The Graco 4Ever is an “all-in-one” car seat marketed as perhaps the only seat you’ll ever need to buy for your child.
Is that too good to be true? How does it stack up in terms of fit to child, fit to vehicle and ease of install? Is it the right seat to meet your family’s needs?
Remember, whenever you read one of my car seat reviews that there is no one seat that works for everyone. The right seat for you is the seat that fits your budget, your child and your vehicle, so read on to find out if the 4Ever will tick those boxes for you!
What does “all-in-one” really mean?
A child’s car seat journey goes from a rear-facing, harnessed seat to a forward-facing, harnessed seat to a booster seat (with a back and then without) to the adult seat belt alone. This journey is usually at least ten years long.
I would say that most families start with an infant seat (the kind you carry the baby to and from the car in), then use a convertible seat and then use a booster seat—that’s three different seat purchases.
There are a few car seats on the market that are deemed “all-in-ones,” meaning that they do the job of those three different seats, fitting a child from birth to pre-teen.
That’s a pretty massive range of sizes for one seat to handle, so as you can imagine there are definite pros and cons to choosing this type of seat, which I would say is true of almost any product that is designed to meet a wide range of needs. Most multi-use products, whether we are talking baby gear or appliances, tend to do a couple of things really well and then be rarely used for their other advertised purposes.
What are the benefits of using one seat from birth to booster?
- More economical
- More sustainable from an environmental perspective
What other things should you consider if you want to use one seat from birth to booster?
- All-in-one seats may not fit small newborns (especially preemies) well, leaving parents stuck needing to buy an infant seat anyway. It’s very hard to predict exactly how big your baby will be and what their proportions will be, so it is always a bit risky to start off with an “all-in-one” seat. As an example, the height minimum to use the Graco 4Ever is 18″ (46 cm). While both of my twins were over 4 lb (1.8 kg) upon being discharged from the hospital, neither was 18″ long yet. (For comparison, Graco’s Snugride infant seat has a height minimum of 16.5″/42 cm.)
- Some kids consider their harnessed seat their “baby” seat and it’s hard to get them to buy in to using the same seat they’ve had since they were in diapers as their booster. Depending on the child and depending on what kind of seats (if any) their peer group are using, parents may need to buy a “big kid” booster seat to make sure their child cooperates and is safe in the vehicle.
- Kids are really gross, and their car seats get really gross. If you’re not strict about food in the car seat and frequent cleanings, using the same seat for ten years may be a bit (a lot) gross. I always recommend not feeding kids in their seats, but realistically, we all do. Remember to always clean your car seat according to the manufacturer’s directions.
- Depending on how long it takes a child to reach the correct size to stop using a booster, the all-in-one seat may expire (the 4Ever has a ten-year expiry) before they’re done using a booster, but this may mean you just need to spend $20 for a simple booster until they grow a few more inches.
What about using the 4Ever as the last seat after the infant seat?
This would be my personal recommendation for a family interested in the 4Ever. A well-chosen infant seat is specifically designed to accommodate even the smallest of newborns and also provides a great deal of convenience. I find the first weeks with a newborn are already stressful enough without having to be worried about your baby being too small or just not the right shape to get a safe fit in an all-in-one car seat. The Graco Snugride 35 is a beloved infant seat that is easy to use, fits newborns—including preemies—well, and would be a great choice to use pre-4Ever!
Because the booster mode of the 4Ever provides a reliable belt fit and goes from high-back to backless (not the case for all all-in-one seats on the market), it can, for most children, be the last seat purchased following the infant seat.
If you want to use the 4Ever from birth, or truly any all-in-one, my best advice is to have an infant seat on standby (perhaps borrow one from a trusted friend) just in case you are struggling with your baby’s fit. If you expect your baby to be premature or small (for example, if you’re expecting multiples), definitely choose an infant seat that is well adapted to tiny babies and keep the all-in-one seat for later down the road. Regardless of what seat you choose to use from birth, if you can meet with a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) for a prenatal session, you’ll feel confident you can install it and use it correctly from day one!
