Reviewers say the Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 is a versatile seat at a reasonable price. They like that it converts from a forward-facing seat with a five-point harness to both a high-back and backless booster, and most say it's easy to install. However, the seat is under investigation after several reports of stuck buckles, and many reviewers say the crotch strap isn't roomy enough to keep even average-size kids in harness mode for long.
Buckle under investigation. The Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 offers a five-point harness in forward-facing mode, energy-absorbing foam, side-impact head protection, a chest clip and a steel frame. The seat does have LATCH connectors, but Graco does not recommend using them for children who weigh more than 48 pounds. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) names the Nautilus a best bet for proper belt fit in high-back booster mode but check fit in backless mode, meaning it doesn't offer proper fit in as many vehicles as some competing seats. The seat has received top marks in expert safety tests, but there is one issue of concern: Several parents have reported difficulty unlatching the harness buckle. In a few cases, parents cut the seat restraints to remove their children from the Nautilus. In October 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into the issue.
Easy to install, but harness can be tricky to adjust. Reviewers give the Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 high marks for easy installation. However, expert testers say the shoulder straps can be tricky to route when moving the harness, which must be rethreaded through the back of the seat each time it is adjusted. In ease-of-use ratings by the NHTSA, the seat receives 3 stars out of 5 in harness mode. Testers say seat labels are unclear or incomplete, and they dislike that the harness must be rethreaded to accommodate growth or seat cleaning. It can also be tricky to convert the seat to booster mode, they say. The seat receives 4 stars in booster mode, with testers saying there are no illustrations on the seat showing how to convert it to a booster.
Crotch strap puts squeeze on some kids. The Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 converts from a forward-facing seat with a five-point harness to both a high-back and backless booster. It has armrests and one integrated cup holder. Armrest storage compartments receive high praise from parents. While the seat reclines, some reviewers say it still seems too upright to be comfortable for car naps. Seat padding is machine washable. Reviewers say this is not an ideal seat for travel or moving between cars, as it is heavy and bulky. Harness mode can be used for children 20 to 65 pounds and 27 to 52 inches. High-back booster mode can be used from 30 to 100 pounds and 38 to 57 inches, while backless booster mode is recommended for children 40 to 100 pounds and 40 to 57 inches. There are just two slots for the crotch strap, and many reviewers complain that the strap made their child uncomfortable far before reaching the upper weight or height ranges for harness use.
Long period before expiration. Graco offers a limited one-year warranty on the Nautilus 3-in-1, but customer service draws mixed reviews from owners. The seat has a long, 10-year expiration time from its date of manufacture.
Review Credibility: Excellent The Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 is one of CarSeatBlog.com's picks for best combination booster seats. Editors like the seat's "longer than average lifespan" and say it is easy to install and use. They praise the versatility of being able to use a five-point harness until 65 pounds, and the conversion to a booster. The harness slots are tall, and they also like the armrest storage and built in cup holder. However, some older kids may find the crotch strap too snug, and the seat does not have a no-rethread harness. The buckle can be hard to undo, they say.
Review: Recommended Carseats, Editors of CarSeatBlog.com, September 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent The IIHS evaluates booster seats on how well they make a seat belt fit an average 6 year old. The Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 is rated a best bet in high-back mode, meaning the lap belt was flat or nearly flat on the thighs, and the shoulder belt was correctly positioned at or very near the mid-shoulder. It is rated check fit for backless mode, meaning it offers "good protection for some kids in some vehicles, but not in as many cases as top-rated boosters."
Review: Booster Evaluations for 2012, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Not dated
Review Credibility: Excellent NHTSA rates car seats on a 5-star scale for ease of use, label content and clarity, instruction content and clarity, ease of installation and ease of securing a child. The Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 receives 4 stars in booster mode and 3 in harness mode. Testers say seat labels are unclear or incomplete, and they dislike that the harness must be rethreaded to accommodate growth or seat cleaning. It can also be tricky to convert the seat to booster mode, they say, and there are no illustrations on the seat showing how to convert it to a booster.
Review: Child Safety Seat Ease of Use Ratings, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Not dated
4. Baby Bargains
Review Credibility: Excellent This comprehensive book reviews baby gear and common baby brands. The authors review popular car seats based on expert testing and parents' reviews, as well as information from manufacturers and retailers. Their website offers up-to-date information, additional reviews, recall information and forums for parents to discuss baby products.
Review: Car Seats: Picking the Right Child Safety Seat, Denise and Alan Fields, Tenth Edition, 2013
Review Credibility: Excellent Editors of ConsumerReports.org test 13 combination and 33 belt-positioning booster seats, including high-back and backless models. The ratings are reliable and unbiased, and they include editors' highs and lows for each seat -- helpful for parents who want a quick summary of each seat. However, there are a couple of discontinued models listed, and it's unclear when the tests were performed.
Review: Toddler Booster Seat Ratings, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not dated
Review Credibility: Very Good The Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 is one of 10Rate.com's top-rated booster seats, earning 9.5 out of 10 points. Editors praise the seat's long life and versatility, since it converts from a front-facing car seat to both a high-back and backless booster. They also like the steel frame, wide armrests, cup holder and side storage. However, the seat is not a good pick for kids more than 57 inches tall, it doesn't fold down for travel and may not be wide enough for older children, they say.
Review: Best Booster Seats, Editors of 10Rate.com, Not dated
Review Credibility: Very Good The Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 is Bestcovery.com's top pick for best booster seat overall. Puryear gives the seat a rating of 5 out of 5 stars, praising its high 65-pound weight limit for the harness and 100-pound limit for the booster. She also likes the cup holder and two armrest pockets for stashing toys or snacks. The headrest and straps are easy to adjust, but installation can be tricky, she says.
Review: Best Booster Seat, Natasha Puryear, Jan. 3, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good The Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 receives 4.3 out of 5 stars in more than 1,500 reviews on Amazon.com. Reviewers love the reasonable price, armrest storage, cup holder and ability to use the five-point harness. Most say straps are easy to adjust and installation was easy, too. However, many complain that the crotch strap doesn't allow enough room, while others say the seat is bulky and heavy. Others say the seat is too upright for comfortable sleeping. Several report problems with the buckles getting stuck, with a few saying they had to cut their children out of the seat.
Review: Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 Car Seat, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of April 2013