What is the Best Car Seat for a 2-Year-Old in 2021?

Doesn’t it seem like yesterday that your precious little one couldn’t even utter a single word and would gaze into the world with an unending interest? … that and then abruptly crying and falling asleep.

Point is that your kid has all grown up and instead of looking for pacifiers, you’re in the market for the best car sear for a 2-year-old.

Choosing a car seat for your child can and should be a daunting task as choosing the wrong one can have severe consequences.

Then, there are the little things you need to consider as well, like how heavy is it? How heavy it should be? Does it comply with the state laws, and many more questions?

The bad news is that choosing the right one needs countless hours of research and reviewing!

The good news is that you can simply “read” in no more than a few hundred words the hard work that others have done and their conclusion.

Luckily, you won’t have to be in the ship that’s sailing towards Research-Town!

In this article, we’ll help you decide in choosing the best car seat for your infant.

P.S. At the end of this article, you’ll find a detailed buying guide as well! (You’re welcome)

If you’re in a hurry, …

– Best Overall Car Seat for a 2 Year Old: Chicco NextFit Zip Air
– Best Budget Car Seat for a 2 Year Old:
Safety 1st Guide 65 / Sonus 65
– Best Lightweight Car Seat for a 2 Year Old
: Evenflo Sonus 65

Chicco NextFit Zip Air

A bit on the heavy side, the Chicco NextFit Zip Air is built like a tank (heavy and bulky) and might not be counted among the prettier car seats in the market.

The Chicco car seat boasts a steel reinforced frame under its design which helps the seat to retain its shape, and thus protect you child in a car accident. The frame is further lined with EPS Foam that serves to absorb impact energy and helps to distribute it evenly. Equipped with a DuoGuard side-impact protection protection feature around the headrest, the Chicco is one of the safest car seats in the market.

If car seat installation is something you fret about, then you’ll love the Chicco. For both the rear/forward-facing modes, it can be installed using either the Latch system or the car seat belt. If you decide to install it via the Latch, it comes with a numbered and printed guide that tells you which belt to pull first once clipped. Furthermore, it also has a latch compartment for storage in case you decide to go the seatbelt route.

The bottom on the seat if fitted with a dual density foam that lends itself to providing a comfortable base for your child to sit on and with 9 recline & 9 headrest positions, the NextFir Zip Air is a perfect “Grow with you” car seat.

PROSCons
Extremely easy to install (includes a numbered guide)Heavy at 25 lbs.
Easily removable covers using the zip and are machine washable and dryer safeBulky: Takes a lot of space in the car
9 recline positionsLatch has a 35 lbs. weight limit and needs to be replaced with the seat belt.
9 headrest positions 
Latch and Seatbelt can be used for installation 
1 movable and dishwasher safe cupholder 

Safety 1st Guide 65

If you’re in the market for a car seat that ticks all the boxes, is FAA approved and doesn’t cost an arm and a limb, then you should be looking at Safety 1st Guide 65. The compact design of this car seat makes it a perfect fit for smaller vehicles and allows for 3 of these seats to be installed.

Despite the affordable price, the Guide 65 does not cut corners when it comes to safety. The frame of the seat has built-in side impact protection and it meets all the federal, JPMA and ASTM safety standards. True to its same, the Guide 65 will protect your child till they’re 65 lbs.

Apart from safety, a car seat needs to be comfortable as well and it starts with the Safety 1st Guide 65 being equipped with extremely soft and compression-cushions. It comes with body pillows that can also be removed depending on their need and usage while the headrest can also be adjusted by sliding a metal bar which can be found at the back of the seat. At 12lbs, you can easily move this seat from car to car without any problems as well.

