Graco Contender 65 Review – Budget Convertible Car Seat with Practical Features

Graco Contender 65 Convertible Car Seat

Graco Contender 65

Overall Rating
Face Rear & Front

The Graco Contender 65 lets safety guide the ride with a convertible car seat that is reliable, comfortable, and a great convenience to use. The Contender 65 nails its assignment as a budget car seat by delivering on every plane that we’d expect from a $169.99 purchase.  Combining a compact design with a relatively acceptable 65 lbs/49″ size limit, 8-position headrest adjustment, and 7 years of lifespan, the Contender 65 lets practicality reign supreme. But most importantly, this car seat sports the manufacturer’s unique ProtectPlus technology that is usually found in Graco car seats with a much higher price tag. The ProtectPlus engineering technique tests the car seat more religiously than the average federal safety standards, creating a car seat that is protective and cost-effective. Overall, its performance, portability, ease to use, and value for money aid its status as one of our favorite budget buys.

*Price may change due to e-commerce platform and brand sales promotion.

Graco Contender 65 Review - Budget Car Seat with Practical Features

Pros & Cons

The good and the bad

What is it best for

Who we recommend it for

Value for Money

Is it worth the price tag?


Dimensions, weight, color, etc

Safety Rating

Crash tests, FMVSS213, SIP


Weight/height limits, airplane, etc


Install with LATCH or seat belt


Other car seats to consider

1. Pros and Cons



2. Who Is It Best For?

Will the Graco Contender 65 Be a Good Fit For Your Child and Family?

The title of this car seat might suggest it’s crafted for tackling the longest riding, but in reality, the Graco Contender is suited for the rear-facing and forward-facing stages only, not supporting the booster mode. 

Its average 65 lbs/ 49″ size limit lasts good years to ride your kid from infancy to toddlerhood. That’s one of the key features of the Graco Contender 65. It’s a convertible car seat that can be used in both rear-facing and forward-facing positions. This means that the seat can be adjusted to fit the needs of your child as they grow, providing a long-lasting and cost-effective solution for parents.

The other specs on offer are finely tuned for families who have a limited budget but want to make full use of a car seat to deliver safety and comfort for a child while providing parents with convenience. Plus, portability plays a big role in the Contender 65’s lure as it has a compact and lightweight body. It’s a pity that the 20.25-inch width is not as narrow as its siblings Slim and Go.

What’s more, the Graco Contender 65 is the lightest of its siblings and weighs in at a mere 15.2 lbs (vs 16 lbs of Slim and Go). That’s slightly heavier than the best recommendations for our lightweight convertible car seats. Combined with a short depth and funnel-shaped design, the Contender 65 is relatively easy to switch between different cars.

If you are searching for a budget car seat that combines good safety and comfort features with practicality, you can’t get much better than the Contender 65 (and its cheaper siblings).

3. Value for Money

Is the price tag worth it?

One of the Contender 65’s key selling points is its compact design which takes a bit less space than the bulky body that can be found on its competitors. With most convertible car seats opting for a heavier build to perform as it’s protective, the Contender 65 still has a competitive price tag with safety and practicality that can’t be matched.

Design aside, the car seat hits every other mark that you expect from its class. With a solid build that promotes long-lasting, safety, and comfort, the Contender 65 offers low risk for a low price.

If we consider all of the sub $180 scooters that we’ve tested, the Contender 65 stands out as one of the best. It outperforms the other models where practicality (like the ease of installation) is concerned. Plus, no other car seats come close to the Graco’s protecting techniques – it even beats models that are two times its price and boasts of top-of-the-line advanced safety features.

Overall, the Contender 65 has a well-rounded profile of performance and as a result, it delivers exceptional value for money.

4. Design

Dimensions and Width

The Graco Contender 65 convertible car seat has dimensions of 24.75 inches (height) x 20.75 inches (width) x 17.25 inches (depth). While it is not among the narrowest convertible car seats on the market, it is not excessively wide either. This is a comparably compact design to fit in most cars and is a good option for families who want a car seat that is not too bulky to fit into small cars.

But its size may still be a concern for some families. If you have a very small car or need to fit multiple car seats in your vehicle, you may want to consider other options that are specifically designed for fitting three across.

However, for most families, the Contender 65 is a good choice as it offers a balance between size and functionality. It is not too narrow that it compromises your child’s safety and comfort, but it is also not so wide that it takes up too much space in your vehicle.

It is important to measure your car’s interior dimensions and compare them to the car seat’s dimensions to ensure that it will fit properly and securely.


