Need a Car Seat for My 3 Year Old, Any Recommendations?

Updated on January 19, 2011
S.R. asks from Clinton, MO
13 answers

Okay Moms, my son turned 3 last week, he is a big tall boy, about 45lbs and 43 inches at his last check up a few months ago. We were having a problem with him not being comfortable in his car seat anymore, the shoulder straps were up as high as they go and he is still barely fitting, I feel like his shoulders are being smashed. He complains the buckle also hurt his "boy parts". We bought a booster thinking "Okay, he outgrew his convertable so he is ready." Well he is not near big enough for it or mature enough to keep the seat belt over his shoulder the whole time. I know there are a few select car seats for toddlers that still have the 5 point harness, which is what he needs still. I don't feel he is safe enough in the booster. What do you think, is there a great carseat you have for your pre-schooler that isn't very expensive ($200 and under) ? I really hate to buy him another car seat at 3 years old, I thought this one was going to last.

This is the one I am considering, what do you all think?

I'm going to add that our 18 month old is rear facing in his old Safety First Alpha Omega Elite convertable seat, so we still have him in the booster, some car rides are better than others. I am a SAHM so we don't go out much during the winter. We have a Graco Nautilus already purchased for our daughter when she can't be rear facing comfortably anymore, and we have tried sitting him in there to see if we should buy one for him and have the same problem with the shoulder straps.

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answers from Milwaukee on

Graco Nautilus. My daughter is taller too and she fits great in this. She outgrew her Marathon before she was booster ready. It's nice to be able to switch from carseat to booster without having to buy something new.

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answers from San Francisco on

what is your son's torso height? (have him sit cross-legged on the floor with his back to the wall and measure the distance from the floor to his shoulder). Torso height, not overall height, will give you the best estimate of how much growing room he has in a harnessed seat b/c some kids are leggier than others. When you sit your son in the Nautilus, are the harness slots still above his shoulders? (you may want to use something flat like a ruler to check how his shoulders line up with the actual harness slots in the plastic shell - sometimes the car seat cover will slump down a little and look like there's less growing room than there really is.
If your son doesn't have much growing room, the Britax Frontier is your best bet because it has the tallest top harness settings of any seat on the market, and will also make an excellent booster when your son is ready to use it as a booster. Online you can find them for a little over $200.

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answers from Kansas City on

I know it's a little late for this, but the Britax Marathon fits from 5 lb to 65 lb, and my daughter has been in hers since she turned one (if I had known better I would have never bought an infant seat, the marathon is so much easier to use). She is 6, in first grade. Only having to buy ONE car seat has saved a lot. We got the Nautilus for my husband's car and it is so hard to get adjusted right and get in and out of.

Anyway, you can get a marathon (if you're interested) at albee baby for 209 with free shipping... To me it is worth the ease compared to the few others I have tried over the years. All three of my kids are in britax now (yes, my 6 year old is not in a booster yet except in my husband's car occasionally, she is just over 40 pounds and everything says it is safest to stay in a 5-pt harness as long as possible..

Good luck, I've just found that each time we try to save money on car seats we end up either returning them because we don't like them or wishing we had and spending more money on a better seat.


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answers from Kansas City on

I dont' know anything about the safety-1st go hybrid.... I suggest looking for a car seat that fits up to 80 lbs. I know alot of people have mention the Britex Frontier85 or we have the Susnshine kids Radian80 which is also a 5-point harness up to 80 lbs. We love it and I think it is a little cheeper than the Britex (but still a little over $200). There may be more than those two, I'm not sure. Someone did metion below & I wanted to also say it, he has to be 4 years old before being in a booster seat so I would not put him in a booster yet.

We also have the Graco Nautilus you mention for our 2 year old, I love it but I have also tried putting my 4 year old in it, she if small for a 4 year old, but really doesn't fit well in it.... go with a the britex or the radian80.



answers from Boston on

The bare minimum for a booster is 4 AND 40 lbs. We have a graco nautilus it harnesses to 65 lbs

Edited: he should fit in the nautilus you should call to have soeone check your seat. My local fire department has people certified to do this and so doesn't the police station. Call around I bet they can at least direct you o a certified carseat tech


answers from Minneapolis on

The harness should be just at or above the shoulders for forward facing. You need to remove his winter jacket in the car saet, its not allowed and its dangerous for him to wear it. I'm guessing thats why the harness is slipping off his shoulders.

