Chances are if you’re reading this your little one has outgrown their 2-year-old car seat and you are now on the hunt for the best car seat for 3 year old. Many parents choose a convertible car seat for 3 year old as a booster car seat for 3 year old isn’t recommended.
We have compiled up the best car seats for your toddlers as well as covered a few FAQs and how to pick the best toddler car seat.
We’ll give you our round-up of winners upfront, including:
- Best Overall: Britax Grow with You ClickTight
- Best for Small Cars: Diono Radian 3QXT 4-in-1 Car Seat
- Best for Travel: WAYB Pico Travel Car Seat
- Best Affordable: Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat
- Most Comfortable: Graco 4Ever DLX 4 in 1 Car Seat
The Best Car Seats For Your 3-Year-Old Toddler
Most infant seats only accommodate children up to 30 pounds. Most children exceed the infant car seat weight and height maximums between two and three years. However, a booster seat isn’t the next step.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children ride rear-facing as long as possible. Additionally, it is advised that children use a seat with a harness until at least four years of age. This is why car seats for 3 year old child are often convertible car seats. Thanks to convertible seats children can ride harnessed and rear-facing up to four years old.
As your child grows the car seat transitions, growing with them and accommodating them until they are ready for a booster seat.
Other choices of car seat for age 3 are forward-facing seats. These seats are often more affordable but don’t allow your child to stay rear-facing.
Once your child outgrows their rear-facing seat or infant seat, you may wonder can a 3 year old sit in a booster seat? It is not advised to put a three-year-old child in a booster seat.
Booster seats are belt-positioning seats that help the vehicle’s seat belt to fit across the child’s body properly. Most three-year-olds are still too small to use a booster safely.
Additionally, they are not mature enough to maintain the proper posture needed for a booster seat for the entire car trip. Booster seats are usually only appropriate for school-aged children.
The Graco 4Ever DLX 4 in 1 Car Seat is an amazing seat with multiple different features. You can check out all of this seat’s offerings in our Graco 4Ever car seat review. But to name a few, this seat aims to be the only one you will ever need.
It accommodates children from 4 pounds to 120 pounds with a ten-year lifespan and four different modes of use. It is also super comfortable and engineered with Graco ProtectPlus.
- Converts from rear-facing, to forward, to high back booster, to a backless booster
- 10 position headrest adjusts with the harness
- Six position recline
- In-Right easy LATCH installation
- Rapid remove machine washable cover
- Cup holders and armrests on either side make the seat wide
- Recline isn’t compatible with fixed vehicle seats
- 4 in 1 car seat gives you 10 years of use: seamlessly transforms from rear facing harness car seat (4 40 pounds), to forward facing harness car seat (22 65 pounds), to high back belt positioning booster (40 100 pounds), to backless belt positioning booster (40 120 pounds)
- Graco protect Plus engineered helps to protect Your little one in frontal, side, rear and rollover crashes
- Simply safe adjust harness system adjusts the height of your harness and headrest to 10 positions in one motion to ensure that Your child is always properly secured.Do not use bleach
Another awesome all-in-one seat is the Safety 1st Grow and Go All-in-One Seat. This seat has three modes and is suitable for children weighing anywhere from 5 to 100 pounds.
It is a budget-friendly option that will take your child from rear-facing to belt-positioning booster. Its compact form makes it excellent for smaller vehicles.
The washer and dryer-safe removable cover are ideal for busy parents. You can find out more in our Safety 1st Grow and Go review.
- Added side impact protection
- Snap-on and off seat pad that is washer and dryer safe
- Dual cup holders
- Harness holders for easy in/out
- Shallow depth provides 7 extra inches of room in front
- LATCH is difficult to install
- Harness crotch buckle is difficult to press to remove
- Built to grow: The 3 in 1 car seat built to grow for extended use through 3 stages: Rear facing 5 to 40 pounds, forward facing 22 to 65 pounds, and belt positioning booster 40 to 100 pounds
- Side impact protection: The grow and go’s side impact protection helps keep your child safe
- Easy in, easy out: Harness holders keep the harness in an open position so it is easy to get your child in and out of the seat. Rear facing height is 19 to 40 inches. Forward facing height is 29 to 52 inches
The Graco Tranzitions 3 in 1 Booster Seat is perhaps the most recommended car seat for 3 year old if you are on a budget. It grows with your child from 22 pounds to 100 pounds, from forward-facing to a backless booster.
