Budget-friendly carseats, those priced under $100, are our go-to carseats. They serve several purposes from main rides, to backup seats, to travel seats. But how do you know if you’re spending your money wisely? Just because it’s less than $100 doesn’t mean it’s cheap, so before you slap down your hard-earned bucks on a child safety seat, check out the comparison of these convertible seats that we’ve compiled for you.

Dorel Cosco Scenera

http://carseatblog.com/2813/dorel-cosco-scenera-review-a-true-workhorse/

Who it’s for: infants and toddlers
Weight limits: 5-35 lbs. rear-facing, 22-40 lbs. forward-facing
Height limits: 19-36″ rear-facing, 34-43” forward-facing
Expiration: 6 years
Price: $49, often on sale for $39

Features:

  • 35 lbs. rear-facing
  • 4 harness slots: 7.75”, 10.5”, 12.75”,15”
  • 3 crotch strap slots (at 4.5”, 5.5”, 6.5”)
  • Narrow: 17.5” at widest point
  • Light: 8.7 lbs.

Disadvantages:

  • No energy-absorbing EPS/EPP foam
  • Often needs noodles for rear-facing installation: underside is very scooped out
  • Sharp plastic shell: makes for scraped knuckles during installation and imprints on vehicle seat
  • Seat must be reclined when rear-facing so that line imprinted in plastic on side of shell is level with the ground

Comments:

Long considered the workhorse of the inexpensive carseats, the Cosco Scenera has been around since 2005 and is widely available in most big box retail stores.  It has basic what-you-need-in-a-carseat features, is lightweight and affordable for all budgets. The Scenera has a continuous harness: the harness strap is one long strap that connects only at the metal splitter plate at the back of the seat. Dorel has recently been emphasizing that users must follow the level lines imprinted on the plastic on the side of the carseat shells. This means that when rear-facing, the Scenera must be installed at a 45° angle regardless of child’s age (see http://www.djgusa.com/usa/eng/Faq-Section?id=8).

 
 

Dorel Cosco Scenera 40RF  

Who it’s for: infants and toddlers
Weight limits: 5-40 lbs. rear-facing, 22-40 lbs. forward-facing
Height limits: 19-40″ rear-facing, 34-43” forward-facing
Expiration: 6 years
Price: $59, often on sale for $49

Features:

  • 40 lbs. rear-facing
  • 4 harness slots: 7.75”, 10.5”, 12.75”,15”
  • 3 crotch strap slots (at 3.5”, 4.75”, 6”)
  • Narrow: 17.5” at widest point
  • Very light: 8.7 lbs.

Disadvantages:

  • No energy-absorbing EPS/EPP foam
  • Often needs noodles for rear-facing installation: underside is very scooped out
  • Sharp plastic shell: makes for scraped knuckles during installation and imprints on vehicle seat
  • Seat must be reclined when rear-facing so that line imprinted in plastic on side of shell is level with the ground

Comments:

Dorel, the parent company of Cosco, improved upon the regular Scenera and made the Scenera 40RF, which rear-faces to 40 lbs. According to Dorel, there are minor modifications to the seat, so you definitely cannot use your regular 35 lbs. rf Scenera to 40 lbs. rear-facing. The 40RF has a continuous harness: the harness strap is one long strap that connects only at the metal splitter plate at the back of the seat. Dorel has recently been emphasizing that users must follow the level lines imprinted on the plastic on the side of the carseat shells. This means that when rear-facing, the Scenera 40RF must be installed at a 45° angle regardless of child’s age (see http://www.djgusa.com/usa/eng/Faq-Section?id=8).

 
 

Dorel Safety 1st onSide air

Who it’s for: infants and toddlers
Weight limits: 5-40 lbs. rear-facing, 22-40 lbs. forward-facing
Height limits: 19-40″ rear-facing, 34-43” forward-facing
Expiration: 6 years
Price: $79, but price varies by cover

Features:

  • 40 lbs. rear-facing
  • 4 harness slots: 7.75”, 10.5”, 12.75”,15”
  • 3 crotch strap slots (at 3.5”, 4.75”, 6”)
  • Narrow: 17.5” at widest point
  • Has Air Protect® side impact technology cushions
  • Light: 9.2 lbs.

Disadvantages:

  • Often needs noodles for rear-facing installation: underside is very scooped out
  • Sharp plastic shell: makes for scraped knuckles during installation and imprints on vehicle seat
  • Cover that extends down under front of seat means that it can’t be lifted to expose rear-facing belt path for seatbelt installation.
  • Seat must be reclined when rear-facing so that line imprinted in plastic on side of shell is level with the ground

Comments:

The onSide air has the same plastic shell as the Cosco Scenera 40RF but includes Dorel’s Air Protect® side impact technology cushions. Aside from the cushions in the head and shoulder area, the seat can be distinguished on the shelf by the full wrap cover that extends down and under the front of the seat. The onSide air has a continuous harness: the harness strap is one long strap that connects only at the metal splitter plate at the back of the seat. For you statistics junkies, the difference in weight between the onSide air shell and the Scenera 40RF shell is .2 lbs. for the Air Protect cushions. Dorel has recently been emphasizing that users must follow the level lines imprinted on the plastic on the side of the carseat shells. This means that when rear-facing, the onSide air must be installed at a 45° angle regardless of child’s age (see http://www.djgusa.com/usa/eng/Faq-Section?id=8).

