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Pet Harness Review: Do They Really Protect Our Pets?

sleepypodclickitLast September, the Center for Pet Safety released a summary of their study on harnesses for “pets,” though most of us use these harnesses for dogs only. When I originally saw this summary, I scanned through it as I am a pet parent; “dog owner” seems so cold when my dogs rule the house, truth be told. I already had a harness I bought at PetSmart that I liked for my dog. It wasn’t crash tested, but I didn’t have time to buy one that was. I used an IMMI crash tested harness for a car trip where I drove alone with her and it hurt her sensitive underarm area and she managed to twist around in it. Talk about me being a distracted driver! Then last December we adopted a new dog, Macy, and I had the need for another harness, so I looked at the summary again and decided to try out a few models to see which I liked best.

The Center (in their summary, they refer to themselves as “CPS” but for our purposes I’ll refer to them as the Center, since CPS generally means child passenger safety around here) teamed up with Subaru of America to conduct the tests. They did dynamic testing using FMVSS 213 guidelines, the safety standards child restraints must follow, to collect data on the harnesses. The Center chose harnesses for testing where the manufacturer made claims that the harness had been crash tested or provided crash protection.

Obviously pet harnesses aren’t child restraints and don’t fall under the protocols of FMVSS 213, but there are no federal guidelines, or any other guidelines for that matter, for crash testing of these harnesses. Like I do when I teach my technician classes, the manufacturers can throw the harnesses up against a wall and call it crash tested. This should sound familiar since we’re constantly educating parents on the potential risks of using non-regulated products with their carseats. In some cases, manufacturers of these pet harnesses have done tensile testing on the harness webbing and claimed crash testing. In addition, pet harness manufacturers may test a harness in one size, yet claim that all sizes they produce have been tested. That seems a bit dirty, doesn’t it?

CarseatBlog Quick Tip: Proper Harness Tightness

One of the top 3 mistakes we see at checkup events is a harness that’s too loose. Nearly *every* infant seat I see when I’m out and about has a loose harness. How do you know if your child’s harness is tight enough?

CarseatBlog Quick Tip: Checking Install Tightness

Aren’t quite sure how to tell if your carseat is installed tightly enough? Here’s how you check.

Consumer Reports: The Surprise Meeting

CR rockOn a bright sunny day in September, there we were, minding our own business as we went about updating our Recommended Seats page when Kecia decided we needed to take a look at the Consumer Reports ratings to see how our choices compared to theirs. As we looked at their ratings, we noticed some discrepancies in their rating system—which we’ve noticed in the past—and we called them out on it in a blog post. One thing led to another, which led to an invitation to their testing facility in Connecticut. We’ve gotten an invitation to visit before but the timing has never been right for us. This invitation was a little more . . . firm, but in a friendly way, like “C’mon now, you’ve got to come visit us!” I have to say a visit to this testing facility has been on my list of things to do for a LONG time, so Kecia and I were able to squeeze some time in our schedules to get there. Finally!

Upon our arrival at the 327-acre testing facility, we were giddy at the sound of a car on the track screeching through curves and circles. The small parking lot was full of relatively new cars, some parked in spots marking them for sale. When we walked inside, everyone in the small building was waiting for us and greeted us warmly. Kecia and I weren’t sure if others would be attending with us that day, but it was soon clear then that the CR folks had set aside an entire day just for us and we were deeply grateful. I’d love to reciprocate, but my facility is pretty simple: a couch in front of a TV with a remote. Oh, and two cute furry mutts that occasionally nudge me.

After introductions and a tour of the main building, we went to where the real work is done: where they keep the vehicles in which they install the carseats they rate. It’s a rather warehouse-type building with a couple of garage doors on 2 sides to get the vehicles in and out and it’s lined on one side with offices. On one end is storage for all the carseats they’ve tested and because that’s not nearly enough storage (is it ever?), the storage runs along the top of the offices. It’s not a drab building at all and very comfortable to be in.

Now for a little background on CR vehicle testing. They’ve been doing vehicle dynamic crash tests since 1972 and auto testing since 1936. That’s quite a history! Each vehicle undergoes 50 tests and evaluations, which eventually leads to the ratings we see in the yearly comprehensive April auto issue and monthly issues where they review vehicles.

