Best forVehicles will less front-to-back room in the rear seats
Top BenefitsAdjustable seat height, harness adjusts without rethreading, simple colour-coded installation instructions, machine washable cover
ConsiderationsYou may not be able to sit toddlers more upright in rear-facing (adjustable recline is for levelling)
Bottom lineThe Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat offers comfort, features that simplify installation and adjustability to grow with your child
When it comes to convertible car seats, you want something that's going to last and grow with your kid through all the car seat stages. The Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat delivers: it's suitable for kids from four to 120 pounds, has a 10-year expiration date, and in our lab and parent testing, we found it to be a quality seat with lots of plush padding—so your little one will be comfy wherever the day takes you.
Like all the car seats we tested, the Graco 4Ever has been crash tested by the manufacturer and approved for use in Canada by Transport Canada and Health Canada. Given the rigorous testing that car seats go through to get approved, we focused our assessment on the car seat's quality of materials, the seat's comfort, the ease of installation and use, and the value for the cost.
There are pluses and minuses to both UAS and seat belt installation, and deciding which one works for you can take a bit of installation trial and error. Car seat and vehicle compatibility can be an issue, but what works for your day-to-day routine is also a factor—especially if you need to move car seats from one vehicle to another fairly regularly.
Installing a car seat is no walk in the park, but a good user manual can make all the difference, whether you're a first-time installer or practically a pro. Colour-coded sections in the Graco 4Ever's manual correspond to labelling on the car seat, so it's very obvious what goes where when installing this car seat. (We also appreciate that there’s a small slot underneath the seat to store the manual so it's always handy.) Elastic fasteners on the car seat cover made it a little finicky to remove in order to thread the UAS strap through the appropriate path, but that's a pretty minor issue.
This car seat has three recline positions for rear-facing, but they're intended to help get the seat level, not provide older babies or toddlers with a more upright position, a feature some other seats offer. (Note: You cannot use a tightly rolled towel or pool noodle to help level this car seat. The seat base should sit as flat as possible against your vehicle's seat.) In our tests, we found that getting the seat level in the rear-facing reclined positions is quite easy thanks to the bubble level-indicator on the side of the seat—no guesswork required—and our parent testers agreed that this made installation easier. In terms of adjusting the recline position, we found using two hands offers more control as you secure it in the appropriate position. There are also three recline positions for forward-facing, and while you don't have to worry about levelling, they might impact how flush the car seat is to the vehicle seat and seat back—important in getting a secure install.
Attaching the UAS connectors to your vehicle's lower anchors is easy: you just push the connectors against the anchors and you'll hear a click that indicates you've securely connected them. (Uninstalling was a bit more difficult because you have to press in on the red release button while pulling away from the anchors. They release doesn't stay open once the button is pressed, like it does with some car seats.
The toughest part of the UAS installation is tightening the UAS belt (no surprise there). In our lab installations, getting the seat secure—so that it couldn't be moved more than an inch in any direction when tugged at the belt path—required a lot of muscle in the rear- and forward-facing positions. That being said, our parent testers who installed the car seat with the UAS said the install was "somewhat easy," so the level of difficulty may very well depend on your vehicle—or how you define easy, for that matter.
One thing we came to appreciate in our testing was good storage for the UAS connectors when they're not being used. Located at the front under the seat, the connectors are attached to their own hooks for clean storage.
Overall, we found the seat belt installation of the Graco 4Ever a little easier than the UAS installation because it required a bit less upper body strength to properly secure the seat. As with the UAS installation, the belt path for seat belt installation is colour-coded to match the manual, so it's easy to find the seat belt path. Seat belts in newer vehicles have a locking mechanism, which holds the car seat securely in place. (If you have an older vehicle without locking belts, you'll need a locking clip to install this car seat with the seat belt.) To engage the locking mechanism, you'll need to slowly pull the seat belt all the way out and then let it retract; you'll hear the locking mechanism clicking as the belt retracts. It can be a bit tricky to ensure that the belt doesn't twist as you're letting it retract and lock, but this is crucial for keeping your child safe and secure (twists add stress to a belt and it may not be as strong as a flat-lying belt if you're in a crash).
The most difficult part of the install is tightening the seat belt to get the car seat well secured. During our lab testing, we found that tightening the seat belt in the rear-facing position was a two-person job: one to apply pressure to the seat and another to tighten the belt. Getting the seat secured in the forward-facing position is less challenging and can be done by one person because you can apply pressure by placing a knee (just one) in the car seat while you tighten the seat belt.
