Also, always make sure to register any seat you buy so manufacturers can keep you updated on possible recalls.
Infant seatsWhen you first bring your wee one home, this will likely be the style you'll be using. These rear-facing seats often attach to a base, making them easy to swap between cars or click into a stroller. Wise parents know never to wake a sleeping baby, so being able to take the entire seat with you is a must in the first year.
The Mico 30 is the seat Autoblog test kid Wolfgang used as an infant. It was quite comfortable for him, and he had no trouble falling and staying asleep on long, hot rides. We liked that it clipped right in to our UppaBaby stroller with the help of a couple adapter clips. It's also easy to clean, a feature we found useful more often than we'd have liked. $200.
This infant seat gets outstanding reviews, and is quite popular as a result. It's easy to install and uninstall across multiple vehicles, and clicks into any Chicco stroller. It's on the big side, which is a drawback for smaller cars. $200
This is an attractive, lightweight car seat. It's easy to install, and even has a green light to let you know it's installed correctly. Like the Maxi-Cosi Mico 30, it has a little visor that flips down to keep the sun or rain off your little one's sleeping face. It's a little more costly than the other choices, though. $300.
Convertible car seatsAs your child grows, they'll need something larger. Convertible car seats allow you to use the same seat as your kid transitions from rear- to forward-facing positions. Some even convert into booster seats, making them useful all the way up until your child is ready to ditch the car seat altogether, and just use the seat belt. Convertible seats are bigger, heavier and harder to install than an infant seat, which means it'll likely become more or less a permanent fixture in the back seat of your car.
Safety is big selling point for Britax seats. A steel frame and extra layers of side impact protection provide peace of mind. It also clicks when adjusting the straps to let you know it's the right tightness. It's costly and bulky, but you can't put a price on safety. $270.
This seat will last until your child no longer needs any sort of car seat at all. It fits children from 4 to 120 pounds, and up to 57 inches tall. This is what Autoblog test kid Wolfgang is currently using as his Chair Force One (pictured above), and he loves stashing snacks in one cupholder and his favorite toy cars in the other. Level bubbles and six reclining positions help to make sure you've installed it well. The LATCH handles are solid, and easy to shove between seat cushions to find the anchors. $300.
Diono Radian RXT
Another seat that converts to a booster as your child gets older, the Diono Radian RXT has two big advantages over other seats. First, it's narrow, which makes it a candidate for fitting three across on a rear bench seat. Second, it folds up, and you can carry it like a backpack. That's an excellent feature if you travel a lot with your child. It's even FAA approved. $300.
Booster seatsFor larger children who have outgrown their car seats, a booster seat is the next step before going seat-less. They're generally pretty easy to use, even when switching from car to car. For this list, we've picked ones that convert to backless boosters.
Britax Frontier Clicktight
It's on the expensive side, but, again, this is one where safety is the key feature. This one has a harness, plenty of impact absorption and multiple reclining positions. It gets bonus points for durability and ease of installation. $330.
Evenflo Amp 2-in-1
This is the budget pick of this list, but it still has six height settings and converts to a backless version. It has two cupholders, which are really just molded indentations with elastic bands on the sides of the seat. $40 (though you might find it for less).
With easy installation to LATCH connectors, the Affix is a slid and secure booster. It's meant to be easy for kids to self-buckle, which is a time-saver, especially as your little one grows more willfully independent. It makes good use of storage space, too, with a cupholder and a hideaway compartment for toys. $80.