Cheapism: Best low-cost convertible child car seats

It can easily take hundreds of dollars worth of car seats to shepherd a child safely into a seat belt. Choosing inexpensive models can help parents keep costs down while complying with state laws and expert safety guidelines. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children ride in a rear-facing car seat until the age of 2, long after they outgrow an infant seat. Enter the convertible car seat, which can face both ways. It’s designed to accommodate a toddler in the safer rear-facing position and turn around to face forward when the time is right. has highlighted three top convertible car seats under $100. These models allow children to sit facing backward until they reach 40 pounds or 40 inches tall.

The Evenflo SureRide DLX has six harness heights and two buckle positions, along with a machine-washable seat pad.

The Evenflo SureRide DLX (starting at $85) can carry a child facing the front of the car all the way up to 65 pounds or 54 inches tall. The higher those weight and height limits, the longer a child can remain secure in a five-point harness before graduating to a booster seat and conventional seat belt. This car seat has six harness heights and two buckle positions to help achieve a proper fit. A machine-washable seat pad makes for easy cleaning and parents say it keeps their kids comfortable. (Where to buy

The Safety 1st Guide 65 (starting at $78) can secure children up to 52 inches tall, with five shoulder-strap slots, three buckle locations, and a weight limit of 65 pounds. At the same time, parents report that the seat fits comfortably in a compact car, where other seats have proved too bulky. This car seat weighs just 11.5 pounds, making it easy to move from one vehicle to another. (Where to buy)

The Safety 1st OnSide Air (starting at $72) comes highly recommended by consumers and by experts who have put it through independent crash testing. The name OnSide Air refers to a design intended to protect the head in a side-impact collision. This car seat provides four harness heights and three buckle positions to accommodate kids up to 43 inches or 40 pounds. It also gets good ratings for ease of use, including installation. (Where to buy)

Correctly installing a car seat is not as simple as you might think. Only one out of every four seats is properly secured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Regulators link this statistic to the thousands of injuries and deaths each year among children in car accidents. Almost all car seats and most vehicles manufactured in the past decade or so come equipped with the LATCH system, which employs anchors and tethers instead of a seat belt to keep a car seat in place. Inspection stations around the country invite parents to make sure they’ve used the system correctly. Visit the NHTSA website to search for a station near you.

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