A common complaint among parents is how quickly their babies outgrow infant car seats. More and more manufacturers are addressing this issue with car seats rated to 30 or 35 pounds, rather than the standard 22 pounds, and up to 32 inches in height rather than the standard 29 or even 30 inches. In fact, many manufacturers are moving away from lower-capacity models altogether, instead focusing their attention on higher-capacity car seats.
Buying a seat that accommodates a taller, heavier baby will also allow you to keep your child in the rear-facing position longer; the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends rear-facing seats for babies up to 2 years of age. Keep in mind, though, that the increased capacity tends to come with an increase in weight, making these infant car seats harder to use as carriers (a 10-pound carrier plus a 30- or 35-pound baby is a lot to carry on your arm).
Experts and users agree that the Chicco KeyFit 30 (*Est. $200), rated for babies up to 30 pounds, is the best infant car seat available. The KeyFit 30 earns the highest overall rating in a recent independent test of infant car seats that can accommodate babies weighing more than 22 pounds. Testers give it a very good rating for crash protection, along with excellent scores for ease of use and fit to vehicle. Babble.com editors say the KeyFit 30 "will also give you the least amount of headaches: easy to install, easy to adjust and manageable to carry." Likewise, Good Housekeeping magazine praises the Chicco KeyFit 30 for its easy-to-adjust harness straps and ease of attaching and detaching the seat from its base.
The Chicco KeyFit car seat also receives very good reviews from parents. Owners are especially positive about the Chicco KeyFit 30's easy installation and quick adjustments, and most say it's reasonably easy to carry as well. At 9 pounds, the Chicco KeyFit 30 is a bit lighter than other infant car seats with 30-pound weight limits. However, a number of parents complain that their baby gets overheated in the Chicco KeyFit 30, which is a common complaint among infant car seats.
The Britax Chaperone (*Est. $190) gets excellent scores for crash protection, although it loses points in one independent test for an imperfect fit when using a vehicle's safety belts. Even so, in a review at Babble.com, editors say the Chaperone offers a large canopy and an ergonomic handle that causes less forearm strain. The Chaperone fits babies up to 30 pounds or 32 inches tall. Editors at BabyGizmo.com say the only issue preventing them from naming the Chaperone their overall favorite is its weight; at 10 pounds, carrying a larger baby can be quite a chore, even given the ergonomic handle. However, parents posting to Amazon.com say the ergonomic handle makes it easy to carry and that the long canopy provides excellent shade from sun and protection from bad weather.
A recall in late 2010 relates to Britax Chaperone seats made between April 2009 and May 2010 for the possibility of the chest clips breaking, posing laceration or choking hazards. Consumers owning one of these seats may contact the company for a replacement chest clip kit; units manufactured after May 2010 do not pose a safety hazard.
The Orbit Baby G2 infant car seat (*Est. $400) is the most expensive model among higher-capacity car seats, but it earns praise from both Good Housekeeping magazine and About.com for its easy installation from any angle. Designed for use with the Orbit Baby G2 travel system (*Est. $400), the G2's base is also compatible with the Orbit Baby Toddler Seat (*Est. $360).
The base is a point of contention among reviewers, however. About.com's Heather Corley says the base is easy to install, while testers at Good Housekeeping disagree, noting, "The base is quite bulky and may be hard to maneuver while installing in smaller cars." That said, once the base is installed, the car seat unit itself is a cinch to attach and detach, thanks to its ability to dock from any angle -- and it won't lock until it's in proper alignment.
Besides the price, there are a few other issues with the Orbit Baby G2, which accommodates infants up to 30 pounds and 32 inches tall. While it offers three harness heights (8, 10 and 12 inches), it's necessary to re-thread the straps from the back of the seat in order to adjust the height. The car seat is also heavy, weighing in at 12 pounds without the base. Reviews agree that the Orbit Baby car seat is stylish, sturdy and safe, but most struggle with the price of the G2 considering its compatibility is limited to other pricey Orbit Baby gear.
Peg-Perego's Primo Viaggio SIP (*Est. $270) is rated for babies up to 30 inches tall who weigh 30 pounds or less. It scores well in a crash protection test, and it's named a top five pick by editors at BabyGizmo.com. Editors of Good Housekeeping magazine say their only gripe is that the car seat cover is tough to remove and is hand-wash only, although they praise the easy harness adjustments (both height and tightening/loosening the straps).
