as ‘bucket’ seats) has become more common over the last few years,” Holly Choi, baby and toddler safety expert, certified Red Cross first aid instructor, child-passenger safety technician-instructor (CPST-I) and co-owner of Safe Beginnings First Aid, told the New York Post. “Using a convertible car seat from birth can be perfectly safe and save parents money.”
Additionally, Choi explained everything on convertible car seats — from what to look for to when to seat your baby front-facing or rear-facing — in the FAQ section following the review.
I’ve been buckling my two-year-old niece into the Britax Convertible Car Seat for more than a year, she just started riding in the Nuna model and I’ve been testing, securing and assessing the latter for at least two weeks. Both deliver great safety features and comfort (more on that in our review section), and there are a few criteria I kept in mind while reviewing both models:
Car seat dimensions: 25″ x 16″ x 19″ | Child weight & height: 5-50 lb. rear-facing; 25-65 lb. forward-facing; up to 49″ | Safety features: energy-absorbing foam and SIP (side impact protection) pods to offer side-impact protection; fully designed steel frame and reinforced belt path offer quality protection
As pictured, my niece Julianna Grace felt like a princess in her Nuna RAVA Flame Retardant-Free Convertible Car Seat. Instantly upon installation, it was evident that she had enough head room and the freedom to wiggle her legs, all while being properly secured from head-to-toe. Namely, the front belt is ultra-secure by her shoulders and down to her waist. This is thanks to the car seat’s unique design that allows for extra leg support for forward-facing riders, which she is up to, given her age, weight and height.
And, though my niece is currently forward-facing and loves the extra room, babies who fit the height and weight requirements to be rear-facing (earlier in their development) will enjoy the extra 2 inches of legroom. All in all, the Nuna is exceptional for targeting all of your safety needs while providing a smooth, comfortable cushion for your little one.
After much research — especially during Nordstrom’s annual Anniversary Sale, when this car seat is offered on sale for a limited time — I knew this specific model was one of the most sought-after on the market. Parents and caregivers will love it for a handful of reasons, one being that its five-point harness adjusts with one hand to keep up with your baby’s growth spurts. That said, no belt re-threading is necessary.
How to install: Nuna’s patented Simply secure installation makes the process simple, thanks to its recline-angle guides that clearly outline the ideal riding angle for your baby or toddler. It also has colored belt-oath indicators to help prevent any strap-threading errors.
The comfortable seat offers a 10-position incline (talk about riding in luxury!) and head support, making it simple to find your baby or toddler’s preferred positioning. It’s also aircraft-certified, so rest assured that it meets the criteria to be taken on airplane travel in addition to your road trips. Plus, it’s made with machine-washable knit fabric with an easy-to-clean seat pad (that feels smooth and luxurious to the touch, BTW).
This model is also sustainably made without the use of flame-retardant chemicals, so you also won’t have to worry about long-term effects of certain chemically manufactured designs. Speaking of design, you’ll adore how the Nuna includes cupholders at each side to easily flip open their favorite beverages and snacks — all within arm’s reach while your baby is secured and buckled in.
Lastly, one feature you’ll be happy with (especially in the warmer months) is this model’s ventilation panels that help ensure your baby doesn’t wake up sweaty or sit uncomfortably in longer trips. The Nuna has everything going for it: safety, comfortability and quality — and, while a splurge at $550, it’ll last you without a headache for years. Truthfully, I wish my niece was riding in this model since she was a newborn.
Car seat dimensions: 24″ x 18.5″ x 23.5″ | Child weight & height: 5-50 lb. rear-facing; 50-65 lb. forward-facing; up to 49″ | Safety features: two layers of side-impact protection surround the head, neck and torso; patented v-shaped tether and high-strength steel frame help absorb crash energy in emergencies
My niece Olivia Rose has been riding in her Britax Boulevard Clicktight Convertible Car Seat for a full year, and this is the same model Julianna Grace has ridden in before trying out her Nuna model. From taking car trips with the Britax by my side, I never had to worry about my nieces’ safety in instances when a car driving in front of our SUV stopped short or there was a bump in the road.
Namely, the car seat is backed by nearly 1,400 satisfied parents and caregivers — and for a good reason. It will grow with your baby up to 65 lbs. and the brand has infused this model with some great safety features worth noting.
First, it has a patented v-shaped tether which, in the instant of an impacted crash, will aide in providing more, much-needed protection. It also includes easy-read level indicators so you’ll be able to ‘click’ the car seat into the specific position as it grows with your baby. Its Clicktight technology is ultra-secure and safe as well.
How to install: Britax’s model comes with unobstructed seat belt paths and an automatic tensioner to take care of the tightening. That said, set-up is incredibly streamlined.
This car seat uniquely comes with 15 positions, a quick-adjust headrest and harness and two layers of side-impact protection — the latter being a feature I looked at closely. This is something the Nuna (that is $150 more on the market) proudly boasts, so I was glad to see the same safety features were evident on the Britax model.
