If you want a less expensive convertible car seat that still offers a lot of bang for your buck, the Graco My Ride 65 (Est. $135) is worth a look. The seat passed independent crash tests with flying colors and features energy-absorbing foam with side-impact protection, unlike some other budget seats. Reviewers say the cover is easy to remove and wash, and they like the ample padding and dual cupholders. The seat also has a 40-pound rear-facing weight limit, a 65-pound forward-facing limit and a 49-inch height limit -- all high-capacity numbers for a seat that's easier on the budget. But parents complain that the seat is bulky, and they say installation with the older-style clip-on LATCH connectors can be difficult. The harness must also be adjusted and rethreaded from the back of the seat, unlike pricier models.
For less than $100, the Safety 1st OnSide Air (Est. $80) can get your child from Point A to Point B safely while still boasting a couple of unique perks. The seat has airbag-like side-impact technology that deploys a blast of air to keep a child stable in a crash. It also performs well in independent safety tests. Installation may be easier than with comparably priced seats, reviewers say. They also like that the seat is lightweight and relatively compact, making it a good pick for travel or smaller vehicles. Unfortunately, the small shell means lower overall height and weight limits -- 40 pounds and 43 inches forward-facing -- with the notable exception of the seat's rear-facing limit, which is also 40 pounds and matches that of higher-price seats. Owners also dislike that the cover is hand wash only and that the harness is hard to adjust.
For truly tight budgets, the Cosco Scenera (Est. $50) is a solid seat at a rock-bottom price, reviewers say. It performs admirably in independent crash tests and, like the Safety 1st OnSide Air, it has a small, lightweight frame that makes it ideal for travel or smaller cars. Given the low price, many experts recommend the Scenera for second vehicles or grandparents' cars that aren't used as much as a primary vehicle. But reviewers note there aren't a lot of extras at this price: padding is minimal, straps are hard to adjust and prone to twisting, and the seat has a low 40-pound forward-facing weight limit. Installing the seat at a proper angle rear-facing may require bolsters such as a pool noodle or towel, experts say.
Although it's the priciest seat in this particular category, the Graco My Ride 65 is also half the price or less of many top car seats, but gets just as many kudos, making it a great budget choice.