Parent feedback has been mixed so far, though. Nearly 75 owners posting to Amazon.com (where the Primo Viaggio has an average rating of 3.5 stars out of 5) generally say the Primo Viaggio SIP is stylish and easy to install, but some don't like the heavy weight (11 pounds without the base) and the bulkiness of its side-impact protection wings. It's also expensive, and it is hard to achieve a secure fit when using a vehicle seat belt.
For money-conscious parents, reviews are good for the Graco SnugRide 30 (*Est. $140). It costs less than the Chicco KeyFit 30, but earns a similarly good safety rating in a recent test. The car seat accommodates children up to 30 pounds and 30 inches tall. Babble.com gives the SnugRide 30 its Best Pick award for best travel-system compatibility and calls it "the hands-down lightest car seat we tested at only 7 pounds." However, editors also say that it doesn't fit newborns as well as the Chicco KeyFit 30.
The Graco SnugRide 30 gets high ratings from parents at ToysRUs.com. Owners like that the car seat is easy to install and comes in numerous styles and patterns. The seat also snaps easily into the base. "It's relatively easy to get the baby in and out of and it snaps in and out of the base very quickly and easily," says one owner. However, independent tests show that the Graco SnugRide 30 does not fit in vehicles as securely as the Chicco KeyFit 30 when utilizing a vehicle seat belt. In addition, the Chicco KeyFit 30 gets higher ratings for ease of use than its Graco competitor.
Graco also makes a higher-capacity seat, the Graco SnugRide 35 (*Est. $170), which has an upper limit of 35 pounds and 32 inches. This infant car seat gets very good reviews from parents who say it is easy to install and comfortable for their children. However, this high-capacity car seat weighs nearly 10 pounds, so owners say it is difficult to tote around. In addition, the Graco SnugRide 35 performs well below average in a recent independent test.
While the car seat earns a good rating for crash protection (both the Chicco KeyFit 30 and Graco SnugRide 30 get very good ratings in this area), it receives only a fair rating for its installation using the LATCH system. Even more concerning, testers say the Graco SnugRide 35 does not install securely without the base. We also saw a few complaints that the seat's recline is not sufficient for newborns.
If you want a car seat with a higher height/weight capacity, the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air (*Est. $160) is a good choice for a seat that can accommodate babies up to 35 pounds and 32 inches tall. It receives an excellent score for crash protection in a recent test, as well as a good rating for ease of use. Babble.com says the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air is a good choice if you want something that can go from newborn (as small as 4 pounds) all the way up to 2 years old. An infant pad is included to snuggle small babies better into the seat.
The Safety 1st OnBoard weighs 9 pounds, and parents praise the ample canopy and machine-washable seat pad. Rather than EPS foam side wings, the Safety 1st side wings are air-filled (which might be one reason the seat is a bit lighter in weight). Twenty owners posting reviews to Amazon.com contribute to an average rating of 3.8 stars out of 5; parents say the seat is padded all the way down the back and the OnBoard 35 Air is roomy and comfortable. Some drawbacks: Parents say it won't fit in some smaller vehicles, and there are some complaints about durability (pilling fabrics and broken sun canopies). Overall, the OnBoard 35 Air is an excellent choice if you want a larger-capacity infant car seat at a reasonable price.
The Baby Trend Flex-Loc (*Est. $100) gets a very good rating for crash protection in one independent test, and NHTSA also gives it good scores for ease of use. The Baby Trend Flex-Loc transports babies between 5 and 30 pounds and up to 30 inches tall. The Flex-Loc earns a spot as a readers' choice pick in the Babble.com review. High points are a large canopy and a removable foot boot. The side wings of the seat are filled with EPS foam, offering some extra side-impact protection. However, parent testers for Babble.com say the handle sticks, making it difficult to move up and down, and the buckle is difficult to fasten.
The Flex-Loc does not come with some of the extras found in more expensive car seats for heavier/taller babies, such as harness covers or head/newborn padding. Some parents do say that the car seat is difficult to unhitch from the base and the seat padding does not look or feel comfortable. The Baby Trend Flex-Loc car seat weighs about 9.5 pounds without the base. There are also a few reports of the LATCH clips coming undone; one parent says the Flex-Loc tipped to the side when making a sharp turn in a vehicle.