I had an interesting experience recently and I just have to share. I had a (non-CPS) meeting to go to and I was carpooling with a friend and her friend. The other friend (someone I don’t know) offered to pick me up from a prearranged location about 20 minutes from my house and drive me the rest of the way in her new T&C minivan. As soon as I climbed into the empty captain’s chair in the middle row, I noticed an older-looking Britax Marathon installed forward-facing on the other captain’s chair. It was a longish drive to our meeting so I had a lot of time to stare at the seat. I could see that it was attached to the lower LATCH anchors but it wasn’t tethered. It didn’t look like it was installed tightly either. I bit my tongue for the moment and decided that I would show her how to fix it before we parted ways. When she dropped me off after the meeting I said “give me a minute to show you how to properly install your carseat”. That’s when the fun began….
I unhooked the lower anchor LATCH connectors and the first thing I noticed was that they were still set for rear-facing and needed to be switched. Okay, no biggie. I explain the problem and proceed to show her how to switch them. I lift up the front of the cover to expose the black bar and what do I see? Well, it’s more like what I don’t see. The lower EPS foam blocks are missing. Ooookay, so I proceed to tell her that she needs to order replacements from Britax and how to do that. We go back to switching the LATCH connectors. As I turn the seat to the side to show her how to open the rear-facing lockoff and route the LATCH connector up towards the front of the seat, guess what I notice?
I see the exposed metal anchor at the end of the lap strap. If you’re not familiar with this issue, take a look at this blog post here and you’ll understand that you should not be able to see this particular part.
Now, when you see this misuse with any Britax convertible you know that the parent/caregiver has removed the harness straps. There are only 2 likely reasons for this. One is that they ordered a new harness and didn’t put it on properly. Or the other, more common explanation, is that they took the harness off to wash it and they didn’t put it back on again the right way. Seeing this misuse should always prompt you to ask if the harness has been washed. In this case, the answer was yes.
Of course, the follow-up question should always be - how did you wash it? If they tell me that they personally hand washed it in the sink with some mild dish soap and then towel-dried them and hung them up to air dry – then I’m not going to be concerned about it. If, on the other hand, they put the harness straps in the washing machine then tossed them in the dryer - then they really need to be replaced right away. Of course, since this was clearly Murphy’s MA, you already know the answer to this question. So, I show her how the lap strap anchors need to be doubled-back inside the shell and tell her to order a new harness along with those blocks of EPS foam as soon as she gets home. We move on…
After correcting the misrouted harness, I proceed to show her how the velcro on the harness will now line up correctly with the velcro on the cover. Except that this is Murphy’s MA – remember? Wanna guess why it didn’t?
10 points if you said “because the lap straps have been routed incorrectly through the side slits in the cover”. You know how there are 2 sets of slits – one small and one large. The small ones in the back are meant for the lap straps. The larger slits are meant for the seatbelt if you chose to route your seatbelt over the cover when installing the seat rear-facing. Honestly, I wish Britax would just get rid of those larger slits in the cover. Really, how many consumers prefer to route the seatbelt over the cover when installing the seat rear-facing and how many actually care if they have that option or not? To help me get a handle on this, please vote in my poll here. If they get rid of that larger slit, it will just be one less mistake that could be made. And remember, a really good carseat is one that is both easy to use properly and hard to screw up!
At this point, I’m not sure if she’s annoyed with how long this is taking or grateful for my unsolicited “help” but I proceed to route the harness correctly through the smaller slit in the cover so she can see how it’s done when she gets her new harness. Then I check and double-check everything else I can think of and briefly glance at the sticker on the side of the shell as I point out its location and the information on it (DOM 2004). I ask about her child’s weight, inform her of the LATCH limits on her vehicle and instruct her on the proper installation of her seat using lower anchors and tether. The whole time I’m wishing that I had my carseat check resource materials with me (documentation forms, recall lists, LATCH Manual, etc.) but I don’t so I’m trying to make the best of it. We finally say goodbye and I get into my car to finish driving home.
As I drive home, I replay all of this is my head and I just can’t get over how many errors there were with this one seat. All the mistakes/misuses that I found were pretty common but I’m just not used to seeing them all at the same time. I try to think about anything that I could possibly have missed (because, after all, this was clearly Murphy’s MA) and then I remember the DOM sticker. It was a 2004 date. Hmmm… now I’m kicking myself for not noticing the month. When I get home I pull out my recall list and look up the MA. The adjuster strap recall ended on 7/23/2004.
I email my friend (who witnessed everything we went through with that seat) and tell her to get in touch with her friend and have her check the date to see if it’s recalled or not. I never heard back as to whether it was or not. Hmmm… what are the chances that it was recalled and the recall issue was never fixed?