Because it starts at 22 pounds it is a great option if you already have an infant seat and are looking to take the next step. The seat has a very compact design and is ultralight, making it great for travel.
- No-rethread harness adjusts with headrest
- Body insert pillow
- Machine-washable seat pad
- Two cup holders and armrests
- Very lightweight
- Install is hard to get secure
- The crotch strap is very short
- 3-in-1 harness booster helps protect your child, from toddler to youth
- Grows with your child from forward-facing harness (22-65 pounds) to highback booster (40-100 pounds) to backless booster (40-100 pounds) to continue to meet industry standards, we have increased the weight minimum from 30 to 40 pounds
- No-rethread simply safe adjust harness system allows the headrest and harness to adjust together in one motion.Do not use bleach
The Maxi-Cosi Pria 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat is a simple but sophisticated convertible car seat. It can suit your child from birth to ten years of age with a multiposition headrest, a three-position recline, and a no-rethread harness.
You can adjust the seat in just a few minutes and have your child in and out in seconds thanks to the harness holders. Available in seven fun colors, this is a seat your child will enjoy throughout their car seat years.
- Washing machine and dryer safe removable cover
- Two dishwasher safe cup holders
- Cell-side impact protection
- Newborn insert for babies starting at 4lbs
- Praia Max 3-in-1 fabrics stay cool and comfortable
- Very deep, may have issues rear-facing in small cars
- Fabric prone to pilling after washing
- 3 in 1 seating system: Rear facing, from 4-40 pounds; Forward facing to 65 pounds; And up to 100 pounds in booster mode
- Side impact protection with cell protects your child's head where it's needed most in a side impact crash
- In and out harness holders keep straps out of the way when buckling
The WAYB Pico Car Seat is the ultimate travel car seat. It provides five-point harness security for children ages 2 and over for up to 50lbs. It weighs only 8 pounds and can be folded in half and placed in a carry bag.
This seat meets all NHTSA standards as well as being FAA-approved. It uses minimal plastic, keeping it not only light but also very slim. This makes it excellent for not only traffic but also super compact cars.
- Folds down to 11.6” L x 14.5” W x 18.9” H
- Easy installation either with LATCH or seat belt method
- Aerospace-grade aluminum frame
- Breathable mesh fabric
- FAA approved
- Can only be used forward-facing
- Spot clean only
The Evenflo Maestro Sport Harness Highback Booster Car Seat is a wonderful seat, our Evenflo Maestro car seat review can provide you with all the details. In short, it will suit your child from two years and 22 pounds up to 110 pounds.
The harness has an upfront adjustment so achieving the proper fit is a breeze. The easily accessible belt guides make using the seatbelt in booster mode just as easy. Dual cup holders attached to narrow armrests keep the seat compact, allowing you to have more space in the backseat of your vehicle.
- Removable and machine-washable seat pad
- Dual integrated cup holders
- Narrow profile
- Very affordable
- Only two modes of use
- Doesn’t have a steel-reinforced frame
- 2 Modes - Converts to booster: Forward-facing harness with belt-positioning booster supports children 22-110 pounds. The height recommendation of a child in harnessed booster is 28-50 inches and in the seat belt booster mode, it is 44-57 inches
- 5-Point Harness with 50 pounds. Limit: Holds child's body safely and securely in the car seat
- Upfront Harness Adjust: Central, front access to the harness adjuster provides an easy way to adjust child's harness for an accurate, snug fit
If you are looking for a seat with superior safety, consider the Britax Marathon. This seat can be used from 5 to 65 pounds, taking your child from rear-facing to forward-facing. The harness not only adjusts but the crotch buckle does too, keeping your child comfortable as they grow.
A steel frame, an impact-absorbing base, and a wrap-around layer of side impact protection make this seat one of the safest on the market. The ClickTight seat belt installation is straightforward, user-friendly, and extremely secure.
- 14 position harness & 2 position buckle
- 7 position recline
- Includes V-shaped safety tether to reduce forward motion
- Removable and washable cover
- ClickTight seat belt installation & LATCH equipped
- Does not convert to booster
- No cup holders
- Easy installation: Patented click tight makes car seat installation as simple as buckling a seat belt; the shoulder width is 16 inches; the child seated shoulder height rear facing is 7.6 to 18.65 inches and the child seated shoulder height forward facing is 12 to 18.65 inches
- No retreading, ever: 14 position harness, 2 position buckle for a comfortable fit as your child grows. Care & cleaning: Hand wash
- Relax and recline: 7 recline positions ensure comfort and the best vehicle installation angle
The Diono Radian 3QXT 4-in-1 Car Seat is made for tight spaces. It has an extremely narrow profile but remains comfortable and quite safe. It can suit your child from birth (4 pounds) until they’re 120 pounds.
