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Graco 4Ever All-in-1 Car Seat: A 2016 Editors’ Pick from Birth to Seatbelt

Like the Fountain of Youth or the Holy Grail, a true multi-function “forever” car seat has been eluding desperate searchers for years. Yes, there already are seats that rear-face, forward-face, and turn into a booster, but they are often lacking in at least one function, and when that happens, what’s the point?

So when Graco came out with the 4Ever All-in-1, which rear-faces, forward-faces, and turns into both a high-back and backless booster, it was easy to get excited but also easy to have reservations. Will it really do what it claims, and do it well?

Short answer: Yes!  The Graco 4Ever is now a CarseatBlog Recommended Carseat and an Editors’ Pick.  (Updated May, 2016)

4Ever Specs and Features:

  • Rear-facing: 4-40 lbs.
  • Forward-facing (with harness): 20-65 lbs and 49″ or less
  • High-back booster: 30-100 lbs. and 38-57″
  • Backless booster: 40-120 lbs. and 40-57″
  • No-rethread harness with 10 position headrest
  • Adjustable base with 6 recline positions (3 for rear-facing, 3 for forward-facing)
  • Easy-to-read bubble level indicator
  • Steel reinforced frame
  • Energy-absorbing EPS foam
  • Premium push-on lower LATCH anchor connectors (LATCH limit: Child weight of 42 lbs.)
  • Dual integrated cup holders (simple assembly required)

Measurements:

  • Lowest harness height (with infant insert): 7″
  • naked 4everHighest harness height: 18″
  • Tallest booster height: 18.75″
  • Internal rear-facing height: 27.5″ (that’s one inch below the headrest adjustment lever of 28.5″)
  • Crotch buckle positions: 5″ and 7″
  • Seating depth: 12″
  • Internal seat width: 13″
  • Widest external seat width: 19.5″ (at cup holders)
  • Widest point on base: 15″
  • Narrowest point on base: 11.5″ (at very front and very back)

Installation/Fit to Vehicle:

In general, the 4EVER is an easy-to-install seat, which is always a good thing. It installed nicely in rear-facing and forward-facing modes in the vehicles I tried it in (2010 Honda Odyssey and 2014 Honda Civic) with the seatbelt and with LATCH. The belt paths are clearly labeled and color-coded both on the seat and in the manual (blue for rear-facing, orange for forward-facing, green for booster). The LATCH and tether straps are easy to loosen when you need to, but stay secure otherwise. My particular model has the premium push-on LATCH connectors, but the manual includes a drawing/description of the hook style, too, so it’s possible that other models will come with those.

For LATCH installations, it’s important to note that the lower anchors need to be discontinued once the child reaches 42 lbs., in accordance with the new LATCH regulations. For kids over 42 lbs., install the 4Ever with seatbelt and tether.

Unlike some of the other Graco convertibles (like the MySize/Size4Me/Headwise) that have separate LATCH straps for the rear-facing and forward-facing beltpaths, the 4EVER only has one, which means it needs to be manually switched between modes. The process isn’t as complicated as it is on some seats, but not as easy as on some others. It would have been nice to see the two separate LATCH straps on this model, too.

Here’s a video showing how to switch the LATCH straps from forward-facing to rear-facing modes, how to tighten the LATCH straps rear-facing, and how to put a rear-facing child into the seat:

This seat lacks a built-in lockoff device for installations with seatbelt so it’s very important to understand how your seatbelt locks if you’re going to install the 4Ever with seatbelt and not with LATCH anchors. Remember – once your child reaches 42 lbs. you must discontinue using the lower LATCH anchors and switch to a seatbelt installation (plus tether) instead. All vehicles made after 1996 have seatbelts that can lock in some way to hold a carseat tightly in place during routine driving. Most vehicles have switchable retractors but some vehicles or specific seating positions have locking latchplates instead. It’s important to know what your vehicle has and to understand how these features work before you install this carseat with a seatbelt. See your vehicle’s owners manual for specific information on how to install a carseat in your vehicle using the seatbelt. If you have questions, please visit our car-seat.org forum and we’ll be happy to help answer them.

The 4EVER includes a total of six recline positions, and the recline is easily adjusted by pulling an adjuster on the front of the seat. For rear-facing, you’re allowed to use positions 1-3. A bubble level on the side of the seat shows the acceptable recline range.