PROSCons
Compact design: can fit 3 acrossNarrow design means a tighter fit for the kid
Slim profile is perfect for smaller carsMaterial isn’t too breathable
Lightweight and FAA Approved 
Removable body pillows and cup holders 
Easy to clean 
  

Evenflo Sonus 65

If traveling is something that is in your agenda, your car seat of choice should be designed in accordance with it. Apart from being FAA approved, it should be lightweight for easy transportation between destinations. At 11.5 lbs., the Evenflo Sonus 65 is a convertible car seat that is designed as a travel friendly car seat.

First and foremost, the Sonus 65 fulfills the inversion requirements and is an FAA approved car seat for inflight use. It has an enhance side protection design which has been tested by the company itself and in general, it meets the federal crash test standards at even 2x the requirements. Being a rollover tested car seat, the Sonus 65 can be used with the peace of mind in any situation as a parent.

The size of the Evenflo Sonus is compact enough that it can easily fit 3 across while it still provides a considerable among to seating and movement space for the child. It has 5 shoulder strap positions that require rethreading. The seat comes with plush head support and seating cushion while the seat itself corporates air flow vents build into the design that makes the seat a bit more breathable and child friendly. Additionally, the seat also includes dual cup holders.

PROSCons
Compact size: Can fit 3 acrossDifficult to install
Extremely lightweightRethreading needed
FAA ApprovedPrinted level line for installation
Air flow vents built in channels provide air-flow that regulates temp 
Plush head support 
Dual cup holders 

Maxi Cosi Pria 85 max

If you want a car seat that not only protects your child, but would look elegant and beautiful in the process, Maxi Cosi Pria 85 Max is the one you should be buying.

Among the other car seats in the market, the Pria 85 Max would serve you the longest. It can be used from birth till 100 pounds in Booster Mode and could rightly be termed as a “buy it once” car seat.

A feature that makes it stand out from the crowd is their Flex-Tech construction in that frame that provides flexible and rigid components that helps to better absorb the crash energy in case of an accident. It is also equipped with the Maxi Cosi Advanced Air Cushion System on both sides of the headrest that further enhances the protection of your child’s head, neck and torso.

Apart from looks, it also delivers a comfortable seating experience for the kids with its soft, yet premium padding. It offers 5 head rest positions to go along with 3 recline positions for adjusting in regard to your child’s build. The Pria Max 85 can be connected rear-facing or forward-facing using the in-built Latch connectors or directly using the car seat help.

With 2 removable cup holder, your child will always have a secret hiding spot.

PROSCons
Easy to adjustDesign of the latch strap is not user-friendly
Premium padding is easy to remove & CleanDifficulty changing the buckle position
5 Position Headrest adjustmentPrinted level line instead of a bubble indicator
3 Position recline + 3 Buckle Adjustment Slots 
2 removable cup holders (dishwasher safe) 
Read/Froward-Facing can be installed using both the Latch connector and Seat Belts. 

Graco 4Ever DLX 4

Keeping up with the different types of car seats can be confusing and exhausting. Therfore, if you’re looking to buy that “buy-it-once” seat, then you should consider looking at Graco 4Ever 4in1 DLX. With it’s TrueShield Technology, the 4Ever will give 10 years of service and will support your child from birth till when they no longer need a carseat.

The TrueShield Technology is not just a fancy name either. With a steel-reinforced frame acting as a base for strength, the TrueShield advanced protection technology serves to provide additional side impact protection by designing the seat side barriers to be more durable. As a result, it provides protection from heads to hips and thus can be considered among the safest car seats out there.

The Comfort aspect is also not left ignored. The 4Ever DLX has the SimplySafe Adjust Harness System that allows the user to adjust the headrest position and the harness height in a single motion without the need to using the second hand. With 10 available positions, you can safelty find a comfortable headrest height for your child. Then there is also the option of reclining this car seat on 6 different positions. With 2 removable cup holders and the integration of RapidRemoving feature that allows the covers to be easily removed for washing, this car seat definitely delivers on the user-friendly aspect.