High-density plastics, steel reinforcement, and an anti-rebound bar protect your child no matter what. The removable cup holder is great for when you are traveling or need to fit three across.
- Extremely safe
- 10-year lifespan
- Narrow profile fits three across
- FAA approved
- Four different modes
- Cover is difficult to remove
- Takes up a lot of space front to back when reclined
- THE NEXT GENERATION 4-IN-1 RADIAN CONVERTIBLE CAR SEAT: Introducing 23 improvements in safety and new features from the award-winning 3QXT slimfit convertible car seat
- 4-in-1 NEWBORN PROTECTION FROM 4 lbs: The energy absorbing protection Safe+ newborn insert provides the secure travel position, adjustable harness and anti-slip harness pads complete with Safe+ steel anti-rebound bar to reduce rebound rotation by 50%. Security 3 different ways - rear-facing, forward-facing, and high back booster mode
- SAFE PLUS ENGINEERING: Radian 3QXT is subjected to a combination of the most rigorous crash tests to ensure we have the safest car seat possible. The radian 3QXT features high-density plastic and steel reinforcement to create the ultimate protection
The Chicco NextFit Zip Convertible Car Seat is the top choice for parents who want an easy-to-wash seat. The zip-off cover is machine washable and the removable cup holder is dishwasher safe for superior convenience.
This user-friendly seat has a nine-position headrest and a no-rethread harness. You can use it from 5 pounds all the way up to 65 pounds.
- Zip-off machine washable cover
- Dishwasher safe removable cup holder
- SuperCinch LATCH install is effortless
- LockSure seat belt-tightening system is very secure
- Steel reinforced frame and energy-absorbing foam
- Only two modes, rear-facing & forward-facing
- Bulky and not ideal for travel
- Zip-off padding is soft and machine washable for comfort and convenience
- Remarkably easy installation with a 9-position ReclineSure leveling system, SuperCinch LATCH tightened and lock sure seat belt tightening system
- Superior Duo Guard protection with a deep rigid shell and EPS energy-absorbing foam, plus a steel-reinforced frame.To clean harness, sponge clean using warm water and mild soap; Air dry
The Britax Grow with You ClickTight car seat is the new and improved version of the Britax Frontier. This car seat is slim, safe, and a breeze to travel with. It has two modes, harness mode, and booster mode, accommodating your kid from 25 to 120 pounds.
Multiple safety features, like a unique V-shaped tether and a steel frame, make this seat astonishingly safe for its size. Armrests, cup holders, and even snack storage appease even the pickiest children. If it is a contender, check out our Britax Frontier vs Graco Nautilus guide.
- 4-way stretch athleisure fabric is breathable and easy to clean
- ClickTight installation guarantees a safe seat belt install
- Store-away harness storage for when in booster mode
- Two layers of side impact protection
- 9 position headrest and harness adjust as one
- Harness difficult to tighten
- Headrest prone to squeaking when jostled
- TRUSTED QUALITY, UPDGRADED DESIGN: Looking for Frontier? Grow with you ClickTight is our newest harness to booster car seat
- PREMIUM, SOFT TOUCH FABRIC: 4-way stretch athleisure fabric combines style and function for a modern look that’s easy to clean
- 2 in 1 BOOSTER SEAT: Easily transitions from forward facing harness mode to belt positioning booster mode as your child grows from toddler to big kid
Searching for something budget-friendly? Check out the Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat. This compact car seat is ideal for small vehicles or squeezing three seats across.
The removable cup holder can be taken off when you need more space, or simply need to wash it. It suits children from 5 to 65 pounds transitioning from rear-facing to forward-facing. The adjustable headrest and harness, and removable body pillows keep your child safe and cozy at each stage.
- High rear-facing weight limit (40 pounds)
- Removable, washable cup holder
- 3 buckle positions and 5 harness heights
- LATCH and seat belt installation equipped
- Premium soft fabrics
- LATCH hooks can be tricky to use
- Seat pad is recommended hand wash only
Finally, we have the Cosco Finale DX 2-in-1 Booster Car Seat, a travel-ready seat that can go wherever you do, accommodating children from 30 to 100 pounds! It weighs just over 11 pounds and is very narrow. This makes switching vehicles painless.