But what about CR’s carseat testing? Isn’t that why we went? Sure! We’ve wanted to know for years what’s behind those circles, formally known as “blobs” around CR, lol (and that term is probably trademarked ;) ). CR employs 3 highly qualified individuals, who are also certified as child passenger safety technicians  (no, we didn’t ask to see their cards :P ). For each carseat they evaluate, they use standardized forms to keep track of how they score the seat using a point-based system. They cover ease of use features, such as harness adjustment, seat belt lockoffs, and harness height adjustment. Each carseat is evaluated based on installation in four 2008 vehicles (Honda Accord, Chevy Aveo, Jeep Liberty, Chrysler Town & Country) and a 2009 Honda Pilot. These vehicles represent many family vehicle types in which carseats will be installed and also present common installation problems so they feel they can get representative installs in them. Deductions in points are taken for things like having to make buckle twists (carseat belt path could be redesigned to eliminate need for twists), needing to remove vehicle head restraints to get the carseat to fit (referencing carseat design on taller seats), and so on. CR gives a numerical value to all of the crash data. Crash protection represents HIC, chest acceleration, and head and knee excursion values measured from their own crash performance tests.

The overall score is calculated by taking the weighted average of crash protection, ease of use, and fit to vehicle. They were unable to share the exact weights but they did indicate that the ease of use and fit-to-vehicle ratings matter most in the overall score calculations. Let’s say CR assigns a number value ranging from 1 to 5 to each category: crash protection, ease of use, and fit to vehicle. 5= excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=fair and 1=poor. Because CR feels ease of use and fit to vehicle are very important to proper use of carseats, and therefore overall better protection for the child in the seat, the scores in those two categories count more heavily. For instance, let’s say we have 2 carseats to compare, carseat A and carseat B. When people try and average them traditionally the math doesn’t always work out as they would score a 3.67 and 4.3 overall if done that way. In truth a seat like Seat “A” below that excels in crash protection but is not as good for ease-of-use and fit-to-vehicle results in a lower overall score. Seat “B” conversely doesn’t do as well in crash protection but its score is boosted by its easy to use features and installation. Also, if CR finds a seat that performs poorly enough during crash testing to compromise its ability to protect a child, its rating will reflect that appropriately as we have seen in the past.

  Crash Protection Ease of Use Fit to Vehicle Overall Score
Carseat A  5.0  3.0  3.0  3.0
Carseat B  3.0  5.0  5.0  5.0

 

For booster testing, we got to meet a lovely young 6 yr old named Beatrice. At first, Kecia and I couldn’t figure out why they wheeled her out on a dial-a-belt seat (that’s a vehicle seat we use in tech classes that has a bunch of different seat belts for those of you who haven’t seen one before). Then I picked her up. Yep, nearly 52 lbs. of dead weight. My 11 yr old, who weighs 67 lbs. is much easier to pick up, but that’s because she provides a little jump, unlike the dummy. When they test a booster with Beatrice, they move her 20˚ forward and 15˚ to each side to simulate what a child might do in the vehicle. This helps them to identify problems like the shoulder belt catching in the belt guide, unlike the IIHS belt fit test, which strictly looks at a static fit.

Heather and Beatrice at CR

Kecia and I chose a day in early November to beat the winter weather, but that didn’t stop the rain from falling the day we visited. To finish up our visit, one of our hosts took us out in the pouring rain in a brand new Porsche Panamera for a professional drive on the test track—an unexpected special treat! We took off down the straightaway hitting speeds close to 100 mph, spun around the circle feeling the centrifigual force on our bodies, slid sideways, and generally felt carsick after the ride. But it was fabulous!

Porsche Panamera  pic of wall hanging

Kecia and I have a better understanding about the Consumer Reports ratings system now and that was the goal of the trip. We also came away with 4 new friends who have a better understanding of us too. I can’t say we’ll always agree with our respective opinions, but the conversation has been started and I’ll give that a full red blob.

