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Best Affordable Car Seats of 2021

Updated
You don’t have to break the bank for your baby to ride in style, comfort, and safety.

We’ve been led to believe that a good car seat must be expensive. If you come across one that isn’t, people act as if you must regard it with the utmost suspicion.

In part, this may be true, and when it comes to your child’s safety, you can’t afford to cut corners. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t find affordable car seats that don’t compromise comfort and safety.

With the cost of living ever rising, finding quality at a good price is a real treat, but it can be done. We’ve rounded up all the best affordable car seats currently on the market.

Our Top Picks

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Image
Model
Product Comparison Table
Features

Product Image of the Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat | Ride Rear Facing Longer with Extend2Fit,...
Best Overall Car Seat
Graco Extend2Fit Convertible
  • Ten-position headrest
  • Harness compartment
  • Durable
Product Image of the Graco Backless Turbobooster, Emory
Best for Older Kids
Graco Backless TurboBooster
  • Portable
  • Attractive fabric designs
  • Easy to clean
Product Image of the Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat - Iron, Black
Best Safety Features
Chicco KeyFit Infant 30
  • Enhanced security features
  • Stroller compatibility
  • Multiple colors to choose from
Product Image of the Tribute 5 Convertible Car Seat, 2-in-1, Saturn Gray, 18.5x22x25.5 Inch (Pack of...
Best for Portability
Evenflo Tribute LX
  • Top safety measures
  • Good option for frequent-flyer families
  • Made in the U.S.A
Product Image of the Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat, Chambers
Best for Small Cars
Safety 1st Guide 65
  • Great solution for multiple children
  • Adjustable headrest
  • Great for small cars

Types of Car Seats

Here are some general guidelines to help you know which car seat is best suited for your child (1).

Infants and Toddlers

For this age group, they will be using rear-facing only or rear-facing convertible car seats. These types of car seats are recommended for all infants and toddlers. They should use them until they reach the highest height or weight allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

You’ll find that most convertible car seats are designed for rear-facing use for at least two years.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Once they outgrow the rear-facing requirements, they’ll switch to a forward-facing convertible or forward-facing seat with a harness.

They should use forward-facing car seats with a harness up to the time they exceed the highest height or weight allowed by the car seat manufacturer. Typically, most of these seats can accommodate children who weigh between 35 and 65 pounds, though it depends on the manufacturer.

School-Going Children

Finally, your little one will graduate to the last type of car seat available for their age range — a belt-positioning booster seat.

Boosters are used for children whose height and weight exceed the limit allowed on a forward-facing car seat. They should use the belt-positioning booster until such a time when the vehicle seat belt fits them properly.

This may be when they are ages 9 to 12. Some manufacturers have weight limits that surpass 100 pounds for boosters, though the standard is 80 pounds.

What About Preemies?

If your precious preemie can sit safely in a semi-reclined position, then they may be able to fit in a rear-facing only seat. Ideally, you’ll need to test whether they can sit in a semi-reclined position while they’re still in the hospital.

A baby that needs to lie flat during travel should be placed in a car bed carrier. Do check that the car bed meets federal safety standards.

How to Choose an Affordable Car Seat

When shopping for affordable car seats, here are some things to keep in mind (2):

  • A good car seat is suitable for the child’s age and size, fits well in the car and is correctly installed.
  • Stay away from second-hand car seats, especially if you don’t know their history.
  • Affordability is key but shouldn’t be the only deciding factor.
  • Always check the expiration date on the car seat before buying it.
  • Will you be taking the car seat in and out of the car? If so, then portability needs to be one of the top considerations.
  • Visit the NHTSA website to confirm the car seat you want to purchase hasn’t been recalled.

The Best Affordable Car Seats of 2021

Here are 5 great car seats that are budget-friendly.

1. Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat

Best Overall Affordable Car Seat

A market leader in baby products, Graco has dreamed up this car seat that can be used for several years without requiring a replacement.

As long as your infant weighs at least 4 pounds, they can ride rear-facing in this car seat. Parents who prefer having their babies ride this way for a longer period because of safety reasons will be glad to know this seat’s rear weight capacity is 50 pounds.

Once your child graduates to forward-facing, you’ll turn the seat and continue using it. The seat features the Simply Safe Adjust system that allows you to change the height of the headrest and harness as the child grows. This ensures your child is secured at all times.

Plus, you get 5 inches of extra legroom thanks to its Extend2Fit technology, which comes with a four-position extension panel.

Why We Love It

Ten-Position Headrest

It’s important for your baby, particularly infants, to breathe properly and stay comfortable while in the car seat. This seat offers you a headrest that can be adjusted in 10 different ways.

As your baby grows, you will be able to adjust the headrest in line with their changing needs.

