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The Best Baby Car Seats of 2016

Our research team, with the assistance of Kimberlee Mitchell, a nationally recognized child safety expert, reviewed six car seats across 15 key data points to determine the best overall in 2016. The top three seats were the UPPAbaby Mesa 2015, the Chicco KeyFit 30, and the Cybex Alton 2.

 

Overview of Research

Assisted by Kimberlee Mitchell, we compiled an initial group of car seats and evaluated each across 15 key data points selected for their importance to parents and other baby product users.

kimberlee
Kimberlee Mitchell

Child Safety Expert

Kimberlee is the founder of Boo Boo Busters Professional Babyproofing Services and a nationally recognized child safety expert.

The final ranking was determined by a weighted methodology. The methodology consisted of the 15 data points we researched, which were categorized into four core metrics: car seat safety and security (35%), car seat performance (30%), cost and consumer reviews (20%), and customer support (15%).

Sort/filter by price, core metric scores, sub-metric scores, and more

The Best Baby Car Seats of 2016

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Methodology

Our Expert

Kimberlee Mitchell is the founder of Boo Boo Busters® Professional Babyproofing Services. The home childproofing business serves both Los Angeles and Orange counties and has childproofed more than 7,000 homes since 2002. The company was featured in the Universal Picture’s film “Baby Mama,” starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, both of whom have had their homes childproofed by Boo Boo Busters.

Mitchell has appeared as a child safety expert on CBS’s “The Early Show,” “Fox & Friends,” E! Entertainment Television’s “E! News;” VH1; and PBS’s “A Place of Our Own” and “Baby Makes 3” airing on PBS member stations in 2016. She has served as a child safety consultant and corporate spokesperson for juvenile products manufacturer Safety1st, Dorel Juvenile Group, Verizon, and the non profit organization the American Cleaning Institute, to name a few.

While Ms. Mitchell served as general advisor to the project, the Rankings.com team independently chose the list of reviewed car seats and developed the methodology used for scoring and ranking.

How We Selected Our Test Group

In order to establish our list of car seats, we first turned to the major test-based reports released over the past year. Our team of experts also independently surveyed every major car seat brand and the online consumer reviews accompanying each of their products. Our efforts produced a list of the consensus best car seats currently on the market.

Here is our complete list of sources:

How We Narrowed Our List Down

Our team established minimum criteria for all car seats reviewed:

  • Must meet all applicable federal safety requirements
  • Must have no outstanding recalls.
  • Must not have extremely poor customer reviews
  • Must provide a detailed rundown of the product’s features and warnings
  • Must offer customer support services

Once these filters were applied, we were left with six top car seats:

  1. Chicco KeyFit 30
  2. Cybex Alton 2
  3. Peg Perego Primo Viaggio
  4. Phil and Ted’s Alpha
  5. Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air
  6. UPPAbaby Mesa 2015

Using our methodology, which we detail below, we then assessed each car seat and determined the scores for our key metrics.

How We Selected the Data to Use in Our Methodology

Our team chose 15 data points to grade each car seat against. These data points were selected using federal safety guidelines, recommendations from existing baby product reviews, and our initial research.

We then organized the 15 data points as sub-metrics under four core metrics. This allowed us to group similar data points together and weigh certain metrics over others, based on their overall importance.

Safety and security were chosen as our most important core metric because, when shopping for car seats, safety is by far the most important concern. With parents spending hundreds on a seat, they should be certain they are buying a product they can trust. Performance, as our second most important core metric captures all the non-safety elements of a car seat, such as weight and dimensions.

Here are the four core metrics and their 15 sub-metrics:

Metric 1: Car Seat Safety and Security (35%)

  • Anti-Rebound Device
  • Head Support
  • Built-In Locking Clips
  • Consumer Reports Crash Protection Rating

Metric 2: Car Seat Performance (30%)

  • Baby Weight Range
  • Seat Weight
  • Seat Dimensions
  • LATCH Compatibility

Metric 3: Cost and Consumer Reviews (20%)

  • Price
  • Average Website Review
  • Consumer Reports score

Metric 4: Customer Support (15%)

  • Toll Free Phone and Email Support
  • Online Registration
  • Website Services
  • Warranty

How We Scored Our Methodology

To establish the core metric scores for each car seat, we reviewed the 15 sub-metrics spread across the four core metrics, comparing each seat’s performance, relative to every other seat, in each sub-metric. A car seat’s total performance across the sub-metrics that make up a core metric gave us the seat’s score for that core metric.

