When you’ve got a baby on the way, there are SO many things to buy.
You’ll also need to get a really reliable and safe car seat.
So how much should you set aside in the budget for a car seat? How much does a child car seat cost on average?
It really depends on a number of different factors, but you can get a good quality car seat for around $100-300 on average.
There are plenty of great models available for tighter budgets $100, and some higher-end stuff over $300. But I would say there are a ton of fantastic car seat options in the $150 range on average.
Now let’s take a closer look at some things you may want to consider when setting your new baby budget.
What affects the cost of a car seat?
The biggest thing that will affect how much you should budget for the price of a car seat is which kind of car seat you need.
Partially, that depends on how old your child is.
Booster seats (4+ years old, 40+ pounds)
When your toddler starts to outgrow the traditional car seat, he or she might be ready for a booster seat.
The general recommendations according to AAA are that booster seats are for kids over 4-years-old, 40 pounds, and 35″ tall, but who are under 4′ 9″.
A booster seat is often just a simple seating positioner that allows your child to sit higher in the car. They use the car’s own seatbelt as a restraint instead of a built-in harness.
The reasoning here is that car seat belts are designed for adults who are a lot taller. That means that without a booster seat, the belt wouldn’t be positioned properly on someone that short or small.
Pure booster seats are often one of the cheapest things you can buy, and for good reason. They’re very simply constructed. Other than offering some additional head and neck support and cushioning, all they really do is elevate your child so that he or she can be protected properly by the car’s seat belt.
A good booster seat can cost you as little as $20-30, though the majority of high-quality and well-reviewed booster seats are around $40-50.
Infant car seats & travel systems (Newborns & infants)
On the other hand, for the real little ones you’re probably going to be most interested in an infant car seat or even a full travel system.
Typically how these work is that a separate baby carrier will “click” into or attach to a base that’s semi-permanently installed in your car.
(An infant car seat becomes a travel system when the same carrier can also click into a stroller from the same brand.)
The convenience factor with an infant car seat like this is huge!
It’s a lot easier to get a baby into the carrier in the comfort of your home (or wherever you are) and then simply click the carrier into place in the back seat. Plus, if baby falls asleep in the car, you can simply pop the carrier out and transfer it inside with ease.
The downside is that these systems are usually a lot bulker and heftier.
A good infant car seat should run you $100-200. If you want the whole system including the stroller, expect to pay closer to $300 or more in most cases.
Convertible car seats
If you’re overwhelmed at the thought of buying an infant car seat, then a toddler car seat, and finally a booster seat, well then you need to acquaint yourself with convertible car seats!
In short, a convertible car seat does multiple things (and sometimes everything).
You’ll find 2-in-1, 3-in-1, and even 4-in-1 car seats you can choose from, depending on the number of functions they have.
Some go from toddler car seat to booster. Some go from rear-facing infant car seat, to toddler, to booster. And some even go all the way to backless booster seat for kids 40-120 pounds (a 4-in-1).
In essence, the more functions a car seat has, the more you’ll likely pay for it.
A good all-in-one car seat, for example, will probably run $250-300.
What’s the best car seat for the money?
That’s hard to say!
There are so many great options out there. And these days, car seats are so heavily regulated that you should feel relatively confident in the safety of almost anything you buy.
Car seat safety is absolutely huge, but I would say one of the biggest things you should be looking for when shopping is ease of use.
How hard is it to install? How hard is it to tighten the straps? Is your child comfortable in it?
If I were trying to pick the best overall car seat for the money, I would have to go with a really good all-in-one seat from a trusted brand.
I LOVE the convenience of an infant travel system where the base installs in the car and stays there, but it’s also really hard to top the idea of buying ONE car seat when your baby is little and possibly never needing another one.
So check out the aptly named Graco 4Ever DLX 4-in-1 car seat on Amazon.
Reviewers absolutely rave about this thing and it’ll probably be the only car seat you ever need, as it can hold kids up to 120 pounds!
What’s the cheapest car seat you can buy that’s still safe?
The Graco option above might be the best bang for your buck when you really break it down.
You should get about 10 years of use out of the 4Ever DLX, which leaves you paying really only a couple of dollars per year for one of the safest and top-rated car seats out there.
But if you’re looking for something a little lighter on the wallet in year one, check out the Safety 1st Grow and Go 3-in-1 convertible car seat on Amazon.
It’ll hold your child up until they’re 100 pounds, and does pretty much everything except transform into a backless booster. It’s cheaper today than the Graco and should last you a solid 8-9 years or so!
Should you buy a used car seat? Are used car seats safe?
Used or hand-me-down car seats might be really tempting as a way to save money, but I would avoid this if I were you.
By all means, get a used crib, stroller, or pack ‘n play.
But car seats need to be in perfect working order to function properly. Your child’s life could quite literally depend on it.
It’s just too risky, and it will be difficult to tell exactly how much wear and tear a seat has and whether it might impact its ability to withstand a crash.
Consumer Reports, in fact, advises against used or secondhand carseats.
The price of a car seat really depends on a ton of different factors, but if you can spare $150 you should be able to get something of good quality that will last you a long time.
But don’t worry, there are PLENTY of options that cost less than that and all of them should be perfectly safe.
The only thing I would for sure avoid is buying a used car seat to save money.
If it’s value you’re concerned about, get a solid convertible car seat from the get-go and it will come out to around $20 or so per year of use! It’s definitely a lot of money to pay up front, especially with everything else you’re buying, but it’s the best long term decision.
Hope this helps, parents!