What’s the deal with the 4Ever’s re-designed headrest and head slump?
You may have heard or read complaints that babies are more prone to head slump in the Graco 4Ever and that Graco recently re-designed their headrest in response to customer feedback. First of all: way to go Graco! I really appreciate that they took customer and CPST feedback to heart and went back to the drawing board. Secondly, remember that as consumers it is important to give feedback to brands—it can pay off!
Seats manufactured as of May 2020 feature a slight headrest redesign, made to reduce incidences of “head slump,” or basically an awkward positioning of the child’s head, when it is pushed forward towards their chest.
Besides the date of manufacture, you can easily tell if a seat is the original or redesigned version by looking at the back of the headrest: If there are two elastic loops around each plastic hook, it is the original version. If there is a single elastic loop around each hook, it is the redesigned version.
Please note that there is nothing wrong with the original 4Ever. As you will see as I get to the details of my review, we had one of each to work with, and I was unable to observe any difference between the two for my twins. (Due to the ongoing pandemic, finding random babies of different sizes to test in my seats has been … impossible.)
If you have an original 4Ever and it’s working for you, that is awesome and totally normal; there are plenty of consumers who have 4Evers and had no fit issues, and therefore have had no need to complain. But the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so obviously, there were enough complaints to warrant the change.
I have encountered CPSTs who’ve had zero issues with their 4Evers for their own children, and I’ve also encountered a few who have ultimately been unhappy with the seat because of the headrest. But I would be remiss if I suggested that this is unique to the 4Ever. There are plenty of seats on the market known to do well for some and not so well for other shapes of children. It’s just that in this case, Graco actually made a change to accommodate more children better, which is a smart decision if you ask me! If you buy an original 4Ever (which will become less and less possible as old stock runs out), you’re not likely to have problems, so don’t panic. I can honestly say that I’ve seen plenty of kids who fit perfectly well in their 4Evers. And oftentimes, a child’s head positioning (in any seat) can be remedied with the help of correct harnessing (check your manual!), correct use of possible installation angles (check your manual!) and correct use of any included positioning cushions (check your manual!). When in doubt, regardless of brand, reach out to the manufacturer’s customer service and reach out to a CPST.
Because my twins fit well in both of my 4Ever models, I did check in with some fellow CPSTs who had worked with babies who had trouble getting a nice fit in the original version and were then tested in the new version. I’m happy to report that the feedback was generally positive and for most babies, head positioning was improved.
Remember that there is NO single seat on the market that fits every child perfectly, so when possible, it is always best to try a child in a seat before you purchase. Also note that the head being pushed slightly forward or slumping, especially when a child is asleep, is not an automatic cause for concern. For children without neck control—typically children under 3 months old—if their head is folded forward at the neck, their chin to their chest, whether in their car seat or in any baby device (such as a stroller or baby carrier), then they are at risk for positional asphyxia, and this is absolutely something that must be remedied.
As per Graco’s Canadian Compliance Engineer, “The previous version of the 4Ever had a full EPS headrest (white foam) with an EPP pad behind the head (black foam pad). The new version has a full EPP headrest without the pad.”
In a nutshell, the black rectangle you see on the original headrest is EPP (expanded polypropylene) padding and the white foam in the original is EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam. Canadian regulations require “a slow recovery, energy absorbing material” be in contact with the child’s head, and that was the role of the black padding. The new headrest removes the piece of black padding, making the entire headrest out of EPS foam, thus removing that rectangular layer of foam that can push some heads forward, but maintaining the EPP foam that has energy absorbing properties behind the child’s head (and in fact throughout the entire headrest.)
Please note that if you have a 4Ever with the original headrest, you cannot modify it by removing parts of the headrest. The new headrest design is also a full material redesign, not just a removal of one piece. Never try to make DIY adjustments to any car seat. Always contact the manufacturer if you have questions or concerns.
