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Convertible car seats are safest when they're easy to use

The Britax Marathon 70-G3 (Est. $250) is a longtime favorite among parents and safety experts for its advanced safety features, easy installation and high weight capacity. The seat's steel-reinforced frame, front- and rear-facing tether, energy-absorbing foam and base that compresses in a crash are among the safety features that win raves. A harness that adjusts easily from the front is another favorite feature, though some parents complain that the chest pads included with the straps can get in the way or make smaller children uncomfortable. While the Marathon has a 49-inch, 70-pound capacity forward-facing, experts note its shell is relatively short, making it likely that a child will outgrow it by height before weight both rear- and forward-facing. The seat may also hog too much room in smaller cars, reviewers say.

The Recaro ProRide (Est. $224) is one seat that's capable of breaking the Britax juggernaut. Recaro designed the seat's souped-up side-impact protection to help keep a child's head, neck, face, torso and pelvis stable in a crash. Like the Marathon, the ProRide also has energy-absorbing foam, push-button LATCH connectors and an easy-to-use, no-rethread harness. Reviewers rave about the seat's quality fabric, but with one big caveat: It's hand-wash only. They also note that the seat is very large and bulky, particularly rear-facing -- some even recommend it forward-facing only. The ProRide offers the same forward-facing weight capacity as the Marathon, 70 pounds, and a 50-inch height limit.

The Britax Advocate 70-G3 (Est. $280) is the priciest model in Britax's line of convertible car seats. It features all of the Marathon's safety innovations, plus a few more: beefed-up head wings and more advanced side-impact protection all over the seat, as well as a harness that clicks to tell parents when it's secure. However, some experts say the click system can give parents a false sense of security. The Advocate has the Marathon's easy-to-use harness, but it suffers from the same complaints about tricky-to-adjust chest pads. Additionally, some parents say the straps are too short for larger children, while others complain that their children dislike the seat's head wings because they limit their view. The Advocate's shell is nearly the same size as the Marathon's, but a bit bulkier because of the head wings. Height and weight capacities are the same.

A new kid on the block, the Chicco NextFit (Est. $280) is already getting a lot of buzz as one of the easiest to install convertible car seats ever made. Like its competitors, it has head wings to protect against side-impact crashes and energy-absorbing foam. It also features a coveted easy-to-adjust, no-rethread harness, as well as nine built-in recline positions that help parents achieve a proper angle without resorting to rolled towels or pool noodles. Despite high height and weight capacities, it doesn't hog as much space rear-facing as other seats, experts say. However, it is still heavy and bulky, and some parents complain that the chest clip is too easy for a toddler to undo. Others dislike the non-removable shoulder pads on the straps.

For safety, price, ease-of-use features and the formidable Britax reputation, the Marathon is the best convertible car seat on the market.

Chicco NextFit Convertible Car Seat, Mystique
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