The Graco Contender 65 and its clone, Graco Admiral 65, have been on the market now for a few years and they have proven themselves to be solid, easy-to-use and budget-friendly. These convertibles are worthy of consideration by parents shopping for that next-step carseat when the baby is getting too big for their infant seat.
Contender and Admiral both have great rear-facing capabilities and they turn into a forward-facing carseat that will take most kids to booster age. They install easily, have a harness that is easy to tighten and loosen, and they have an integrated cup holder. The Contender’s lower price point puts it in that desirable position of being nice enough to be the main carseat, yet inexpensive enough to be a backup or spare seat for your second vehicle. The Contender/Admiral is also one of our favorite seats for airplane travel.
UPDATE: There are two new Contender models called Contender Go & Contender Slim. They are very similar to the original Contender model. Same weight and height limits, same installation and same fit-to-child. The biggest difference on the new models is the design of the cupholder. The new Contender Slim & Contender Go models have ditched the integrated cup holder in favor of clip-on accessory cupholders which are optional. Because the integrated cupholder has been deleted, these newer versions are slightly slimmer in that area.
Weight & Height Limits
- Rear-facing: 5-40 lbs. AND child’s head is 1” below red adjustment handle
- Forward-facing: 22-65 lbs., 49″ or less, at least 1 year old*
*We recommend following the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines of rear-facing to the maximum limits of your convertible carseat before turning your child forward-facing. Also, please refer to your state laws for additional requirements as many states have adopted laws that require rear-facing beyond 12 months and 22 lbs.
- 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
The Graco Admiral convertible is exactly the same seat but with different fashions. The modern black and white “Studio” fashion is available exclusively at Amazon.
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.
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. The LATCH adjuster is stiff, so I prefer the seat belt for installation. 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.
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!
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 CAN be installed with inflatable seat belts found in some Ford Motor Company vehicles. Other types of inflatable seat belts are still incompatible for use with the Contender.
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.
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.
Cover/Maintenance/Ease of Use
The cover is relatively easy to remove. It can be washed in the washing machine and air-dried.
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.
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/Admiral has a lifespan of 7 years and Graco wants you to replace it after any crash.
- 8-position headrest with no re-thread harness
- Easy-to-adjust harness
- 2 crotch strap positions
- Color-coded recline flip-foot for reclining carseat
- FAA-approved: ideal for airplane travel
- 7-year lifespan before expiration
- Non-removable harness (which means it can’t be replaced)
- Only 2 recline positions (reclined for rear-facing & upright for forward-facing)
- Basic hook-style latch connectors
The Graco Contender 65 is no slouch when it comes to ease of installation or ease of use. Its rounded base makes for a smooth installation without fear of gouging your vehicle upholstery and the smooth 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 love 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.
I was fortunate enough to be given a double city stroller for my twins due in December. I’m looking for a set of car seats that can also be placed inside the stroller- is the Graco Condender 65 comparable to the stroller?
Hi Jane. No, the Graco Contender is a convertible carseat, which stays “permanently” installed in the vehicle. If you want to create a travel system with your stroller, you’ll want to look for a rear-facing only infant seat where you leave the base in the vehicle and remove the carrier portion to put on the stroller. Unless you purchase Baby Jogger infant seats, you’ll need adapters so the carriers fit properly on the stroller. It’s been a couple of years since it’s been updated so you may want to call them to double-check, but here’s a list I found on BJ’s website showing the list of infant seats and adapters needed to use with each of their strollers: http://s7d2.scene7.com/is/content/Newellsync/DTC/BabyJogger/pdf/Baby_Jogger-CSA-Compatibility-Chart-DEC-2017.pdf. HTH!
Would this be a good seat for a small car? I have a 2013 Hyundai Accent.
I bought this seat about a year ago. At first it wasn’t bad, but my car didn’t have latch. Then the uneven straps started. Then we got a new car with latch and the latch belt is almost impossible to tighten or loosen. Now that he’s 2.5 he complains about the crotch strap.
I’m sorry to hear about your troubles! I’d call Graco and let them know. I definitely agree about the LATCH strap being nearly impossible to loosen and Graco has improved that on current seats.
I wanted to love this seat but I just hate it. The latch belt is extremely hard to tighten and near impossible to loosen to uninstall. And the harness straps are always uneven with one side almost too tight. I can’t wait to replace this with something else.
