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Safe Car Seats at Budget Prices

Parents are in a great position today if they need a convertible carseat priced under $100. These seats don’t have all the bells and whistles that the fanciers carseats do, but they get the job done of keeping children secure in crashes and have the added advantage of being lightweight, which make them great as travel seats. We compiled this comparison of budget-friendly convertibles currently available to help you find what meets your needs.

Be sure to check out our Deals List for current bargains and also our Editors’ Picks list for our top choices in each budget category.


 

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Cosco Apt 40 RF

Review: http://carseatblog.com/17513/

Cosco Apt 40 RF

Who it’s designed for: infants and toddlers
Who it fits: infants and small toddlers
Rear-facing weight limits: 5-40 lbs.
Rear-facing height limits: 19-40” or top of head even with top of seat shell
Forward-facing weight limits: 22-40 lbs.
Price: $54.99

Pros

  • Very lightweight
  • Fits infants very well
  • Dual rear-facing recline levels
  • Installs easily with both seat belt and lower LATCH connectors
  • Made in the USA

Cons

  • Short
  • Must adjust harness lap belts for use on lowest harness slots
  • Very wide at cup holders
  • Very low top harness slots

Basics and Measurements

  • 5 harness slots
  • 8 year expiration
  • FAA-approved
  • Harness slots: 5.5”, 7.5”, 9.5”, 11.5”, 13.5”
  • Buckle slots: 3”, 4.5”, 6”
  • Internal seat height: 23”
  • Seat pan depth: 12”
  • External widest width: 21” at cup holders, 18 ¾” at shoulders
  • Weight: 8.0 lbs.
  • LATCH anchor weight limits: can use LATCH to maximum 40 lbs. weight limit

Comments

When I first received the Apt in its box, I thought for sure the box was empty because it was so light. It was right when I first injured my shoulder and couldn’t lift anything—but I could lift this box! The Apt was designed on the Cosco Scenera platform: lightweight and easy to use with some extra features. In designing the Apt, the engineers wanted to make it as easy to use as possible, so they removed the “kick stand” that the Scenera has for changing the seat between rear-facing and forward-facing modes. They also added some cup holders because we Americans like to stuff things in cup holders and we pass that trait on to our wee ones. The only problem is with how they added the cup holders: they’re integrated into the shell on both sides of the seat so that it makes the seat very wide. The top harness slots are also extremely low on the Apt, so once a child hits the rear-facing weight or height limit on it, it’s likely not going to be able to be used as a forward-facing carseat. If you’re into super cute carseats, the Safety 1st arm of Dorel has a Mickey and Minnie Mouse version of the Apt. In the 1st quarter of 2015, Dorel has plans to release an updated version of the Apt. The Cosco Apt 50 will be rated to up to 50 lbs. in the forward-facing position and includes 6 sets of harness slots with the top set being around 16″ and a price point of $65.

Cosco Apt front Cosco Apt back Cosco Apt without cover Cosco Apt side Cosco Apt Romeo Cosco Apt RF Cosco Apt FF

Cosco Scenera

Review: http://carseatblog.com/2813/

Cosco Scenera

Who it’s designed for: infants and toddlers
Who it fits: infants and toddlers
Rear-facing weight limits: 5-35 lbs.
Rear-facing height limits: 19-36” or top of head even with top of seat shell
Forward-facing weight limits: 22-40 lbs.
Price: $39.00

Pros

  • Very lightweight
  • Fits infants well
  • Installs easily with lower LATCH connectors
  • Narrow
  • Made in the USA

Cons

  • Short
  • Single length harness strap
  • Sparse padding

Basics and Measurements

  • 8 year expiration
  • FAA-approved
  • Harness slots: 7″, 10″, 12.5″ 15″
  • Buckle slots: 4″, 5.5″, 6.5″
  • Internal seat height: 23″
  • Seat pan depth: 11.5″
  • External widest width: 17.5″
  • Weight: 7.4 lbs.
  • LATCH anchor weight limits: can use LATCH to maximum 40 lbs. weight limit