The Nautilus will fit most kids to age 7 in the harness, my 47" tall 50lb 5.5yr old fits in the Nautilus just fine, and he's a big kid!

Make sure he's not wearing any bulky clothing in the carseat, and that the harness is just at or above his shoulders. The nautilus is a great seat that should work for him.



answers from Gainesville on

I love my Britax seats so I can't speak to the one you are considering. Britax makes the Frontier that will go 5 pt harness to 85lbs then high back booster to 120lbs so you get alot of bang for your buck. If they'd had the Frontier when I bought my son's seat in '08 that's what I would have gotten. His seat will go 5 pt harness to 80lbs but doesn't convert to the highback booster. :(

And you are right that he's not ready for a booster of any kind. The minimum is 4 years old and 40lbs. My son is 6 and we just got him a Britax high back booster for dad's car and I have to remind him often to sit correctly and why it's so important to do so.



answers from St. Cloud on

Check and search the Britax Frontier85. It was on sale when I bought it and paid $220. IF I had been making my FIRST purchase from their site, I had found a coupon with an EXTRA 20% off!!!!! Bummer for me, I had been a previous customer already.

Check it out and see if they are still running a sale on the Britax seats. Message me if you are a new customer for them. I BELIEVE (IF I remember right) that if I give you my "code #"? that you can get an extra 20% your FIRST order through them as well!

WE LOVE OUR FRONTIER85 seats. Our 5 1/2 and 3 1/2 year old each have them and they love them too! They are each about 40#. These seats go up to 85# as a 5-point and then a booster after that. And the height goes high as well! PLUS, they have a no-thread harness!



answers from Los Angeles on

We recently got the Graco Nautilus and are very happy with it. It starts as a five point harness, then can convert to a high back booster and eventually a low back booster. My three year old is also big (42 lb, 41 inches approx) and he is comfy in the seat. I would definitely keep your son harnessed as long as possible and this is a great seat for that. I think we paid around $130.

We also have the Britax Frontier, which is the same style seat but a lot more expensive. Both are very good. I think the Frontier has a higher weight limit to be harnessed but the Graco goes to 65 lbs harnessed so you'll still have plenty of time.

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answers from Washington DC on

Britax, Britax, Britax. Great quality seats and many go up to much bigger sizes than your son. Great safety ratings. My friend whose van was broadsided (which spun the van all over the street for a long distance) says her son, then about 3, never even really noticed and hadn't budged one inch in his Britax. Not the cheapest seats around but worth every penny.



answers from Sacramento on

I'm surprised he isn't comfy in the Nautilus. My 5 year old is very tall for his age and still fits comfortably in there. He DID require that I move the crotch strap to the forward slot a few months ago and the shoulder straps are in the top position now, but he still fits.

I can't recommend anything else :(



answers from Kansas City on

I have this hybrid booster and it is wonderful! I have an older version but I/my son loved it. He is now 7 and has grown out of the 5-pt harness and uses the seatbelt.
My daughter is turning four this week and we just bought a regular backless booster to move my son into and will re-install the 5 point harness on this seat for her. I plan on using it a few more years with her.
I would strongly suggest this seat!



answers from Detroit on

I really really wanted to love that seat (safety 1st hybrid)... but unfortunately it didn't work for us. Just a warning... this seat will not fit in every vehicle. The back has no protection and relies on a headrest in the vehicle. We found it awkward and returned it. We thought it was the perfect solution for our 4 year old... but was very disappointing! We love our Britax. My 5 year old is still in a 5 point harness. I would recommend the Frontier model (I think that is the one?)... it has an 85 pound weight limit and can be used as a 5 point harness as well as a booster. You will get many many years out of this seat (especially with another little one still). I think it is well worth the money and you could probably find one for pretty close to the $200 mark.

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