Chances are you’ve come to the blog to read a carseat review at least once. Perhaps you’ve seen our dismissals of the Consumer Reports carseat ratings and the NHTSA Ease of Use ratings and thought to yourself, “Well, they’re biased. They want us to come read their reviews and clicky-click on their links. I’d rather trust CR, the magazine I’ve trusted my whole life with my other purchases, and NHTSA, the government safety agency that rates vehicles.” No doubt you’ve seen other reviews on the web: some are quite brief, while others just talk about things such as how their 6 mo. old loves to sit in the booster seat. Who do you trust? Why should you put any stock in a review at CarseatBlog.com over any others? What makes any one review better than another?
Between the three of us, Kecia, Darren, and I have 23 professional years as technicians and more if you count advocacy. We travel on our own dimes to conferences and other educational events to further our knowledge of child passenger safety topics. We volunteer at events to install as many seats as we can to gain as much experience with as many different seats and vehicles as we can. Do we know everything? No way! But this does give us a darn good background on which to base an opinion.
Since I’m familiar with our reviews, I will compare them to others I’ve read on store websites, other forums, and various other sites I’ve poked around in my travels throughout the great wide web. Our reviews give you all the basic need-to-know information about the carseat. Things like minimum and maximum weight limits (think of how many reviews you’ve seen that leave off this basic information!), how many harness slots it has if it’s a harnessed seat, if it has energy absorbing foam, expiration date, ease-of-use, and so on. We also include other information that you might not think about like how difficult the cover is to remove, if it can be used on an airplane, and if there are any special tricks needed for installation with the particular seat. When you read other reviews, look for information like this. Consumer reviews on store websites are most often written by parents who haven’t read the instruction manuals and have installed and used the carseat incorrectly—something to keep in mind (a belt positioning booster seat used for a 2 year old, anyone?). Remember that nationally, well over 80% of carseats are installed and used incorrectly; in my city, that number is over 99%. But the average Joe parent has that everyday perspective that sometimes we as techs forget as we think of carseats as technical safety devices instead of comfy seats used in daily carpools.
But what makes our reviews different than the Consumer Reports reviews and the NHTSA Ease-of-Use Ratings?
Consumer Reports does have a CPS tech on staff, we do know that for certain. What we don’t know is how they determine their scoring for seats, what their rating system is other than red circles, half red circles, and so on. What’s the difference between a full red circle and a half red circle? What keeps a carseat from achieving that top score? Price is also included as a factor in CR’s top picks choices. That’s important for a consumer to know about their rating system because it does boost a seat’s rating. Price is a concern for most people, but it should be evaluated separately from a carseat’s safety and user features.
The NHTSA Ease-of-Use Ratings looks only at ease-of-use features—pretty easy to figure out 😉 . Things like how easy it is to read the manual and labels on the seat, how easy the LATCH connectors are to use, and how easy it is to secure a child (dummy) in the seat. Back when the list first came out, nearly every seat on the list received an “A” grade. Every year since, the reviewers have gotten more discerning as to what they’re looking for and have gotten a truer sense of measurement. They’ve also changed the grading scale from a letter grade to a star system like they use for the vehicle 5 Star Safety Ratings. How often are the carseats tested before given the grades? Is a seat installed once with LATCH, then given a grade based on that installation? Again, critical information to consider.
All carseats, from the least expensive to the most expensive, pass federal safety standards and are considered safe to use as long as they are installed correctly in your vehicle, they fit your child, and you use them correctly each ride. Reviews help you find the seat with the features you’ll like best. Read as many as you can as you research one of the most important safety devices you’ll buy in your child’s life.