Graco 4Ever review
Finally, we get to the heart of the matter. How did the 4Ever fare in each of its modes for my kiddos? As mentioned earlier, we received both a seat with the original headrest and a seat with the redesigned headrest, and I used them both extensively. Ultimately I noticed no difference between the two for my children.
Fit to child
Weight range: 4–40 lb (1.8–18 kg)
Height range: 18″–43″ (46–110 cm)
Child must have 1″ of space between the top of their head and the red adjustment handle.
We tested the 4Ever in rear-facing mode on my 2.5-year-old twins and my 5-year-old daughter.
I expected to see a huge difference in head position with my twins, one of them in the original headrest 4Ever and one in the redesigned headrest 4Ever. The truth is, I could only be sure which one was in which seat by checking the date of manufacture. My boys just don’t have a head positioning issue with this seat, and I’ve been really fortunate in that all of the car seats we have used have not caused us any fit issues. (And we have used many; such is the nature of the job!)
My smaller twin is 34.5″ (88 cm) and 27 lb (12 kg), and my bigger twin is 35.5″ (90 cm) and 30.5 lb (14 kg). They both fit really nicely in the 4Ever and seemed to enjoy the cup holders. We used the 4Evers installed as upright as possible. (More on that later.)
My daughter is just under 43″ tall (109 cm) and is 38 lb (17 kg), putting her at the cusp of outgrowing the 4Ever’s rear-facing mode. For fun, and because one time we needed to do a big seat switcharoo to accommodate two of her friends, she has tested it a couple of times rear-facing and I was impressed that she fit quite well! A lot of times when you try a child who is close to the stated height and weight maximums in a seat, they’ve already outgrown it, so it was great to see that the 4Ever worked for my daughter who was basically at the height maximum and only 2 lb (.9 kg) shy of the weight maximum for rear-facing. Note that my daughter is pretty petite, so neither of her buddies who sometimes ride with us and are the same age could use the 4Ever rear-facing.
The 4Ever comes with a bum cushion and head cushion that are only to be used in rear-facing mode. My kids are big enough to use the seat without these cushions, but smaller babies will definitely need the bum cushion in place. There is no specific weight requirement for using the cushions, so it’s a matter of trial and error, testing how your child fits with and without. It is fine and quite common to use the bum cushion without the head cushion. But do not use the head cushion without the bum cushion.
The 4Ever has three recline angles for rear-facing, and the angle indicator on the side of the seat employs a blue line and a bubble. The bubble needs to be fully contained on the blue line to be an acceptable installation angle. When the bubble is all the way to left (towards the back of the vehicle), the seat is at its most reclined (definitely needed for a newborn). When the bubble is at the opposite end, towards the front of the vehicle, the seat is at its most upright. As long as your child has neck control, I would simply choose the angle that is most comfortable for your child and fits your vehicle best, with the bubble anywhere along that blue line.
The 4Ever can be installed using the lower anchors for the entirety of its use in rear-facing mode because the seat can only be used rear-facing up to 40 lb (18 kg), and a seat belt installation is only required at 45 lb (20 kg).
Installing with the lower anchors is a breeze because you can easily pull the tail of the UAS from the inside of the seat like so, without even having to pull up the fabric cover:
Push-button connectors are easy to click onto and remove from the lower anchor bars in your vehicle, even the ones that are deep in the seat crack. (Because the vehicle design team had no parents on it …)
Installing the seat in rear-facing mode with the vehicle seat belt was also fine in our Odyssey.
Fit to child
Weight range: 22–65 lb (10–30 kg)
Height Range: 27″–49″ (69–125 cm)
The child’s ears must be completely contained within the car seat headrest.
My twins will be rear-facing for quite a while still, and my oldest son is too tall for any harnessed seat on the market to be a tester, so my daughter serves as my forward-facing model. The seat fits her well forward-facing with quite a bit of room to grow. My daughter doesn’t like using the harness covers (they are optional), but I noticed the harness sat quite close to the neck of one of her friends who was borrowing the seat, so in this case the child would likely prefer the harness pads on. It really depends on each child’s shape and preference!
