Here are the 5 best car seats for a three year old in 2022 according to an infant safety instructor, nurse, and mom of 3.

It doesn’t take long to feel overwhelmed when shopping for car seats. There are so many options! Here I’m doing the work for you and will round up the best car seat for a three year old in 2022.

I remember the first time I walked through Buy Buy Baby to look at car seats. Quite literally, I turned around and went to another part of the store. I felt so overwhelmed! An infant car seat, a convertible seat, a rear-facing car seat…oh my!! I had no idea what would be best for my baby.

I did find a seat that worked best for us, and I will share that with you below. Now that I have several years under my belt and three growing kids, I can weigh in much easier than I used to be able to. As a nurse, I also teach car seat infant safety to expecting parents. A stroll through a store like Buy Buy Baby doesn’t cause me anxiety anymore.

One point that will affect the decision of which car seat you buy for your three year old, is if you already have purchased a seat for them as an infant. I will include a couple of all-in-one convertible car seat choices, which means they are made to use from birth to 10 years old. I will also include a few that are for toddlers and older children just in case you don’t need the infant features.

what kind of car seat should a three year old be in?

The Best Car Seats for a Three Year Old

There are three main types of car seats.

THE REAR-FACING CAR SEAT MODE. This seat is primarily for infants from 0-1 years old. They are incapable of being a front-facing seat. Most babies grow out of these by the time they reach 22 pounds. The convenience of an infant seat is the ability to quickly move it from car to stroller and to and from your home to your car.

THE ALL-IN-ONE CONVERTIBLE CAR SEAT. This seat is made to grow with your baby all the way to a big kid. It is designed to be rear facing and then turn forward facing at the proper time. Most of the all-in-one seats are made for a child to use until they are 10 years old, though there are a few don’t have a built in high back booster. This means you would need a separate booster seat when the time comes. The bright side of this is that you can score a good booster seat for fairly inexpensive.

BOOSTER SEATS. Booster seats generally come as a high back booster with a five point harness designed to fit your growing child. Many of them then convert into a backless booster which can be used up to and at times past 100 pounds. When shopping for boosters, make sure you get one appropriate for your child. Check if they have a point harness for younger kids, or if they are made for no harness and use only with a seat belt. This is only appropriate for older children. A three year old still needs a seat with a five point harness.

The Best Car Seats for a Three Year Old

Let’s get right to my top picks so you can find the right car seat for you. If you are interested in safety features and guidelines according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway and Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA) scroll to the bottom of the page.

1. Graco 4Ever DLX All-in-One Car Seat

We love a good Graco car seat at our house. Though we used a Chicco infant seat (I’ll tell you why below), we quickly upgraded to Graco. It was the best option for us. This Graco 4-ever car seat can be used in a rear-facing position for the baby years and turned into a forward-facing car seat at the right time. It has two cup holders. Yes, please! (Don’t buy a forward-facing seat without cup holders!) It offers 6 tilt positions to help your baby get comfortable and boasts easy installation. It is one of my top choices as the best convertible car seat. From infant seat, to toddler, to a booster for older kids, you would only need to purchase one. Find it here.

2. Chicco Nextfit Zip Convertible Car Seat

The Chicco nextfit zip car seat is another great seat. With a ReclineSureTM leveling system and easy-adjust headrest, it is one best choice among car seat manufacturers. This seat easily adjusts to different positions for the comfort of your baby, and it has a padded five-point harness and uses a latch system. Includes dishwasher-safe, space-saving CupFolder, soft, zip-off, machine-washable fabrics for comfort and convenience, and a removable newborn positioner for use from day one. If this travel car seat gets dirty, the fabric is easily thrown into the washing machine. Cons: doesn’t offer a booster mode. You would need to purchase a separate booster seat when they have grown out of this seat at 65 pounds. See it here.

3. Graco Tranzitions Booster Seat

This Graco Tranzitions Booster Seat is a wonderful option for those who have already purchased an infant seat that your baby is outgrowing. This is not a rear-facing seat and is designed forward facing for two year olds and older. It is lightweight and portable with an easy-to-adjust 8-position headrest. It sports two easy-to-clean cup holders. This seat has three modes: a five-point harness, a high back belt-positioning booster, and a backless booster seat. It works well for small cars because it isn’t heavy and bulky. This seat is a really good choice if you purchased an infant bucket car seat and need something else for your toddler without paying the price for an all-in-one convertible car seat. This is one of the lightest weight, portable car seats. Get it here.

4. Britax Grow with You ClickTight Harness 2 Booster Car Seat

The Britax Grow with You ClickTight Harness 2 Booster is a great 2 in 1 booster seat: It’s pros are it easily transitions from forward-facing harness mode to belt-positioning booster mode as your child grows from toddler to big kid. It sports a cool flow mesh fabric which improves airflow to keep your child cool and comfortable. It also offers stay put, soft comfort pads that keep your child’s neck from rubbing against the harness strap.