Weighing around 15.2 pounds, the Graco Contender 65 is lighter compared to some other convertible car seats on the market. However, it’s still a bit heavier than our best options of lightweight convertible car seats – all are under 15 pounds. While it is not the lightest car seat, it is still portable enough for most parents to move between vehicles or to take with them on both road and air trips.

That being said, navigating through an airport with the Graco Contender 65 may be a bit challenging due to its weight and bulkiness. Car seats are typically checked in as baggage or carried onto the plane as an additional item, so if you plan to travel with this car seat, you may want to consider purchasing a travel bag to protect it during transport and make it easier to carry. Or choose someone from the portable car seats and foldable car seats.

Graco does offer a separate carrying bag for Contender 65, which can be purchased separately. This bag is designed to fit the car seat snugly and includes a shoulder strap for easier carrying.

Cup Holder - One

The Graco Contender 65 comes equipped with one built-in cup holder slot, on the right side of the car seat. That means it has at most one cup holder. Cup holders are a popular feature among car seats as they provide a convenient place for children to store drinks and snacks during car rides.

Having cup holders in a car seat can be particularly useful for families with young children who may need to have a drink or snack while on the go. Cup holders can also help to reduce spills and messes in the car by providing a secure place for drinks to be stored.

Compared to removable cup holders on its siblings, the built-in cup holder of Contender is much easier within reach, at just the right height for children to easily reach them. Made from a durable material that can withstand spills and messes, it can easily be removed for cleaning and are dishwasher safe for added convenience.

Headrest and Harness - 8 Positions

The Graco Contender 65 has 8 different positions for headrest adjustment. The headrest can be adjusted using a simple lever located at the top of the car seat.

To adjust the headrest, first, make sure that the car seat is properly installed in the vehicle and that the child is securely buckled into the seat.

Then, locate the lever at the top of the car seat, which is typically located behind the headrest. Pull the lever up to release the headrest and move it up or down to the desired position. Once the headrest is in the correct position, release the lever to lock it into place.

Also, the harness can be adjusted at the same time thanks to the no-rethread Simply Safe Adjust harness system.

Making sure the headrest and harness position is at the correct height is important for your kid’s safety and comfort. The headrest should be positioned so that the top of the child’s head is below the top of the car seat, and the harness straps should be adjusted to fit snugly over the child’s shoulders.

For example, in the rear-facing, the harness straps should be at or below the kid’s shoulders; while things changed in the forward-facing stage, the harness straps should be at or above the kid’s shoulders.

Reclines - 2 Positions

The Graco Contender 65 has two recline positions: one for rear-facing mode and one for forward-facing mode. The recline positions are designed to provide optimal comfort and safety for the child based on their age, weight, and height. It’s adjustable with a recline foot for rear-facing and forward-facing use.

For rear-facing mode, the car seat should be installed in the reclined position by flipping the recline foot under the seat to provide support for the child’s head and neck, as well as to help prevent their airway from being obstructed. The recline angle can be adjusted using a recline foot located at the front of the car seat.

For forward-facing mode, the car seat can be installed in either the upright or reclined position, depending on the child’s age, weight, and height. The recline angle can be adjusted using a recline foot or by adjusting the angle of the car seat using the vehicle seatbelt or LATCH system.

Heand and Body Support

Designed for newborns as light as 5 pounds, the Graco Contender 65 has a head and body support pillow for additional support and comfort for newborns and younger infants. The support pillow is removable and can be easily adjusted or removed as the child grows and their needs change.

The head and body support pillow is especially important for younger infants who may have less head and neck control and require additional support to maintain proper positioning in the car seat, especially for newborn babies who may not reach the lowest harness slot in the car seat.


The Graco Contender 65 features ample padding to provide max comfort for the child during car rides. The seat pad is made of plush, soft material that is gentle on the child’s skin and provides a cozy and comfortable seating surface.

The padding also helps absorb energy and reduce the impact of a crash, aiming to protect the child from injury. The car seat features a combination of high-density foam and other impact-absorbing materials that are strategically placed throughout the seat to provide maximum protection.

The padding and seat cover are made of machine-washable fabrics, making them easy to clean and maintain over time. This is especially important for parents who want to keep their child’s car seat clean and hygienic, as well as those who use the car seat frequently and want to ensure that it is always in good condition.

5. Safety Rating and Crash Tests

Is it safe to use Graco Contender 65 Car Seat?

The Graco Contender 65 is designed with safety as a top priority. It has been rigorously tested to meet or exceed safety standards set by the federal government and has passed both front and side-impact crash tests.

