True Fit I-AlertA couple of years ago, I reviewed The First Years True Fit Premier C670. Their latest iteration, The First Years True Fit I-Alert C685 (MSRP $349.99) is similar to the Premier model and has many of the same features. I was excited to get this I-Alert version of the True Fit to see what changes have been made. I pulled it from the box and immediately liked the colors; OK, now you know my true personality. Yes, ma’am, I do like gray and black. The next thing I thought was, holy cow, look at the padding. I might have laid my head in the plush seat, but that also might have been because I had all the life sucked out of me at my monthly installation marathon session earlier in the afternoon (aka work) and it was 106*. Needless to say, I’m jealous of any child who gets to sit in this seat and I wonder why auto manufacturers can’t make our seats like this. Oh, yeah! We’d all instantly be asleep!

But really, what was the third thing I did to the seat? You bet I ripped that cover right off to check out the I-Alert Integrated Car Seat Monitor system built in to the shell. Before I get to the technology, let’s talk basics.

The I-Alert C685 version of the True Fit is actually more like the True Fit SI C680 in terms of features than it is the True Fit Premier C670. Both the I-Alert C685 and the SI C680 models have the deeper, contoured headrest and include the anti-rebound bar that The First Years calls a “Rebound Energy Management System.”

 

Weight and Height Limits

Rear-facing: 5-22 lbs., head 1” below top of seat (without removable headrest)

Rear-facing: 5-35 lbs., head 1″ below top of installed removable headrest

Forward-facing: 23-65 lbs., height is 50” or less

 

True Fit I-Alert Overview

  • the-first-years-ialert-true-fit-C685-stockI-Alert technology communicates with your smartphone when you download the free IAlert App
  • I-Alert integrated carseat monitor senses when your child is in the carseat, buckled, or left behind
  • I-Alert technology works with your smartphone to assist in achieving the correct rear-facing recline angle
  • I-Alert technology constantly monitors the ambient temperature inside the vehicle
  • Rebound Energy Management™ system: an anti-rebound bar designed to limit rebound in the aftermath of a crash
  • Built-in lockoffs for both rear- and forward-facing
  • Color-coded belt paths: black for rear-facing, red for forward-facing
  • 2 recline positions for rear-facing and an easy-to-read angle indicator on center of seat
  • Thick, no re-thread harness
  • Removable headrest for tight back seat situations when baby is less than 22 lbs. and needs a deep recline
  • Deep side wings for side impact protection
  • Comes with infant insert, head insert, harness pads, a buckle pad, and a cup holder
  • No need to guess on child’s height for rear-facing or deal with the long legs vs. long torso debate: it’s head one inch from top of seat for the height limit
  • Easy to remove cover

 

True Fit I-Alert Measurements

  • Harness slots without padding: 9 ½”, 12”, 14 3/8”, 17 3/8”
  • Harness slots with padding: 8”, 9 ¾”, 12 ½”, 15 ½”
  • 19” at its widest point at shoulders, 18 ½” at knees
  • Shell height without removable headrest: 19 ½”
  • Shell height with removable headrest: 26 ¾”
  • Shoulder width: 13”
  • Crotch strap depth: 5”, 6 ¼”
  • Seat depth: 13”
  • Seat weight: 20.7 lbs. without infant inserts

 

I-Alert

Let’s jump right to the heart of the review. This is really why you’re here, right? How does the I-Alert system really work? I hate to do this to you, faithful readers. OMGosh, now you know what’s coming next and you’re mad at me, the messenger. But I don’t have a review of the I-Alert ready for you. Jennie and I both have been testing the system for you and truthfully, we have been having a few issues with it. So, rather than put off the review of an otherwise great seat (oh dang, did I give the rest of the review away?!) because either we were doing something wrong or the software needs to be updated, we wanted to push forward. In the meantime, Jennie is meeting locally with a Tomy engineer and I’m enjoying the end of summer in the desert. Yeah, baby.

 

Installation with the Seat Belt

Installation with the seat belt for both rear- and forward-facing was a cinch. For rear-facing, the seat belt is routed through both yellow and blue lockoffs. There are 2 recline positions, labeled 1 and 2, on the angle indicator. Squeeze the recline handle under the front of the carseat to change between recline positions for rear-facing. You’ll want recline position 2, the most reclined, for newborns and young babies who don’t have head control. The more upright position is about 10˚ more upright and good for older babies and toddlers. The removable headrest can be off for kiddos under 22 lbs. as long as there’s at least 1” of carseat above the head. As soon as junior is over 22 lbs. or taller than having 1” of carseat over his head, that headrest must be clicked on forever more. For reference, my doll, Romeo, is a largish newborn size, while my real friend, Emma, is 15 mos. and about 18 lbs.

