Reviews Archive

2016 Diono Monterey Belt-Positioning Booster Review

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2016 Diono Monterey Belt-Positioning Booster Review

Monterey Grey

The Diono Monterey has long been a well-loved belt-positioning booster by kids and parents alike. It fits kids of a wide range of body types due to its ability to change width to accommodate growing shoulders and its adjustability to grow with the tallest child. The Monterey is a dual-mode booster, which means it can be used in either high-back or backless mode, so it has versatility built in. The cover is well-padded and soft and kids love the comfort it provides. The booster seat bottom has plenty of leg support for long-legged kiddos while the headrest provides a comfortable resting place with tons of EPS foam for heads. The Monterey is a booster that will easily last your child until they pass the 5-Step Test and can safely transition into an adult seat belt.
Editors' Pick
Because of the value you get for the size range child the Monterey will fit, we chose it for an Editors’ Pick on our Recommended Carseats List.

Weight and Height Limits:

40-120 lbs.; 38-63” tall

Monterey Overview:

  • 11 position headrest
  • Can be installed with lower LATCH connectors
  • Lined with EPS foam
  • Torso wings reinforced with aluminum
  • Torso wings adjust in width up to fit shoulders up to 20”
  • Energy absorbing AirTek™ foam provides cushioning and increased airflow for a more comfortable ride
  • 2 recline positions aids in vehicle compatibility and comfort
  • Retractable deep cup holders

Measurements:

Belt guide heights: 15 ¾”-22”
Inside shoulder width: 14”-17 3/4”
Inside hip width: 11 ¼”
Seat depth: 14”
External widest point: 19 1/8” at torso wings, 18 ¾” at armrests
Seat weight: 15.2 lbs.

The Monterey comes out of the box in 2 pieces, and it can be used backless once your child grows too tall for the back. To assemble the back securely to the base, you’ll lay the backrest face down on the ground and line the base up so the backs are facing each other. Once the hooks of the backrest are lined up to the bar on the base, rotate the base cushion toward the backrest front until it clicks.

Monterey Grey Monterey Bloom Monterey Surf

Fit to Child:

The Monterey received a 2015 IIHS Best Bet rating in highback mode only and a Check Fit rating in backless mode. It’s easy to get a customized fit for kids who may be squeezed out of other boosters.

To adjust the height, pull up on the handle on the back of the headrest to adjust the headrest height. The shoulder belt guides are on the outside of the headrest; they’re marked by red lines on the fabric of the headrest. You’ll want the shoulder belt guides to be above the shoulders so that the shoulder belt falls in the middle of the shoulder for best fit. On the back of the booster is a dial you can turn to widen or tighten the width of the torso wings. Once your child is within 1 cm (about a 1/3”) of the shoulder belt guide when the headrest is in its top setting, it’s time to take the back off and use the booster backless. If the tops of your child’s ears go over the top of the *vehicle* seat back/headrest, then it’s time for a new booster or different option. If the tops of your child’s ears go over the top of the Monterey’s headrest and there’s still a vehicle headrest behind the Monterey, the back can come off and it can be used backless.

Just because the Monterey got a Check Fit while in backless mode doesn’t mean it’s dangerous to use in that mode, it means . . . check the fit on your child. You want to look for a shoulder belt that sits in the middle of the shoulder or slightly toward the neck and a lap belt that is touching the thighs.

Bryson in Monterey Ellie in Monterey

Our models are Bryson who is 6, 52 lbs., and 46” tall, and Ellie who is 6 and about 50 lbs.

Fit to Vehicle:

The Monterey has lower LATCH connectors that can be used for installation of the booster. This is an optional feature. Why attach a booster using LATCH? It keeps it from becoming a projectile in a crash. The seat belt is what is restraining your child and we all know that once kids switch to a booster, they don’t have the time or patience to buckle their boosters in when they jump out of them, so we LATCH them in.

Monterey in MDX

The lower LATCH connectors are upside down on this booster. No, your booster isn’t defective—it was designed this way. Go with it, but be prepared that it will be hard to uninstall. That’s why the smart CPS technicians will make *you* uninstall any upside down connectors when you come to have your carseats checked ;). Here’s the great part, though: with the Monterey, you can install the lower LATCH connectors either upside down or right-side up. It doesn’t matter—I verified it with Diono and if you call them, they’ll tell you the same thing. Why doesn’t it matter in this case? See the above paragraph.

