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Infant car seats provide a particular conundrum for new parents. It's only a matter of time until your baby grows out of it and you have to buy yet another car seat. So which one should you spend your money on?
It's a bit of a loaded question. Knowing it will only last a few months, perhaps a year if you're lucky, you don't want to spend an arm and a leg. Yet, you don't want to skimp, either; you want something that's built with quality materials and workmanship that will protect your most precious cargo.
This article was updated in August 2023 with new products and information.
When making decisions for your newborn, you're faced with numerous options. While these decisions can be overwhelming, it's important to remember that there's no one correct way to parent as long as you're dedicated to your child's safety and support. For parents who own a car, the first important safety purchase is usually a car seat. You can choose between a convertible car seat that grows with the child or an infant car seat to start with.
The infant car seat is a popular choice among expectant parents. These seats are designed to meet infant safety needs while offering comfort and convenience for parents. Like many parents who step into the unknown of parenthood, we sought the expertise of other parents and product testers at the Good Housekeeping Institute to help us choose the best infant car seat available. When it comes to advice for keeping your children safe in the car, we know it's safe to trust the knowledgeable parenting and product experts at Good Housekeeping, which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst.
The Best Infant Car Seats of 2023
The GH Institute tests hundreds of baby and child products annually, including dozens of child car seats. Clearly, GHI lab technicians are experts in the field, and we trust their research and data to be complete, thorough, and correct. This roundup of the best infant car seats you can buy is based on GHI Lab–tested picks, category expertise, and real-life consumer feedback.
What Is an Infant Car Seat?
When it comes to car seats, there are plenty of options. However, an infant car seat is likely the best choice for the first few months of your child's life. What sets an infant car seat apart from convertible car seats?
First, infant car seats are exclusively rear-facing and designed for newborns. Their weight capacity varies by model but can go as low as four pounds, making them suitable for newborns of all sizes. Second, all infant seats utilize a 5-point harness system for a secure and comfortable fit. Lastly, most infant seat models come with a "travel system," which allows you to attach the car seat to different bases or an accompanying stroller easily—the car-seat base remains in the car while the seat, with the baby in tow, can be removed and then attached to a different base or a stroller, providing a seamless transition between different modes of transportation without disturbing the baby or dealing with complicated strapping twice over.
To determine the best infant car seats, GHI assessed several criteria, including safety, company customer service, ease of use, installation, angle and harness adjustments, and removal from the base. More information about choosing the right infant car seat can be found at the end of this guide. If you're searching for a car seat that will last from toddlerhood through booster age, check out our favorite convertible car seats.
Here are the best infant car seats of 2023.
KeyFit 35 Infant Car Seat
The KeyFit 30 has long been recognized by the Institute for its ease of proper installation. The KeyFit 35 here is the latest version of that popular infant car seat, and it's their Best Overall this year. Good Housekeeping experts found that this new model has "all the things you want in an infant car seat," including a large canopy, a washable seat pad, and stroller compatibility. It includes an anti-rebound bar and can accommodate slightly larger infants than its predecessor, up to 32 inches or 35 pounds.
The carrier clicks from the base directly onto a range of compatible strollers. However, it's worth noting that at 10 pounds, this carrier is heavier than most other options.
SnugRide SnugLock 35 Infant Car Seat
The SnugRide SnugLock 35 is GH's Best Value infant car seat. GH Lab pros found this car seat easy to install and loved the expanded weight range, from four to 35 pounds. It also offers a four-position recline and can be installed with or without a base.
Users can easily click this car seat into one of the many compatible Graco strollers. At about $150, this versatile, dependable car seat is definitely a bargain.
LiteMax Infant Car Seat
If you are looking for a car seat that won't set you back in your budget, the GHI recommends the Evenflo LiteMax. This lightweight seat also has an ergonomic handle for easy carrying, an integrated belt lock system, and a base that stays in the car.
Baby will be comfortable, and your wallet can remain intact for other purchases. Thousands of five-star customer reviews note how easy the seat is to install and how comfortable it is for their baby. However, given the dimensions, and other reviewers' comments, the narrow base of the seat may pose issues for some installation, and maybe even mean the baby grows out of it more quickly. But since it is an affordable option out of the gate, why not start saving for your next size up?
City GO 2 Infant Car Seat
The Baby Jogger City Tour strollers are a popular choice for city dwellers and those interested in lightweight strollers. The City GO 2 Car seat is compatible with the entire City Tour line, and utilizes a thread for rideshare belts so you can safely ride with babe in any car. It's clear to see this seat and stroller system is designed for city parents who travel via taxi or rideshare and don't want the extra hassle of lugging around a base. The RapidLock base and anti-rebound bar ensure a safe ride regardless of the vehicle.
It's no surprise that this is Amazon's top choice since the seat's safety features have four recline positions, an adjustable headrest, and a no-rethread harness that can be changed with just one hand.
However, it is important to note that the adaptors to make this seat compatible with your City Jogger stroller are an additional purchase. Sure, this will make the total a bit more, but it's not the priciest to begin with, so we can't fault this aspect too much.
Infant Car Seat & Stroller
This unique design offers easy transition from car seat to stroller. The GH Institute testing pros found this travel system easy to maneuver and liked that it could handle sharp corners and fit into narrow spaces. At 16.5 pounds, the carrier is heavier than stand-alone car seats since it includes the stroller components.