Comments

The Cosco Scenera is a small seat. Back in the day, it was like any other typical 40 lbs. harnessed carseat, but in today’s world of 65+ lbs. harnessed carseats, it’s petite. That makes it a great travel seat, but it also makes it outgrown quickly—typically around age 3, well before a child is ready to move to a belt-positioning booster seat. So keep in mind that while this is a very fantastic carseat for the price—$39—you will need another harnessed carseat for your forward-facing child. Dorel (Cosco’s parent company) is introducing a brand-new version of the Scenera in 1st Quarter 2015, called the Scenera NEXT, which will rear-face to 40 lbs. or 40″, have 5 sets of harness slots, and still be under $50. You can read more about, and see pics of the Scenera NEXT, at our KIM Conference Update blog post. The Scenera NEXT will also have Cosco’s first set of labels requiring rear-facing to age 2.

Look-a-like seats: Safety 1st onSide Air (same shell as Scenera but has AirProtect technology and a full-wrap cover)

Cosco Scenera front Cosco Scenera back Cosco Scenera without cover Cosco Scenera side Cosco Scenera Romeo Cosco Scenera RF Cosco Scenera FF

 

Cosco Scenera NEXT

Review: http://carseatblog.com/36106/

Cosco Scenera Next - stock

Who it’s designed for: infants and toddlers
Who it fits: infants and small toddlers
Rear-facing weight limits: 5-40 lbs.
Rear-facing height limits: 19-40” or 1” from top of seat shell
Forward-facing weight limits: 22-40 lbs.
Price: $50.00

Basics

  • Rear-facing weight limits: 5-40 lbs.
  • Rear-facing height limits: 19-40” or top of head even with top of seat shell
  • Forward-facing weight limits: 22-40 lbs.
  • 5 harness slots
  • 8 year expiration
  • FAA-approved

Pros

  • Editors' PickVery lightweight
  • Instructions specify that child must be age 2 before forward-facing
  • Fits infants well
  • Installs very easily with both seat belt and lower LATCH connectors
  • Narrow
  • Made in the USA

Cons

  • Single length harness strap
  • Short top harness slots
  • Short crotch strap length and tight settings (longer crotch strap now available from Dorel)
  • Tough to see recline line stamped into black plastic on side of seat

Basics and Measurements

  • Harness slots: 5.5”, 7.5”, 9.5”, 11.5”, 13.5”
  • Buckle slots: 2.5”, 4”, 5.5”
  • Internal seat height: 24”
  • Seat pan depth: 11”
  • External widest width: 17 ¼”
  • Weight: 7.0 lbs.
  • LATCH anchor weight limits: can use LATCH to maximum 40 lbs. weight limit

Comments

Scenera NEXT, how do I love thee? I can count the ways, but instead, I’ll install you over and over and over again just because it’s so fun. No really, I know we techs geekishly install carseats like gamers try out new video games, but the NEXT went into my MDX so easily the first time I almost thought I did something wrong. I shook the seat and my car shook. I switched to the seat belt and the same darn thing happened. The magic continued in our Tesla Model S. It’s a carseat designed more to be a rear-facing seat than a forward-facing seat because of its shortness, and its fantastic instruction manual says that the carseat can be installed more upright than the level line indicates for children who can sit upright unassisted.

The Scenera NEXT is currently a Walmart exclusive. It’ll be available for purchase in stores at the end of January. The Cosco Scenera NEXT is small and very lightweight, but it’s mighty and will make a terrific travel seat. It’s also the first convertible carseat on the market to mandate rear-facing to age 2 before it can be used forward-facing. Way to go Cosco—let’s see if the others will follow.