Cover/Maintenance/Ease of Use:

The cover is hand-wash in cold water and line dry. You may need a flat-head screwdriver or butter knife to pry off the plastic fasteners that hold the cover to the booster.

FAA/Lifespan/Crash:

Because belt-positioning booster seats require the use of lap/shoulder belts, the Monterey cannot be used on an airplane. That doesn’t mean you can’t take it with you on the plane, though, and tuck it into an overhead bin as you travel so your child has a safe booster to sit in at your destination.

The Monterey has a lifespan of 8 years. Diono wants you to replace it after a severe crash.

Advantages:

  • 11 position headrest
  • Can be installed with lower LATCH connectors
  • Lined with EPS foam
  • Torso wings reinforced with aluminum
  • Torso wings adjust in width up to fit shoulders up to 20”
  • 2 recline positions
  • Retractable deep cup holders

Disadvantages:

  • Fairly wide
  • Shoulder belt guides hidden by fabric
  • Requires head support from the vehicle (cannot be used in seating positions that don’t have a head restraint)

The Diono Monterey sample used in this update was provided by Diono. No other compensation was provided and all opinions are my own.

2016 Britax Boulevard G4.1 Review Update

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Britax Boulevard & Britax Advocate Review G4.1 Convertible Carseats 2016 Update

boulevard onyxBritax continues to be a frontrunner with parents and caregivers looking for user features in their carseats. From the luxury padded covers to the easy peasy LATCH installations, Britax has upheld its reputation for quality products with the Boulevard G4.1 and Advocate G4.1. Parents like knowing the Boulevard will be installed quickly and easily while kids like knowing they’ll be nestling back into a comfy cover with a padded headrest that not only provides a place to sleep, but protects growing heads.  This update applies to the Advocate G4.1.  It is identical to the Boulevard G4.1, with the addition of the external side impact cushion technology and different fashions.  Both models are more compact than average to help fit in smaller vehicles and offer easy LATCH system installation.

The G4.1 line of convertibles are the more reasonably priced seats compared to the ClickTight line, which feature an innovative panel that closes down on the seat belt to make installation a snap. Both lines feature excellent safety protection—they just differ in installation, and the Boulevard and Advocate ClickTights will accommodate taller kids.

What are the differences between the various models of Britax convertibles? It’s one of the most commonly asked questions we get. There are 6 convertible models in 2016. Three are G4.1: Roundabout, Marathon, and Boulevard. Three are ClickTights: Marathon, Boulevard, and Advocate.

  • Britax Roundabout: This is the most budget-friendly Britax convertible. It lacks the no-rethread harness found on some higher models, but that’s really not a big deal unless you’re frequently transporting kids of different sizes in one carseat. It has a 55 pound weight limit and a 15.75″ seated torso height limit. MSRP $179.99
  • Britax Marathon: This model adds a no-rethread harness, up to 65 pounds and 16.75″ seated torso height. It also adds the EZ-Buckle crotch strap and an easy-remove cover. It lacks the deeper headwings found on the Boulevard model. MSRP $289.99
  • Britax Boulevard: This model has all the features of the Marathon, but also has deeper internal headwings for enhanced protection in side-impact crashes. It also includes advanced HUGS pads with SafeCell technology and the “Click & Safe” snug harness indicator. MSRP $329.99
  • Britax Marathon ClickTight: This model has a no-rethread harness and standard rubber HUGS pads. The top harness slot height and the overall height are about 2″ shorter than the Blvd CT and Advocate CT models. MSRP $329.99
  • Britax Boulevard ClickTight: All the features of the Marathon CT plus SafeCell HUGS pads; deeper headwings; “Click & Safe” snug harness indicator, top harness slots and overall height 2″ taller than Marathon CT. The Boulevard CT is a CarseatBlog Recommended Carseat AND Editors’ Pick. MSRP $369.99
  • Britax Advocate ClickTight: All the features of the Boulevard CT plus external side-impact cushions. The Advocate CT is also a CarseatBlog Recommended Carseat. The Advocate CT is a CarseatBlog Recommended Carseat. MSRP $419.99

Britax Convertible Features Comparison:

*Tip: If you’re viewing from your phone – turn it sideways to see more columns of the chart in landscape mode.

