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Less expensive car seats are just as safe as their pricey counterparts

If you want a less expensive convertible car seat that still offers a lot of bang for your buck, 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.

The Graco My Ride 65 (Est. $135) has always gotten high ratings as a good budget car seat. However, on February 11, 2014, Graco recalled nearly 3.8 million convertible car seats, including the My Ride 65, due to an issue with the buckle that makes it difficult to remove a child from the seat, increasing the risk of injury when an emergency exit from the vehicle is required. The recall was initiated at the urging of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) following reports from a number of parents.

If you own this seat, you can continue to use it as crash-worthiness is not affected, but, if you have problems with the buckle, contact Graco at 800-345-4109 or at or consumerservices@gracobaby.com for a resolution.

Due to this recall, we only recommend that you purchase the Graco My Ride 65 it if you ensure that the buckle is not the style noted in the recall. The improved buttons are square. You can see the old versus the new buckles by visiting www.gracobaby.com.

Aside from the buckle issue, the Graco My Ride 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 wallet. 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 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.

For the less-than-$100 price point and its high-end extras, the Safety 1st OnSide Air is a great option for parents who want high-end safety but don't want to break the bank.

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Cosco Apt 40RF Car Seat, Calvin
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from Amazon.com
New: $59.99 $47.72   
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Graco My Ride 65 LX Convertible Car Seat, Coda
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from Amazon.com
New: $139.99 $127.00   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Safety 1st Onside Air Convertible Car Seat, Happenstance
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from Amazon.com
New: $89.99   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  

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