A cute option in Graco’s no-fail line, but is it the best option for your child?
Most of us love Graco baby products. And the Graco Contender 65 Convertible Car Seat is no exception. It has seemingly great features, like safety, adjustability, easy latching, a good buckling system, and comfort perks. These features come at an easy-to-like price, too. But perhaps some of those features, like the latching, the size, and some of the other perks, aren’t as great as they seem.
Safety Comes First
Ask any mom or dad, and they’ll tell you that the most important thing they worry about with their kids is safety. Car seats are the epitome of stressing over safety. With the Graco Contender 65, any parent can rest easy that they’ve got their safety bases covered.
SafeSeat Engineering. This is a fancy label that Graco pops onto all of it’s car seats. But what does it really mean? It means that this car seat was designed with safety as the top priority. This is much more than the mere ability to withstand a crash. It means that it tests at 2 times the safety standard from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It also has side impact safety for those nasty T-bone accidents. This thing is definitely holding up during a crash.
Other safety features. Besides the obvious ability to withstand a crash, this car seat has EPS foam. Not only is this lightweight foam uber-comfortable for baby to sit on, but it is a fantastic energy absorber. This means that that impact from the accident is absorbed by the foam, not by your growing child. The final safety feature that I love is the ability to withstand extreme temperatures. Where I live, it gets to triple digits in the summer and well below freezing in the winter (fun, right?). I don’t have to worry about the plastic or buckles on this car seat breaking due to the stress of the different temperatures.
Contending with the Convertibility
Now that you know how safe this car seat is, you probably want to know about that whole convertibility thing. After all, that might be one of the biggest selling points of this car seat. Let’s talk about what this car seat can do and how easy it is to do it.
The stages. This convertible car seat is different than others in that it only really has two stages: forward facing and rear facing. The rear-facing is meant for babies from 5 to 40 pounds. The forward facing is meant to kiddos from 20 to 65 pounds. There is no option for a belt-guiding booster or backless booster with this seat. So, you’ll be having to buy this for your child’s first few years and another seat for their older years. The price reflects that. I think this car seat is still a good deal in the long run. Also, since the weight limit is large for the rear facing, your child can stay rear-facing until age 2, like the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests.
Switching stages. Since there are only the two stages, switching from one to the other really isn’t that hard. There’s not a lot of brain power involved, which is refreshing for us parents. You pretty much just turn the car seat around. Hooray for simplicity! The one thing that you will have to do is switch the guide path for the anchor straps. All you have to do is open the plastic cover, switch the strap feed, close the cover, and anchor the seat down. If I could follow the instructions and handle it by myself, then any parent could!
Speaking of those anchoring straps, the latching in this car seat is so-so. I have owned one car seat that was a breeze to anchor (a Safety First Alpha and Omega Elite Car Seat), but for the most part, most car seats I’ve used require some muscle and a lot of hoping for the best.
Strapping it down. The latch system on this car seat is pretty easy once you figure it out. It works just like every other one I’ve used- you click the straps into the anchor base and the car seat should be secure. All you have to do is follow that manufacturer’s instructions and watch this handy video. In my honest opinion though, these straps were a bit tricky to get tight. There was some slack in the anchor straps even after I gave it a real tightening effort (which including sitting on my knees in the car seat and pulling with all my might). I wouldn’t want to have to move this car seat back and forth a lot, because the larger shape combined with the tricky latching would add up to some major frustration for me.
Leveling the seat. A good feature for this car seat is the easy to read level indicator on the side. It’s a real level too, not just some printed lines. This helped me out a lot when I used it rear-facing. I tend to get the car seat too far upright, but this level indicator helped me keep it where it needed to be in order to be most safe. Not a huge bonus or anything, but a good helper for those parents who like to check each and every safety box, like me.
The Buckling System
I am the buckle police. I will be the first person to point out a problem with a buckling system because, to me, that’s such an important part of the day-to-day use of a car seat! It has to be easy to buckle to get my approval. This buckle system is really very nice and has won me over.
Simply Safe Adjust Harness System. This term is Graco’s fancy way of saying that you don’t have to rethread the straps and the harness keeps your child safe. It has a five-point safety harness, which is a gimme for this style of convertible car seat. The wonderful thing is that the headrest and shoulder straps are combined in this car seat, so you can adjust the height everything all in one tug. Just lift the release lever at the top of the car seat and slide the headrest and straps up or down. That’s all! I don’t have to spend an hour every few months to undo and rethread the shoulder straps. I love that Graco took that dreaded task away from me. It’s also easy to tighten and loosen the whole harness with the strap and lever on the front. I had zero problems.
What I Don’t Like. That whole no rethreading thing is great, but it doesn’t leave much room for customization. I feel that the shoulder straps were either too high or too low on my long bodied boy. I have found strap marks on his neck/shoulders on a couple of occasions. Also, now that he’s older, he’s complained a couple of times about the bottom buckle digging into his boy parts. There are two positions for that bottom buckle, and we currently can’t move it out any farther. Maybe that’s just what I get for having a bigger boy that I like to keep strapped in nice and tight. In any case, it hasn’t been a major cause for concern or an often complaint from my son.
Since this isn’t a terribly expensive car seat, it doesn’t come with a long list of extras. For example, the seat doesn’t recline. But, the features it does have are great and useful for both the child and the parents. Here’s what it’s got:
- Cup holder. There is one fixed cup holder on the side of the unit. Great for bottle storage when rear-facing and great for sippy or regular cups once forward-facing. Wish it was a bit bigger, but it serves its purpose.
- Removeable support. If I am supposed to put a newborn in this car seat, I expect sufficient padding. The Graco Contender 65’s padding is just that- sufficient. Not the most cushioned seat for the smaller babies, but enough that I don’t worry if baby is comfortable. Plus, you can take the padding out later anyways.
- Cleanable! I love a car seat that I can clean easy. The seat padding for the Contender Convertible Car Seat is removable and machine washable. The buckle and straps are spot cleanable. Graco even gives easy instructions on how to clean the tricky buckle. No fuss cleaning at it’s finest.
- 4.7 stars, 445 reviews- BuyBuyBaby
- 4.7 stars, 629 reviews- Walmart
- 4.8 stars, 468 reviews- Target
- High rated safety
- Easy to switch from rear to forward-facing
- Easy-adjust harness and headrest
- Machine washable
- Only has 2 stages
- Latches may not tighten all the way
- Harness fit can be tough to get right
- Doesn’t recline
Ease of Use Ratings
Although safety should always be a leading concern when it comes to our children, you shouldn’t obsess about the safety differences between car seat brands. They are required to pass strict federal safety tests before being sold in the US market.
Look here for a list of the best-rated car seats.
However, getting the installation or usage of a car seat wrong can introduce safety issues. That is why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issues ease of use ratings (see below) for each car seat. The easier to use and the clearer the instructions, the more likely your child is to be buckled up properly every time.
The Contender 65 received 3 stars in forward-facing mode and 4 stars in rear-facing mode.
If you want a car seat with an extremely long life and a lot of bells and whistles, then you’ll want to look elsewhere. But if you want a basic car seat with real safety for the first couple of years, the Graco Contender 65 Convertible Car Seat is for you. It’s super safe, has 2 easy to use stages, has a great harness adjustment system, and has a couple of perks, like a drink holder and machine-washable padding. The latch system and harness might give you trouble, but it’s nothing that a parent can’t deal with and figure out. Overall, the price is nice for this good, reliable car seat.