I was impressed by how well the seat fit in my 2014 Civic in its most reclined mode in position 1. The front seat in the Civic isn’t all the way back, but it’s in exactly the same position I have it in for regular use, which is quite comfortable for my husband and me. There are only millimeters between the 4EVER and the front seat, but that still works. A baby’s weight probably wouldn’t cause the seat to recline any more than that.

IMG_0775

Adjusting the recline positions doesn’t make a big difference in the amount of space that the seat takes up front-to-back however in positions 2 and 3, there is a little more room between the 4EVER and the front seat. In position 3, the front seatback could even be adjusted back a bit more if needed.

4EVER recline 2    4EVER recline 3

Based on how this seat fit rear-facing in my Civic and how it fared in our Rear-Facing Convertible Space Comparison, the Graco 4EVER could be a good choice for tall parents who need a lot of legroom up front and/or vehicles with small backseats.

This is how it looked in my Odyssey, in position 3. There was plenty of room there.

IMG_0578

Forward-facing, you can use positions 4-6, although position 4 (the most reclined of the forward-facing positions) must be used for children under 40 lbs. In position 4, the seat is quite reclined. This didn’t pose an installation problem in either car, although in a very tight situation (like a pickup with a very small back seat) there might not be enough room for a child’s legs in that most reclined forward-facing position.

The 4EVER is tall, so visibility could be an issue depending on how its used and where it’s installed. Rear-facing in the highest headrest setting, it completely blocked the view out of the side window in my Civic, although the view was mostly unobstructed at lower settings. (Putting it behind the driver’s seat also would have eliminated the visibility issue.)

It also blocks some rear-visibility forward-facing (especially in the highest setting), but that’s not unusual with a tall seat in a small car. I didn’t have any issues with it in my Odyssey.

In high-back booster mode, position 6 (most upright) must be used, and it’s important to note that the vehicle headrest can’t cause a gap between the booster and the vehicle seat. The 4EVER does not require vehicle head support in high-back mode, so it’s fine to remove a problematic headrest as long as the vehicle doesn’t prohibit it. This could cause a potential compatibility issue in cars with fixed headrests. However, because the main shell of the seat is rather short, and the extenda4ever flat baseble headrest sits quite a bit forward of the shell itself, it is likely to play nicely with jutting headrests.

Graco also does not allow any overhang of the booster seat, so that could be a problem with shallow vehicle seats.

The good news, though, is that LATCH use is permitted in high-back booster mode. (The LATCH connectors are incorporated into the back of the seat, so LATCH is not an option in backless mode.)

Another nice feature of the seat in general is that the base is nice and flat, so no need to worry about strange bumps or sharp edges poking into your vehicle upholstery.

The 4EVER manual does not specifically address non-standard LATCH spacing, although it does say to use only lower anchor sets designated by the vehicle manufacturer. According to the LATCH Manual (a book many CPS technicians consider just as valuable as their technician guide), Graco allows non-standard spacing wider than 11″. The 4EVER manual states not to use LATCH and the seatbelt at the same time to install the seat when using as a harness. Also not addressed in the manual is the question of inflatable seatbelts. According to the latest version of the Inflatable Seatbelt document published by SafeKids, Graco does not allow use of inflatable belts for installing seats in harnessed mode, but does allow them for boosters.

Fit to Child:

When a car seat is rated for use from 4 lbs, it’s important that it actually fit a 4-lb child. We used a Huggable Images preemie doll to check the fit with the infant insert, and it did work well, although there are some things you need to be careful of.

If you put the baby in the seat the way it seems it “should” be (crotch low against the crotch buckle), the straps wind up coming from the child’s ears, which isn’t acceptable, even on our newborn doll (photo, below left). However, if you push the baby’s bum back so it sits on the “bump” created by the insert, the straps are right at the baby’s shoulders on our preemie doll (photo, below right). This did create a large gap between the baby and the crotch strap, so a rolled receiving blanket would need to be used to keep the baby in position.

IMG_0576  IMG_0716

The nicely contoured infant body insert must be used if the child’s shoulders are below the bottom slots without it. It may only be used rear-facing. There is also an infant head pillow, which also can only be used rear-facing, and only when you’re also using the body support. (The head support slides into a strap on the back of the body pillow, so it wouldn’t make much sense to try to use it separately anyway.)