Scenera NEXT front Scenera NEXT back Scenera NEXT without cover Scenera NEXT side Scenera NEXT with Romeo Scenera NEXT rear-facing Scenera NEXT forward-facing

Evenflo SureRide DLX

Review: http://carseatblog.com/36380/

sureride

Who it’s designed for: infants, toddlers and older kids too
Who it fits: infants to older kids
Rear-facing weight limits: 5-40 lbs.
Rear-facing height limits: 19-40” or 1” from top of seat shell
Forward-facing weight limits: 22-65 lbs.
Price: $99.99

Pros

  • Editors' PickLightweight
  • Tallest top harness slots
  • Fits infants well
  • Installs easily with both seat belt and lower LATCH connectors
  • Narrow
  • Love the LATCH strap and tether strap buckles
  • Made in the USA

Cons

  • Single length harness strap
  • It’s a pain to move lower LATCH connectors between rear-facing and forward-facing belt paths
  • Tall seat *must* be at set at recline line on side of seat when installed rear-facing
  • Tough to see recline line stamped into black plastic on side of seat

Basics and Measurements

  • EPS foam
  • 6 harness slots (4 for rear-facing, 3 for forward-facing—opposite for Canadians)
  • Newborn loops to shorten harness length
  • 6 year expiration
  • FAA-approved
  • Harness slots: 6.5”, 8.5”, 10.5”, 14.5”, 17”, 19.25”
  • Buckle slots: 4.5”, 6.5”
  • Internal seat height: 26.5”
  • Seat pan depth: 12.5”
  • External widest width: 19”
  • Weight: 9.7 lbs.
  • LATCH anchor weight limits: 50 lbs.

Comments

The Evenflo SureRide/Titan 65 is an inexpensive convertible carseat that accomplishes a lot for the price. It has some of the tallest harness slots on the market—taller than some combination seats designed for preschoolers going into boosters. It’s lightweight, so it makes a great travel seat, and it installs easily. A bonus to its being so light is that it has a high forward-facing LATCH weight limit of 50 lbs. One big downside to the seat is the whacked method Evenflo makes users employ to move the LATCH strap from the forward-facing belt path to the rear-facing belt path. The cover must be lifted from the seat and the LATCH strap threaded under the harness lap straps; you must be careful not to intertwine the straps. The white plastic strap holding the LATCH strap to the carseat grips the LATCH strap too tightly, making it tempting to just cut it off to free the LATCH strap from its imprisonment. I did mention in the Pros section that I love the buckles on the LATCH and tether straps. The thumb press for the LATCH and tether tilt-lock buckles is larger than most, which makes it easy to loosen. It’s the little things that make me happy 🙂 .

Look-a-like seats: Evenflo Titan 65, Titan 65 with SureSafe Installation System (offers push-on LATCH connectors)

Evenflo SureRide front Evenflo SureRide back Evenflo SureRide no cover Evenflo SureRide RF side Evenflo SureRide with Sam  Evenflo SureRide RF Evenflo SureRide FF

Evenflo Tribute

tribute

Who it’s for: infants and toddlers
Who it fits: infants and small toddlers
Rear-facing weight limits: 5-40 lbs.
Rear-facing height limits: 19-37″ or 1” from top of seat shell
Forward-facing weight limits: 20-40 lbs.
Price: $49+, but price varies by cover

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Love the LATCH strap buckle
  • Installs easily with both seat belt and lower LATCH connectors
  • Narrow
  • Made in the USA

Cons

  • Crotch strap length not ideal for newborn
  • Short top harness slots
  • PITA to move lower LATCH connectors between rear-facing and forward-facing belt paths
  • Tough to see recline line stamped into black plastic on side of seat

Basics and Measurements

  • 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″
  • Weight: 9.2 lbs
  • 6 year expiration
  • LATCH anchor weight limits: can use LATCH to maximum 40 lbs. weight limit

Comments

Here, let me just copy/paste what I wrote about the LATCH strap in the comments section of the SureRide: One big downside to the seat is the whacked method Evenflo makes users employ to move the LATCH strap from the forward-facing belt path to the rear-facing belt path. The cover must be lifted from the seat and the LATCH strap threaded under the harness lap straps; you must be careful not to intertwine the straps. The white plastic strap holding the LATCH strap to the carseat grips the LATCH strap too tightly, making it tempting to just cut it off to free the LATCH strap from its imprisonment. Whew. Saved me some typing there. But seriously, makes me want to poke my eyeballs out. Evenflo does employ the same easy-to-adjust tilt-lock buckle on the LATCH strap as on the SureRide, and the push-button buckle on the tether strap is also easy to adjust.

