Chicco and Graco seats
Chicco KeyFit & KeyFit 30
What's so special: Lots of supportive padding, an extra-low bottom harness slot, and a low minimum weight limit practically guarantee a good fit for your newborn, even if he's small in size or premature (as long as your doc doesn't recommend using a car bed.) These seats are also a cinch to install and tighten. They win extra points for their light weight and for the excellent Chicco strollers that you can purchase as a travel system with them. The larger and longer KeyFit 30 will accommodate babies up to 30 pounds. The great news: It weighs the same as the original KeyFit -- and it costs only about $20 more.
What's so special: "If you can't spend big bucks but want a solid seat, this is a great choice," says DiFilippo. Its basic models are not super plush, but they keep kids comfortable, and all versions are relatively easy to install. One downside: Its harness straps can be difficult to adjust when it's installed facing rear.
Graco SnugRide & SafeSeat
What's so special: The SnugRide is a long-time fave for a reason: It's a breeze for parents to use, and its sculpted base makes it easy to install correctly in 90 percent of the cars out there. Because the SnugRide is narrow, it's also a good choice for parents who must squeeze more than one car seat into the same row. Similar to the SnugRide is Graco's more recently introduced SafeSeat, which accommodates larger, slightly longer babies.
Graco TurboBooster SafeSeat
What's so special: This is a solid booster at a fair price with a wide choice of patterns. Bonus: It converts to a backless booster, which is more appealing to kids as they get older. The TurboBooster is narrow so it won't hog space, but it may be too narrow for heavier kids.