Toddler Car Seat Buying Guide

Graco 4Ever convertible car seat
Target.com
Find out when you should buy a toddler car seat and what to look for when you're making your choice. Plus, browse the top car seats on the market.
Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

When to Buy a Toddler Car Seat

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants and toddlers ride in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat's manufacturer. Most convertible seats have limits that will permit children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more.

If you purchased a convertible car seat, keep the seat rear-facing as long as possible as the AAP notes, then re-install your car seat to face forward once your child has reached the maximum capacity of the car seat. If you purchased an infant-only car seat that can only be installed rear-facing, once your child meets the max safety requirements of that seat, it's time to invest in a forward-facing toddler car seat. Here's what to look for when you head out shopping.

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Courtesy of Evenflo
Courtesy of Evenflo

5-Point Harness

A 5-point harness is a combination of safety belts that clip across your toddler's chest, over his thighs, and between his legs. This harness will restrain your child in the event of an accident and keep him snug and secure at all other times.

It's also a good idea to get a seat with an overhead shield — the padded tray-like attachment that rests in front of his belly. This tray provides extra protection in the event of a crash and is a great table for toys and other objects while traveling.

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Courtesy of Edmunds.com
Courtesy of Edmunds.com

Tether Attachment is a Must

A tether is a strap that attaches the top of the car seat to an anchor in your vehicle. All new cars, minivans, and light trucks have been required to install tether anchors since September 2000, and almost all car seats come with tethers. If you have an older seat or an older car, it may be possible to purchase a tether kit from the car seat manufacturer. However, it is always best to purchase a new car seat to ensure your child's safety isn't compromised by an outdated or previously damaged chair.

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Courtesy of Britax
Courtesy of Britax

Adequate Padding

Your child will have a more comfortable riding experience if she's surrounded by soft, plush pads around her head and back. If there is extra space around her and she isn't snug in the chair, tuck rolled-up blankets around her (but never under or behind) for added support.

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Courtesy of Target.com
Courtesy of Target.com

A Machine-Washable Cover

Toddlers are messy — there's no way around it. Save yourself from hassle and frustration by selecting a car seat with a removable, machine-washable cover. Little spills and stains aren't such a big deal when they can be thoroughly washed away.

RELATEDThe Best Car Seats for Babies and Toddlers

Courtesy of Amazon
Courtesy of Amazon

Top Car Seats for Babies and Toddlers

Ready to go for a ride? Check out these top-rated car seats to keep you little one as safe and comfy as possible. 

Browse Car Seats for Babies and Toddlers

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