This is a HEAVY car seat, meaning it’s best to stay put as much as possible. It is also wide, meaning, there is no way you could put three side by side in the back seat. Two at most. Britax has child safety in mind and this is the most important thing. It has side impact protection and a steel frame. The seat has a memory foam seat pad making it super cozy as well. My nephew has been in Britax since day one of birth and it has been a wonderful car seat for him. He has been able to stay in it well and he is currently seven years old. Because of it’s safety and comfort design, I’m rating it best overall for car travel. See it here.

5. Diono Radian 3R All-in-One Convertible Car Seat

The Diono Radian 3R Diono is a great brand of car seats for smaller cars. With its slim-fit design, you can fit three in one back seat. Though Diono is known to be expensive car seats, they are simply some of the best. The Diono Radian 3R is designed to be rear-facing as long as possible, and then turn forward facing to grow with your child up to 120 pounds. I love the bright colors Diono offers! Cup holders aren’t included with this design but can be purchased separately. A great option for a booster seat without the five-point harness is Diono’s Cambria. I love the colors and it’s a great seat as well. This one is only appropriate for older children.

Diono is one of the safest car seat out there because of its steel frame and significant safety testing. Many of their seats have layers of side impact protection. The Diono gets my best overall slim design car seat! Get it here.

Don’t miss my reviews of the 6 Best Diono Car Seats. It can help you cut through the noise and find the one that is best for your family.

The Overall Best Car Seats for a Three Year Old

The one reason I initially purchased an infant car seat instead of an all-in-one convertible car seat, was I wanted the convenience of being able to click the car seat directly into a stroller. I have yet to find an all-in-one that is stroller friendly. As much as babies sleep, I didn’t want to have to wake a sleeping baby every time we stopped at a new place.

For this reason, we went with a Graco seat when my baby grew out of his infant car seat. It served us well over many years! The price was reasonable and the seat was comfortable. For the safety-conscious parent, check out Britax and Diono seats. They have been specifically designed and tested with top-of-the-line safety features.

Many car seats don’t measure up as safe as they need to be in the event of a crash because they aren’t installed correctly!

How to Pick the Right Car Seat

I encourage all of my soon-to-be parents to visit a baby store where they can look at, feel, and play with car seats. This will help give you a good idea of what you like and don’t like. It will also help you get a feel of pricing. Don’t forget to play with the buckles and adjust them. In real life, you will be unlatching and latching buckles more than any other feature you use on your car seat.

Read reviews on websites from other parents. There are so many great, informational reviews on sites such as Amazon that can help you determine if the seat is right for you.

Whichever car seat you choose, be sure to register it when you purchase it. Many companies make this easy now where you can simply scan a qr code with your phone and enter the info. No more mailing off cards, thankfully! Registering your baby products is important because if there are any safety issues or recalls, the company knows how to contact you and can inform you of what you can do.

The Safest Car Seat for a Three Year Old

Always read your car seats instruction manual! As a mother-baby nurse, I have discharged many new families home with their babies. It may surprise you how many haven’t looked at the instructions for their car seat. One of the number one reasons car seats don’t do their jobs in a crash is because they weren’t installed properly. Many user errors can be prevented by reading the instructions.

Most car seats are actually installed incorrectly! Close to 90%. That’s staggering. Don’t hesitate to find a child passenger safety technician in your area to have yours checked. seatcheck.org is a place you can find certified car seat specialists. Some fire departments will also provide installation and a safety check. Experts will know the latest from the national highway traffic safety administration on the safest forms of travel.”

The Safest Car Seat for a Three Year Old

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), here are the safest recommendations for car seat use: “This policy statement provides 4 evidence-based recommendations for best practices in the choice of a child restraint system to optimize safety in passenger vehicles for children from birth through adolescence: (1) rear-facing car safety seats as long as possible; (2) forward-facing car safety seats from the time they outgrow rear-facing seats for most children through at least 4 years of age; (3) belt-positioning booster seats from the time they outgrow forward-facing seats for most children through at least 8 years of age; and (4) lap and shoulder seat belts for all who have outgrown booster seats.”

“In addition, a fifth evidence-based recommendation is for all children younger than 13 years to ride in the rear seats of vehicles. It is important to note that every transition is associated with some decrease in protection; therefore, parents should be encouraged to delay these transitions for as long as possible.” 

This is a big deal! According to the NHTSA (the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration) “Every car seat needs to be installed using either the lower anchors or a seat belt to secure it in place, never both. If you choose to use a seat belt to install your car seat, pay close attention to how to “lock” your seat belt according to the vehicle’s owner manual. With a forward-facing car seat, use a tether if one is available. Before installing your car seat make sure you understand the function and location of the vehicle and car seat parts that are used in installation.

The Overall Best Car Seats for a Three Year Old

I hope you found this guide helpful in choosing the best car seat for your three year old! All of the options listed above have been researched thoroughly or tried by yours truly. I will never recommend a product that I do not believe in.

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Author

Rachel is a wife, mother, published author, nurse, childbirth educator, Spinning Babies® Certified Parent Educator, and recipe creator. Rachel's passion is to encourage and empower women in all things related to motherhood.

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