Speaking of the car seat’s upholstery and material, rest assured that Britax offers a naturally flame-retardant knit construction 100% void of those unwanted chemically forged ingredients in the manufacturing process. Keep in mind that this model unfortunately doesn’t include cupholders, but the brand’s One4Life Convertible Car Seat ($400) has this feature.
Additionally, when comparing the Britax with the Nuna model, it’s a bit more compact (so better apt for smaller vehicles) but it doesn’t compromise your baby’s comfortability or legroom. Impressively, it provides ample room for a toddler up to 63″ tall, which is a difference of 10″ more space when compared to the Nuna model.
Though it’s buckles are secure and I’ve been testing this particular model for more than a year, the Nuna does have a bit more of comfort and ‘staying power’; in other words, some reviewers have noted that they wish the headrest was a bit more secure. I would have to agree, though I never felt safety was ever compromised. However, it’s something to note as, for $180 more, you’ll have a more stationary ride with the Nuna.
Ahead, we turned to Choi to speak on what to keep in mind as far as baby safety goes, along with key characteristics to make note of when shopping for and using a convertible car seat.
As stated, convertible car seats have grown in popularity due to the value and lasting power they bring. Be sure to note that some car seat manufacturers require additional inserts be added for a newborn to fit the seat properly, though this will be explicitly stated on the car seat’s product description; none of the car seats tested in this review require additional inserts.
“Parents should note that nothing should be added to a car seat unless explicitly allowed or suggested by the car seat manufacturer, typically stated in the user manual for the car seat,” Choi told The Post. “Rear-facing-only ‘bucket’ style seats are a great option for the first few months, because they fit small babies well and provide parents with the convenience of being able to take the baby with them in the car seat while on errands.”
What’s more, the best car seat is the one that fits your vehicle, fits your child, fits your budget, and you will use correctly 100% of the time. “These are the four factors every parent-to-be needs to consider before purchasing a car seat,” Choi adds.
Choi breaks down each of these points succinctly:
Fitting your vehicle: Variations in the passengers typically riding in the vehicle, their heights, the contours of the vehicle interior and more can cause incompatibilities in some cases. The best place for parents to start is at a baby gear store, test-fitting a car seat in your vehicle. Most baby stores and boutiques will allow caregivers to test floor-model car seats in their vehicle prior to purchase. It’s important that parents actually install the car seat rather than just place it on the vehicle seat, as the installation can make a huge different in terms of how much space the car seat will truly take up in the vehicle. Some rear facing car seats will take up more room than others and in a compact vehicle, this can make it challenging to fit the whole family in safely and comfortably.
Fitting your child: Using a convertible car seat from birth, one that rear-faces and then forward-faces when the child is older, versus a rear-facing-only seat (also known as “bucket’ seats has become more common over the last few years. Using a convertible car seat from birth can be perfectly safe and save parents money. However, rear-facing-only infant car seats are designed to fit newborns well, and some convertible car seats may not fit a small baby well.
Fitting your budget: Car seats are priced on a very wide spectrum, but it’s important to that a child’s safety is not compromised in a less expensive seat, so long as that seat is being used correctly. Many car seats are manufacturered with expensive materials, such as load legs, anti-rebound bars, rear facing tethers, speciality fabrics or additional convenience features. However, seats sold on the North American market pass federal crash testing standards. Parents should never feel guilty if they are unable to purchase an expensive car seat. What’s important here is purchasing a car seat that meets current safety regulations, fits their child and their vehicle properly, and can be used correctly for every ride.
It used to be recommended to keep children rear facing until age 2, based on a 2011 recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In August 2018, the AAP) updated its recommendations to instead suggest children remain rear-facing “as long as possible, up to the limits of their child’s car seat. This will include virtually all children under 2 years of age and most children up to age 4.” It’s important to check your car seat’s weight and height parameters, as these are the two important factors to determine front- or rear-facing, more so than age.
The recommendations were updated based on injury data and crash analysis, specifically related to how a young child’s head, neck and spine are best protected when rear-facing, as opposed to forward-facing.
“Car seats are designed with the most common and most fatal crashes in mind, which are known to be frontal collisions (such as a head-on collision) as the overwhelming majority of collisions, followed by side-impact collisions,” Choi explains. “With this information in mind, everything in a crash will move towards the point of impact. Therefore, a child in the backseat will move toward the front of the vehicle until something stops them — depending on their situation, this could be a seat belt, their car seat’s harness, or in the case of a rear-facing child, the shell of their car seat.”
Of course, rear-end collisions are a regular occurrence, too. However, they are typically happening at much lower speeds, less likely to be fatal, and car seat harnesses will still help to protect rear-facing children in those scenarios, according to Choi.
In order for the child to be properly protected by the car seat, they also need to be harnessed correctly. Here are the main things to check, according to Choi:
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