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Graco Contender 65 Convertible Review

Contender PiedmontThe Graco Contender has been on the market now for a while and has proved to be a solid, easy-to-use convertible worthy of a look by parents considering that next-step carseat. It has great rear-facing capabilities, turns into a forward-facing carseat that will take most kids to booster age, easily installs, and has that ubiquitous cup holder. The Contender’s lower price point than its cousins, the Size4Me/My Size/Head Wise (aka “Clones”) puts it in that desirable position of being nice enough to be a main carseat yet inexpensive enough to be a backup seat.

Weight and Height Limits:

  • Rear-facing: 5-40 lbs. AND child’s head is 1” below red adjustment handle
  • Forward-facing: 20-65 lbs. (2016 models have a ff min. of 22 lbs.), 49″ or less, at least 1 year old*

*We recommend following the American Academy of Pediatrics minimum guidelines of rear-facing to at least age 2 before turning your child forward-facing. It’s safest to rear-face past the minimum of age 2.

Contender Overview:

  • 8-position headrest with no re-thread harness
  • 2 crotch strap/buckle positions
  • Color-coded recline flip-foot takes guesswork out of reclining carseat
  • FAA approved for use on aircraft
  • 7 yr lifespan before seat expires

Contender Measurements

Harness height: 7 ½”-18”
External widest point: 18.75”
Shell height with headrest: 26.75”
Shoulder width: 14”
Crotch strap depth: 4”, 5.75”
Seat depth: 11”
Seat weight: 14.7 lbs.

2015 Fashions

Contender Chili Red Contender Glacier Contender Sapphire

2016 Fashions (with 22 lbs. min. FF weight limit)

Contender Brass Contender Brave Contender Cheer Contender Piedmont Contender Stephanie Contender Steven

 

Installation

Installation is easy using either the vehicle seat belt or the lower LATCH strap. The LATCH strap is attached to the left side of the carseat with a metal bar, so it will never get tangled in the harness straps. As always with any forward-facing installation, don’t forget to use the top tether regardless of whether you install the Contender using the seat belt or LATCH strap.

Contender rf installed Contender ff

To recline the Contender, there’s a flip foot on the bottom of the seat with an orange and blue sticker. For rear-facing, flip the foot forward and match the blue stickers up. If you need more recline to get the ball in the zone for your rear-facer, you can use pool noodles or a tightly rolled towel. For forward-facing, flip the foot backward and match the orange stickers up. It’s as easy as that!

Contender flip foot Contender angle indicator

Forward-facing LATCH weight limit: 45 lbs.

Center LATCH Installations with Non-Standard Spacing:

Graco allows LATCH installation in the center seating position if the vehicle manufacturer allows it and the LATCH anchor bars are spaced at least 11” apart.

Inflatable Seat Belts

Graco has determined that the Contender cannot be installed with inflatable seat belts found in some Ford, Lincoln, and Mercedes vehicles, and in some airplane seat belts.

Fit to Child

The Contender is designed to fit children from 5-65 lbs. and the fit on the lower end might be iffy. My doll, Romeo, is about the size of an 8-9 lbs. newborn and he just fits, so a 5-pounder might not fit so well. In the rear-facing fit section, the instruction manual specifies that the harness height must be at or below the child’s shoulders.

Contender with Romeo

For larger children, it has just the right amount of padding to allow kids to fit in the seat comfortably without squishing them in so they won’t fit later on. The Contender should fit big kids until booster age, which is until elementary school.

Sam, our smallest model, is 11 months old and a hair shy of 19 lbs. Ava, our older model, is almost 6 and 46 lbs. Ava’s seat is adjusted so that the harness has one more slot position to go in height.

Contender rf Sam Contender ff Ava Contender ff Ava side

Cover/Maintenance/Ease of Use

The cover is relatively easy to remove. It can be washed in the washing machine and air-dried.

Contender without cover lowered Contender without cover extended

The harness is non-removable and therefore, not replaceable. So if your kid really yuck-i-fies it, you’re SOL. Treat it like any other harness: dip a washcloth in water and use a drop of mild soap (Dawn, Dreft) to clean it. Be sure to wipe off that soap with the wet washcloth and let the harness thoroughly dry. Set the seat in full sun if it still stinks.

FAA-Approval/Lifespan/Crash Guidelines

The Contender is FAA-approved and will make a great seat for flying because it’s relatively lightweight for dragging through the airport. It also has a “closed” belt path for forward-facing, which means that it has hard plastic behind the child’s back so they won’t feel the buckle when it’s installed on the plane. Remember, you use the Contender on the airplane; it doesn’t do any good to put it under the plane in the cargo space.

The Contender has a lifespan of 7 years and Graco wants you to replace it after any crash.

Advantages

  • 8-position headrest with no re-thread harness
  • Easy-to-use harness
  • 2 crotch strap positions
  • Color-coded recline flip-foot for reclining carseat
  • Lightweight
  • FAA-approved: ideal for airplane travel
  • 7 year lifespan

Disadvantages

  • Non-removable harness
  • Made in China

The Graco Contender is a knock-off of the Graco “clones,” the Size4Me/My Size/HeadWise, but is no slouch when it comes to ease of installation or ease of use. Its rounded base makes for a smooth installation on your vehicle seat without fear of gouging and the smooth-gliding 8-position headrest gives your child plenty of growth room to last from newborn to grade school. The Contender is a carseat that will satisfy parents in a role as both main carseat and backup carseat: it’s nice enough for every day use, yet doesn’t cost so much that you’ll feel bad keeping it as an occasional seat. Kids will like it because it has a cup holder. They’re easy to please, aren’t they?

 

Thank you to Graco for providing the Graco Contender used for this review. No other compensation was provided. All opinions expressed are those of CarseatBlog.