PROSCons
10 years of use can be expected (buy it once)Heavy
1 Second LATCH InstallationExpensive
6 position reclineCan be a tough fit in smaller cars
10 position headrests 
RapidRemoving: Easily removable covers for washing 
2 Removable cup holders 

Britax Boulevard Clicktight

Armed with the patented ClickTight mechanism, the Britax Boulevard aims and achieves its goal of being one of the most easiest car seats to be installed in a car, going as far as claiming it to be as simple as buckling a seat belt (..and rightly so).

The Britax Boulevard car seat is built on top of an exclusive high strength steel frame that not only stabilizes the seat, but also helps to tightly maintain its structure. The seat is then equipped with 2 layers of side impact protection to ensure the safety of your childs head, neck and torso and with a 5 point harness, you’ll be able to safely and secure your child and have the peace of mind.

The Boulevard also delivers on the comfort’s front as well. Not only does it have one of the easiest installation procedures, but it also has a click harness system that almost always ensure a safe fir. It also offers an adjustable 14-Position headrest and harness feature that can be adjusted according to your child’s height and thus allows for a longer usage capability. This is backed up with a 7-position recline capability for the perfect positioning according to the needs.

Rear-Facing Limits: 5-40 pounds –
Forward-Facing Limits: 20-65 pounds – up to 49 inches

ProsCons
ClickTight: Easy installation mechanismNeck strap cushions needs adjusting
2 Layers of Side Impact ProtectionStraps can be a bit tough to tighten/loosen
14 Position Quick Adjust Headrest & HarnessHeavy at 29 lbs.
7 Position Recline 
No Rethreading 
Superior Padding & Easy to Clean 

Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1

With all the safety features and moving parts installed in a car seat, it can get pretty heavy pretty fast. This is where the Safety 1st Grow and Go excels when compared to others on this list. Coming in at 15.4 pounds, not only will it cater to the safety needs of your child but will also give your back a well-needed and a well-deserved break.

Going with the trend of safety, this car seat is equipped with side impact protection. Since the Grow & Go can be adjusted according to your child’s height, the impact protection is also adjusted accordingly and thus provides additional safety at every position.

The Safety 1st Grow and Go is one of the most, if not the most comfortable car seats you can buy for your kid. The rear cushioned head support and the shoulder pads ensure maximum comfort and allows your child to easily take the occasional nap. It also comes with a 3-position recline, along with a 5-position height adjustability. Moreover, the seat buckle can also be adjusted in 1 of 3 positions by reaching under the seat and pulling the metal retainer. All these factors helps to make sure that your child is secured tightly.

ProsCons
Lightweight & ComfortablePosition indicator is a printed line and not a bubble level
Low priceLatch connectors are not easy to attach/detach
2 Built-in cup holdersDifficult to loosen or tighten the harness straps
3 Position recline 
5 Position Headrest adjustment 
Easily removable covers that are machine washable and dryer safe 

The Only Buying Guide You’ll Ever Need

Which car seat should I buy?

If you’re upgrading from an infant car seat, then you should be purchasing a convertible car seat. As the same suggests, a convertible sear can transition from infant to rear-facing to forward-facing and in some cases, booster mode. It all depends on which manufacturer and model you’re purchasing, but you can always get a general idea from their descriptions.

What kind of car seat should a 2-year-old be in – Forward-Facing or Rear-Facing?

Without a doubt, a 2-year-old should be in a rear-facing car seat. This advice doesn’t come from us, but NHTSA recommends that for optimal safety, a child should be riding rear-faced for as long as it’s possible. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics offers the same advice. The reason is that the fragile body of a 2-year-old is better cushioned in a rear-facing setup. Not only is this setup better to avoid neck and spine injuries, but the padding of the seat also cushions the child in case of a sudden brake as the child will be forced onto the car seat, rather than away from it in a forward-facing setup.

Only when your child reaches the weight or height limit of the car seat as prescribed by the manufacturer, then you should transition into forward-facing setup with a harness and a tether system.  

