If you are like many other parents, the biggest question you may have is what is a combination car seat? and how does it differ from other types of car seats?
The best definition of a combination car seat is that of a forward-facing only car seat that comes with a 5 point internal harness, and can later be converted and used as a booster seat for older children.
Most car seat guides mistakenly refer to combination car seats as booster seats or convertible car seats. However, while they have some features of both, the combination car seat cannot be used in the rear-facing mode. Unlike your normal booster seat, the combination car seat comes with a harness that you will use on children that are below the recommended weight, though it can later be used in booster mode when the child is older.
Given that you can only use the car seat in forward-facing mode only, these seats are best for big kids or older toddlers. Children under the age of two need to ride in high weight infant car seats or rear-facing convertible car seats. The advice of having the child in the rear-facing mode for as long as possible still applies when it comes to combination car seats.
Our Favorite Combination Car Seats
- Britax Frontier Clicktight
- Evenflo Maestro Wesley
- Evenflo Securekid DLX
- Graco Nautilus 65
- Graco Nautilus 80 Elite
How to Buy Combination Car Seats
Cheap combination car seats will typically come with a harness weight of approximately 40 pounds.
Nonetheless, since it is always advisable to have your child ride in a 5 point harness for as long as possible, you should go for a combination seat with a harness weight of 80 pounds or greater. The harness offers enhanced safety since, in the instance of a crash, it spreads the impact of the crash over a greater proportion of the kid’s body than a shoulder seat belt or a lap belt would.
When you are looking to buy a combination car seat, try to find one with high weight limits, high harness strap slots, and a reasonably tall shell. The high harness and tall shell will ensure that the child will use the seat for an extended period given that they will have the harness traps above their shoulders and the ears below the top of the shell for longer, which is the recommended way for a child to ride in the forward-facing mode.
I always advise parents to go for a foam-lined car seat as these usually offer the best side impact protection. Check that the liner is comfortable and sturdy enough for the maximum safety of your child.
Harness Features to Look Out For
Given that you will have to move the harness straps in tandem with the age of your child and how they fit in the car seat, it is important to check that the harness height of your combination car seat is appropriate. Most modern models allow you to adjust the harness without needing to uninstall the car seat given that they are not designed with a no re-thread harness. An ideal car seat is one that will not require you to adjust the height of the harness through un-LATCHing or unbuckling.
You also need to find a combination car seat with wide and thick harness straps which will be safer as they are not easily twisted hence ensuring maximum safety of the child in the instance of a crash. You should also be advised to smooth out the straps whenever you use it to ensure that it is not twisted.
Important Features in Booster Seat Mode
It is important to go for seats with wide shoulder belt guides as these allow the shoulder belt to slide freely thus minimizing any dangerous slack in the installation and use of the seat belt.
LATCH may also be a feature that you want on your seat in booster mode as it allows you to use lower anchors that ensure a tighter installation. With a tighter installation, the car seat will not move around so much during a crash, thus enhancing the toddler’s safety.
If your combination car seat does not support LATCH in booster mode, always make sure you buckle the booster seat each time the seat is used.
Harness Weights to Take Into Consideration
Most of the car seats reviewed here can be used with harnesses until your kid is between 40 and 50 pounds. After that, you can change the combination car seat into a booster by getting rid of the harness straps and shifting to belt-positioning booster mode where you will use the vehicle seat belts until the child is between 80 and 100 pounds.
It is important to note that most of the recommended weight limits on combination car seat labels are for booster seat mode. Often times the maximum harnessed weight does not apply to the maximum weight listed for the seat and hence you need to check for the maximum weight for internal harnesses and maximum weight for booster seat mode from the car seat manual.
Combination Car Seat Reviews
Britax G1.1 Frontier Clicktight Combination Car Seat – Vibe
Britax is one of the top brands when it comes to safety technology and hence by buying this seat you can be confident you are buying a top product.
Its click tight installation systems and the safe cell impact protection make it one of the best car seats that have won an award from the NHTSA for exceptional safety standards.
- that your child will ride in the harness for the longest time possible
- The click tight system makes it so easy to install the car seat as almost any caregiver will find it easy to install the car seat with seat belts.
- Comes with an easy to adjust 9 position harness which you can conveniently adjust in line with your growing child.
- The seat is so versatile as to hold babies from as little as 25 pounds up to 90 pounds in the very safe 5 point harness.
- Comes with a foam-lined headrest and deep energy-absorbing shell that ensures maximum protection of the child from side impacts
- It is bulky and heavy and may not be the most convenient if you change cars often.
- Additional side impact bolsters on the car seat make it a little bit wide and so this seat may not be the best for small cars.
- Caregivers not familiar with the car seat may have a hard time relocating the harness adjusters the first time around as they are set so far back.
