Back in the day, car seats were an afterthought as kids slid across the vinyl bench seat in their grandparents' 1970 Cadillac Eldorado. Today, car seats are a requirement in all Canadian provinces and there's no shortage of options, including infant car seats designed specifically for a child’s first year. These rear-facing car seats are critical since babies can’t brace for impact in the event of a car accident.
Below, we'll explore what to look for in an infant car seat and lay out some of the best models based on third-party research. But first, let's dig deeper into what an infant car seat is and how it differs from a convertible car seat.
First, we must address a common spot of confusion: The difference between an infant car seat and a convertible car seat. They both can keep infants safe in the event of a crash, but they have distinct functions.
An infant car seat is specifically made to remain rear-facing with a 10- to 16-kg weight limit. Infant car seats often also come as part of a larger travel system that allows parents to remove the seat from the car seat base and snap it directly into a stroller without waking the baby. The biggest downside to an infant car seat is that you must replace it as your baby approaches 16 kg and nears the height limits for the car seat.
On the other hand, a convertible car seat or all-in-one car seat will grow with the baby. It starts as a rear-facing infant car seat but converts to a forward-facing seat and even a booster seat for older children.
This means you can buy one car seat and use it for many years as your child gets older. The downside to convertible car seats is they generally don't come as part of travel systems, so they don't easily snap into a stroller after you park. You must remove the baby from the seat and transition them to a stroller.
When shopping for a new infant car seat, keep in mind that opting for a cheaper model doesn't mean you're compromising your baby's safety. There are federal safety standards that all car seats sold in Canada must adhere to.
Transport Canada sets car seat guidelines under the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. All car seats must pass the minimum requirements in four main categories: dynamic testing, buckle release testing, energy-absorbing material testing, and inversion testing. These tests are all pass or fail — there are no rating systems.
While the minimum safety is consistent across the infant car seat market, there are some features that set apart certain car seats from others. Areas to focus on when choosing the best car seat for your child include:
Safety is the number one priority when it comes to finding the best infant car seat. Here, we cover some of the best infant car seats as tested by the infant car seat experts at BabyGearLab and why they're rated so highly.
BabyGearLab calls the Cybex Aton 2 its "Best Overall Infant Car Seat" thanks to its 9-out-of-10 ratings in crash tests and installation ease using the LATCH system. It also ended up above average (7 of 10) in installation ease with the seatbelt and overall comfort.
Where the Aton 2 faltered was its 5-of-10 rating in installation ease without the base and overall ease of use. The Cybex Aton 2 is compatible with a wide range of strollers — just make sure to choose one with click-in compatibility instead of strap-in compatibility.
At 4.2 kg, the Aton 2 is lighter than average but still a little bulky.
According to BabyGearLab's testing, the Peg Perego Viaggio 4-35 is one of the safest infant car seats on the market, with an 8 out of 10 rating in its crash tests. Without the removable car seat base, this Peg Perego is a breeze to install without its car seat base, but the LATCH system is significantly harder than others to get right.
A few notable downsides include its hefty 4.35 kg weight, and it's only compatible with select Peg Perego strollers.
The Chicco Fit 2 is BabyGearLab's longevity winner thanks to its taller height range and additional padding being more suitable for larger babies. Also, the Fit 2 received a perfect 10 score on LATCH installation ease.
Installation via seat belt takes a bit of a hit, landing at 7 out of 10, and installing it without the base comes in at 8 out of 10. Tests also revealed the Chicco Fit 2 is easier than most infant car seats in daily use and safer than average, scoring a 7 of 10 in each test.
Where does the Chicco Fit 2 fall short? It's a workout at 5.5 kg, and there are limited compatible strollers.
The Chicco KeyFit 30 received high marks in the BabyGearLab's crash tests (8 of 10) and ease of installation via the LATCH system (9 of 10). However, installing it without the base is very difficult, as it earned a 4 out of 10 in this department.
Testers also found its day-to-day functions are easy to use, scoring them a 7 of 10, but the 4.4-kg weight dragged it down a bit.