I’m sorry to hear that, Alissa. Not every seat will work for everyone for sure. What’s the date of manufacture for your seat? I’ve noticed with more recent Graco seats lately that their LATCH straps have been much easier to adjust. I don’t know if they’ve been rolling this strap out across their entire product line or across certain seats, though. The harness straps should always be even, however. I would definitely give Graco a call about both of those issues; they may work with you.
The uneven harness is indeed a very common problem with the Graco Contender, I have had 3 graco contender seats and the harness is almost always unenven on all of the seats and I found thousands of other people complaining about that issue online. Graco doesn’t offer any help but to reimburse your carseat with proof of purchase 🙁
we’ve had the uneven straps issue too and after some research we found that Graco recommends lifting the head rest all the way to the highest position and down to the lowest and do that back and forth for 6 times. This resets the straps. I was skeptical but tried it and it worked. I’ve had to do it a few times and its fixed it. This problem happens when you pull the bottom center strap unevenly to tighten the straps. I hope this makes sense and is helpful.
You list the forward facing latch limits as 45lbs, is it safe to assume the rear facing latch limits are the same, if not do you know what they are? I drive a 2006 Toyota Corolla which defers to the seat limits for latch.
Logan, it’s such a light seat that there is no RF LATCH weight limit, which is why it’s not listed above. However, the RF LATCH weight limit will be listed on a label on the side of the carseat where the other LATCH installation information is. It will be the same as the RF weight limit.
That would be why I could not find it anywhere, it doesn’t exist! Thanks for your fast reply. My son is just under 30pounds, and I know a lot of seats latch limits are right around that.
Hi, I have a Graco Contender 65 carseat and I’m trying to removing all it’s padding so I can put it in the washer. I’ve took off everything except for bottom part where you tighten the seatbeat. It’s this white plastic piece and it just doesn’t come off. I need help!
Aisha, my Contender is in storage so I’m going off memory. Is it a flat piece that has plugs? If so, just use some force to pull it out.
I have the milestone in my car. I needed a cheaper option for my husband’s truck and opted for the contender. When installed rearfacing in the back of his crew cab, the level indicator sits perfectly in the circle for an infant. My child just turned 3, so we don’t need that steep of a recline. That little bit of tilt to be in the dark blue instead of the light blue would ensure the seat doesn’t touch the back of the passenger seat while still letting a passenger sit in the front.
Is it acceptable to put a rolled towel under the back edge to decrease the angle of recline? If not, are there acceptable solutions to decrease the angle of recline?
One thing you can try is to push down where your child’s feet are when you tighten the belt. That ensures that you’re squishing the vehicle seat padding more there and it should install more upright. Another thing you can try is pulling the carseat an inch or so toward the front seat before tightening the belt. It’s counterintuitive because it moves the carseat toward the front seat, but it pulls the Contender away from the back seat and allows it to tilt down a bit as you tighten it.
We just got the Contender and the harness straps are uneven… the left is longer than the right. When I pull the harness tightening strap it only goes until the right is tight and the left one is still loose. Do you know how to adjust the length of just one strap (the long one)? I’ve been doing research and haven’t been able to figure it out. It appears that each side is an unadjustable set length. Did we get a bad car seat? Many thanks!!
Hmmm. I would try raising the headrest all the way up to the top position and loosening, then tightening the harness. Then put the headrest back into the proper position for your child and try adjusting the harness again. It’s a simple harness system with 2 harness straps attached to a splitter plate, so it shouldn’t be causing this problem.
I am having this same issue with the straps and have tried your suggestion several times. It works for awhile and then becomes uneven again. Right now I can’t seem to even them out no matter what I try. Where should I go for help? I hate that I am driving my kid around in uneven straps.
Kathy, I would definitely contact Graco then. This is an issue they should know about.
I am also having this same issues woth the straps.
do you know if the Graco Contender 65 is compatible with the britax car seat travel cart ?
Aleyda, I haven’t tried it, but it should be. Just be sure that you can return the cart if it doesn’t work for you.
Is there a limit with rear facing for the adjustable head rest? My other car seat cannot rear face once their head is an inch below read handle as well but the head rest can only be adjusted one level before needing turned front facing.
Breann, the head rest can be raised all the way to the top and the height limit is 1″ below the red adjustment handle. That works out to be right around the top of the white Graco label. If you look at the picture of Ava forward-facing, she has 1 more click to go before the headrest is in its top position, so it’s a tall seat RF.
