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Best Car Seats for a 3 Year Old Child

Joanne Stene
Last Updated on
by Joanne Stene

Curious about which ones are best for three-year-olds? We took the time to research and test many of them available on the market today.

After conducting our tests, we came up with the six products that you’ll find listed below. But, first, let’s review quickly why you are here and looking specifically for a car seat for a 3 year old. We have a great education section at the bottom of the reviews to understand why the 3 year mark is a special one and why the products below are great choices for smart parents with a plan. Ok, let’s get started with the best of the best!

3 Year Old Child Car Seats
pico-gh-1_1080x
  • Modes of Use: 1
  • Weight Range: 22-50 lbs
  • Rear Facing: N/A
Ride-Safer-Vest
  • Modes of Use: 1
  • Weight Range: 30-60 lbs
  • Rear Facing: N/A
graco-4ever-dlx
  • Modes of Use: 4
  • Weight Range: 4-120 lbs
  • Rear Facing: 40 lbs Max
safety-1st-grow-and-go
Most Affordable
  • Modes of Use: 3
  • Weight Range: 5-100 lbs
  • Rear Facing: 40 lbs Max
symphony-elite
  • Modes of Use: 3
  • Weight Range: 4-120 lbs
  • Rear Facing: 50 lbs Max
Clek-Fllo
  • Modes of Use: 2
  • Weight Range: 14-65 lbs
  • Rear Facing: 50 lbs Max

What Are The Best Car Seat For 3 Year Old?

1. Pico™ Travel Car Seat: The Most Portable

pico-gh-1_1080x

If you frequently travel with your three-year-old, you know how hard it can be to lug around heavy, cumbersome car seats and then reinstall them in various places. The all-new Pico Travel Car Seat from the company WAYB is for all globetrotters and has been called a game-changer for travel car seats. It’s a forward-facing foldable 5-point harness car seat, weighing in at only 8 pounds!

The Pico Travel Car Seat works for children ages 2-5 who are between 22-50 lbs. and 30-45 inches in height, so this seat should fit your three-year-old perfectly! This car seat is best suited for families who fly frequently, who rely on taxis and Ubers, and those who just want a portable car seat.

Features:

  • Forward Facing (22-50 lbs./30-45 inches)
  • Approved for Car and Plane
  • Aerospace-grade aluminum alloy
  • AstroKnit Mesh
  • Eco-Friendly: Minimal plastics/No PU Foam
  • Compact-Fold
  • Comes in three different colors
  • “Breathe Easy Guarantee” (three-year warranty)

The Pico Car Seat passes all safety testing according to the NHTSA and the FAA.  Made with eco-friendly materials (including minimal plastic and no PU foam), this seat keeps little travelers comfortable on all their adventures.

Installation is easy with top tethers and LATCH straps. Although the seat can be installed with a seat belt, WAYB recommends using LATCH whenever possible since it is the easier installation method.  Plus, WAYB offers installation videos on their support page. Because it folds in half for storage, the Pico Seat can fit in an airplane’s overhead bin or even in a backpack. It is also narrow enough to fit three-across in most cars.

Pros
  • Extremely lightweight
  • Perfect for traveling and storage
  • Minimalist design
  • Can fit three-across
Cons
  • Only forward-facing
  • Could use a handle to make carrying a lot more easier
  • A little pricey

2. RideSafer Travel Vest: Wearable Booster Seat Alternative

Ride-Safer-Vest

While many people would say “travel with a 3-year-old” and “simple” don’t go in the same sentence, there are ways to make the journey not simple, but simpler. For one, cumbersome car seats are a pain to carry and transport, and there’s another option: the RideSafer Travel Vest, a wearable booster seat alternative for children from 3-5 years old, 30-60 pounds, and 35 to 48 inches tall.

As far as safety features, the RiderSafer Travel Vest is better than a booster seat. It sits across the lap rather than the waist and the shoulders rather than the neck. Statistics show that car seats are installed incorrectly 3 out of 4 times, but this travel vest is simple to use and adjust for each child, thus reducing the risk of incorrect usage. The RideSafer Travel Vest is crash tested and meets Federal standards (FMVSS 213).

Features:

  • Three-clip design for comfort
  • Padding absorbs and dissipates crash energy from seat belt
  • Adjustable straps
  • Safety tested and certified
  • Available in three sizes (the small fits children 30-60 lbs./35-48 inches)
  • Available in four colors
  • Comes with a carrying bag, tether, crotch strap, and neck pillow

This travel vest is still considered a booster seat, but it allows much more mobility than a typical harnessed seat. You can adjust this vest to fit your three-year-old before you need to use it in the car. Just open the buckle and the Velcro panel on the front, have your child slip his arms in, tug the vest down, and fasten the Velcro, adjusting the strap if necessary. Then, you’re ready to go. This vest eliminates the need to install and reinstall a car seat from the car.