One of the great things about the 4Ever in forward-facing mode is that its top harness height is 18″ (45 cm). Top harness height is often overlooked by parents when seat shopping because it’s not a stat that is readily available on the box. Essentially the top harness height measurement tells you how long of a torso (also known as seated height, measured from bum to shoulder) a child can have before the harness starts coming from below their shoulders (which means they’re too tall for the harness).
Two children who are the exact same standing height can easily outgrow a seat at completely different times because one child has long legs while the other has a long torso. Because it’s not exactly easy to predict a child’s future torso measurement, I like to see seats have at least 18″ of harness height before I give them a resounding recommendation. It is very frustrating for a parent to realize their child has outgrown the harness of their seat before the child is ready to go into a booster. Some popular seats have a top harness height of as little as 16″, which truly does leave some tall 4 and 5 year olds in need of new seats before they can use a booster. My son is taller than average and would’ve hit the 18″ torso height around age 7, so he would’ve easily been able to remain harnessed in the 4Ever until he was heavy enough and mature enough to use it as a booster.
Installing the 4Ever in forward-facing mode, whether with seat belt or with lower anchors, proved easy in our Honda Odyssey. Remember that the seat must be installed using the seat belt for a child who weighs over 45 lb (20 kg).
Because the fabric seat cover can be opened so conveniently, it’s really easy to pull the UAS or seat belt tight from the inside of the seat, which is always the easiest way to get a tight installation.
The seat can use reclines 4, 5 or 6 in forward-facing mode. You’ll want to select the one that fits your vehicle best and is comfortable for your child.
Fit to child
With back: 40″–57″ (102–145 cm)
Without back: 43″–58″ (109–147 cm)
With back: 40–100 lb (18–45 kg)
Without back: 40–120 lb (18–54 kg)
Child must be at least 4 years old to use this seat in booster mode. CPSTs recommend boostering no earlier than age 5.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a model to test the 4Ever in high-back mode, but having worked with the Graco Nautilus, which is very similarly designed, I have no big concerns about this seat as a high-back booster.
In high-back booster mode, the highest height for the shoulder belt guide is 19″ (48 cm), and it is just ever-so-slightly too low for my 8-year-old son. The belt guide needs to be even with or just above the shoulders, and it is just a touch below his shoulders now. He’s 52.5″ tall (133 cm) and his current booster seat has a 19.5″ (50 cm) shoulder guide height, and he won’t fit it much longer either. My son is taller than average, so many kids would be able to use this seat in high-back mode for much longer.
At age 8, I’m not concerned about him riding in a backless booster, but he prefers a back on as he finds it more comfortable. The main plus of keeping the back on the booster is that it helps kids sit up straight, even when napping, which keeps their seat belt properly positioned.
When used as a backless booster, the seat belt fit for my son is great without using the included belt positioning clip. (Remember to put this piece in a safe place when you unbox your 4Ever: if you’ve bought it for your 1-year-old, you won’t be needing the clip for a while!)
Turning the 4Ever into a high-back booster takes no time at all. In fact, if you have it installed forward-facing using the UAS for your usual passenger, you could turn it into a booster quickly to accommodate an unexpected booster-passenger without having to uninstall it.
When you pull open the seat cover, you’ll see a little compartment you can store the harness in, as well as a spot to place the crotch buckle. Many seats on the market require you to completely remove the harness and crotch buckle for high-back booster mode, which is a total pain. To use the 4Ever as a backless booster you do have to remove the harness completely, but there isn’t really a way around that.
In high-back booster mode you can use the lower anchors (in the forward-facing belt path) to secure the 4Ever to the vehicle. Remember that this is not a requirement and only serves to hold the seat in place when the child is climbing in and out, and so it doesn’t become a projectile when unoccupied. The adult seat belt is what does the job of restraining the child in a booster seat.
When used as a booster, ensure the seat is on recline 6.