The Ultimate Manufacturers’ Name Guide

Britax has gone and done it again. Way back in the ‘90s they were once known as Brit-axe, pronounced like Britain. Then they decided that to sound more Southern, they needed to give their “i” a long sound, so they became Br-eye-tax (can’t you just hear some Southern Belle pronouncing that?). Now they’ve changed again (sheesh, make up your minds already!) and we’re left scratching our heads. Carseat manufacturers are no different than any other companies we come across in our daily lives where we wonder how to pronounce their names. Here’s a list of the manufacturers and their pronunciations.

babytrend

Baby Trend: Bay-bee Trend. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

Britax logo_G+R_CMYK

Britax: Brit-axe. Kind of like a blonde gal named Britt coming after you with an axe.

bubblebum

BubbleBum: Bubb-l Bum. Blow a bubble and stick it on your bum.

chicco

Chicco: Key-ko. It’s not Chee-ko like they tell you at BRU, for gosh sakes!

clek

Clek: The sound a rigid LATCH connector makes when it attaches to a LATCH anchor. Clek. Don’t know what that sounds like? Buy a Foonf, Oobr, Olli, or Ozzi to find out.

combi

Combi USA: Com-bee USA. I’m going to go drive the combine around the farm. A comma is used in a sentence to separate two clauses. Com-bee.

cybex

Cybex: Sigh-bex. Sigh. Cybex

diono

Diono: Dee-oh-no. Not the other way! Get your brain out of the gutter now. C’mon!

dorel

Dorel: Door-el. I wonder how many doors there are at Dorel?

safety1st

Safety 1st: Safe-tee 1st

MaxiCosi

Maxi-Cosi: Max-ee Co-zy

cosco

Cosco: Cos-co. It’s a lot like Cost-co, isn’t it? But it’s NOT. There’s no T. Cosco.

eddiebauer

Eddie Bauer: Ed-dee Bow-wer. Expensive hunter green and tan.

evenflo

Evenflo: Eeeeee-ven-flow. Oh, oops. I put a W on the end. There’s no W there either. Just like there’s no T in Cosco.

snugli

Snugli: Snug-lee. Something your husband gets late at night.

graco

Graco: Gray-co. Not Grack-o crack-o. Gray-co. See, nice and easy!

aprica

Aprica: App-ree-ka. Japanese for stroller. Not really; I’m guessing since I don’t speak Japanese.

teutonia

Teutonia USA: Too-tony-ah USA. Why couldn’t they have spelled it the way I did?

harmony

Harmony: Ebony and Ivory, live together in perfect Har-mony!

kiddy

Kiddy USA: Kidd-ee USA. Here Kiddy Kiddy

kidsembrace

Kids Embrace: Kids Em-br-ace each other in friendship and goodwill

orbitbaby

Orbit Baby: Or-bit Bay-bee. I wonder if they’ll book my trip to Lifesavers for me. Oh wait, that’s Orbitz. Nevermind.

pegperego

Peg Pérego: Peg Per-eggo. Leggo my eggo Peg. If you say it fast enough, it sounds right. They’re Italian, you know.

recaro

Recaro: Ruh-car-oh. Ruh-roh. I need a Scooby snack!

safetrafficsystem

Safe Traffic System: Safe Tr-aff-ic Sys-tem. Whaddya know? That one was easy.

summerinfant

Summer Infant: Sum-mer In-fant. Oh how I wish it was summer right now!

 

tomy

Tomy: Toe-mee. Toe-mee. Toe-mee. Toe-mee.

thefirstyears

The First Years: The Fir-st Yeers. As opposed to The Last Years.

jjcole

JJ Cole: Jay-Jay-Coal. You expect more because of the double initial. You should expect more because of the double initial.

 

So there you have it–now you’re the cool kid on the block who knows how to say all the baby brand manufacturer names. You can impress all your friends when you get together for mimosas and mojitos at playgroup. I double-dog dare you to say Chicco after you’ve had a couple of cocktails ;) .

*We would like to acknowledge that this blog marks an important milestone for us. This is our 1,000th published blog post! Thank you to all our readers who have proven throughout the years that we weren’t crazy to believe that other parents and caregivers would also be interested in a blog about carseats and child passenger safety! :)