Harness Compartment

Getting the buckle out of the way as you get your baby out of the car seat can be frustrating. The harness compartment on this seat does just that. This makes getting the baby in and out a bit easier.

Durability

When it comes to a convertible car seat, you’ll be looking for a model that’s made using durable materials. The steel-reinforced frame and good quality fabric increase the seat’s strength and durability.

Many parents appreciate that it feels more secure for their little ones. That’s good since they might use it until they graduate to booster seats.

Keep In Mind

Difficulty in Cinching

Ideally, you should only be able to fit one finger between your child and the straps. That may prove challenging with this seat as many users experienced some trouble tightening the seat belt.

Additional Specs

Weight Guidelines 4 to 65 pounds
Height Guidelines 49 inches
Dimensions 22.1 inches by 19.2 inches by 25.2 inches
Car Seat Weight 24 pounds
Material Type Polyester

2. Graco Backless TurboBooster Car Seat

Best for Older Kids

Has your child outgrown their forward-facing seat? School-going kids still need to be secured while riding in the car, and that’s where this backless booster car seat comes in handy.

It raises your child to a proper height that allows them to use the seat belt. The armrests are padded and height-adjustable. This is particularly helpful for longer trips.

Speaking of longer trips, parents will appreciate the hideaway cup holders that allow your child to store their drinks or snacks safely. No more stopping by the roadside to rummage through your bag for edibles.

Why We Love It

Portability

This booster weighs just over 5 pounds, making it easy for you to take it into the car and remove it when it’s not needed. Being lightweight also makes cleaning an uncomplicated experience.

Attractive Fabric Designs

Kids are naturally attracted to designs and patterns that appeal to them. You can choose from four different colors, patterned or plain fabrics, including a dino-themed design.

Easy to Clean

You don’t have to get stressed if any liquids spill on the cushion. The fabric cushion is easy to remove and clean. You have the option of hand washing or machine washing it.

Keep In Mind

Cushion Fabric Durability

The fabric is questionable as it may start to snag and fray around the edges after a couple of uses. The seat will still be usable, but it may come across as unsightly.

Thin Padding

The seat’s bottom may feel a little thin, which can be uncomfortable for a child to ride on, especially if you’re covering long distances.

Additional Specs

Weight Guidelines 40 to 100 pounds
Height Guidelines 43 to 57 inches
Dimensions 8.6 inches by 16.3 inches by 15.5 inches
Car Seat Weight 5.1 pounds
Material Type Polyester

3. Chicco KeyFit Infant 30 Car Seat

Best Safety Features

This Chicco seat is an excellent option for parents who need a car seat for their newborn baby. It features full-body inserts that will secure your baby in place. EPS energy-absorbing foam lines the carrier shell for improved impact protection.

It comes with an adjustable, removable canopy that shields your baby from the sun. Additionally, the spring-loaded leveling foot and bubble indicators help you know if you’ve installed the seat on the right. It’s protection for your baby all the way.

The manufacturers focused on comfort as well as safety. This can be seen in the removable head and body support that help keep newborn babies and smaller infants comfortable.

Why We Love It

Enhanced Security Features

This seat comes with an easy-to-operate force-multiplying LATCH tightener that secures your baby without loosening. The bubble level indicators in this seat accurately let you know whether you have the base angle right.

This ensures the seat doesn’t wobble while you’re on the road. It’s not just your baby that stays safe — the seat’s smooth underside ensures your car seats are undamaged.

Stroller Compatibility

Having a car seat compatible with your stroller makes travel convenient and less of a hassle for your baby.

You don’t have to go through the process of removing them from the car seat and onto a separate stroller. This seat is compatible with all Chicco strollers.

Multiple Colors to Choose From

Do you have a specific color in your car’s interior? With six different colors to choose from, you might find one that matches. Parents may also appreciate the attractive design of the seat.

Keep In Mind

Failing Sunshade Canopy

The sunshade is a plus, but you may encounter some difficulty keeping it up. For an infant who can’t push it aside, this may pose a safety risk.

Additional Specs

Weight Guidelines 4 to 30 pounds
Height Guidelines 30 inches
Dimensions 27.5 inches by 17 inches by 24 inches
Car Seat Weight 9.6 pounds
Material Type Polyester

4. Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat

Best for Portability

If you’re constantly on the move, the last thing you need is a heavy car seat adding to your luggage. The lightweight nature of this seat makes it ideal for families who wish to use the car seat in and outside the car.

Its compact size means it fits well in most vehicles and is certified for use in airplanes. The seat features a removable plush head pillow that provides comfort and head support.

Additionally, you get four shoulder strap positions that accommodate growing children. This being a convertible car seat means you’ll get to enjoy the rear-facing and forward-facing options as needed.

