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.