Pros
  • Perfect for traveling with young children
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Eliminates the risk of improper installation
  • Adjustable so it can last for several years
Cons
  • Not for airplane use
  • A bit pricey

3. Graco 4-In-1 Convertible: Most Versatile

graco-4ever-dlx

Graco designed the 4-in-1 convertible car seat so that your child can use it for about a decade.

This seat works for children weighing anywhere from four to 120 pounds, making it an excellent choice for all three-year-olds.

One of the things that we liked most about this product is that is has a Simply Safe Adjust Harness System. With this system, you won’t ever have to worry about rethreading the harness.

We also liked that this seat was side-impacted tested. The car seat performed well during these tests thanks primarily to its steel-reinforced frame.

Pros
  • An investment that will last for years
  • Met or exceeded US Standard FMVSS 213 for impact tests
  • A level indicator helps you to install the seat correctly
  • Adjustable headrest with ten different positions for maximum comfort
Cons
  • The buckle may not fit comfortably on smaller children
  • Some parents complained that the headrest stuck out further than the rest of the seat
  • The included cup holders may be too far away for three-year-olds to reach

4. Safety 1st Grow and Go

Safety-1st-Grow-And-Go

Another one of the best available car seats for three-year-olds is this model from Safety 1st. Parents can use this as a rear-facing seat, forward-facing seat, and belt-positioning booster.

One of the things that stood out to us most about this product was the harness system. Safety 1st designed an “Easy In, Easy Out” harness that keeps the belt in an open position.

The open position makes it easier for you to get your child in and out of the seat. The harness also features the company’s “QuickFit” technology, which allows you to adjust the harness and headrest in one step.

Pros
  • The harness is easy to work with
  • All padding is machine and dryer safe, making it easy to clean
  • Accessible cup holders
  • Provides lumbar and head support
Cons
  • Does not contain Safety 1st’s 360-Degree Protect System with six layers of safety
  • Headrest is not very adjustable
  • Some parents said that the car seat loosened too easily

5. Evenflo Symphony DLX

symphony-elite

This is another car seat designed to fit children up to 110 pounds, complete with rear-facing, front-facing, and booster capabilities.

The seat comes complete with a Five-Point Infinite Slide harness, allowing you to find a secure fit every time you put your child into the car.

We also were impressed with how easy it was to install this car seat into a vehicle. Evenflo designed an auto-retracting latch system that does not require any pulling. With this system, you can install the seat in a matter of 60 seconds or less.

In addition to how easy it was to install this product, we also liked the expanded zone protection, which provided up to 50 percent more security in the event of a side-impact crash. 

Pros
  • The ability to install the car seat in less than a minute
  • Made in the United States
  • Performed well in side-impact tests
  • Many parents raved about how well this seat performed in an accident
Cons
  • Some said that the harness shredded after a couple of years
  • Lacks some head support and couple be uncomfortable for sleeping
  • May be too big and bulky for smaller cars

6. Clek Fllo

Clek-Fllo

The last product on our list of best car seats for three-year-olds is the Convertible Baby and Toddler Car Seat from Clek Fllo.

This product could be particularly useful if you have more than one child in the family. The company designed this seat specifically so that you could fit three across, with a width of 17”.

This car seat is also unique because it extends the length of time that a child is in a rear-facing seat. Whereas most car seat manufacturers design seats to be rear-facing up to 40 pounds, Cleck Fllo designs the seat to be rear-facing for up to 50 pounds.

Additionally, there is a steel anti-rebound bar that can help keep your child safer in the event of a crash. 

Pros
  • Will fit three-across in most vehicles
  • Will keep three-year-olds in a rear-facing position for at least another year
  • Complete with Energy-Absorbing Crumple Technology that reduces force transmissions
  • Advanced side-impact protection
Cons
  • A bit expensive
  • Inserting the head rest is very challenging
  • There is no handle to carry the seat

As your child grows, so too will your need for a car seat.

Many parents want to keep their children safe for as long as possible in a rear-facing. However, the age of three is when most children begin discovering a bit of independence and are looking for ways to explore their creative spirit.

Unfortunately, many parents cave to this pressure, putting their children into a booster seat too early.

Perhaps their child has seen one of their friends in a booster seat and themselves would like to sit in a “grown-up” seat. However, it’s important to remember that there are specific height and weight requirements associated with car seats. You should not move your child from one type to another until he or she is ready to do so.

Moving your child, prematurely could put them at a significant safety risk in the event of an accident. You should make sure that you are moving your child from a rear-facing to a front-facing seat, and then to a booster seat.

Booster seats provide the least safety features. So, the truth of the matter is that your three-year-old should either be in a rear-facing or a front-facing seat and nothing else. 