Why We Love It

Top Safety Measures

One of the best things about this seat is its high safety standards. The manufacturers designed its structural integrity at an energy level that’s twice the crash test standard set by the U.S. government.

It also meets the safety standards for side-impact, flammability of interior materials, and child restraint systems. In short, this seat meets local and international safety standards, which are great for our peace of mind.

Good Option for Frequent-Flyer Families

Families that fly often may appreciate using this car seat as it’s certified for use on planes and is easy to move around. Plus, you can purchase it if you’re in a different city or country and need a quick traveling solution.

Keep In Mind

Difficulty in Leveling

While installing the rear-facing position, you may experience some trouble getting the car seat level. For the seat to recline properly and stay in position, you may need to place a rolled towel underneath the car seat.

This being a trial-and-error method, you may have to attempt this several times. You may also need to test different diameters of rolled towels to achieve the angle needed.

Thin Padding

You may find the padding a little thin, which can be uncomfortable for some children to ride in. Some users have raised concerns over this.

Additional Specs

Weight Guidelines 5 to 40 pounds
Height Guidelines 19 to 40 inches
Dimensions 18.5 inches by 22 inches by 25.5 inches
Car Seat Weight 9.29 pounds
Material Type Polyester

5. Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat

Best for Small Cars

Have you ever tried installing a large car seat in a tight space? It can have you trying all sorts of angles and leave you wanting to pull out your hair. This car seat from Safety 1st may come as a relief to parents who own small cars.

Designed with small cars in mind, it allows you to fit one or more car seats in the back seat of your car. If you have twins or a growing family, you can easily strap the kids in and be on your way.

The seat is LATCH equipped to help secure it to the vehicle. It features side impact protection, five harness heights, three buckle locations, and an adjustable headrest to help keep your baby safe. The removable body pillows keep your baby snug, comfortable, and ready for the ride.

Babies who weigh 5 pounds or more can enjoy the rear-facing option. When they’re ready to transition to the next stage in their lives, the seat will be converted to forward-facing.

Why We Love It

Great Solution for Multiple Children

The compact size allows you to fit up to three Safety 1st seats in the back of your car. This is a plus for parents with more than one young child and in need of traveling solutions.

Adjustable Headrest

The headrest is adjustable, allowing you to customize it to suit your child’s needs. It also means you can use the seat for longer or use it for children of different ages.

Keep In Mind

Challenging Installation

Installing the rear-facing position can prove to be a challenge. Some parents complain about the seat wiggling when the car is in motion. You may need to use rolled-up towels and pool noodles to help stabilize the seat.

Additional Specs

Weight Guidelines 5 to 65 pounds
Height Guidelines 19 to 52 inches
Dimensions 27.25 inches by 18.5 inches by 20.25 inches
Car Seat Weight 15 pounds
Material Type N/A

Affordable Car Seat Comparison Chart

Product Award Weight Guidelines Height Guidelines Dimensions Seat Weight Material
Graco Extend2Fit Best Overall Car Seat 4 – 65 lbs 49″ 22.1″ x 19.2″ x 25.2″ 24 lbs Polyester
Graco TurboBooster Best for Older Kids 40 – 100 lbs 43″ – 57″ 8.6″ x 16.3″ x 15.5″ 5.1 lbs Polyester
Chicco KeyFit Best Safety Features 4 – 30 lbs 30″ 27.5″ x 17″ x 24″ 9.6 lbs Polyester
Evenflo Tribute LX Best for Portability 5 – 40 lbs 19″ – 40″ 18.5″ x 22″ x 25.5″ 9.29 lbs Polyester
Evenflo Tribute LX Best for Small Cars 5 – 65 lbs 19″ – 52″ 27.25″ x 18.5″ x 20.25″ 15 lbs N/A

Tips for Child Passenger Safety

Here are some tips to help keep your child safe (3):

  • Don’t negotiate with kids when it comes to wearing their safety belts and avoid driving until they put them on.
  • Children ages 12 and below should ride in the back seat of the car.
  • A car seat can last anywhere between six to 10 years. You need to check the expiration date provided by the manufacturers before using or purchasing a car seat.
  • Always read and follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer on how to secure children in the car seat. They aren’t all the same.
  • Over the years, several car seats have been recalled due to noncompliance and other defects. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website shares valuable information on recalls.
  • Register your car seat with the NHTSA for updates on recalls and safety.

Headshot of Katelyn Holt RN, BSN, BC

Reviewed by

Katelyn Holt RN, BSN, BC

Katelyn Holt RN, BSN, BC is a cardiology nurse and freelance medical writer. Katelyn has 8 years of nursing experience inpatient and outpatient, primarily medical-surgical and cardiac. After having two children she has a passion for Women’s Health and Lactation teaching and support.