 
 

Evenflo Titan

Who it’s for: infants and toddlers
Weight limits: 5-35 lbs. rear-facing, 20-50 lbs. forward-facing
Height limits: less than 47”, 1″ rule applies for rear-facing
Expiration: 6 years
Price: $79+, but price varies by cover

Features:

  • Energy-absorbing EPP foam
  • 4 harness slots: 7″, 9″, 12″, 14″
  • Newborn loops to shorten harness length
  • 2 crotch strap slots (at 5.25″, 7″)
  • Height to top of shell: 23″
  • Widest point: 18″
  • Light: 10.6 lbs

Disadvantages:

  • Crotch strap length not ideal for newborn
  • Unrealistic weight & height limits. Most children will outgrow this seat by height before reaching the 50 lb weight limit.  And with top harness slots that are only 14″ tall, you can expect that most kids will be too tall to use this seat by the time they are approaching 40″.  The 47″ stated height limit is a pipe dream.  There is no way a child of that height could fit in this seat properly.

Comments:

The Titan has a continuous harness: the harness strap is one long strap that connects only at the metal splitter plate at the back of the seat. The tether strap length is about 37”, which may not be long enough if you have to tether across a cargo area or down to the vehicle floor. However, tether extender straps are available from Evenflo if you have this issue. Evenflo also states in the instruction manual that when rear-facing, the level line on the side of the carseat must be level with the ground; however, they will soon be updating their manuals to specify that an older child may be more upright if desired.

 
 

Evenflo Tribute (new model with 4 harness slot heights)

Who it’s for: infants and toddlers
Weight limits: 5-35 lbs. rear-facing, 20-40 lbs. forward-facing
Height limits: 40” or less, 1″ rule applies for rear-facing
Expiration: 6 years
Price: $45+, but price varies by cover

Features:

  • Energy-absorbing EPP foam
  • 4 harness slots: 8″, 10″, 12″ 14″
  • Newborn loops to shorten harness length
  • 2 crotch strap positions: 5″, 7″
  • Height to top of shell: 22.5″
  • Widest point: 17.5″
  • Very light: 9.2 lbs

Disadvantages:

  • Crotch strap length not ideal for newborn
  • Energy-absorbing foam doesn’t extend as far down the shell as it does on Titan model

Comments:

The Tribute has a continuous harness: the harness strap is one long strap that connects only at the metal splitter plate at the back of the seat. The tether strap length is about 37”, which may not be long enough if you have to tether across a cargo area or down to the vehicle floor. However, tether extender straps are available from Evenflo if you have this issue.  Evenflo also states in the instruction manual that when rear-facing, the level line on the side of the carseat must be level with the ground; however, they will soon be updating their manuals to specify that an older child may be more upright if desired.

 

Graco ComfortSport

Who it’s for: infants and toddlers
Weight limits: 5-30 lbs. rear-facing, 20-40 lbs. forward-facing
Height limits: 40” or less, 1″  rule applies for rear-facing
Expiration: 6 years
Price: $89, but price varies by cover

Features:

  • 3 harness slots: 7.5”, 10-10 ¼” (on angle), 14”
  • Newborn loops to shorten harness length
  • 1 crotch strap slot (at 6”)
  • Narrow: 18” at widest point
  • Has EPS foam and comfort foam
  • Thick padding on cover
  • Heaviest of the group: 11.9 lbs.

Disadvantages:

  • 30 lbs. rear-facing weight limit (lowest of all convertibles currently available)
  • Very low top harness slots
  • Top harness slot must be used if child weighs over 30 lbs

Comments:

The ComfortSport is another seat that’s been around in one form or another for years and there have been rumors for the past few years that Graco will be discontinuing it. Given the very low top harness slots, it’s not a seat you’ll want to buy unless your child is either very small or has a very short torso; it simply won’t last for more than a year or two into toddlerhood and is often outgrown forward-facing (shoulders above top slots) at the same time it’s outgrown rear-facing (head too close to top of seat). The harness has 2 straps, each sewn to an anchor under the bottom of the seat and connected at the other end to the metal splitter plate at the back of the seat. The ComfortSport has a ball angle indicator which gives more of a range for rear-facing recline angles. The ball must be in the “green” area on the indicator when the carseat is rear-facing.