IMG_0822   4EVER back of support

Since I no longer have babies, I used the seat rear-facing for my 2-year-old, who weighs 30 lbs. and wears size 2T shirts. He fit wonderfully, with plenty of room to grow.

IMG_0837  IMG_0839

Although my 37-lb, 43-inch 5-year-old is forward-facing, I put her in rear-facing just to see how she fit. Not only did she have plenty of growing room left (the headrest was three clicks from the top), the seat left plenty of room behind the driver’s seat in my Odyssey. Anna has been forward-facing since her fourth birthday, but asked if she could rear-face again after trying out the 4EVER!

Anna 4EVER 1   Anna 4EVER 2

I did use the seat forward-facing for her, too. The 4EVER sits higher than the seats normally uses, but she didn’t mind the climb. Because she’s under 40 lbs, we had to use the very reclined position 4. I thought it looked awkward, but she didn’t complain a bit. I can’t imagine head-slump would be an issue with the seat in this position!

4EVER FF Harness

She still has plenty of room before she maxes out the 4EVER forward-facing by height, too. My finger is marking where the tallest harness position is in relation to her shoulder.

4EVER FF height

It’s important to note that when using as a high-back booster, the #6 recline position (most upright) must be used.  Also, the belt guide doesn’t go much higher than the top harness slot. That means that a child who outgrows the harness by height won’t have much more time before the high-back booster is also outgrown by height. On the plus side, though, you saw how much room my slightly-taller-than-average 5-year-old has left in the harness, and she’d have a bit more in high-back mode, too, it would last her until I was comfortable putting her in a backless booster.

The booster was a bit hard for her to buckle. I think part of that was because of the height of the base, but part of it is that she doesn’t ride in a booster and isn’t used to buckling yet. The shoulder belt fit well in both the Civic (left) and Odyssey (right). The lap belt was ok, though I would have preferred a bit lower.

4EVER HB Civic   4EVER HB Ody

This photo below shows poor belt fit, but I wanted to demonstrate how much room she’d have left before she outgrew it. (The shoulder fit would likely improve as she got taller.)

4EVER tallest booster height

Here’s a video demonstrating forward-facing and high-back booster mode. In it, you’ll see that Darren’s son Jon had a very good fit in the high-back booster:

The first thing I noticed about the backless booster is that it’s BIG! It sits about two inches higher than the TurboBooster, and it’s quite a bit wider, too.

IMG_0812   IMG_0812   IMG_0813

Because Anna is only 37 lbs, she doesn’t yet meet the 40-lb. minimum for the backless booster. Since she’s close, I put her in it just to see how the fit might look in a couple pounds. Her knees were very far from the edge, and while the lap-belt fit was decent, the shoulder belt was horrible (though I didn’t have the belt guide attached). That didn’t surprise me given her size, though.

IMG_0801

So I enlisted my 10-year-old for help. He’s right at the top limits of the seat at 57″ (though only 67 lbs). In the Odyssey, the booster is so tall that he almost didn’t have enough headrest to support his ears, and the shoulder fit was bad. In the Civic, though, the fit was fantastic. That’s proof that booster fit will vary by vehicle and seating position, so make sure you always try them out!

4Ever backless ody   4ever backless civic


Ease of Use/Cover/Maintenance

All in all, the 4EVER is very easy to use. Because the seat is a 4-in-1, I was concerned there would be all sorts of complicated quirks, but it’s really quite intuitive to use. 

Some things I especially loved:

  • You don’t need to remove the harness to use the seat in booster mode. You do need to tuck it out of the way in a cubby in the shell, but that’s no big deal. It would be nice if the cubby were just a bit bigger to accommodate the harness pads a bit more easily, but it all smooshed in. (If you check out the forward-facing/booster video above, you’ll see that Darren managed to get it in there much more nicely than I did.)

4ever harness cubby

  • The cover removes very easily. When I do car seat reviews, the part I dread most is having to remove the cover for our “naked” photos, because that’s often the most frustrating part. With the 4EVER, though the cover comes off nicely in three parts, using some tabs and elastic loops/hooks, but mostly just pieces that contour over the seat. Getting it back on was just a tad tricker because you have to remember where the elastic loops hook (and I started to put the “wing” cover on backwards), but even that wound up being easier than with most seats. You can machine-wash the cover in cold water on the gentle cycle, then drip-dry.

