2016 Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Review: ERF to 50 Pounds!

A few months ago I wrote about how Graco was planning on becoming the fourth manufacturer to bring a 50-pound capable convertible car seat to the US market with the Extend2Fit. Well, it’s finally here! Designed to compete with the Clek Fllo, Clek Foonf, Diono Rainier, Diono Pacifica, and Safety 1st Advance EX 65 Air+, the Extend2Fit is one of only six convertible car seats currently available in the US with the ability to keep a child rear-facing until 50 pounds, and it’s cheaper than five of them (though it’s also wider than 4 of them).

There are a lot of great convertible car seats available at the $200 price point in the US, including many by Graco that I’ve reviewed in the past, including the Size4Me, Fit4Me, Contender, and Head Wise. Each of those seats allows rear-facing until 40 pounds, which will get many kids to age 4 before they need to be turned around.

Considering the fact that most parents turn kids forward-facing far too early between ages 1 and 2, these seats are already a great step forward for many parents. However, there are parents interested in rear-facing as long as absolutely possible, and those are parents I typically steer toward seats like the Fllo, Foonf, Rainier, and Pacifica. That said, those seats are also on the more expensive end and out of budget for many parents. The EX 65 Air+ is cheaper, but it’s also a huge seat (it’s nearly two feet wide!), which makes it nearly impossible to use in 3 across setups, never mind in small vehicles with a premium on front-to-back space, as I showed in my rear-facing leg room comparison. This is where the Extend2Fit comes in.

Imagine a seat that allowed you to rear-face your kids until they hit 50 pounds (or in other words, until 5 for most children). Imagine that same seat cost under $200. And finally, imagine that seat being narrow enough to actually use in a range of 3 across setups. If this all sounds too good to be true, you owe it to yourself to consider the Extend2Fit. I picked mine up on Amazon with free shipping, and after a brief wait (a lot of folks are understandably interested in this seat), it was in my hands to try. Suffice it to say that it’s a good car seat that many parents would do well to consider. Let’s look at it in a bit (okay, a lot) more detail!

extend2fit - 12016 Graco Extend2Fit – What’s the big deal?

The Graco Extend2Fit is the latest in a long line of rather capable convertible car seats by Graco. I’ve had the chance to review a number of their seats over the years, and the Extend2Fit fits right in with the majority of them, with the major standouts being its extended rear-facing weight limit (all previous Graco convertibles topped out at 40 pounds) and complete lack of height limits for rear-facing, which is a very good thing for accommodating taller children.

More broadly, if you’re interested in the Graco Extend2Fit, you’re looking at a convertible car seat that’ll let you rear-face as long as any other car seat in the United States by weight (up to 50 pounds) while only being limited by the height of the seat’s shell. This means that most children who use the Extend2Fit will be able to use it to rear-face until the tops of their heads are within 1″ of the shell. The shell itself is a whopping 30″ tall when you fully extend the head rest, which means most kids are going to be able to reach the 50 pound weight limit before outgrowing the seat. In other words, you’ll be able to rear-face at least until 4, and probably beyond 5!

There are a range of harness strap height options available with the Extend2Fit, which works well with its 4 pound starting weight limit. In other words, you’ll be able to buy the Extend2Fit online from, say, Amazon, install it in a few minutes in your primary vehicle (or like I do, buy one for each family vehicle so we don’t have to do the car seat dance), and use it to bring your baby home from the hospital (or birthing clinic). And because the Extend2Fit features a 10 year lifespan, you’ll get to use it with multiple kids if you’d like to, or at least take full advantage of the 50 pound rear-facing limit and 65 pound forward-facing weight limit. If this sounds like a great seat to you, you’re not alone. It’s officially my default convertible recommendation for families on a $200 budget who don’t need super narrow seats for 3 across.

2016 Graco Extend2Fit Limits for Weight and Height

extend2fit - 8Rear-facing: 4 to 50 pounds. You’ll want to rear-face as close to that 50 pound limit as you can before you turn your child forward-facing, as the rear-facing configuration is the safest position for a child in a moving vehicle. There is a 1″ rule that states that your child’s head needs to stay below 1″ of the head rest when the head rest is extended to its maximum position. Because the shell height is an amazing 30″ tall when it’s fully extended, most children out there will be able to reach 50 pounds in weight before outgrowing the seat rear-facing by height. This is reason enough to buy this seat.