This a great option for travel or city living, as it's ideal for those with limited space. Still, testers found the stroller to be a bit short, so it might be tough for tall parents.
Pipa Rx Infant Car Seat with Relx Base
This lightweight car seat is as easy to carry as it is to install. GHI experts particularly liked how easy the setup was for this car seat, including the high adjustability for the stability leg, stroller compatibility, and sleek design. The fold-down stability leg is designed to absorb more bumps of the road for a smoother ride. The magnetic UPF 50+ canopy is removable and features an extension drape. Colored indicators let you know whether or not your car seat and base are correctly installed, removing all the guesswork.
Experts noted that they found this car seat a bit harder to clean than others.
MESA Infant Car Seat
The Mesa uses a tightness indicator that changes from red to green when the base has been installed correctly, and testers at GH liked how easy it was to understand the level guide. It has a no-rethread harness that adjusts with the headrest. An extendable, removable canopy completes the package.
Liing Infant Car Seat
Don't have a lot of space in your car? This car seat's for you. The Clek Liing has a narrow frame making it ideal for smaller cars, or if you need to fit more than one car seat in a row.
The GH Lab particularly loved the addition of a metal load leg for extra stability and crash absorption. This seat is on the pricier side, however, starting around $400.
Aton 2 SensorSafe
This "smart car seat" has a sensor that's built in to the chest clip and sends an alert to your phone in unsafe situations, like if your child unclips their seatbelt or if the car temperature gets too hot. It's easy to install with the base—which has a load-bearing leg for added stability—but was a bit trickier without it.
It's compatible with a variety of different manufacturers' strollers and is LATCH compatible.
How GHI Tests Infant Car Seats
The Good Housekeeping Institute's engineering and parenting pros have reviewed dozens of car seats over the past two years, including infant car seats. They have also worked with real parents to test car seats in a variety of vehicle brands and sizes to make sure that these car seats work for everyone's lifestyle.
First, they ensure that each car seat has passed Federal Safety Standards. Then they perform in-Lab and at-home tests to assess safety, ease of installation, stability, ease of adjustments, ease of getting babies in and out of the carrier, removal of carrier from the base and installation into compatible strollers, and more. To accomplish this, the Lab sets up each car seat in a variety of vehicles and strollers and uses an eight-pound baby "dummy" to simulate putting a child in the car seat and evaluate how easy it is to secure them as well as install the car seats.
What to Look For When Shopping for an Infant Car Seat
Many convertible car seats are safe for newborns, but infant car seats are designed specifically around the needs of an infant, offering additional targeted support for their neck, head, and spinal cord. Typically, infant car seats are also smaller than other types of child car seats, offering easier access to your baby when getting in and out of the car and compatibility with certain strollers, so you can simply take out the car seat and fix it to a stroller without removing the baby.
Here are some aspects to consider when selecting an infant car seat:
Height and weight limits
While height and weight limit will vary from model to model, you must respect the maximum of either. If you exceed the seat specs, it's time to move on to a bigger car seat for the babe.
Most infant car seats use a base secured into your vehicle, allowing you to keep the baby undisturbed inside the seat while you tote them in and out. Make sure the seat + the weight of the baby is light enough to lift in and out comfortably.
Carriers are typically compatible with a range of strollers, extending the use of some strollers that can't be used at birth, making it much easier to get from point A to B with a newborn.
Ease of installation
The experts at GHI found the most difficult aspect of testing was securing the car seat to the vehicle. Many seats require considerable strength. Additionally, different car seats fit better for different-size cars. Before purchasing any car seat, take note of the tight squeeze spots your vehicle naturally provides, and measure the size of your vehicle's back-seat clearances. It is always recommended you visit a certified car seat professional if you need help with installation.
All car seats are marked with an expiration date, generally between six and 10 years from the date of manufacture. If you are hoping to use your seat for multiple children, take note of the expiration. Also, never use a car seat that has previously been in an accident.
You'll see two harness options when choosing your perfect car seat: rethread and no-rethread. If you choose a rethread harness, this means that as your baby grows, you'll need to reach around and reroute the straps through the back of the harness each time you need to adjust the size.
Why Trust Us?
With a combined 206 years of automotive publishing experience, Hearst Autos—Car and Driver, Road & Track, and Autoweek—knows cars better than just about anyone. The Gear Team is committed to delivering honest evaluations, hands-on tests, and product reviews driven by decades of knowledge and experience. We get our hands on almost every product, tool, and piece of gear we feature. If we can't get our hands on the gear, we rely on the combined wisdom of our writers and editors, as well as auto experts we trust.
We'll never say anything is "the best" if we wouldn't recommend it to our friends or buy it ourselves, and we won't claim we've tested something if we haven't. Learn more about our product testing here.
Why Trust the Good Housekeeping Institute?
The Good Housekeeping Institute provides expert reviews and advice on everything a parent needs, including infant car seats. For more than 15 years, the chief technologist and director of engineering at the Institute Rachel Rothman, who led the 2022 study of car seats, has put her training in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics to work by researching, testing, and writing about parenting products. She leads GH Lab efforts in both the auto space and most juvenile products, including car seats.
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