4EVER cover

  • It converts to a backless REALLY easily. Even more than I dreaded removing the cover, I dreaded turning the 4EVER into a backless booster. I’ve taken apart my fare share of Nautiluses/Argoses (Nautili and Argi?), and I’ll admit that it’s not my most favorite thing to do. On the 4EVER, though, it’s a breeze! Disconnect the harness, pull back the cover, move the red tabs, and pull off the back. That’s it! Video:

One ease-of-use complaint is about using the harness, especially rear-facing. For some reason, the harness can be hard to tighten evenly and completely on the other Graco convertibles, and the 4EVER isn’t an exception. I’ve used the MySize for a long time, and the tricks I use on that seat worked on this one, too. I find it helps to make sure all slack is pulled from the hip area, and then pull the harness at the back of the seat before using the adjuster to pull the straps tight. Also, don’t buckle the chest clip until the harness is tightened! For some reason on these Graco convertibles, that really makes a difference.

The other concern is that the harness folded and even twisted a few times during the month or so I used the seat. It had a tendency to bunch in the buckle tongues, and one of the tongue flipped over a few times. I stayed on top of straightening it, but not all parents do. I’d love to see a change that would keep that from happening.

I should note that the harness issues only happened when rear-facing. Forward-facing we didn’t have any folding/twisting, and the harness adjusts very smoothly and easily.

FAA-Approval/Lifespan/Crash Guidelines:

The 4EVER is approved for airline use with the harness. It has a 10-year lifespan, and it must be replaced after any crash.

Graco 4Ever Advantages:

  • Editors' PickNo rethread harness with tall height limits
  • Installs easily with LATCH or seatbelt
  • Relatively compact for rear-facing
  • Fits small babies well
  • Converts easily to high-back and backless booster mode
  • Easy-to-remove cover
  • Harness doesn’t need to be removed for booster use
  • Can use LATCH in high-back booster mode
  • Instruction manual is clear and well written
  • 10 year lifespan before expiration
  • Can accommodate all children under 40 lbs. rear-facing (nearly impossible to outgrow RF by height)

Disadvantages:

(In fairness, these aren’t necessarily problems but I list them here to inform consumers of specific 4Ever issues)

  • Lacks a lockoff device for installations with seatbelt
  • Sometimes tricky to tighten harness when rear-facing
  • Somewhat twisty straps
  • Made in China

Conclusion:

So, does the Graco 4EVER do everything it claims to? Mostly, yes. Because of its height, it is one of the longest-lasting rear-facing seats on the market for tall kids who still weigh less than 40 lbs. Forward-facing, it has harness heights comparable to many forward-facing-only seats, and will easily get almost every child to an appropriate booster age. Its shortcomings occur in booster mode, but even those aren’t horrible. Although the booster isn’t much taller than the harness, it will still get most kids to an age and size where a backless is acceptable. As a backless, it’s chunkier than most other boosters, but it can get the job done.

Graco 4Ever HBB ModeWill the 4EVER last “forever”? Is it the only seat a family will ever need? That depends, but in general, I’m going to say yes. It will fit most newborns well, and will certainly move with a child through most rear-facing, forward-facing and boostering needs. It has a very generous 10-year lifespan, but time could be lost between when it’s manufactured and when it starts being used for the child. It’s also possible that the child may not pass the 5-Step Test before the seat expires. In that case, the 4EVER won’t technically last forEVER, but it’ll come awfully close. It might not be the best choice for people who enjoy getting new seats often (*coughcough*), but for parents who want to stick with one seat for a long time, the Graco 4EVER could be an excellent option.

Currently the Graco 4EVER retails for $299.99. That is relatively expensive up front, but represents a good value considering the 10 years before the seat expires. Its sister seat, the Graco Milestone retails for $229.99. The Milestone does not have a backless booster mode, only a high-back booster mode. There are various other minor differences as well. We have a full review of the Graco Milestone All-in-One here

Please visit Graco’s website for more information. 

graco4ever studio

Thank you to Graco for providing a 4EVER for our review. No other compensation was provided and the opinions and comments are entirely those of CarseatBlog.

Updated May 15, 2016