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Car seats are something most families need, whether it’s to bring their newborn baby home from the hospital or drive their toddler to and from playdates. With so many car seats on the market, though, it can be hard to know which one is best for your son or daughter, and your family.
Safety will, no doubt, be your top priority, along with how comfortable your child is in the car seat (especially if you plan on using it for long journeys). Then there’s how flexible it is – is it part of a travel system, for example, or will you need to buy a stroller separately?
This is before you’ve gotten to the extra features that all sound like things you should have but tend to come with a price attached. The question here is whether you really need them or not and whether they are worth the extra cost.
With so much to think about, it’s no wonder, so many parents choose to go with name-brand car seats such as those made by Graco. We don’t blame them, and we don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea. You really can’t go wrong with a Graco car seat; they have a reputation for producing good quality affordable products.
They are also known for producing a wide range of products, including car seats, which is why we’re looking at two of their most popular here – the Atlas and the Nautilus – to help take the guesswork out of which car seat you should buy.
Main Differences Between Graco Atlas vs Graco Nautilus
The main differences between Graco Atlas vs Graco Nautilus are:
- The Nautilus has three recline positions, whereas the Atlas has two.
- The Nautilus has steel-reinforced frames, which gives it better strength and durability.
- The Nautilus has a backless booster option, meaning it grows with your child.
Before we go into more detail about either of these models, we thought it might be a good idea to take a quick look at the types of car seats available on the market and what to look for in a car seat.
Bottom Line up Front: If budget isn’t an issue, then we recommend you go with the Graco Nautilus as the overall best option.
Types of Car Seats Available
One of the first things new parents realize when looking for a car seat is that, not only are there different types, the type they’ll need changes as their child grows:
- Infant Car Seat: This is the first type of car seat you’ll need. It will keep your newborn baby safe and secure through till around the age of two (based on their height, length, and weight). Infant car seats are generally rear-facing. They come in models that can be secured into your car using a base or a seat belt and with options to use them as a stroller (with an additional frame).
- Convertible Car Seat: These last longer than infant car seats. You can use them with newborns then adapted as your child grows, becoming forward-facing. You can raise/lower the height of the back and, with the 3-in-1 version, convert them into booster seats.
- Booster Seat: These are for older children who’ve reached at least 30llbs. They raise your child in the seat, making the seatbelt more comfortable.
What to Look For in a Car Seat
Beyond how the car seat looks and feels, you need to make sure your child will be safe in whichever model you choose. When it comes to safety, car seats should have a label that shows they meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and they should have harnesses that hold your baby securely.
For younger children, you ideally need a five-point harness; older children should be o.k. with three-point harnesses.
Unless you can confirm the origin of your car seat, we don’t recommend buying one second-hand as, while it might seem the more affordable option, you won’t know if it’s been well looked after and used correctly, or if it was involved in an accident which could mean it doesn’t work as it should.
Finally, make sure you read the reviews for the car seats you’re looking at, including those left by verified users on sites such as Amazon. These can give you a good idea of how it is to use the car seat in practice – just because the specification shows that it’s lightweight, for example, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to carry. Moreover, it’s why we look at what parents are saying when we make our product comparisons.
Graco Atlas vs Graco Nautilus – Which is Better for Your Baby?
For both Graco car seats, we’ve looked at how safe they are alongside other features including weight and height limits, whether they can be adjusted, the age of the child they’re suitable for as well as user reviews and ratings in order to give you a good idea of which one is best for you and your baby.
Graco Atlas Car Seat
Released in 2015, the Graco Atlas is a popular and highly rated harness booster car seat. As a car seat, it has a weight range of 22lbs to 65lbs, making it ideal for both toddlers and older children. As a high back belt-positioning booster seat, it has a weight range of 30lbs to 100lbs, meaning it works well for older kids who no longer need a car seat but do need a raised seat to keep them safe and secure.
This safety has been checked through rigorous crash-testing, and the car seat exceeds all required US safety standards, so you can be confident your child will be protected if you are unfortunate enough to get into an accident. The car seat itself is sturdily built and designed to withstand anything a child can throw at – or on – it. The pads are machine washable, while the harness is easy to wipe clean.
Both the five-point harness and the five-point headrest on the Atlas are adjustable, something which you can do easily with one motion, and the car seat has two recline positions, meaning you can make your little one more comfortable if they fall asleep while you’re on the road. If they’re awake, they can take a drink thanks to the two cup holders that come built into the car seat.
Add on options for the Graco Atlas
The Graco Atlas comes with everything you need in the box. As a car seat for toddlers and older children, it can’t be adapted to use as a stroller, meaning there are no add-ons available with this model (probably a good thing for your wallet).
Graco Atlas Features
- A 2-in-1 car seat that you can use as a forward-facing car seat or high-back belt-positioning booster
- Suitable for children between 22lbs and 65lbs as a car seat and 30lbs to 100lbs as a booster seat
- Five-point safety harness
- Five-point adjustable headrest
- One-motion adjustments of harness and headrest
- Dual cup holders
- Machine washable covers; easy to clean harness.