So, for example, consider our overall number two car seat, the Chicco KeyFit 30. The Chicco finished first in the Car Seat Safety and Security core metric, based on its performance in four sub-metrics: anti-rebound device, head support, built-in locking clips, and consumer reports crash protection rating. We compared the Chicco to all other car seats in these four sub-metrics, and it earned top marks in all four. This, in turn, earned it a 10/10 score for the Safety and Security core metric.

In order to get a final, overall score, we took each seat’s score in the four core metrics, multiplied each by their respective percentile weights, and then took the sum. This sum became each seat’s final score.

Here is how the Chicco KeyFit30 finished in the four core metrics:

  • Safety and Security – 10/10
  • Performance – 7/10
  • Cost and Consumer Reviews – 10/10
  • Customer Support – 7/10

With the appropriate weights applied to each core metric, the Chicco’s final score was 8.65/10, the second highest final score amongst all car seats reviewed, making it our number two overall.

Drawbacks of Our Methodology

The major drawback worth noting is that we focused on car seats relatively new to the market, meaning those that came out starting in 2014. While this helped us look at the cutting-edge in car seat safety, it did limit the scope of our review. There are a number of reliable seats that have been on the market for longer and stood the test of time. Before committing to any one, we recommend doing your own in depth research to identify the seats that have been market mainstays for the past five plus years.

Understanding Car Seat Features

1. Car Seat Safety and Security back to metric

Very Important

35.00% of our methodology score

Why this is very important: When it comes to car seats, no metric matters more than safety. With that in mind, we set out to identify car seats that consumers can trust have been rigorously tested. Perhaps the clearest indicator of a thoroughly safe car seat is the endorsement of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which we required all seats reviewed to have. CPSC issue a Children’s Product Certificate (CPC), declaring that a manufacturer’s car seats meet all applicable federal standards and regulations. Additionally, the CPSC requires all seats to be tested by a third-party laboratory accredited by the CPSC.

Aside from the CPSC, we also consulted the safety reviews published by Consumer Reports and BabyGearLab. The tests conducted by both helped us determine which car seats truly excelled at protecting babies and mitigating safety risks.

As for our sub-metrics, we looked at the anti-rebound device used with each seat, head support, built-in locking chips, and each seats Consumer Report’s crash protection rating. Our team deemed the Chicco KeyFit 30 car seat to be the safest, namely because of its high base back and grade of “Best” in the Consumer Report’s crash rating. Another notable feature of the Chicco seat is its expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) lining, which absorbs energy in the event of a crash and greatly reduces a child’s chance of injury.

Important caveats and notes: Most legitimate manufacturers and retailers selling car seats maintain an informative, user-friendly website with links to information about safety features. Some seats were not included because safety and security specs were not readily available for web users. Any products with outstanding recall notices were withdrawn from consideration.

Car Seats Sorted by Safety and Security
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2. Car Seat Performance back to metric

Very Important

30.00% of our methodology score

Why this is very important: Performance is our second most important metric. Car seats should be well sized and easy to install in most if not all standard vehicles; they should also be able to handle young children of varying weight and size.

With those factors in mind, we chose the following sub-metrics: baby weight range, seat weight, seat dimensions, and LATCH compatibility. Our top performing car seat was the UPPABaby Mesa, which featured the largest weight range amongst products reviewed (4 to 35lbs.), the heaviest seat weight, at 10.3 lbs., indicating sturdiness, and an “Excellent” rating in terms of LATCH compatibility, which indicates the ease with which the seat is fastened to the car’s seatbelt.

Important caveats and notes: The tables below reflect general quality of construction. For car seats, the baby’s height and weight should be key factors for parents.

Car Seats Sorted by Performance
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3. Cost and Consumer Reviews back to metric

Important

20.00% of our methodology score

Why this is important: Car seats cost hundred of dollars and, as such, we feel it is important to weigh the cost of a seat in relationship to the reviewers published by actual consumers.

When it comes to identifying the cost of a car seat, we started with the manufacturer’s listed price. If they did not sell the product themselves, we used the car seat’s listed price on Amazon.com.

In terms of reviews, we looked at those posted on the manufacturer’s site as well as on Amazon.com. In addition, we factored in the product scores given out by Consumer Reports.