Forward-facing: 20 to 65 pounds. There is a 49″ height limit when children are forward-facing. While Graco allows you to forward-face your children from a minimum age of 1, I recommend as a reader of The Car Crash Detective that you aim to delay forward-facing for as long as you can in this, or in any other seat, and then continue to forward-face for as long as necessary before switching to a booster seat. There’s no need to rush forward-facing, especially in a seat that actually allows you to get several years out of it in the rear-facing configuration.

Buy the Graco Extend2Fit on Sale at Amazon here.

Dimensions and Key Stats of the Graco Extend2Fit

The Extend2Fit’s shell is just about 20″ wide at the widest points (from one cupholder to the next), while the seat itself is close to 24″ in height and 22″ long. The seat can be used for 10 years from the date of manufacture, and the harness height ranges from 7″ at the lower end with the included infant insert to 18″ at the top. You can choose from 10 head rest positions and a no-rethread harness is included.  You can choose from 2 crotch buckle settings, with one 4.5″ from the back of the seat and the other 6″ from the seat back. The Extend2Fit weights just under 19 pounds, and there are 6 recline positions (3 exclusively rear-facing, 2 exclusively forward-facing, and 1 that can be used both rear-facing and forward-facing) available.

Because it’s just under 20″ wide, you won’t be able to fit it in small, medium, or even certain large cars, SUVs, and minivans, when it comes to 3 across installations, unless you use particular car seat combinations. If you want 50 pound convertibles that will fit 3 across with themselves in any vehicle, your only options remain the Fllo and the Foonf.

Check out the 3 across car seat guide for more ideas about seats that are likely to fit in your vehicle. There is a lower LATCH anchor weight limit of 45 pounds. I recommend using your seat belts for installations to maximize your space. Remember that seat belts are as safe as LATCH, and offer a number of advantages compared to the LATCH system for multiple car seat setups.

Using the Graco Extend2Fit

The Graco Extend2Fit Compared to the Size4Me, Fit4Me, Head Wise, My Size, and Contender: Similarities and Differences

Out of the box, the Graco Extend2Fit resembles the five or more Graco clones it’s derived from; it has the classic convertible shape with swirls, curves, and attractive color prints. The recline indicators and additional labels are in the expected places, and the infant pad, head pad, LATCH connectors, and no-rethread harness will all look familiar to parents who have owned prior Graco convertibles. The most significant difference, visually, is the slighter greater width. This is due to the inclusion of a pair of cupholders, which brings to mind Graco’s recent all in one seat the 4Ever. The most significant internal difference, of course, is the 50 pound rear-facing weight limit.

Installing the Graco Extend2Fit

Installation of the Extextend2fit - 5end2Fit is straightforward; you can choose between seat belts and LATCH lower anchors when rear-facing or when forward-facing, and both setups are easy. I typically recommend seat belt installations over LATCH installations since they take up less space whether rear- or forward-facing and since it means you won’t need to worry about exceeding LATCH weight limits (which are 45 pounds in the Extend2Fit).

extend2fit - 3The LATCH lower anchor weight limit means that if you do plan on rear-facing until your child reaches 50 pounds, which I’d recommend if your child hasn’t outgrown the seat while rear-facing by height, then you’ll need to switch from LATCH to a seat belt installation during the interval when your child weighs between 45 and 50 pounds. If you simply start out with a seat belt installation, you won’t need to worry about this throughout your rear-facing span. The same issue will apply while forward-facing if you start doing so before your child weighs 45 pounds and wish to use the Extend2Fit until you max out its 65 pound forward-facing weight limit.

Switching from LATCH to seat belts when the time comes isn’t a big deal, but if you’re like me and don’t frequently weigh your children, it’s easy to forget the LATCH weight limit. If you use the seat belt, you’ll have one less thing you’ll need to remember. Of course, you’ll still need to remember to turn the seat forward at the 50 pound mark and stop using the seat with a forward-facing child once s/he reaches 65 pounds, regardless of which restraint method you use.