To use as a backless booster, completely remove the seatback and harness from the seat, which again is really quite quick. Because the UAS strap is part of the backrest, you cannot attach the 4Ever using the lower anchors when used in backless mode. (Remember to buckle the booster back up when it is unoccupied so it doesn’t become a projectile.) Place the booster on the vehicle seat and ensure that the vehicle headrest supports your child’s head up to the top of their ears. (Never use a backless booster in a position without head support.)
The 4Ever is a lot wider and taller than my son’s regular, dedicated booster seat. This makes it difficult for him to buckle himself. I find the buckle in the third row of our Odyssey often gets stuck under the seat, and I’ve got to reach in to pull it back out so we can buckle him.
My son had no complaints about using the 4Ever as a booster. For everyday use, I definitely prefer him in a narrower, lower profile booster. If we needed to, however, I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t continue to use the 4Ever as a backless booster until he passes the 5-step test and fits the adult seat belt properly.
The 4Ever could be the only seat you buy for a child about to be born, but it is not likely to be. If your newborn is big enough to get a good fit in the 4Ever, it’s likely that ten years down the road, once the seat has expired, that same child will still need a simple booster seat to make it all the way to the end of their car seat journey (when they’re tall enough to pass the 5-step test).
Based on the considerations I listed at the beginning of this post, some families may opt to start their car seat journey with an infant seat and then use the 4Ever all the way to booster, and that works too. Still others may be handing the 4Ever down to a younger sibling as a rear-facing seat while the older child moves on to a booster or combination seat.
That the 4Ever may not actually be the only seat a family buys is by no means a deal-breaker for me. I am not convinced that any seat on the market is truly the only seat one child will ever use, and I honestly don’t think that matters. The most important thing for me is that a seat can be safely used by the majority of children in all of the modes it is designed for and is not outgrown before the majority of children will be ready for the next mode.
The 4Ever can
- accommodate a full-term newborn in many cases: I haven’t tested it myself but have seen from CPST colleagues that there are babies who fit very well and also families who need a lot of support from a CPST to get the right adjustment for their newborn as well as babies who needed an infant seat instead for the first few months. (This is not unique by any means to the 4Ever.)
- keep most children rear-facing until they are 4.
- keep most children harnessed in forward-facing mode until they are both heavy enough and mature enough for booster mode.
- keep most children in a high-back booster until they’re 8–10 years old.
- serve as a backless booster for children until they pass the 5-step test (assuming the seat doesn’t expire before then).
In short, the 4Ever can and does do what it says it can do, and it does it well. Its user-friendly installation and the possibility of a very compact installation make it a seat that works well in a wide variety of vehicles.
I think the 4Ever works best in its “convertible” mode, used as the seat after the infant seat. While it absolutely can and will be suitable for many newborns, I am always nervous about recommending any non-infant seat from birth because of the unpredictability of fit. As a booster, it is fully functional and will easily get most kids to the point when they can move to just the booster with an adult seat belt, but I think that most parents and kids will prefer, by that age or stage, a slimmer, less bulky dedicated booster. (I certainly do.)
Both my toddler twins and my kindergartener fit well in this seat rear-facing. I was impressed that my daughter, so close to the height and weight maximums, still fit very well in the seat. My 8-year-old had a great seat belt fit in backless booster mode.
If I could make one ever-so-slight improvement to the seat design, I would want an angle-indicator bubble on both sides of the seat. When I install the seat on the driver’s side, I have to go around to the other side to check the angle. This is by no means a deal-breaker, but it would be an added convenience for sure!
I also want to acknowledge again that I think it is truly great that Graco made a design change (which is not a simple thing to do for a car seat that needs to go through many stages of safety testing) to respond to consumer concerns with regard to the headrest. And I also want to reiterate that 4Evers with the previous headrest are still safe to use!
For my kids, the 4Ever was a great fit in all modes except high-back booster, simply because I don’t have a kid who is in the right size range for it. A year earlier and I don’t doubt my son would’ve fit just fine.
While I would not personally choose to use the 4Ever as the ONLY seat for a baby on the way, it’s definitely a seat that gets my CPST thumbs-up for most kids and most vehicles!
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For more information on the 4Ever, check out my colleagues’ reviews: