The Best All-In-One Car Seat 2021
Best All-in-One Car Seat 2021
New to car seat shopping? Read our 7 Things No One Tells You About Buying an all-in-one car seat.
As the name implies, all-in-one car seats can be used from birth to booster seat age. The Graco 4Ever delivers on that promise with an exceptionally well-designed seat that can be used rear-facing (4 to 40 lbs.), forward-facing with five point harness (20 to 65 lbs.) and then as a booster—high back (30 to 100 lbs.) and backless (40 to 120 lbs.) for older kiddos.
The stand-out features here include a harness that adjusts without rethreading, side impact protection, six recline positions and headrest with ten height adjustments. As for safety, the Graco 4Ever scored at the top of the class in recent third-party crash tests.
(Scroll down for a detailed review of this seat).
Best All-In-One Car Seat. The all-in-one car seat is the Fountain of Youth for car seat makers—the mythical seat that works from birth to college (ok, as a belt-positioning booster to 120 lbs., or when kids age out of booster seats and can correctly fit in a regular seat belt. That’s usually around age ten or later).
Yet like Ponce De Leon, Graco’s quest for the perfect all-in-one seat has been one of frustrating missteps. Their last effort, the SmartSeat, received mixed reviews from parents, many of whom cited negatives like the seat’s bulk and a harness that was hard to use.
We’ve always been a bit skeptical of all-in-one car seats. As the saying goes, jack of all trades . . . but master of none. Many all-in-one car seats in the past had one or two great uses, but fell down when it came to a third. But there is good news: we finally have an all-in-one car seat we can recommend: Graco 4Ever.
Graco clearly has put a lot of thought into the 4Ever. Little touches like the harness that stores away in booster mode (you don’t have to remove it from the seat) are very nice. Unlike the giant SmartSeat, the 4Ever is easier to fit in a vehicle in rear-facing mode. The steel reinforced frame and EPS lined seat are pluses. You also get premium “push-on” LATCH connectors, which you would expect at this price point.
Let’s talk crash tests: the Graco 4Ever scored “Best” on Consumer Reports latest third-party crash tests—that’s impressive.
Reader feedback and online reviews are very positive about the 4Ever. Readers love how the fabric snaps off for cleaning. The 4ever is easy to install and adjust. The seat earns a Best Bet in booster mode by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
FYI: There are two versions of the 4Ever: the base model and a version that adds additional side impact protection (Safety Surround).
Flaws but not deal breakers
What’s not to love about the Graco 4Ever? Readers say in rear-facing mode, the seat’s harness can be tricky to tighten. The lack of a belt lock-off for seat belt installs is a curious omission for this price.
Minor quibble: there is a level indicator, but only on one side. And the fabric isn’t as soft to the touch as you’d expect for a $200+ seat, say some critics. The 4Ever is also quite heavy—if you are looking for a lighter weight car seat for carpooling, there are better choices out there.
Finally, let’s talk about one unspoken flaw of all-in-one car seats—wear and tear on the fabric. Graco promises you can use the 4Ever until age ten or so. That’s ten years worth of fabric use and abuse, starting with diaper blow-outs and continuing through toddler tummy troubles. Yes, you can clean the fabric . . . but we can imagine some kids reaching the point where they reject sitting in a “baby” seat that is stained/worn from years of use. Just sayin’.
On the plus side, in the past few months, the price for the Graco 4Ever has drifted downward—from $300 when it debuted. In a world of $300+ car seats, the Graco 4Ever offers very good value.
Also Great: Evenflo EveryStage DLX All-in-One Convertible Car Seat
The big headline with Evenflo’s new All-in-One Convertible seat, the Evenflo EveryStage, is the in-seat recline. While the seat is being used rear-facing in infant car seat mode, the in-seat recline angles baby to the appropriate angle internally. There is also an external five-position recline when the seat is used facing forward as a convertible seat. In our testing, this was impressive and easy to use.
Another innovation on this seat: the EasyClick LATCH system with attached ratchet that allows you to tighten the LATCH up to three times tighter. Our parent testers note this makes it fairly easy to install compared to other seats. Note: the EasyClick LATCH is only available on the DLX version of the Evenflo EveryStage.
Other key features we like: one-hand adjustable headrest, and a 10-position no rethread harness.
The seat can be used from 4 lbs. to 50 lbs. rear facing, 22 lbs. to 65 lbs. forward facing and 40 lbs. to 120 lbs. as a belt-positioning booster. Evenflo’s big claim here is that seat can be used for up to 10 years, but we wonder if older kiddos may prefer a backless booster at that stage.
Flaws but not deal breakers
The EveryStage is a big seat—we measured the shell at 32″ long when used in a rear-facing recline mode. Yes, folks that is nearly THREE FEET. Hence, we see complaints from parents that this seat either doesn’t fit or is a tight fit in small to mid-size vehicles.
However, this is an issue with all all-in-one car seats, which need larger shells to accommodate those older kiddos in booster seat mode. As a comparison, the Evenflo EveryStage is at 19″ wide at its widest point with the cupholders; the Graco Extend2Fit is 20″ wide.
Another frustration was the harness, which a few dissenters said was difficult to adjust. And removing the seat from the car can be a bit of a pain, especially trying to release the ratchet.
Finally, parents in our tests hated the cup holders—they come off too easily.
Despite these drawbacks, we still think the Evenflo’s EveryStage is a good seat. We were impressed with the in-seat recline for newborns and infants and the ratcheting LATCH tightener, which outweighs the frustration with the seat’s cup holders and large bulk.
FYI: The Evenflo EveryStage is the latest evolution of Evenflo’s line-up. It succeeds the Evenflo SafeMax All In One seat, which we also recommended in a previous version of this review.
Why Trust Us
We’ve been rating and reviewing car seats since 1994. In addition to hands on inspections of car seats, we have also visited manufacturer facilities, watched crash tests and met with safety regulators—and when we travel, we pay our all of our own expenses.
We look to our reader feedback to give us a real world perspective on car seats—our message board on car seats has 23,000 (!) threads. We also evaluate consumer reviews posted on sites like Amazon.
Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples for contests, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Baby Bargains is your independent and unbiased source for expert baby gear reviews. We’ve been writing and reviewing baby gear since 1994. Yes, that long! Learn more about our work and how to support our site.
How we picked a winner
We evaluate car seats with hands on inspections, checking seats for ease of use (installation and adjusting the seat). We also gather significant reader feedback, tracking seats on quality and durability. Besides interviewing parents, we also frequently talk with car seat “techs,” certified child passenger safety technicians who install hundreds if not thousands of seats at safety check points nationwide.
We’ve been rating and reviewing car seats since 1994. During that time, we have also visited manufacturer facilities and watched car seat crash tests. While we don’t personally crash test seats, we compare our reader feedback with crash tests done by organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Consumer Reports. We also look at third-party evaluations of seats by groups like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which focuses on booster car seats.
7 Things No One Tells You About Buying An All-in-One Car Seat!
1. Pro tip: how easy is it to remove the cover for washing?
Yes, all car seats come out of the box looking fabulous. But any experienced parent will tell you how things can get ugly there in the back seat: spit up, juice spills and diaper blow outs. (Let’s not visualize. Let’s just move on). So then what? You have to remove the cover for cleaning.
That sounds simple, but the truth is some covers remove (and go back on) much easier than others. The best have zip-off or “easy remove” covers. Not so good: seats with multiple loops, snaps and other attachments.
Also: check to see if the cover is machine washable and dryable? Can you remove and wash the harness?
2. Some reclines are easier than others.
Most all-in-one seats recline for napping babies, but how EASY is it to recline? Remember that when a seat is REAR-FACING, a lever on the front of the seat will be jammed up against the back seat.
3. Twisty straps: the pain that keeps on giving.
Better quality car seats have thicker straps that don’t twist. The result: it’s easier to get a child in and out of a seat. Cheaper seats have cheaper webbing that can be a nightmare— “twisty straps” are a key reason why parents hate their car seats. Our top picks on this site avoid the twisty strap issue.
4. Give a second look at that harness buckle.
For obvious safety reasons, the harness buckle (which holds the two shoulder straps in place) shouldn’t be too easy to unclip. Only an adult should be able to do it. But each car seat brand takes a different approach to this critical piece of safety gear. When shopping, take a second to open and close the buckle yourself. Think about any caregivers who might be buckling in baby (grandparents may have less strength, etc).
Hint: “puzzle” or compound buckles can be particularly vexing! As implied by the name, a puzzle buckle must be put together in a particular order to latch. These buckles tend to be seen more on lower-price seats.
Here’s a look at how a typical puzzle buckle works:
5. The sun is not always your car seat’s friend.
That plush, black velour car seat cover may look stunning out of the box, but when installed in a car that sits in the hot summer sun . . . you’ve got a recipe for Sweaty Baby Syndrome. If you have a choice between a dark color and one that is somewhat lighter, we’d go for the latter.
Another related issue: some car seats have exposed metal buckles and hardware. In the hot sun, these buckles can get toasty and possibly burn a child. Pro tip: look for a seat that has buckle clips or holders that keep metal away from direct sun.
6. All-in-one car seats does not necessarily equal portable.
All-in-one car seats vary widely in weight, but most are 20+ lbs.
While you shouldn’t base your entire car seat decision on weight, it may be an important factor for some parents. If you live an urban city center and don’t own a car, then you’ll need a lightweight seat when using Uber or a cab (see our convertible car seats for urban parents). If you see yourself moving a seat between multiple vehicles on a frequent basis, buying an all-in-one car seat may not be the best bet.
7. There is no crash test standard for side impact protection—yet!
As you car seat shop, you’ll see lots of seats promoting “side impact protection” with various headrests, cushions and gadgets. But remember this: as of this writing, there is NO federal side impact safety standard that car seat makers are required to pass. Hence, we have little information to verify which seats are best. (Manufacturers do their own internal side impact crash testing, but aren’t required to share those results with the public).
We should note that there is a PROPOSED side impact car seat safety standard that was published back in 2014. But that rule isn’t final yet and it isn’t clear when that will take effect. We’ll update this tip in the future when that happens.
Certifications to look for when convertible car seat shopping:
NHTSA Ease of Use Rating: The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTS) publishes Ease-of-Use Ratings that cover four areas:
- Evaluation of Instructions: Content and clarity of the instructions manual for the child restraint.
- Vehicle Installation Features: Features that pertain to installing the child restraint in a vehicle.
- Evaluation of Labels: Content and clarity of the labeling attached to the child restraint.
- Securing the Child: Ease in securing a child correctly in the restraint.
Seats are ranked on a one to five star scale. While you can find these ratings here, we have also included NHTSA rankings in each of our reviews (see below).
Textile Certifications: Orbit (now discontinued) is the only car seat to have its fabric certified by OEKO-TEX.
OEKO-TEX is a German organization that offers a Standard 100 certification program for textiles at all steps in the manufacturing process.
“Products marked with the label ‘Confidence in textiles (Standard 100)’ provide effective protection against allergenic substances, formaldehyde, heavy metals such as nickel or for example forbidden plasticizers (phthalates) in baby textiles,” say the organization.
OEKO-TEX offers a second certification called Green by OEKO-TEX, which means the “materials (were) tested for harmful substances,” the product was “made in environmentally friendly facilities” and it was “made in safe and socially responsible workplaces.”
FYI: Despite claims to the contrary, no car seat makers currently use OEKO-TEX certificated flame retardant foam in their car seats.
Reviews of 15 convertible car seats
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