When you're installing the seat in the forward-facing position, you have to attach the tether strap to the tether anchor to stabilize the seat. The tether anchor is typically found on the back of the seat, on the floor behind the seat or on the shelf behind the rear seat in a sedan, but be sure to consult your vehicle's manual to locate the correct anchor in your vehicle. We found it easy to attach, tighten and detach the Graco 4Ever's tether strap, and our parent testers generally agreed.
One of the features we really like in the Graco 4Ever is its adjustable headrest that expands the seat from a compact 24 inches tall to 34 inches. The shorter starting height means it's less likely you'll have to move the front vehicle seats forward a lot to accommodate this car seat when you're installing it at the infant recline angle. And the adjustability means you'll still have a nice tall seat back for the high-back booster mode.
While the adjustable height is a space-saver, the Graco 4Ever's 19.5-inch width is on the bulky side. You'd only be able to fit two of these car seats in a lot of vehicles (unless yours has a third row), and, depending on the contour of the vehicle seats, you may only be able to get one seat in the centre of the vehicle in some compact cars. Whether this is an issue or not will really depend on the size of your family and your vehicle.
Weighing 23 pounds, the Graco 4Ever is going to be fairly manageable for most people to lift into a vehicle. While it isn't a car seat you'd want to move from one car to another on the regular, it's pretty doable every now and then (say, when the kids are staying at Grandma's).
Both our editors and testers found it straightforward and easy to fasten and unfasten the Graco 4Ever’s five-point harness. Unbuckling the chest clip does take a little hand strength, but that's a good thing if you have a little escape artist. The harness lever, located just below the seat cushion, also makes it easy to adjust the harness length for a secure fit—just lift the lever and pull on the straps to loosen or pull the strap under the lever to tighten.
The height of the harness straps is also crucial. In rear-facing, the harness should always be at or just below your child's shoulders (never above), while in forward-facing, they should always be at or just about your kid's shoulders (never below). The Graco 4Ever's harness can be adjusted without rethreading the harness straps, which is a huge time and sanity saver. The harness and headrest adjust as one with a simple lever on top of the seat. Once your kid is big enough for the booster, your child will be secured with the vehicle's seat belt. The five-point harness neatly tucks away in a storage compartment in the backrest, behind the back cushion.
The Graco 4Ever has a steel-reinforced frame and energy-absorbing padding to protect your child in a crash. Plus, this car seat's infant insert has a lot of plush padding to provide support and prevent your infant's head from falling forward when they doze off. And once your little one outgrows the insert, it's a snap to remove it. The car seat's soft and squishy padding also makes for a comfy ride, and the breathable seat cover—which our parent testers really liked—will help keep your kiddo from getting really sweaty.
It's a given that your kid is going to spill something, have a diaper leak (or a post-potty training accident) or get sick in their car seat, so a machine washable car seat cover that's easy to remove is a big plus. With a few pulls and some unsnapping, the Graco 4Ever's headrest pad (though not the foam padding) and seat pad can be quickly removed and thrown into the wash. Like most car seat covers, these pads have to drip dry. (Tip: Make a mental note of where each piece belongs. In our testing, we found it a bit tricky to remember the placement of all the little snaps and hooks.) If you need to clean the harness or UAS strap, you have to surface-wash it with a mild soap and a damp cloth—submerging it in water can weaken the strap. Similarly, for spot-cleaning, Graco recommends using mild soap and water.
A comfy kid is a happy one, and the Graco 4Ever’s plush padding and adjustable headrest make for a cozy seat. The infant headrest and body support is loaded with extra padding to cradle your baby's wee body. As your baby grows into a toddler and preschooler, they might like to have a drink handy when you're on the go, and the Graco 4Ever comes with two cupholders—one each for the left and right sides of the seat. They're super easy to install, and you can add one or both, depending on your kid's needs.
The majority of our parent testers gave the Graco 4Ever a very good rating for ease of use and good to very good ratings for quality and value—all above average. The majority said this car seat was better than other car seats they've used, and all would recommend it to other parents or parents-to-be. With its user-friendly colour-coded manual, plush padding, breathable fabric and adjustability that will allow you to use this car seat for a long time, the Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat has a lot to offer. It's no wonder our parent testers unanimously felt this car seat should receive the Today's Parent Approved seal—and we agree.