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The Ultimate Convertible Car Seat Buying Guide

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Is your little one getting too big for their infant car seat? If so, you may find yourself wondering "What's next?" The answer lies in the convertible car seat. 

But what exactly is a convertible car seat? What should you look for? 

We know car seat shopping can be stressful — with so many models available, each boasting different features, it can be tricky to determine which one is right for your family.  

So, we have created the ultimate convertible car seat buying guide, to break down everything you need to know about these versatile, grow-with-me seats.  

Ready? Let’s go! 

What Is a Convertible Car Seat 

A convertible car seat is a two-in-one product that grows with your child.  

While some convertible models allow you to use them straight from birth — eliminating the necessity of an infant seat, many parents choose to go with an infant car seat first, then transfer to a convertible seat when their baby is around 10 to 14 months (or reaching the maximum weight and height capacity). This is why they can also be called 2nd stage car seats. 

Unlike infant car seats that are designed for portability (either carried or used with a stroller as part of a travel system when not in use in the car), convertible seats are made to stay in your vehicle. 

They start in the rear-facing position, which is the safest way for babies to travel. As your little one gets bigger, you can simply install the seat in forward-facing mode, extending its use for years to come. 

The beauty of convertible car seats is they allow you to keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible. Experts recommend keeping kids rear-facing until they reach the maximum height or weight limit your convertible offers, which is usually around three years old. Don't worry if their legs appear squished — as long as you follow the seat's guidelines, that's perfectly safe and normal!

Weight & Height Capacity 

One thing to note is that convertible car seats can vary in their weight and height capacities.  

As mentioned earlier, some models can be used in rear-facing mode from birth (starting around 4 to 5 lbs.), while others require your child to be a bit bigger (typically 14 lbs. or more) before you can use them. The rear-facing weight limit usually ranges from 40 to 50 lbs., or around 43" to 49" in height. 

For forward-facing mode, most convertible seats can accommodate children as early as 22 lbs., up to around 65 lbs. However, as we have already stressed (sorry, we can’t say it enough), it's best to maximize the rear-facing mode for as long as possible before switching to forward-facing. 

Things To Consider 

When shopping for a convertible car seat, knowing basic terminology can help. For an in-depth explanation, our Car Seat Terms Explained article tells you everything you need to know.  

Once you know the terms, there are several key features to consider. Not all seats will have every feature, and that’s okay! Just keep them in mind as you shop, it will help you select a seat with the features that matter to you most.

Safety Features: 

  • 5-Point Harness: All convertible car seats will have a 5-point harness system to secure your child. This includes two straps at the shoulders, two at the hips, and one strap between the legs, all connecting to a central buckle. The 5-point design helps distribute crash forces evenly across the strongest parts of your child's body. 
  • Anti-Rebound Bar: When used in the rear-facing mode, all convertible seats come equipped with an anti-rebound bar. This bar extends from the seat base and props against the vehicle seat back. Its purpose is to stabilize the car seat and prevent it from rotating too far toward the front of the vehicle during a frontal collision. These bars can vary, for example, the Nuna RAVA comes with a removable leather-wrapped bar, while the Primo Viaggio SIP 5-65 has a bar that conveniently tucks under the base in forward-facing mode (so you don’t lose it!).  
  • Steel-Reinforced Back: All convertible seat backs contain steel reinforcement bars. This rigid framework provides extra protection and structural integrity, helping the seat absorb and distribute crash forces more effectively. 
  • Side Impact Protection (SIP): Side collisions pose serious risks, so SIP is designed to absorb side impact forces and shield your child's head, neck, and spine. Most convertible seats offer SIP, but some have advanced SIP with multiple layers of energy-absorbing foam (keep in mind, more layers equal more width). Seats like the Peg Perego Kinetic have up to three layers of SIP that adjust to ten height positions as your child grows. 
  • SensorSafe: Exclusive to Cybex, SensorSafe is an innovative technology that connects their convertible seat to your vehicle via an app. It can alert you if your child unbuckles themselves while the vehicle is in motion, if they've been left in the car after you reach your destination, and more. You can find it featured in their Sirona S seat. 
  • Load Leg: Load legs are stabilizing braces that extend from the seat base to the vehicle floor. Typically, this safety feature is only found in infant car seats, however, Cybex’s Sirona S also offers this feature when used in rear-facing mode (the only convertible seat on the market to do so). Load legs stabilize the car seat and can reduce rotation by up to 30% in certain crashes. For more information on load legs, check out our What Is A Load Leg? article. 