While testers liked much of what the Chicco KeyFit 30 offers, they waxed poetic about its value-oriented pricing. It rings in about $100 cheaper than other leading infant car seats.
The UPPAbaby Mesa is another top-rated infant car seat, with a 9 of 10 LATCH installation ease rating and an 8 of 10 for installation without the base. Installation ease dips a bit to a 7 of 10 with a seat belt, but it's still well above average. The 7-of-10 rating also covers daily ease of use and comfort.
The Mesa comes up short in a few areas, including its high price range of $464.99-$514.99 and bulky 4.7 kg weight. Fortunately, UPPAbaby has a wide range of highly rated strollers that work with the Mesa.
The Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 is a great option thanks to its easy installation across the board. It received a 9 of 10 rating for ease of install with a seat belt and 7 of 10 for installation with the LATCH system or without the base. It also received a 7 of 10 in its crash tests and weight, which rings in at just 3.85 kg, making it a great option for parents who often have to carry their car seat.
Daily use is the SnugRide SnugLock 35's one major drawback, as there appears to be a design flaw that makes it difficult to open the canopy while using the handle. The buckle is also hard to press, and the chest clip doesn't slide smoothly.
The Nuna Pipa received an incredible 9 out of 10 score in comfort and ease of installation (thanks to its unique rigid LATCH system). It's also no slouch for installing without the removable base (7 of 10), plus its 4.4 kg weight isn't too bad. However, if this weight is too hefty for you, there are plenty of compatible strollers from various brands.
It’s worth noting that Nuna Pipa struggled in crash tests, scoring just 4 of 10. It’s also a bit difficult to install it with a seat belt, as you must thread it through an odd lock. It also received below-average marks for daily ease of use due to its stiff buckle.
If spending a small fortune on an infant car seat that’ll only last about a year isn’t for you, there are plenty of great convertible car seats to consider. These convertible seats come in two formats: 3-in-1 and 2-in-1.
A 3-in-1 convertible car seat works as rear-facing infant car seats but also converts to front-facing car seats and booster seats as your child grows. A 2-in-1 convertible car seat converts from a rear-facing car seat to a front-facing car seat, but it lacks the booster seat function.
Here are two convertible car seats to consider in place of a rear-facing car seat.
The Nuna Rava is one of BabyGearLabs’s top-rated convertible car seats thanks to its 8-of-10 scores in installation via the seat belt. It also scored an 8 in the site’s crash tests and a 9 in comfort.
Some highlights of this convertible car seat include its machine-washable fabric, high rear-facing weight and height limits, and smaller front-to-back footprint. There are some width issues, though, and it rings in at a whopping 11.8 kg, meaning you can skip the gym membership when lifting this bad boy.
The Clek Foonf is another BabyGearLab top-rated convertible car seat. Its best attribute is its ease of installation, earning a perfect 10 with the LATCH system and a 9 out of 10 via seat belt.
The perfect 10 in LATCH installation comes courtesy of a rigid system that allows you to simply align the LATCH bars and snap them into place — no adjusting or tightening necessary. Seat belt installation is also nearly as foolproof. The Clek Foonf has relatively high rear-facing height and weight limits, albeit about 15 cm shorter than the Nuna Rava. It also has a small footprint, leaving plenty of legroom for the person seated in front of it.
On the flip side, the Foonf’s cloth isn’t machine washable, meaning you can only spot clean. It also struggles in daily ease of use with its stiff buckle and lack of a non-rethread adjustment option. Plus, it’s a beast of a car seat at 17.2 kg — truly a set-it-and-forget-it situation.
A top-notch infant car seat is only as good as the vehicle it's riding in. At Clutch, we have a wide range of quality used cars, trucks, and SUVs to pick from. All our vehicles have been through an in-depth 210-point vehicle inspection before we put them up for sale, so you know you're buying a quality used car.
Plus, all Clutch vehicles bought online come with a 90-day or 6,000-km warranty. On top of that warranty, you get to test your new vehicle for seven days risk-free. If you don't like it within the seven-day trial, you can return it for a refund or exchange it for another vehicle. Even better, you get the added benefit of handling the entire car-buying process online, so you and your infant can stay home and still get a great deal on a used car.