True Fit IAlert rf lockoff closed  True Fit IAlert rf lockoff open

True Fit IAlert rf with seatbelt lockoffs True Fit IAlert rf install

 

True Fit IAlert rf with anti-rebound bar  True Fit IAlert rf with doll

True Fit IAlert rf side with Emma  True Fit IAlert rf with Emma

 

True Fit IAlert rf with seatback on  True Fit IAlert recline indicator

For forward-facing, the seat belt is routed through a single red and yellow lockoff. Don’t forget to attach the top tether to an approved vehicle tether anchor! As with most tall carseats, I did have to turn my vehicle’s head restraint around so it didn’t interfere with my installation and push the carseat forward. Sometimes you have to take the vehicle head restraint off (and try not to lose it!), sometimes you can turn it around, and sometimes you can get away with leaving it on. My new pal, Henry, below, just turned 4 years old, and is 42 lbs., and 43″.

True Fit IAlert ff lockoff closed  True Fit IAlert ff lockoff open

True Fit IAlert ff with child

 

Installation with LATCH

Installation with LATCH is limited to a child weighing 48 lbs. The True Fit I-Alert has one flexible strap to attach to the lower anchors found in newer vehicles.  There is an adjuster on one side of this strap and the LATCH connectors are the deluxe push-on style connectors.  You do use the built-in lockoffs when installing with LATCH.  There are clearly designated storage areas on the shell to store the LATCH connectors and tether strap when not in use.

Center LATCH installations with Non-Standard Spacing:

Tomy allows center LATCH installation if the lower anchor spacing is 11” or wider and if the vehicle manufacturer allows it.

 

Tether

The tether is not to be used in the rear-facing position. Use the top tether whenever the carseat is installed forward-facing, whether installed with the vehicle seat belt or the lower LATCH anchors.

 

Inflatable Seat Belts

Tomy has determined that the True Fit I-Alert cannot be installed with inflatable seat belts found in some Ford Explorer, Flex, Fusion, and Lincoln MKT and MKZ  vehicles.

 

Cover Padding and Maintenance

The True Fit I-Alert cover is nicely padded along the bottom and back.  The cover on the restraint I tested is called “Black and Gray” and the fabric has a luxurious plush feeling.  The cover removes easily from the front by unsnapping and removing 4 elastics; there’s no need to remove the harness. To clean it, hand wash with cool water and mild soap.  The strap covers and head support pillows are entirely optional, as is the buckle pad, which you will instantly lose because it falls off so easily.  One thing I noticed right away is a label under the airbag warning label showing how to correctly position the harness for a rear- and forward-facing child.  When you lift the cover for installation, you’ll see labels showing you how to install the seat.  Easy-to-use, common-sense features like this is what makes the True Fit line best-sellers year after year.

Infant Support Cushion: An infant body support is included with the seat and is well-padded.  The infant body support is styled in the same manner as the cover.  It’s to be used until the child’s shoulders reach the bottom slots and can be used in all rear-facing harness positions. Remove for forward-facing.

 

Ease of Use

The True Fit I-Alert is, for the most part, a very easy carseat to use. Installation is a breeze, the lockoffs are easy to use, the cover is super easy to remove—there are a lot of thoughtful features on the seat. The harness height adjuster is also easy to use; however, I’m going to give it a bit of a warm review. To adjust the harness height, you must press in a yellow handle on each side of the carseat at the same time. This can be accomplished while the True Fit is installed—yay! However, this means that you may need long arms and good dexterity to reach around the carseat if it’s rear-facing to adjust it. Also, if the True Fit is installed forward-facing and your vehicle seat has side bolsters for an adult rider’s comfort (like my 2011 Acura MDX does—see pic), getting the handles to move up to the top slots may be challenging without uninstalling the carseat. Again, this is a vehicle-specific problem, not a carseat problem. So, to sum up my feelings on the harness height adjustment, it adjusts very easily but it can be awkward depending on the angle you’re standing at to the seat.