Is a booster seat safe for a 2-year-old?

Absolutely Not! The general rule of thumb when it comes to car seat setup transition is;
Rear-Facing à Forward-Facing à Booster Seat à Seatbelt.

As already mentioned above, a 2-year-old should be in a rear-facing setup and therefore, jumping to booster is not only reckless, but unsafe. The body of a two-year-old kid is just not strong enough to withstand the collision forces while in booster mode.  

The transition to the next level should only take place once the height and weight limits according to the manufacturer has been reached.

Does price matter?

Yes and No.

For any car seat to be sold to the public, it must comply with the rules and regulations and meet the crash-test safety standards. This means your child will be safe regardless of how much money you spend on a purchase.

However, the more expensive seats aren’t just expensive for the sake of it. They come with their own perks. Perks like additional padding, better steel frames and comfort features like recline and washability.

Regardless, the best car seat for you is the one you can afford! Since safety is a given, the only thing you’ll have to consider is whether you need the extra features or not.

Which car seat offers the most legroom in rear-facing mode?

If you wish to keep your child in the safest position i.e. rear-facing setup for as long as possible, legroom will at some point become a point of concern. Graco is the only manufacturer with a car seat that solves this problem.

Graco Extend2Fit is a convertible car seat that a retractable legroom offering 5 inches of additional legroom in the rear-facing mode. Not only does it allow for a child to stretch their legs but helps to keep them seated in the rear-facing position for a longer period. Once outgrown, the Extend2Fit can be converted to a forward-facing mode as well.

What else should you consider when buying a car seat?

Size, Weight and Dimensions:

Car seats come in all shapes and sizes. Some are lightweight and compact enough that you can fit 3 across the back seat, while others are bulky enough to give your back a nightmare if it requires moving. It all comes down to how you’ll be using it in your day-to-day life. If you have 2 or more cars and would be moving the seat between them, then you should look for a lightweight option with an easy installation setup. Likewise, a compact seat would be better for you if you wish to travel with 3 kids.

Car Seat Limits:

A convertible car seat always comes with height and weight limitations and based on them, your child either transitions from one mode to another, or entirely outgrows the seat and requires a new one. Most convertible car seats have limitations around the 60-70 lbs. range, but some models go as far as 100 lbs.+. Every model comes with its own unique selling points and there isn’t a single seat that can be recommended to everyone and again, you need to look at the options available and choose which one would cater best to your needs.

Ease of Cleaning:

Kids are messy. There is no argument against it!

There is a high chance that your car seat will be getting dirty on a regular basis. Whether it’s food, spilling of a drink or vomit, it’ll require to be cleaned constantly. Therefore, you should be looking for seats that are not only machine washable and dryer safe but is designed in a way that allows the padding/fabric to be removed easily.

A wrong choice here and you’ll be cursing yourself every time the seat gets dirty.

Recline:

Once you start looking into the more expensive models, reclining feature comes into the picture. Despite the minimal recline in the cheaper models, the more expensive ones offer multiple modes which do not require manual labor other than pressing a button and choosing the best fit. Perhaps not the most necessary thing in a car seat, it can certainly offer your child a more comfortable riding experience.

FAA Approval:

Not every car seat comes with FAA Approval. This means that if you have air travel plans in your mind, then a normal car seat would not suffice. There are special models designed which can be used across cars and planes and those are the ones you should be looking at.

Conclusion:

Buying a car seat is never an easy decision. There are just too many models, offering too many perks at too many different price points. Each feature you’ll look at would seem like a necessary one and comparing seats doesn’t help you paint a clearer picture either.

Modern technology and regulations can give you the peace of mind that whatever you decide to buy, it comes with all the safety requirements fulfilled. Therefore, your best bet is to make a checklist of your top priorities and then choose which seats fulfil them. Any additional feature would just be a cherry on top.

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