Price-wise, the seats that made our list ranged from $179.99 up to $300. The cheapest seat reviewed was the Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air, while both the Cybex Alton 2 and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio seats tied for highest at $300 each. Only half of the seats featured Amazon reviews, among them, the Chicco KeyFit and UPPABaby performed the best, both with ratings of over 4.5 stars. Lastly, all but one seat received a Consumer Reports score, with the Chicco KeyFit earning the highest score, at 76.

Important caveats and notes: If reviews on these sites were not available and the car seat was not found on Consumer Reviews, then it was withdrawn from consideration in this metric. All prices and customer reviews listed were lifted from manufacturer product pages unless otherwise noted.

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4. Customer Support back to metric

Somewhat Important

15.00% of our methodology score

Why this is somewhat important: At 15%, customer support received the lowest weight amongst core metrics. Nonetheless, it still played a considerable part in determining the overall score for each car seat.

The sub-metrics used to evaluate the effectiveness of a car seat brand’s customer support services were as follows: toll free numbers and email/live chat support, an online product registration service, an on-site FAQ and product manual, and, finally, the company’s car seat warranties, especially how long they last.

With these factors in mind, the product with the best overall customer support was the UPPABaby Mesa 2015, our top seat overall as well. UPPABaby’s three-year warranty is the longest among all products reviewed and its site is arguably the most extensive reviewed, with every major form of customer support available, a free online manual for the seat, and an extensive series of video tutorials that explain the installation and maintenance of the Mesa 2015.

Important caveats and notes: Some of these car seats do not currently have product pages on their original manufacturer’s websites. We did not evaluate the customer support offerings on Amazon.com and other major retailers because we believe these sites do not reflect the company’s quality of service.

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Editor's Awards

UPPAbaby Mesa 2015

Our pick for the best car seat offers excellent crash protection and a generous warranty.

UPPABaby Mesa is designed for convenience. The Smart Secure built-in technology allows parents to link the seat to their vehicle’s LATCH system with incredible ease, and an indicator window lets users know when the seat has been properly buckled in. More importantly, the Mesa bolsters baby safety with an adjustable headrest cushion to minimize side impact damage. The padding is also crafted from a breathable, moisture-wicking fabric to keep babies from getting too hot when the outside temperatures are high.

UPPABaby’s website offers the usual services, as well as an extensive FAQ page, product manuals, video tutorials and a replacement parts directory. It also comes with a three-year warranty ― the highest among all car seats we evaluated.

Drawbacks

  • The Mesa earned a ‘Better’ crash protection rating, while other car seats in our ranking earned a ‘Best’ rating. However, BabyGearLab named the Mesa as its top pick for all infant car seats in October 2015, noting ‘better than average results’ in head impact tests.
  • At $299.99, the Mesa is one of the more expensive car seat models we evaluated. However, this price point reflects the model’s superior LATCH compatibility and compact-yet-durable frame.

Rankings:

  • Safety and Security – 7/10
  • Performance – 10/10
  • Cost and Consumer Reviews – 9/10
  • Customer Support – 10/10



Just missing our number one spot, the Chicco KeyFit 30 is still our pick for safest seat.

Chicco proudly declares its KeyFit 30 “The #1-Rated Infant Car Seat in America” and it is hard to disagree. With a 4.9 rating on Amazon.com and well over 400 reviews, the seat is a clear leader in the marketplace. Add to that, a score of 76 on Consumer Reports car seat review, the highest amongst all car seats in our rankings, and a rating of “Best” from the publication’s crash protection assessment, and you have what many consider this generation’s definitive car seat.

Diving further into the KeyFit’s safety specs, it is worth noting that the seat has an expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) lining designed to absorb the brunt of a crash, which, in turn, greatly minimizes a child’s chance of injury. It also employs a five harness belting system, standard to all high quality car seats, as well as a “one-pull” LATCH tightening system. For just over $200, compared to the UPPABaby’s $300 price tag, all parents in need of a new car seat should seriously consider the Chicco KeyFit 40.

Drawbacks

  • Warranty options are not clearly outlined on the Chicco site.

Rankings:

  • Safety and Security – 10/10
  • Performance – 7/10
  • Cost and Consumer Reviews – 10/10
  • Customer Support – 7/10

Last Updated on May 24, 2016

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