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Safe and Comfortable: Car Seats Front Facing

Our Pick - Graco Car Seat Nautilus

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Graco 3-in-1 Nautilus Car Seat

My friend was ready to move her little girl from a rear-facing car seat to a car seat that was forward facing.  She wasn't sure which one to get so she and I researched the front facing car seats together.

The one that we finally settled on was the Graco Nautilus 3 in 1 Car Seat.
We learned that selecting the right front facing car seat for your child will mainly depend on your child's size and the type of vehicle that you will be using the car seat in.

To use a front facing baby car seat your child must be 2 years old or older or, younger than 2 years old but have outgrown the weight or height limit allowed by a rear facing car seat.  The latter was my friends dilemma.

Here are some of the things that helped us decide on the Nautilus Car Seat.

Why 3 in 1?

3 in 1 means that the car seat can be used longer because it is designed to be used in these three different modes.

    • 5-point harness from 20-65 lbs
    • belt-positioning booster from 30 to 100 lbs.
    • either a highback or backless booster up to 100 lbs.

    graco 3 in 1 nautilus
    Excerpt from Graco Nautilus Manual

    5 Point Harness

    Most child passenger safety experts agree that out of the three harness systems available (T-shield, Five Point Harness and Overhead shield/Tray Shield) the Five Point Harness generally provides the best protection for the widest range of children.
    Tray shields are not usually covered with energy-absorbing padding so as to provide protection for the child's head if it hits the shield.  This head contact is most likely for a shorter child and/or a loose harness but is not good if it happens.

    A shield type harness systems is not good for a baby because the shield lies in front of the face or neck and holds the harness straps away from the baby's body.

    With the 5-point harness the straps are placed on the child's shoulders and lower down on the hips.  This way the forces of a crash are absorbed by the strongest parts of the child's body instead of the child's soft abdomen. 

    The five point harness has 2 shoulder straps, 2 hip straps and a crotch strap.  This did indeed seem like the best distribution of safety to us. Since I use seat belt pads for my ownself, I would recomment the car seat harness pads for your child.

    Growing into the High-back Belt Positions Booster

    As your child grows you will convert to the  belt positioning booster mode which boosts your child up so that the adult lap and shoulder belt can be used and will fit properly. There is no harness.

    According to the latest car seat guidelines, until kids are "old enough and large enough" to sit in a automobile seat and have the adult seat belts fit properly they should sit in a booster seat.  For most children this is usually until they reach 4' 9" tall and are between the age of 8 and 12 years old.
    So being able to just convert your front facing car seat to a booster seat is a real money saver. 

    To further assist you in selecting the right car seat for your child you might want to read Guide To Finding the Right Car Seats for Your Children. This guide has a lot of good information to help you make sense of the different car seats and how to install and use them safely.

    Moving into the Backless Booster

    A child's ears should not go over the top of the vehicle seat or head restraint.  If it does you will need to stick with the high back booster so that your child will have head support and whiplash protection during a crash.

    If your child has adequate head support in the vehicle, then you can use the backless booster model.

    When using a backless model  the shoulder belt adjuster helps to pull the car shoulder belt into the correct position. We found that some models like the Graco Nautilus are easy to adjust where others were time consuming and would also break easily. 

    To use or not to use the Backless Booster Mode

    It is reported that a British consumer testing organization would like to see backless booster seats phased out because they do not give the child enough protection during a side impact crash.  At this time the U. S. Government does not require any side-impact crash testing for car seats.

    During frontal crash tests both the backless and high-back booster seats prove to protect equally well. We learned that the economy priced Graco Highback TurboBooster was rated very highly because it ensured a good seatbelt fit in almost any automobile and has padded crash-protection foam around the sides and head.  However, the Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 was rated better because it has its own built-in-five-point harness for children up to 65 pounds.  It will have to be your choice whether you use the backless booster mode with your child or not.

    facing forward car seat
    Excerpt from Graco Natulius Manual

    Comfort Is Important Also....

    You want your child to be safe, after all that is the main reason you are getting a baby car seat.  However, most parents want their child to be comfortable also.  This is why we included this in our search for a front facing baby car seat.

    The Nautilus has an adjustable head support, wide armrests and a cushioned seat.  Other consumers reported that their child slept comfortably in the 3-in-1 Nautilus without slumping over. 

    Even though accessories are not really necessary for comfort, they do make the ride more fun.  The cup holder and the side storage on the Graco Nautilus keeps snacks and treasures close at hand.

    Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 Car Seat Summary

    • Sturdy Frame
    • Nice Weight, not too heavy
    • Size is not gigantic but a large kid can sit in it comfortably
    • Forward facing can accommodate children up to 65 lbs.
    • In back booster or backless booster can accommodate children up to 100 lbs.
    • Integrated cup holder and side storage
    • Headrest is easy to use and fit
    • 5 point Harness
    • Comfortable and secure
    • Good buckles
    • Fabric holds up well to abuse and is easy to clean
    • Can grow with your child
    • Comes in several nice color combinations

    A couple of cons or inconveniencies that some consumers reported are:

    • Have to unthread the straps to wash all the pads
    • On delivery the bottom seat strap is in the smaller setting and a little difficult to change to the larger setting - but once it is done, it's done.
    • Even though the shoulder straps are not hard to change, you do have to take the seat out of the car in order to change their height.

    Where To Buy the Nautilus 3 in 1

    Our research made the Nautilus Graco Car Seat the one for us.  We like to purchase just about everything from Target but you can find the Nautilus on Ebay and at

    If you travel a lot (which my friend doesn't) then you may be interested in this car seat travel cover for car seat air travel that we ran across.

    We did select the glass breaker seat belt cutter. I think this is a nice safety item even if you don't have children riding in the car. And the other safety item that we selected was the First Alert Auto Fire Extinguisher. Just never know when you might need these type items.

    Child Front Facing Baby Car Seat

    Hope these details have been helpful to you in selecting a good baby car seat for your child.



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