Advice needed: Choosing an infant car seat for our tiny car

Thanks to the reviews in Baby Bargains (affiliate link), extensive research, and a visit to some baby stores to test them out, we’ve narrowed down our choices for infant car seats to two options.

We opted to choose an infant car seat instead of a rear-facing convertible that will last longer because we’d like to have the option to use the seat as an infant carrier. With the history of giant babies in our families, I doubt we’ll want to lug him around in an awkward 10-pound car seat for very long. But I think in the very beginning it will be handy to be able to lift him out of the car and carry him without uncovering him, especially since he’ll be born at the beginning of a very cold Midwestern winter.

A few weeks ago, we were pretty sure we were set on the Graco SnugRide 35 (affiliate link). It has an A-rating for safety and usability in Baby Bargains, and it’s a top seller. I like that it’s safe to use until the baby is 35 pounds or 32 inches, which means we should be able to get through most of his first year without replacing his car seat. We probably won’t be using it as a carrier for that long, but the longer I can use this seat, the better. I also like that it’s compatible with a wide range of stroller frames and other baby gear. We’re opting to skip the travel system and use a sling exclusively for at least the first few months, but I like having the option to get the stroller later if for some reason baby wearing just isn’t working for us.

We made this decision without ever seeing the car seats in person, though. So Saturday, we took a short trip to the nearest baby store (about 45 minutes away), and checked out our options.

We liked the SnugRide 35. But. For comparison, we also looked at another high-rated infant seat/carrier: the Chicco Keyfit 30 (affiliate link). The Keyfit has a weight limit of 30 pounds and a height guideline of 30 inches. It won’t last quite as long as the SnugRide, but I think the difference is negligible.

The biggest difference between the two is size of the actual seat. The Keyfit felt much lighter. I found out when we got home that the difference is only about a pound, but it felt much lighter than that. I’m guessing when you add a 10-15 pound baby to the seat, every pound counts.

More importantly, it was about 2-3 inches more compact than the SnugRide 35. It’s also safe to leave the handle up when the Keyfit is installed in the in-car base. The SnugRide 35 handle must be down in the locked position, which adds even more length to the seat.

We weren’t able to take the seats out to our car to test the fit. This is our main concern: we share a single vehicle, and it’s a Hyundai Accent. It’s a four-door, but it’s still a pretty small, sub-compact car. We’re concerned that the extra bulk and the handle on the SnugRide 35 might make for a tight squeeze in our backseat.

Tony much preferred the Keyfit. He said it felt lighter and easier to carry, and since he’ll likely be saddled with lugging the infant carrier more often than me, I’m inclined to let him choose. But I’m bothered by the compatibility issues with the Keyfit. We’d rather avoid getting a stroller frame for the infant carrier, but if the need arises, I like that the SnugRide offers so many options. Our options for the Keyfit are pretty limited.

Do any of you have any experience using the SnugRide 35 or the Chicco Keyfit 30 in a sub-compact car (particularly a Hyundai Accent)? Or do you have any feedback on either seat in general? I’m hoping your feedback will push us over the edge for either seat, because right now we’re torn.

12 thoughts on “Advice needed: Choosing an infant car seat for our tiny car

  1. Jes

    I have a keyfit and LOVE IT. We can even fit it in the back of our taurus with two other car seats. (one of them being a HUGE britax). I did notice that it was a lot lighter which I liked.

  2. Kacie

    Ok I didn’t realize the Graco handle had to be down, but the Keyfit could be up. Plus it’s more compact. I think you will have an easier, more comfortable fit with the Keyfit based on those 2 things.

    Plus, how many stroller options do ya really need? You probably don’t want one anyway like you said. And are any of those possibilities good looking ones?

    I think I vote Keyfit now!

    Also my neighbor has one and she loves it. So take that for some random bit of not really helpful info.

  3. Verna Stephenson

    I have a Snugfit35. I like it, it’s very sturdy and I feel my son is very safe in it. It is VERY heavy!! I could only carry my son in it for a couple of months. I’ve never tried it in a small car but I would think if you put it in the middle of the back seat it would be fine. However, if you plan on using it for a second baby, I don’t think it would fit behind a passenger seat, it’s just too big.

  4. Ang

    Both my brother and Ben’s sister used the Chicco keyfit and LOVED it, so that’s what I’m registering for. My brother actually started out with some other carseat/stroller combo (I don’t know which one) and got rid of it after a couple of months and purchased the Chicco.

  5. Stephanie

    I have a Graco Snugride and a Hyundai Accent. We also have a van and use that most of the time, but we have put the carseat in the accent and it fit. I thought all car seats had to have their handles down in the car so I looked it up. According to this website:
    all models of Graco carseats can have the handles in the upright position. It could be wrong though. Just something to think about. As for the weight, I really don’t think one pound will make that big of a difference. I personally don’t think the Keyfit could be worth all the extra money you’d be putting into it, but that’s just my opinion :). You could always buy a Snugride and see if it fits to your liking and if not you can return it saying that it didn’t fit in your car. I wouldn’t think you’d have a problem returning it.

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  7. Kacie

    I think it is worth it to double check a store’s return policy on car seats. How can they be certain it wasn’t in an accident? that’s why people are cautioned not to use car seats from unknown sources, in case it was in a wreck.

  8. Karen

    Good point, Kacie. I will definitely double check before I try to do any buy-and-try-then-return maneuver. It wouldn’t surprise me if they refused to accept returns on car seats that have been removed from the original packaging. But then again, I feel like if I bought it, took it out to the car, and brought it right back it would be pretty silly for them to think I had time to get in a wreck. But you never know how rigid their return policy is!

    I think I’ve decided to get the Chicco anyway. People just rave about it, and my husband really seems to prefer it.

  9. Jenica The Toy Warden

    We had a snugride with a civic and it seemed to work out ok in terms of size. It does get really heavy to carry, but I think that’s true of all the portable carseats. Most of the time, I lifted it from the car to a shopping cart or stroller, so it wasn’t too horrible.

    When we were purchasing our carseat 3 years ago, the snugride was tied with a much more expensive brand for safest infant seat. We went with the snugride for cost and safety and didn’t test out any of the carseats in person. I suppose if we’d tried holding them, I might have chosen differently.

    1. Karen

      Thanks for your input, Jenica! I think you’re right. Once you put a 15 or 20 pound baby in the seat, it’s not going to be easy to carry, period. So I don’t have any illusions about that one pound making a huge difference once the baby starts growing.

      The size difference was negligible to me. I agree with Tony that the Keyfit seemed to be a bit more streamlined and compact, but I’m still not convinced it’s worth the extra money. He seems to really prefer it, though, so I’ll probably let him win this one. :)

  10. Kristin

    We have the KeyFit 30 and love it, however we bought it so it would last longer in terms of weight, but our 2.5 year old is just now 30 lbs. So, though we love the car seat and will use it until it expires, we won’t buy one that goes to 30 lbs again since they are so pricey. But, since you have big babies in your family this is probably a concern to you. I highly recommend getting a snap n go or something similar, I almost always use it instead of carrying the baby around. When we turned our first baby around at 14 months, we got a car seat that had a 5 point harness and could be used with a seat belt, but was not a backward seat. Decisions, decisions!

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