Comfort Features: 

  • Removable Infant Inserts: Many convertible seats come with thick, plush body inserts that provide a cozy, snug fit for smaller babies. As your child grows, these can be removed to allow more room. UPPAbaby’s Knox model comes with an excellent insert that keeps your child safe and secure during every ride! 
  • Recline Positions: Multiple recline angles let you adjust the seat position for optimal comfort and safety based on your child's age and size. The number of recline options varies between models. 
  • Multi-Position Head Rests: As your child grows taller, you can raise the headrest height to continue providing full head and neck support. Some seats offer just a few headrest positions while others, like the Britax Poplar, have over 14 settings for perfect placement. 
  • Mesh Ventilation: Seats with mesh ventilation panels, like the Nuna RAVA, allow airflow to circulate, which helps prevent your child from getting too hot and sweaty on long drives. 

Convenience Features:  

  • No Re-Thread Harness: Traditional car seats require you to unthread and re-thread the harness every time you need to adjust the shoulder strap height as your child grows. No-rethread designs let you simply move the headrest up or down to change harness positions. 
  • Narrow Profiles: Slimmer seats like the 17" wide Clek Fllo and Foonf allow you to fit three across in the back seat of most vehicles. This is ideal for families with multiple kids in car seats. 
  • Cup Holder: Built-in cup holders provide a convenient place for snacks or drinks. The holders on the UPPAbaby Knox are removable and dishwasher-safe for easy cleaning! 
  • Removable/Washable Fabrics: Messy spills and stains are inevitable with kids. Seats with removable fabric covers that are machine washable make clean-up so much easier. 
  • Swivelling Seat: The Cybex Sirona S is the only convertible seat in Canada with a 360° swivel base that allows for easy loading and unloading from either side of the vehicle. It's also the only convertible requiring just one installation — simply swivel between rear and forward-facing modes! 

Fllo Convertible Car Seat

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Foonf Convertible Car Seat

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Install 

Installation methods can vary between car seats and vehicles, so always consult your convertible seat and your car manual for specific instructions. However, one thing convertible seats all require is a top tether to be used in forward-facing mode and attached to your vehicle's tether anchor at all times. 

Many parents struggle with proper car seat installation, but certain features can help simplify the process. Look for seats with bubble indicators, recline guides, coloured belt path indicators, and easy installation systems like Britax's ClickTight (found on their Poplar seat) or Clek's belt guides and rigid latches (found on the Fllo and Foonf). 

Keep In Mind 

The Fit:   

When selecting an infant car seat, it's essential to have a proper fit in your vehicle. Not all seats will seamlessly fit every make and model of car, so try before you buy. At Snuggle Bugz, we have a Dry Fit Program where you can test any of our floor model car seats in your vehicle to ensure a secure and comfortable fit! 

Weight & Height Ranges: 

As mentioned earlier, there can be quite a bit of discrepancy in the weight and height ranges for both rear and forward-facing modes. Pay close attention to the weight and height limits for both rear-facing and forward-facing modes. Some seats maximize rear-facing time better than others, like the Clek Fllo and Cybex Sirona S that can be used to 50 lbs! 

Seat Weight: 

While you won’t be carrying around your convertible seat as often as your infant seat, heavier convertible seats can be more challenging to move between vehicles if need be. 

Price Point: 

Dollars and cents are another factor to keep in mind. While all car seats in Canada meet strict safety standards, more advanced features often come with a higher price tag. However, many options balance safety, convenience, and affordability. 

US vs. Canada: 

Many parents-to-be are surprised to learn there can be a difference between Canadian and US car seat models. Some brands may offer distinct features or variations in their Canadian and US product lines, so be sure you are referencing Canadian sites when doing your research. 

 

Car Seat Safety Reminders 

Safety should always be the top priority when it comes to your little one. Remember: 

  • Ensure the car seat has a National Safety Mark, indicating it meets Canadian safety standards.
  • Never use a car seat that has been involved in a collision, as it may have sustained unseen damage. 
  • Check the expiration date and follow the recommended lifespan for your car seat. 
  • If possible, dry fit the car seat in your vehicle before purchasing to ensure a secure fit. 

Final Considerations 

Choosing the right convertible car seat is an important decision that impacts your child's safety and your family's convenience. By considering factors like safety features, comfort, ease of use, and proper fit, you can find the perfect option that meets your needs. Remember, our little ones grow quickly, so investing in a quality convertible seat can provide years of use and peace of mind.  

For the best of the best, check out our Top Convertible Car Seats article. You can also check out in-depth convertible car seat product reviews in our Learning Centre.