If you’re interested in installing through LATCH, you won’t have any issues; The LATCH connectors are the basic push-on type. The directions and guides for which anchors to use are clearly marked on the sides of the seat. The markings are also clear for the belt path to use when using a seat belt installation. I did find the belt path a bit narrow when rear-facing, which just meant I needed to pay a bit more attention to thread the seat belt through the path for the installation.

There are a total of 6 recline positions to choose from with the Extend2Fit. Three of them are designed to be used exclusively while rear-facing, one can be used while rear- or forward-facing, and the remaining two are exclusively for forward-facing. All are clearly marked on the side of the seat, along with a wealth of other instructions. Older versions of the seat will only show two positions for forward-facing and three for rear-facing.

Remember that when you’re forward-facing, you’ll always want to tether your Extend2Fit or any other forward-facing car seat. This is required in Canada and is optional in the US, but it’s definitely best practice.

The Extend2Fit gets its name from an extension panel included in front of the base of the seat that can extend forward by up to 5 inches, providing kids with a significant boost in leg room while rear-facing. It can be set in four positions, with the fourth position being the most extended. In the manual, Graco tells you to keep the extender in positions 2-4 if your child weighs more than 40 pounds; this doesn’t actually seem to be necessary, from conversations with Graco. If you’re worried about going against the manual, just keep the extender in position 2; it barely protrudes.

Child Fit in the Graco Extend2Fit

extend2fit - 6I tried the Extend2Fit with my kids, test dolls, and available neighbor children, and am happy to report that, like the other Graco convertibles from which it’s descended, the Extend2Fit is designed to work well with kids throughout most of its weight and height limits. The primary issue I found with it was the lower four pound weight limit.

Although Graco rates the Extend2Fit as a 4-50 pound rear-facing seat, I had trouble getting a safe fit with my 4 pound test doll. The weight wasn’t the issue; it was the height. The included infant insert works finely for typically-sized newborns, but the harness straps were still too high at the lowest 7″ setting and the crotch strap was too far away from the doll. Depending on growth rates, a preemie would probably need a month or two in a dedicated infant seat (e.g., the KeyFit 30, my favorite all around infant seat) before s/he could fit in the Extend2Fit safely.

Beyond the preemie stage, however, normally-sized newborns are likely to fit very well, as long as you use the included infant insert. Remember that the harness straps are supposed to be at or below the shoulders when a child is rear-facing and above the shoulders when forward-facing. The harness straps also need to be tightened sufficiently to the point where you wouldn’t be able to pinch the webbing between your fingers at the shoulder. You can read about these and other common car seat installation errors here.

extend2fit - 4Beyond infancy, you’re going to be able to rear-face most children until 5 or even beyond in this seat before needing to turn them forward-facing. The fact that there isn’t a specific height limit while rear-facing is great, even though parents will typically go by the 1″ rule anyway (at least 1″ of shell above the head of the child) when determining if a child can still fit in a seat by height while rear-facing. I’d estimate the actual rear-facing height limit to be around 52″, which is significantly beyond any other seat I’m aware of on the market.

There are a couple of oddities related to the Extend2Fit due to its design. One is that you could potentially run out of height room forward-facing with a tall and light child before running out of room rear-facing. This is because of the aforementioned lack of a height limit rear-facing combined with a 49″ height limit while forward-facing. Given the benefits of rear-facing vs forward-facing, however, this isn’t really a disadvantage, but rather another reason to keep rear-facing.

Secondly, depending on the dimensions of your child and when you decide to switch from forward-facing to boostering, you could conceivably use the Extend2Fit to  keep him or her rear-facing completely until switching to a booster seat. Growth charts show that a 50th percentile boy or girl won’t weigh 50 pounds until turning 7, which means rear-facing from birth until 7 (or longer, with smaller children) is possible. However, I generally recommend holding off on booster seats until kids are about 8, and there are very few 8 year olds who’d meet the height and weight restrictions necessary to keep rear-facing in the Extend2Fit, or any car seat on the market anywhere in the world.