Deluxe fabric is moisture-wicking and smooth to the touch, making it extra comfortable for children. The removable and washable cup holder is greatly appreciated by parents. As is the fact that it can be attached to either side of the car seat to perfectly fit your vehicle.
- Made in the USA
- Detachable cup holder attaches to either side
- Only 18 inches wide and 11.5lbs
- Washable seat pad
- Simple to install with LATCH or the seat belt
- Only two modes forward-facing or booster
- Durability is questionable with everyday use
- Extended Use: Forward-facing with harness 30-65 pounds and Belt-positioning Booster 40-100 pounds
- Designed to fit 3 across in most vehicles - Great for growing families and car pools
- Lightweight and easy to move from car to car
Many parents put a lot of thought and time into choosing a car seat. You want your little one to be safe and secure when riding in a vehicle. However, there are also other factors to consider.
We have listed a few to help you get started brainstorming about your ideal 3 year old car seat.
- Car Seat Type. The car seat type for your child depends on their age and weight. You also want to consider the lifespan of the car seat compared to how much they will grow. Additionally, each state has laws and regulations about car seat safety and the AAP has recommendations as well. Most three year olds are definitely not ready for a booster seat and end up riding in a convertible seat or a forward-facing car seat.
- Car Size. You will want to think about the size of the car seat and how well it will fit in your car. Some convertible seats are quite bulky, with comfort features like cup holders that make them extra wide. If you have a small car you may want to consider a slim-fit seat or one that is designed for travel.
- Height & Weight Limits. The car seat you choose will need to be appropriate for your child’s size. Pay close attention to the minimum and maximum weight and height limits. Your child must meet the minimums for the seat to be safe. However, you don’t want them to exceed the maximums too quickly or you will need to buy another seat.
- Car Seat Weight & Size. Like most car seat types, there are a variety of sizes and weights when it comes to the best car seat for three year old. If you plan on traveling often or having to change vehicles, you might want a portable car seat for 3 year old. If you have a small car or need to fit three seats across you might want to check out small car seats for 3 year olds.
- Installation Type. Most car seats for toddlers over 30 lbs have both a LATCH installation option or a seat belt installation option. However, some car seats have weight restrictions on LATCH installation. Additionally, sometimes fitting three car seats across is not possible using LATCH. You should consider your unique situation when determining what type of installation your car seat will need to have.
- Safety. Safety is a top priority. While nearly all car seats are very safe, having to be NHTSA approved and crash tested, some go above and beyond. You can look for a seat with a steel frame, honeycomb interior design, or specially crafted crumple zones if you want it to be extra safe.
- Comfort Features. While age and weight limits are important you also want to check that the seat is comfortable for your kid’s body size. If your child needs to sit for a long time in the seat you want to ensure that it is comfortable, therefore you may need to check out the best car seat for tall 3 year old or a seat for kids with long legs. Getting in and out of the seat should also be easy for your little one, so consider the shape and size of the seat.
- Ease of Cleaning. One of the downfalls of toddler seats is that they aren’t as easy to clean versus infant seats. There are cup holders to worry about, fixed bases, and your child is probably messier than when they were a baby. Pay attention to how easy the seat is to clean, does it have rapid remove covers? Are the covers machine washable?
- Expiration Date. Always check the expiration date of your car seat. If you buy it new, this shouldn’t be an issue. However, you do want to make sure that its lifespan will last you until your child is ready for the next seat. If you are considering buying second-hand ensure the car seat is not expired and has not been in any accidents. Because you can’t guarantee the history of a used seat, it is usually better to buy new.
- Meet Safety Standard. Double-check that your car seat choice meets all safety standards set by the NHTSA. And is in accordance with your local state rules and laws.
- Price/Budget. Of course your price and budget matter too! Thankfully there is a wide range of price points.
- Accessories. Consider any extras that you or your child may want. This can include things like cup holders, armrests, or even snack cubbies.
What Car Seat is the Best For Your Toddler?
If you are still wondering what carseat should a 3 year old be in, the answer is the one that is safest for their weight, height, and age! However, we do have a favorite.
Our top pick is the Britax Grow with You ClickTight. It suits your kid from 25 pounds to 120 so you don’t pay (in price and size) for extra seat functions you don’t need since your child is past the infant stage. Additionally, it is extremely safe yet compact and easy to use. An all-around win for parents!
Do you agree with our top overall pick? Which one is your best choice? Do you have other car seat in mind? Comment below!
Last update on 2021-09-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API