Evenflo Maestro Booster Car Seat Thunder
One of the top combination booster seats that have met some of the most rigorous safety standards.
It has exceeded Federal Crash Safety standards and has a Best Bet accreditation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The Evenflo maestro best exemplifies the company’s commitment to producing an ultimate car seat that offers ease of use comfort and safety.
- Integrated cup holders keep the child’s drink close while not taking too much space on your backseat allowing you to install more seats if you wish.
- Multiple crotch and harness buckle positions mean that you can use the car seat for an extended period of time.
- The auto-adjusting belt path makes it easy to position the lap-shoulder belt correctly, hence enhancing the safety of the child
- The lightweight design and ease of installation with LATCH make this a very good seat if you are a parent that frequently changes the seat from one car to another.
- All aspects of its manufacture from design assembly and testing have been done in us by Evenflo a trusted company and a leader in education and innovation.
- Does not have a built-in lock-off and hence might not be the easiest car seat to install with seat belts
- Not as tall in the booster mode as compared to other seats in its class and hence may not be the best for a tall baby.
- The headrest is nonadjustable and so you cannot adjust the angle of the child’s head for maximum comfort.
Evenflo Securekid DLX Booster Car Seat, Grayson
The Evenflo SecureKid combination car seat can be used as both a belt-positioning and harnessed booster seat.
Has a very wide range of weight limits fitting children from 22 pounds all the way up to 11 pounds.
Also comes with a SureLATCH installation system that makes for one of the easiest yet most secure installations.
- It has three layers of superior protection through its e3 side impact protection that enhances safety by up to 50%.
- Comes with a 5 point harness that can be easily adjusted from the front making it convenient to get the toddler in and out of the car seat.
- Comes with a multiplier position headrest that can be adjusted easily as the child grows or for their comfort.
- It is robust enough and in tests has been found to withstand up to two times stronger than the federal recommended crash test standards.
- It provides a good lap and shoulder belt fit for any child between the ages of 4 and 8 in your SUV, minivan, or car.
- It is not the best for seat belt installations as it does not have lock-off installations.
- Children that are near to the height and weight limits may find the harness to be a little bit tight particularly if they are wearing heavy clothing.
Graco Nautilus 65 3-in-1 Harness Booster Car Seat, Sully
A top of the range 3 in one car seat from one of the most trusted child safety seat manufacturing companies.
Comes with a steel-reinforced frame and energy absorbent foam for maximum safety and comfort for your child.
It has also been engineered and rigorously tested and exceeded Federal Crash Safety Standards by up to two times.
- Has a very wide weight limit allowing you to use it as a harness booster at a minimum of 65 pounds, highback booster, and backless booster up to 100 pounds
- Comes with open-loop belt guides making the installation and positioning of the seat in booster mode is smooth and snug.
- The headrest and harness are easily adjustable with the Simply Safe Adjust harness system that ensures that your child is as safe as they could be.
- With buckle covers, seat pad, and machine washable cover, the seat offers the utmost in comfort for your kid.
- The 5 point harness system in the Nautilus can keep your child in the harness until 65 pounds, one of the longest extended harness times among combination car seats.
- The LATCH connectors are basic hook style
- Since it lacks a lock-off mechanism you may have to read through your car seat manufacturer’s manual if you are to install the seat with seat belts.
- Buckles and clips are a bit harder to operate when the seat is new but they loosen after about a month of use.
Graco Nautilus 80 Elite 3-in-1 Harness Booster, Chili Red
Graco declares that the Nautilus 80 Elite 3-in-1 harness booster is the last seat you will ever need.
It will accommodate your baby from 22 – 120 pounds! Keep your pint-size pilot secure in a 5-point harness up to 80 pounds, after which you can make it a high back booster for up to 100 pounds and eventually a backless booster seat with a maximum weight of 120 pounds.
- The simply safe adjust system makes it easy to adjust the car seat and offers one of the most comfortable rides of a Graco car seat
- the belt lock-off makes for easy and quick installation of the combination seat with seat belts
- Your kid will enjoy the premium fabrics, personal storage for their toys, and personal inbuilt cup holder.
- Comes with a 3 position incline to enhance the comfort of the child as you can recline it according to their height or the size of the car
- You need to have harness strap covers at all stages of the car seat which can become quite cumbersome.
- While the cover is machine washable, disassembling the car seat for cleaning is quite a chore until you get used to it.
While all of the combination car seats above are quite good, my favorite car seat is the Britax Frontier Clicktight. It has performed very well on a number of federal and independent tests and is manufactured by a company with a reputation for innovation and safety.
It provides ease of installation, wide weight limits, great safety and comfort for the child as compared to the rest of the car seats on this review.