Having a baby is expensive, and if you have more than one, you may really be taking a hit to the wallet. The good news is you don't have to pay more to keep your baby safe. Regardless of price, all U.S. infant car seats must pass the same rigorous safety standards.
Graco makes versions of the SnugRide with four different weight capacities, but experts recommend the Graco SnugRide 30 (Est. $90) for its combination of features and value. Just like its siblings, the SnugRide 30 is compatible with a wide range of strollers, has ample padding and boasts a large canopy. It's also very lightweight at 7.5 pounds, and it fares better than other SnugRides in independent crash testing. But the seat lacks features such as newer, push-button LATCH connectors and a level indicator that ease installation, and some parents say the buckles are stiff. Experts also say the seat isn't a good fit for preemies despite its 4-pound weight minimum. Headroom is limited for older babies, they add.
The Baby Trend Flex-Loc (Est. $89) is another budget-friendly seat that still accommodates babies up to 30 pounds. The seat fares well in independent crash tests and has a no-rethread harness that can be adjusted from the front for growth, a perk usually reserved for much pricier seats. Parents like the generous sun canopy, and many also praise the unique triangular handle, which they say makes the seat easier to carry. But several reviewers complain that the two-tongue buckle is difficult to use and the handle-release buttons are stiff. Potential buyers should also beware that there are a few versions of the seat with different features. However, all are sold under the same Flex-Loc name, including a 22-pound version that comes with Baby Trend travel systems.
Parents on truly tight budgets will appreciate the Cosco Comfy Carry (Est. $60) , which received the highest possible ratings in independent safety tests. The seat is lightweight and may be a good fit in smaller cars. Reviewers report few problems with installation and say it seems comfortable for their babies. But at this price, there aren't many extras to speak of -- for instance, the base isn't adjustable to obtain a better recline angle, the canopy is skimpy and the harness must be both adjusted and rethreaded from the back of the seat. The Comfy Carry also has a lower 22-pound, 29-inch capacity, making for a potentially shorter life span than seats like the Baby Trend Flex-Loc and Graco SnugRide 30. Considering some of the confusing aspects of buying a Flex-Loc, that makes the Graco SnugRide30 our top pick in the budget-friendly category.