posted in Products & Prizes
All-in-one car seats have been on the market for some time, but it’s only in the last few years that they’ve gotten awesome. Multi-stage (a.k.a. 3-in-1 or 4-in-1) seats of the past usually lagged behind in at least one mode — they didn’t fit infants snugly, or were too short for lanky grade-schoolers. After all, making one seat that fits everything from a 5-pound preemie to a tall fifth-grader is a pretty tall order.
But car seat engineers have been hard at work and are coming up with all-in-ones we can wholeheartedly recommend. Buy one of the following 4 seats when your child’s on the way, and you might just be able to get away with never buying another seat, ever.
Holding kids from 4 to 120 pounds and up to 57 inches tall (about the height of an average 11-year-old), the 4Ever is such an all-around great seat that it’s hard to list all its features without rambling on boringly. One of the downsides of all-in-one seats is that they tend to be gargantuan, but the 4Ever fits easily even in compact cars. Installed rear-facing, you won’t have to pull your front seat up uncomfortably. We included it in our lists of car seats that fit in small cars for this reason.
It also fits a wide range of kid-sizes well, with an infant insert that makes things snug and comfy for even extra-tinies, and a nice tall back that works for long-bodied grade schoolers. It does expire after 10 years, so if your child — like some — needs a booster seat until age 12, it might not last you all the way through the child-restraint years. But it’s such a great seat that it’s worth it. (Kmart, $269.99)
Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1
So reasonably priced that we listed it in our bargain-hunting story 11 extended rear-facing car seats under $200 (5 under $100!), the Grow and Go ticks off many of our “gotta have it” boxes. It has generous rear-facing weight/height limits of 40 pounds and 40 inches, which should get all but the largest kids up to age 3. It holds children up to 100 pounds as a high-backed booster, too; about the size of an average 12-year-old.
Downsides: As the name says, the Grow and Go is a 3-in-1, not a 4-in-1. You can use it as an infant seat, a convertible seat and a high-backed booster, but not as a backless booster. Kids who complain about sitting in a “babyish” big booster may object. Also, like the 4Ever, the Grow and Go expires 10 years after the date of purchase, so if your child needs a booster until age 12 — many do — you’ll have to get one more seat. But for a seat this bargain-priced, these small downsides are so very worth it. (Walmart, $135.86)
The 4Ever’s cheaper cousin has a lot to recommend it: the same height/weight limits as the 4Ever in rear, forward-facing convertible, and high-backed booster mode. So why is it $60-$100 cheaper? Because, like the Grow and Go, the Milestone is a 3-in-1 instead of a 4-in-1. You can use it as a rear-facing infant seat, a convertible seat, and a high-backed, but not a backless booster.
So the weight limit on the Milestone tops out at 100 pounds rather than 120. But since backless boosters are both inexpensive and very easy to get secondhand from friends, this seat may be worth it to you. (Walmart, $209.88)
Evenflo Symphony LX
Like the Grow and Go and the Milestone, the LX is a 3-in-1. It expires in 8 years too, which means you’ll almost definitely have to get a booster at the end of your child’s car seat years. So why recommend it? Because for a truly bargain price, you get a very fine seat that’s great for extended rear-facing (weight/height limit 40 pounds, 37 inches), has a nice high 65-pound weight limit for the seat in harness mode, and can be used as a high-backed booster up to 110 pounds.
Those are very generous limits, considering the Symphony LX’s gentle price. (Target, $139.99)
Looking for a car seat that’ll fit in a row of 3? Here are 47 car seats for infants, toddlers, and grade-schoolers that are narrow enough for 3-across installation.
More on carseats
* Got a small car? 8 compact car seats sure to fit
* LATCH hard to use in 97 percent of cars — how does yours rank?
* No excuses: 5 reasons NOT to turn that car seat around
* 7 deadly car seat mistakes even experienced parents make