As a result, I’d recommend just rear-facing as long as the seat (not your child) will let you, forward-facing as long as the seat will let you, and then switching to a dedicated forward-facing or combination forward/booster seat (e.g., the Frontier G1.1) until your child is physically and psychologically ready to use a booster seat.

I often recommend parents even skip the forward-facing part of most convertibles and just switch to a long-lasting combination seat once they’re no longer rear-facing. The advantage of buying a good combination seat is that you’ll be able to use it as a forward-facing seat at first and then as a booster seat later until your child no longer needs any kind of car seat at all and is ready for the adult seat and seat belt. This, of course, is when s/he passes the five step test.

Additional Bonuses of the Extend2Fit

Because the Graco Extend2Fit is essentially an upgraded version of the Head Wise, Size4Me, My Size, and Contender, it has the same levels of flight-friendliness. In other words, it installs easily on airplanes and has FAA approval. The sticker’s in an awkward place, however, within the back of the seat shell. This means you’ll have a tough time showing it to the feds if you have a flight attendant, TSA agent, or anyone else along the way who questions you. Because of the dimensions, you’ll be able to rear-face in just about any airplane seat without issue, and you shouldn’t have much trouble forward-facing either. Of course, your mileage will vary with your airline and the kind of seat you buy.

Buy the Graco Extend2Fit on Sale at Amazon here.

Why Buy the Graco Extend2Fit?

At this point, we’ve discussed lots of neat features in the Extend2Fit, but in the end, it all comes down to one question before you buy it–what makes it worth the money? Personally, I say the Graco Extend2Fit is worth the money because it lets you rear-face to 50 pounds by weight and gives you the room in height to actually reach 50 pounds. First of all, the vast majority of kids in the US are turned forward-facing much too early. Part of this is because parents don’t know better, but part of it is simply because many seats run out of height room too quickly. It’s a rare child in the US who makes it to 4 rear-facing, even though that’s the standard in Sweden, and it’s also become the standard in Norway, where they now lose virtually zero children to car crashes every year.

Because there’s a generous amount of headroom in the Extend2Fit, the likelihood of ,most children reaching the 50 pound rear-facing limit is very high. And rear-facing is absolutely safer than forward-facing, which is why the Swedes (and now Norwegians), who have the best child safety record in the world, don’t forward-face their kids until they turn 4. Let’s learn from the folks who use best practices. Don’t fall into the trap of forward-facing your children between 1 and 2, the way the vast majority of parents in the United States currently do. Those extra years rear-facing are worth it, and it’s worth investing in a seat that makes that possible.

Keep in mind that the Extend2Fit is not the narrowest 50-pound car seat on the market, or even close to it. At 17″ across, the reigning kings of extended rear-facing in tight 3 across situations are the Fllo and the Foonf. The Rainier and Pacifica are each around 18-19″ wide, which makes them a no-go for 3 across setups in small vehicles but gives them a chance in some mid-sized vehicles. The Extend2Fit at 20″ will not reliably fit 3 across with itself in anything smaller than a minivan, large SUV, or large pickup truck, although you might be able to squeeze 3 of them into certain mid-sized vehicles. However, it’s still narrower than the Advance EX Air+, which won’t fit 3 across with itself in anything but monster trucks.

This is the largest flaw of the Extend2Fit, and why I’ll continue to recommend the Cleks and Dionos before it for parents with multiple children or smaller vehicles. However, if you have the space, have two or fewer children, or are on a tighter budget, but don’t want to compromise on rear-facing advantages, the Extend2Fit will compete with the best seats in the US market. This is huge.

Overall, the Graco Extend2Fit is a quality, well-thought out seat that offers parents the opportunity to practice extended rear-facing as much as feasibly possible in the US without breaking the bank. It’s relatively light, affordable, parctical, and offers you the ability to keep your children safe for several years on a shoestring budget. You can buy the Graco Extend2Fit in Gotham, Kenzie, or Spire here.

Unfortunately, it’s not yet available in Canada, but Canadians can buy two similar seats, the Diono Rainier (here) and Diono Pacifica (here).

If you find the information on car safety, recommended car seats, and car seat reviews on this car seat blog helpful, you can bookmark and shop through this Amazon link. Canadians can bookmark and shop through this link.

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