Whilst it meets or exceeds the very basic mandatory requirements in the US and Canada, the Contender performs further in crash tests for ensuring better protection. 

It’s engineered with the company’s unique ProtectPlus technique and has been rigorously tested for delivering protection in case of crashes from the front, rear, side, and even roll over. To ensure the car seats can last good years through various conditions, Graco has put the Contender 65 under extreme car interior temperature. That means no matter if you’re living in a hot or cold city, it performs as always. Plus, Contender 65 has undergone additional testing based on the New Car Assessment Program.

The car seat is made with high-quality materials that are designed to protect your child in the event of a crash. It features a steel-reinforced frame that provides extra strength and durability and a 5-point harness system that helps to secure your child in place and reduce the risk of injury.

In addition to its safety features, the Graco Contender 65 is also designed with comfort in mind. It features multiple recline positions that can be adjusted to suit your child’s needs, as well as a removable headrest and body support that can be used to provide additional cushioning and support for younger children.

The car seat is also made with easy-to-clean materials that can be wiped down with a damp cloth or machine washed for added convenience.

Side Impact Protection

The Graco Contender 65 convertible car seat features side-impact protection designed to keep your child safe in the event of a crash. The manufacturer does not make it clear how many layers of SIP the Contender 65 has. Supposedly, this car seat comes equipped with at least a layer of energy-absorbing foam that helps to cushion your child’s head and body in the event of a side-impact collision.

More than that, it also features a reinforced steel frame that provides extra strength and durability and helps to protect your child in the event of a crash from any direction. The frame is designed to absorb and distribute the force of impact, helping to minimize the risk of injury.

To further enhance its side-impact protection, the Graco Contender 65 also features a removable headrest that provides additional cushioning and support for your child’s head and neck. The headrest is good to help keep your child’s head in place during a crash, reducing rotation and the risk of head or neck injuries.

6. Performance

Weight and Height Limits

Positioned as a convertible car seat, the Graco Contender 65 is capable of accommodating children from infancy to toddlerhood between 5 and 65 pounds within the top height limit of up to 49 inches. That’s the overall size for both the rear-facing harness and the forward-facing harness, dividing it:

Rear-facing harness: 5-40 lbs /49″. The combination of the 40 lbs height limit and 49 inches height limit makes the Contender 65 a good car seat for extended rear-facing. In this condition, your kid probably touches the weight limit first before reaching the height limit.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children remain in a rear-facing car seat until at least 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer. The rear-facing position is the safest position for newborns and smaller infants. 

Forward-facing harness: 22-65 lbs/ 49″. This is the average and standard weight and height limit. You may have found that the 49-inch height limit for forward-facing is the same as the rear-facing. That’s very common in convertible car seats

Once your child has outgrown the rear-facing position, typically around 2 years of age or when they reach the weight or height limit for rear-facing, they can use the car seat in the forward-facing position until they approach the weight or height limits. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children remain in a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

Stage / Modes

The Graco Contender 65 supports two car seat stages: rear-facing, and forward-facing.

In the rear-facing, the car seat is designed to accommodate newborns and younger toddlers weighing between 5 and 40 pounds and measuring up to 49 inches in height.

Once your child has outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit, for this case, it’s probably that the weight would be the first factor to be outgrown, they can use the car seat in the forward-facing position for children weighing between 22 and 65 pounds and measuring 49 inches tall.

Convertible car seats, like the Graco Contender 65, are designed to provide a safe and convenient solution for parents who want a car seat that can grow with their children. 

However, the forward-facing is not the last car seat stage. So the Graco Contender 65 is not the last car seat, even though it’s a good investment. You may need to purchase a booster seat. Luckily, they’re generally cheap compared to convertible and infant car seats

Age Range

The age limit for each stage of the Graco Contender 65 convertible car seat can vary based on the child’s size and development, as well as the car seat weight and height limits. The general guidelines for each stage are:

Rear-facing stage: Infants and young children can use the car seat in the rear-facing position from birth until they reach the weight or height limit recommended by the car seat manufacturer. This typically occurs around 2 years of age or when the child weighs between 30 and 40 pounds.

Forward-facing stage: Once your child has outgrown the rear-facing position, they can use the car seat in the forward-facing position until they reach the weight or height limits recommended by the manufacturer. This typically occurs when the child reaches around 4 years of age or weighs between 40 and 65 pounds.

It is important to note that parents should always follow the car seat manufacturer’s guidelines for height and weight limits as well as other safety recommendations for safe installation and use. Additionally, parents should ensure that the car seat is properly installed and that the harness is snug and secure against the child’s body.


Is Graco Contender 65 FAA approved for use on a plane?