My car doesn´t have a latch system and I am installing the Contender 65 rear facing. Despite the shoulder belt being secure, the top portion of the car seat moves a lot more than an inch. Is there anything more I can do besides the instructions in the book¿
Kathleen, as long as the carseat moves less than 1″ at the belt path, the carseat is safe. The further away from the belt path you go, the more the carseat will move–that’s normal. Since there’s nothing holding the top of the carseat secure, it will move more. Do NOT attach the top tether rear-facing since that may cause the carseat to fail in a crash.
I hate the latch system on the graco contender 65 and also dislike when you tighten the seat, it takes forever to get unhooked because the strap doesn’t release very easily. Other than those 2 problems, I like the seat.
I just bought a graco all-in-one and love the latch system. I would rather by the all-in- one and save money in the long run. The all-in one is good for 10 years also!
Can anyone help me? Is this car seat met Australian safety standard? Thanks. Jenny
My mil has the contender 65 and the release button on the install belt keeps getting stuck and then we can’t remove the car seat from the car without trying for 30 minutes
Any idea why
Jaime, please call Graco in the morning and let them know what’s happening. They’ll want to know your date of manufacture and model number.
The release button on the lower LATCH belt shouldn’t be getting stuck.
I was jusy searching the internet to see if other’s have encountered this problem. We bought this carseat specifically to use for trips, and we are supposed to leave tomorrow and we can NOT get the carseat out of my parents car! The release button on the latch isn’t working. So frutrating. Last September I tried to get it out of our own car when because I was loaning our car to my cousin for a weekend and it wouldn’t budge then either. Workong with my husband, it took us a painful 30+ minutes (with lots of knuckle scrapes and finger cramps) when we switched it into my parents’ car. What a failure of a product.
I have the exact same problem! I bought my mom a bravo milestone for my mom because the latch system is nicer and bought the contender for myself. I’ve never hated a car seat as much as I do this one. I wouldn’t recommend this seat to anyone, and I can’t wait to replace it!
Ellie, call Graco! If they don’t know it’s a common problem, they won’t know to fix it. 🙂
My mom had this seat (Graco Contender 65, manufactured on 12/18/14) installed in her van and had the same problem, she couldn’t get the latch to loosen AT ALL! So she had to cut it out of her van and bought a Britax frontier clicktight like mine.
I HATE my Graco Contender 65 for this EXACT reason. It gets Latched into our car and then we can’t get it out. It has always been difficult but in the past we’ve been able to eventually get it out. Not this time. It is permanently stuck. We need to remove it in a few days and there’s nothing we can do do loosen the Latch strap. The button is useless! We will have to cut it. I am furious. Never again will I buy a Graco. My older son’s Britax is a breeze to remove.
I am having been havobg the the same problem for a few months now!
Hi I just purchased a Milestone as our main family vehicle seat. I need another for our 2nd vehicle. I am strongly considering this seat. Will I be compromising safety buying this one and not another Milestone?
Hi Barbara- not at all! The two seats have a lot in common. The Contender is less expensive mainly because it does not offer a booster mode later, like the Milestone does. The Contender 65 is a great option for a convertible seat that can be used rear-facing and then forward-facing with a 5-point harness after 2 years of age.
Currently $117 in Sapphire: http://amzn.to/1YaChxx
$119 in Arabella: http://fave.co/1SXpF6c
Umm the contender does have a booster option
Tracy, you might be thinking of Graco’s other all-in-one seats: 4Ever, Milestone, SlimFit, Extend2Fit 3-in-1, 4Ever Extend2Fit. The Contender is a convertible carseat that does NOT have a booster option.
Thank you! Do you know where the 2016 styles can be purchased? I can’t find those color options anywhere online.
Amber, some of them can be purchased at Target. I think Target has them mislabeled as far as weight limits go, but if you look at the Graco website, the fashions match. http://fave.co/1m3Z2Cn http://www.gracobaby.com.
On the contender 65, how do you removed the headrest to clean? My little On threw up all over and I have to remove it to get the uckies out of the slots and behind the headrest. I can’t seem to find anyone or anything to remove this without breaking it or destroying it. Also I tried to call Gracie but they are closed for the weekend unfortunately. I guess baby care is only a Monday through Friday problem…. thanks in advance!
Very carefully, lol. As I recall (my Contender is unaccessible right now as it’s in a storage room), there are a couple of elastics at the top you have to undo. Then you pull each side off—there’s not a lot of give to the fabric, but if you slide the left side back a little while you pull the right side forward, it should slip off. It helps to pull the headrest all the way up.
Looks like a good deep seat pan, that makes it more comfy for older kids FF. Nice!
I sell a lot of these, I’m glad it’s as good IRL as it looks on the shelf 🙂