True Fit IAlert ff harness height adjustment

Adjusting the snugness of the harness when the True Fit I-Alert is installed rear-facing is difficult because the anti-rebound bar smushes up against the harness adjuster. If you’ve forgotten to pull the adjuster strap up and into the seat pan before tightening the install, you’ll curse yourself, lol. It’s better for this carseat to “set it and forget it,” meaning, set the tightness of the harness to the desired snugness, then pull one strap loose and slide your child’s arm in, then the other side, then equalize them. I’ll show you in this video what I mean.

 

 

Instruction Manual/Labels: I honestly thought I’d just copy/paste from my previous review of the True Fit Premier several years ago, but this instruction manual is vastly improved. There are still typos (uh, we are available for hire! wink, wink) but the Safe Practices section at the end of the manual (should be moved to the front!) is excellent. I do wish they would break out the installation sections into further color-coding. And the labeling on the seat is excellent! Take a look at this one:

True Fit IAlert sticker

Crotch Strap Adjustment: There are two crotch strap positions located approximately 5” and 6 ¼” from the back of the seat without the infant pad in place.  Adjust the strap by pushing firmly down on the yellow plastic piece and sliding it forward or back. Those of us with weak thumbs will find this challenging, but a person with strong hands will not have any trouble at all. The forward position must be used for kids over 50 lbs.

7 Year Expiration and Crash Guidelines: The True Fit I-Alert has a 7 year expiration and the “Do Not Use Past” date is on a sticker on the inside back of the seat.  The First Years specifies to follow NHTSA guidelines if it is in a crash.

Airplane Certification: The True Fit I-Alert is FAA-approved for use in aircraft.  It also is a heavy restraint weighing in at 22 lbs., so if you do travel with it, you’ll want to use a luggage cart to avoid having to carry it.  It’s wide as well at 19″, so it’ll fit on the airplane seat with the armrest up; don’t book a bulkhead seat.

 

Advantages

  • Easy installation with built-in lockoffs
  • Loaded with EPS foam
  • Anti-rebound bar
  • Removable headrest enhanced to be deeper and have more EPS foam than earlier models
  • Has the I-Alert System built-in
  • Generous rear-facing height limit
  • No re-thread harness
  • Tall top harness slots
  • Truly lovely cover with generous padding
  • Deep seat pan for kids with long legs
  • 7-year lifespan
  • FAA-approved

 

Disadvantages

  • Rear-facing weight limit: I know the Tomy rep is laughing right now because we’ve had this conversation for years. Even though the trend in recent years has been for higher rear-facing weight limits, the makers of the True Fit seats (The First Years, Learning Curve, Tomy) have never had any intention of raising the weight limit past 35 lbs. even though the seats have more than enough height to support it.
  • Harness height adjusters tough to reach when forward-facing if your vehicle seat is contoured
  • Harness adjust tough to reach when rear-facing
  • Buckle pad falls off too easily
  • Instruction Manual: Could use some editing
  • Price: the I-Alert system adds quite a bit to the price if The First Years is taking the C680 (True Fit SI) and putting the I-Alert into it.

 

Conclusion

True Fit I-Alert in NaturalizationThe True Fit I-Alert is a solid, well-established base carseat with an interesting new twist in the added I-Alert Integrated Car Seat Monitor. The First Years implements a technology to try to solve a problem that has dogged us for years and while this first iteration of it may not be perfect, at least it’s a step in the right direction (and it’s manufacturer approved ;)). The True Fit is a convertible carseat that will please kids with its comfort and please parents with its ease-of-use features like the harness height adjuster and easy-remove cover for washing. And let’s not forget the safety features like deep EPS foam and the anti-rebound bar! The True Fit I-Alert definitely should be on any parents’ convertible carseat shopping list. The True Fit I-Alert is an Amazon.com exclusive and also comes in the “Naturalization” fashion. Currently, it’s selling for considerably less than the $349 MSRP price but Amazon prices change often and are unpredictable. If the I-Alert is too quirky at this point for you or the I-Alert pricepoint is too high for your needs, the True Fit SI C680 is just the carseat for you and comes in 5 different cover choices.

For more information on the I-Alert technology, see this link to the official I-Alert product page:  http://thefirstyears.com/ialert

Thank you to TOMY/The First Years for providing the True Fit I-Alert C685 sample for this review. No other compensation was provided and all opinions expressed in this review are my own.