Why Should Your Three-Year-Old Be in a Car Seat?

Your three-year-old should be in a car seat because they have harnesses.

Booster seats are useful for older children who cannot sit with their back entirely against the seat. However, these seats require the use of the vehicle’s seat belt, which means they’re not as safe of choice for your child. Imagine having a curious child who could unbuckle the booster seat while you are driving. This would not be a good situation!

Car seats prevent this from happening, while also keeping your child safe and secure in the seat. Car seats rely on harness systems, which allow you to strap your child in safely and securely. Your child should be in a harnessed car seat until he or she weighs at least 40 pounds or is four years old.

Of course, some parents face the dilemma that their three-year-old has already surpassed the height or weight requirements for a car seat.

In these situations, it’s best that you follow the manufacturer’s advice and ratings. Fortunately, many of the best car seats for 3 year old are convertible, meaning you can quickly change them from rear-facing to front-facing, and from front-facing to booster. You’ll only need to buy one seat to meet all of your child’s needs.

Convertible car seats are also convenient because they allow your child to be harnessed for longer. Many convertible car seats allow you to keep your child harnessed until they are at least 90 pounds. Remember that there is no need to rush into a booster seat.

There’s no harm in keeping your child harnessed for a more extended period.

Make Sure That Your Child Fits in the Seat Correctly

Many parents make the mistake of looking at how their child is sitting in the car seat and assuming that it’s time to switch to a booster seat. They do so without consulting the height and weight requirements. They instead rely on the “eye test.” The child looks to be uncomfortable, so it naturally must be time to switch seats.

However, this is not the case. Parents must make sure that they are diligent in making sure that their child is sitting in the seat correctly. For starters, make sure that your child is not sitting too low in the seat. If your child sits too low, they will appear slouched, and their legs will extend further than they should. This would give the appearance of having outgrown the car seat, even though it’s not the case in reality.

Furthermore, you should check the harness on the seat. Make sure that the top slots of the harness are no lower than your child’s shoulders. The harness slots could prove to be a useful indicator in determining whether your child has outgrown a car seat.

If, after adjusting, the slots are significantly below the shoulders, then it’s time to consider making the switch to the booster. The same is the case if your child’s ears reach the top of the car seat shell.

Still Unsure About Whether Your Child Fits?

If you’re still unsure about whether your child fits in the car seat, you shouldn’t continue to drive with your child. If the seat is too small, then your child will be very uncomfortable in the back seat. However, if you prematurely make the switch to a booster seat, then you’re putting your child in harm’s way.

The best thing that you can do is to call the manufacturer of your car seat or to consult a local car seat technician. These individuals will take a look at how you’ve positioned the car seat in your vehicle, along with how your child sits in the seat. They will then make the proper adjustments to ensure that your child is safe.

Related:

Final Thoughts

So, what exactly is the best car seat for a three-year-old?

The answer is, “The one that will keep them the safest and comfortable.”

The reality is that most three-year-olds are not ready for a booster seat. Too many parents make the mistake of putting their child into a booster earlier than they should. Doing so could have devastating consequences.

This is primarily because traditional backless booster seats do not provide any head, neck, or spine protection in the event of a side-impact crash. Your three-year-old is particularly vulnerable, and you should not subject them to such an event. It’s better to keep your child in a car seat for longer to help ensure their safety.

If you were to purchase one car seat at a time, you’d probably find that your child would not last very long in each type of seat. Many individual car seats only allow you to harness children up to 40 pounds. However, convertible car seats could be much more worth your while. This is for a few reasons.

First and foremost, convertible car seats will save you money. You’ll only have to purchase one car seat. This car seat will likely last until your child is between eight to ten years old. If you were to buy each type of seat individually, they likely would not last more than a couple of years.

Convertible car seats allow you to harness your child for longer. Most convertible car seats enable parents to harness their children until they are 90 pounds. At this weight, the child will be more than ready for a booster seat. Convertible car seats can help clear up some of the “grey areas” that currently exist between a traditional forward-facing car seat and a booster seat.

Ultimately, we recommend that you use a forward-facing harness car seat for your child as long as possible. Make sure that you are continually checking the seat for a proper fit to ensure your child’s safety and comfort.  

Car Seats for other ages:

About Joanne Stene
Joanne Stene
Joanne is a mother of 2 young girls and a technical writer with over 20 years of professional experience. She originally got interested in the topic of car seats as her two daughters were born and during the course of research into which seats to buy for her family. That interest has turned into a passion of sharing information on the Elite Car Seats website.
Joanne Stene
1 Comment
  1. My 3 year old son is 3 feet and one quarter, 33 1/2 pounds. He cannot fit the other car seat he has, the harness is too tight for him, no matter how much I extend it. I’ve got a booster seat for him. Other convertibles are too expensive.

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