- 19” x 12” x 32” (W x D x H)
Graco Atlas Pros
- Quick and easy to install
- Lightweight and easy to maneuver
- Easy to change from car seat to booster seat
- Can use with LATCH when a booster seat
Graco Atlas Cons
- Doesn’t have a backless booster option
- Some reviews suggest it is best suited to children aged 3+
- The car seat is currently rated 4.6 stars on Amazon and receives positive comments on other sites too. We read the reviews of existing customers and here’s what they have to say about the Graco Atlas Car Seat:
- A great option for transitioning children from car seat to booster because of safety features
- Less bulky than other models
- Good quality materials (that are dark enough to hide the stains if a child spills their drink)
- Simple to adjust
Graco Nautilus Car Seat
Like the Graco Atlas, the Graco Nautilus was released in 2015 and has developed a loyal following of parents who appreciate its sturdy construction and good value for money. We reviewed this model in detail last month and, like most reviewers, couldn’t fault it for the features it offered and the price we were asked to pay.
With the Graco Nautilus, you get a 3-in-1 harness booster car seat that works as a forward-facing car seat for children weighing 22lbs to 65lbs, a high back booster for children 30lbs to 100lbs, and a backless booster for children between 40lbs and 100lbs.
You also get a five-point harness and steel reinforced frame, so you know your child is safe; the car seat meets all US safety standards. You can make them comfortable thanks to three reclining positions and a five-point headrest that can be adjusted based on their height.
The headrest and seat are padded, though perhaps not as much as you would find in more expensive models and the seat can be removed and machine washed to keep it nice and clean, while the harness is easy to wipe down too.
Add on options for the Graco Nautilus Car Seat
As with the Graco Atlas, everything you need to start using this car seat is in the box, so there are no added attachments or accessories you need to buy.
Graco Nautilus Features
- A 3-in-1 harness booster seat that can be used as a forward-facing car seat, high back booster, and backless booster, meaning it grows with your child.
- Suitable for children between 22lbs and 100lbs (depending on how used)
- Five-point harness, which can be adjusted with a single motion.
- Five-point adjustable headrest.
- Three recline positions.
- Single cup holder.
- Reinforced steel sides
Graco Nautilus Pros
- Can be used from 9 months to 12 years
- Sturdy design
- Safe design that exceeds US safety standards
- Easy to keep clean / machine washable
- Five-point harness to keep your child secure
- Five-point headrest to keep your child comfortable
Graco Nautilus Cons
- Bulky so awkward to carry/move
- Not that easy to recline the seat / limited recline angles
The Graco Nautilus Car Seat has a 4.3 out of 5-star rating on Amazon and good reviews on other websites, making it popular amongst parents, who said the following:
- Children find the car seat comfortable to sit in.
- Easy to keep clean – you just throw the seat padding into the machine to wash and can wipe down the harness.
- Harness clicks into place easily – and you know it has because it makes a distinct clicking sound.
- Easy to install – comes with everything you need in the box.
The Verdict: Graco Atlas or Nautilus?
When it comes to creating products that new parents (and those with slightly older children) need, Graco has it covered. They produce strollers, bassinets, play yards, high chairs, swings, and car seats, meaning they have plenty of experience when it comes to making products that work well for the whole family.
This is definitely true of their car seats, which may not be the most exciting looking on the market (some reviews we read did describe them as bland), but they are all highly affordable and do the job they were designed to do. They keep your child safe, secure and comfortable on even the longest journey.
The comfort comes from padded seats and adjustable harnesses and headrests that grow with your child, meaning you can keep them snug without anything feeling too tight for them. You find the adjustability in both models, which are a like-for-like of each other in many ways. As such, we can’t separate them, and we can’t recommend one over the other.
Where they differ is that the Atlas is a 2-in-1 booster seat and the Nautilus is a 3-in-1 booster seat, converting to a backless booster as your child gets older. It’s great to have this flexibility, but the question is whether it’s worth the extra money (based on the current prices on Amazon) the Nautilus costs.
It’s this that has convinced us, more than the backless booster option or additional reclining position, that the Graco Nautilus is the one we would buy. It doesn’t mean that the Atlas isn’t safe, it is – and has passed all US safety standards – it just means that for a few extra dollars, we get a little more reassurance our child will be kept safe and secure.
Answer: Yes, they both come in one box. They come ready to use and with easy to follow instructions for attaching the base. However, it’s worth pointing out that, because the base isn’t connected to the car seat in the box, the packaging is very bulky.
Answer: The maximum weight as a forward-facing car seat is 64lbs (the minimum weight is 22lbs). The maximum weight for a booster seat is 100lbs.
This is for the high back and backless booster. The minimum weight for the high back booster is 30lbs; for the backless booster, it is 40lbs. Remember, however, to take the age of your child as well as their weight into account before deciding when to change from a car seat to a booster seat.
Answer: Yes, they are both FAA approved. Reviews suggest they are easy to fly with.
Final Thoughts on the Graco Nautilus vs Atlas
As we’ve already mentioned, there isn’t a lot to separate between the Graco Atlas and the Graco Nautilus, though there is a difference in the price…It seems like quite a difference for what aren’t many more features. However, we feel it’s worth it for the additional safety that comes with the reinforced steel.
This makes the other features ‘nice to haves’ and will save you money in the long run as you won’t need to buy a separate backless booster once your child is too old for a high-back booster seat.
Seeing that it is so close that for those on a tighter budget, we wouldn’t say no to buying a Graco Atlas. It’s a good car seat that exceeds US safety standards and will keep your baby safe, secure, and comfortable on the road and (as the FAQs show) in the air.
Bottom Line: However if budget isn’t such an issue, then we recommend you go with the Graco Nautilus as the overall best option.