CarseatBlog recently released an update to our Recommended Carseats List. As we were working on it, we thought we should take a look at Consumer Reports and see how our results compared to their results, and we were curious. After all, many parents know and trust Consumer Reports for their ratings system and reports on vehicles and appliances, so why shouldn’t they trust them for rating carseats too?
Consumer Reports has an arguably disagreeable history in carseat reporting for many years, going back as far as 1999 when they recommended a T-shield carseat and an overhead shield carseat as top-rated models. Back in the day, the internet was just starting out and we didn’t have resources such as Car-Seat.org or CarseatBlog.com to help us along with our purchases. We had print magazines that were often out-of-date by the time they went to press or nothing at all to guide us through all the baby gear purchases we have to make when we have babies. Consumer Reports was at the forefront because of their ratings system and because, frankly, there was nothing else.
But a good consumer always looks for multiple resources when making major purchases, especially when they involve safety for children. In looking through the Consumer Reports online ratings and recommendations, which have also been published in certain monthly issues, I’m left wondering what the circle ratings mean. CR explains each category of their rating system, yet never fully explains what criteria go into the circles or what scale they use for that criteria. For example, what’s the difference between an open circle and a half red circle? Is it 3 points? One point? What does that one point stand for—a label? The wording on a label? How a rear-facing carseat fits without a noodle? What if the reviewer is having a bad day that day? That could very well affect the score. Is the reviewer a child passenger safety technician? How much experience does that tech have? Does that tech have any real-life experience as a parent or in working at checkup events? These are important questions when it comes to evaluating carseats and will change the outcome of the review.
For example, we do know they have at least one child passenger safety technician with expertise on staff: we’ve all met her and she’s very nice. We tend to run in the same circles, after all. We were also told their methodology changed after their ill-fated side impact testing and retraction of the corresponding test results in early 2007. In particular, since we have absolutely no idea how they determine their “Crash Protection” score or how these scores might correlate with real world risk of injury, we advise parents not to limit their choices to products with only the highest rating.
As we know at CarseatBlog.com, it takes more than one person to pull together a list of recommended carseats. What is our process as we update our Recommended Carseats list? We start with our current list—it’s less work that way! Hey, it’s a smart way to work ;). We also look at our reviews and decide which carseats we’ve reviewed that we like and think should be added or removed from the list. We look for safety features, such as EPS/EPP foam, Safe Cell Technology, REACT, anti-rebound bar/rear-facing tether, deep headwings, and so on, then look for ease-of-use features, such as smooth harness adjusters and easy installation. We also discuss price and value, knowing that value doesn’t always equal price. We’re parents, so between the 3 of us, we’ve owned and used *a lot* of carseats and we know what we’d use with our kids and what would drive us crazy to have to use on a daily basis.
Does Consumer Reports look for those things? They say they do, but it’s hard to tell what weight they place on them; after all, they simply show a blank circle, half shaded circle, or filled circle. Let me give you an example of my confusion with the CR ratings. In the infant seat ratings, the most up-to-date of all the ratings, the Chicco KeyFit 22 and KeyFit 30 score differently in the Ease of Use category. The 22 scores a half red circle while the 30 scores a full red circle. Why is that so puzzling? The KeyFits are the same seat! They have identical padding, identical harness adjusters, identical handles, identical canopies, identical base designs—so why the difference in scores? CR provides no explanation, but your average parent who has little knowledge of infant seats trusts them to be accurate.
Another example is in the convertible seats section. CR rated the Evenflo Momentum with 3 half red circles, and an empty circle and an overall score of 69. It rated the Graco My Ride 65 with 2 half red circles, a full red circle, and an empty circle and gave it an overall score of 61. Shouldn’t the My Ride be the higher scoring carseat because it received a full red circle instead of a half red circle? And the My Ride is a less expensive seat, which CR does take into account. Very perplexing indeed.
There are more examples, but honestly, I didn’t want this blog article to turn into a Consumer Reports bashing blog. I wanted to point out some inconsistencies and to remind readers to read their sources, including our blog, with a critical eye. We’re always going to be upfront with why we like or dislike something. We even decided against a grading system for our Recommended Carseats list when we created it years ago because a grading system isn’t as precise as we’d like it to be. Instead, we refer parents to our detailed, full reviews on almost every model included in our recommendations.
So please take a look at our Recommended Carseats List, share it with friends and family, and know that it’s been compiled by child passenger safety technicians with years of experience both in the field working with parents and caregivers and as parents of our own kids, with their own needs and wants. The list is certainly formed from our opinions, but it seems that the Consumer Reports lists are as well. It may be possible to create a list based on certain criteria, but there will always be some element of opinion involved with carseats given how each of us places a different emphasis on value, ease of harness use, and installation. So be sure to check out multiple sources of information before buying a carseat, and be sure to get a good return policy in case it doesn’t work out for you!