According to Graco, the Contender 65 is certified for use in aircraft in both the rear-facing and forward-facing positions. The car seat has been tested to meet or exceed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards for airplane use, and it features a lightweight design that makes it easy to transport.

However, it is important to note that while the Contender 65 may be FAA approved, it is still up to individual airlines to determine whether they allow the use of car seats on their planes. Therefore, it is recommended that parents check with their airline in advance to confirm their guidelines and requirements for using a car seat on board.


How long is the Graco Contender 65 car seat good for

Like all car seats, the Graco Contender 65 has an expiration date. The expiration date is typically listed on a sticker or label on the car seat itself and can vary depending on the model and manufacturing date.

For Contender 65, the expiration date can be found on the bottom of the seat or on a white label on the back of the seat. The expiration date is typically around 7 years from the date of manufacture.

It is important to note that car seats can degrade over time due to exposure to sunlight, heat, and other environmental factors, which can compromise their safety and effectiveness in the event of a crash.

So you should know the expiration date and remember it first before installing it in the seat spot. The expiration date of Graco car seats is not directly imprinted on the sticker, but only the date of manufacture will be found on that. You can easily get this with a simple calculation:

Expiration date = the date of manufacturer + lifespan. 

It is also important for parents to check the expiration date of their car seat and to replace it if it has expired or if it has been involved in a moderate to severe crash, as the car seat may no longer be able to provide adequate protection in the event of another crash.


In the user manual, Graco says that the Contender 65 convertible car seat comes with a limited one-year warranty from the date of purchase

However, the warranty does not cover damage caused by misuse, abuse, or neglect of the car seat, nor does it cover normal wear and tear or damage caused by accidents or improper installation.

It’s better for you to register the warranty first and provide necessary purchase proof to the manufacturer to claim the warranty in case.

7. Graco Contender 65 Installation

Before starting to install the car seat, you may where to put it. The center of the back seat is probably the safest position to install a car seat.

If possible, install the car seat on that spot. If that seat is not applicable for a proper installation, for example lacking a shoulder belt, either seat on the side would be safe. You may choose any of them based on your family’s and kid’s needs.

Graco Contender 65 Rear-facing Installation

Install Graco Contender 65 Using LATCH

Install Using Lap/Shoulder Belt

Graco Contender 65 Forward-facing installation

Install Graco Contender 65 Forward-facing with LATCH

Install Graco Contender 65 Using Lap/Shoulder Belt

Maintain the Diono Radian car seats are the same. And you can follow the instructions in Radian 3RXT manual for detailed steps. Here are some tips for your reference.

Graco Contender 65 Car Seat Manual

You should always read the user manual before starting to install and use it for riding your child. 

The Graco Contender 65 manual is stored in a small storage slot on the back of the car seat, near the bottom part, but you can always find the online user manual on its official website, or download the PDF here.

8. Specification and Comparison

Suitable forNewborns, toddlers, and preschoolers
PositionsRear-facing and forward-facing
Portability (1-10)8. Lightweight and compact
Weight (pounds)15.2
Weight limits (lb.)5-40 for rear-facing, 20-65 for forward-facing
Height limit (inch)49” for RF&FF
Dimension20.25″W x 17.25″D x24.75″H
Cup holderOne
Age RangeBirth-4~5 years old
Stage1st, 2nd
InstallationLATCH and seat belt
Headrest Positions8
Lifespan7 Years
Extra Features

Graco Contender 65 vs Admiral 65 vs Go vs Slim

Car Seats Comparison Contender 65 Contender Go Contender Slim Admiral 65
Price $169.99 $149.99 $159.99 $169.99
Weight limit (lb) RF:5-40 / FF: 22-66 RF:5-40 / FF: 22-65 RF:4-40 / FF: 22-65 RF:4-40 / FF: 22-65
Height limit (in) RF:49"* / FF: 49" RF:49"* / FF: 49" RF:49"* / FF: 49 RF:49"* / FF: 49
Headrest Adjustable Positions 8 8 8 8
Reclines 2 2 2 2
Cup Holder One Removable Two Removable One One
No-rethread harness system

*About the height limit for rear-facing: The top of the head must be 1” (2.5 cm) below the headrest adjustment lever.

9. Alternatives

What other convertible car seats should you consider?

Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat

Graco Extend2Fit

Why is it better than the Graco Contender 65?
Why is it worse than the Graco Contender 65?
Safety 1st Jive Convertible Car Seat

Safety 1st Jive

Why is it better than the Graco Contender 65?
Why is it worse than the Graco Contender 65?