The Tribute has been around for 12 years. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it has low top harness heights and doesn’t fit newborns very well. If you’re not looking to use the seat for a newborn and don’t expect to use it for a child much past age 3, then you won’t be disappointed with the Tribute. It’s all about expectations.

Evenflo Tribute front Evenflo Tribute back Evenflo Tribute without cover Evenflo Tribute side Evenflo Tribute Romeo Evenflo Tribute FFEvenflo Tribute RF

Safety 1st Guide 65

guide65

Who it’s designed for: infants to preschoolers
Who it fits: older infants to preschoolers
Rear-facing weight limits: 5-40 lbs.
Rear-facing height limits: 19-40”
Forward-facing weight limits: 22-65 lbs. and at least 1 year of age
Forward-facing height limits: 29-49”
Price: $99.99

Pros

  • Lightweight, though heaviest of this group of seats
  • Tallest top harness slots
  • Installs easily with both seat belt and lower LATCH connectors
  • Narrow
  • Made in the USA

Cons

  • Doesn’t fit newborns/small babies well
  • LATCH belt gets caught on hook where elastic loop belongs
  • Headrest pushes head forward
  • Harness is tough to adjust
  • Requires pool noodles when installed rear-facing

Basics and Measurements

  • EPS foam in headrest
  • 5 harness slots (4 for rear-facing, 3 for forward-facing)
  • 10 year expiration
  • FAA-approved
  • Harness slots: 9.5”, 11.5”, 13.5”, 15.5”, 17”
  • Buckle slots: 3.25”, 4.5”, 6”
  • Internal seat height: 24”
  • Seat pan depth: 11.5”
  • External widest width: 18.5”
  • Weight: 11.3 lbs.
  • LATCH anchor weight limits: 40 lbs.

Comments

The Guide 65 is a lightweight, narrow carseat that makes traveling easy. It will NOT fit a newborn or small baby well, so don’t plan on using this carseat for the younger crowd because the bottom harness slots are pretty high. An advantage of the Guide 65 is that is has 2 rear-facing recline levels based on the child’s weight (5-22 lbs. and 22-40 lbs.). This means an older, heavier child can be more upright, just when the child wants to be more upright and see more outside the car window. Unfortunately, the harness is tough to loosen and tighten. It is a single strap harness, so you can adjust it once to fit your child, then pull on one side to loosen it to put your child’s arm in, pull the other side to put the other arm in, then even both sides out and buckle. The headrest adjusts separately, so you must adjust it as your child grows. Please don’t be *that* parent who forces their child to endure the headrest being halfway down their back.

Look-a-like seats: Eddie Bauer XRS 65

Safety 1st Guide 65 front Safety 1st Guide 65 tall Safety 1st Guide 65 without cover Safety 1st Guide 65 back Safety 1st Guide 65 side RF Safety 1st Guide 65 Romeo Safety 1st Guide 65 RF +22 Safety 1st Guide 65 RF +22-2

Good for Flying Good for Small Cars Rear-Facing Distinguishing Features
Cosco Apt greenbeetle
  • Very wide
  • Scooped plastic back
  • Lightweight
Cosco Scenera airplane
  • Lightweight
Cosco Scenera NEXT airplane  greenbeetle
  • Scooped plastic back
  • Lightweight
Evenflo SureRide DLX airplane
  • Tall harness slots
  • Lightweight
Evenflo Tribute airplane
  • Slim profile
  • Lightweight
Safety 1st Guide 65 airplane greenbeetle
  • Headrest moves independently from the harness slots
  • Relatively lightweight

 

For more information on flying with kids and carseats please see our previous articles on the subject:

Recommended Carseats for Airplane Travel

Flying with a Car Seat? Know Your Rights!

Flying with Kids & Carseats – the checked carseat controversy

Lap Babies on Airplane – A Warning All Parents Must See

Airplanes, Carseats, and Kids—What You Need to Know 

Updated May 16, 2016