 

Boulevard G4.1 Weight and Height Limits:

  • Rear-facing:  5-40 lbs., and head is 1” below red adjustment handle
  • Forward-facing: 20-65 lbs., and 49” or less, and tops of the ears are below the top of the head restraint

Boulevard G4.1 Overview:

  • SafeCell™ Technology in the base: these cells compress in a crash, which lowers the center of gravity of the child and reduces forward head excursion
  • Energy-absorbing EPP foam that lines the entire back and sides of the plastic shell
  • Energy-absorbing, rip-stitch Versa-Tether®
  • SafeCell HUGS chest pads: energy-absorbing and have a ridged edge that better keeps the chest clip in place
  • Integrated steel bars strengthen the seat and keep it from flexing forward in a crash
  • 2 layers of side impact protection: deep protective shell and an energy-absorbing headrest
  • No re-thread harness with 10 harness height positions
  • 2 crotch strap positions
  • Infant cushion for children up to 22 lbs.
  • Built-in lockoffs
  • Dual lower deluxe push-on LATCH connectors (one strap for each side of the carseat—no feeding it through the belt path)
  • Smooth bottom base with grippy edges that won’t damage vehicle upholstery
  • Optional anti-rebound bar for rear-facing

Measurements:

  • Harness height: 9”-17”, 6 ½” bottom slots with infant cushion
  • External widest point: 19″
  • Usable shell height with headrest: 26”
  • Shoulder width: 13”
  • Crotch strap depth: 4 ½”, 7”
  • Seat depth: 12”
  • Seat weight: 18.6 lbs.

Current Fashions

Boulevard Onyx Boulevard Laguna Boulevard Congo Boulevard Legacy Boulevard Domino Boulevard Silver Birch

Installation:

  • Rear-facing LATCH weight limit: 40 lbs.
  • Forward-facing LATCH weight limit: 50 lbs.
  • Installation is color-coded for ease: blue for rear-facing, green for forward-facing
  • Top tether length has been shortened, but for the most part, this shouldn’t be a problem. Contact Britax at 1-888-427-4829 for a tether extender. As of 2015, the tether is no longer allowed to be used rear-facing out of concern for interference with front seat airbag sensors. An anti-rebound bar is available directly from Britax for parents and caregivers who prefer that extra level of protection.

Britax Boulevard with ARB

Center LATCH Installations with Non-Standard Spacing:

Permitted only in designated LATCH positions; if your vehicle doesn’t have dedicated lower LATCH anchors in the center seating position, you cannot install this carseat with LATCH.

Inflatable Seat Belts:

Britax allows their convertibles (EXCEPTION: ClickTight convertibles) to be installed with Ford and Lincoln inflatable seat belts. They do NOT allow inflatable airplane seat belt installation. See their Inflatable Seat Belt Policy.

Comments:

  • The infant cushion MUST be used for children weighing 22 lbs. or less in a rear-facing position. DO NOT use over 22 lbs. DO NOT use in a forward-facing position. There’s even a label on it in case you forget!
  • Use the lockoff closest to the buckle if installing the Boulevard with a seat belt.
  • Get best results with the Click & Safe harness adjuster by removing slack from the thighs in an upward motion through the chest first while pulling harness tight.
  • The Boulevard expires 7 years after date of manufacture and Britax follows the NHTSA crash replacement policy.

BritaxBoulevardG4.1RF BritaxBoulevardG4.1FF

Advantages:

  • Deep headwings provide enhanced protection in side-impact crashes
  • Durable EPP foam, rip-stitch tether, HUGS pads and SafeCell Technology in base all work together to absorb energy in a crash
  • Click & Safe snug harness indicator provides audible and tactile feedback to let you know when the harness is sufficiently snug
  • One of the easiest LATCH installs on the market!
  • “Non-Handed” lower LATCH straps allow you to easily switch the connectors from rear-facing to forward-facing and vice versa
  • No re-thread harness makes it easy to adjust the harness height when your child has a growth spurt
  • Relatively easy to tighten and loosen harness straps
  • Harness straps are thick and not prone to twisting
  • Velcro on harness keeps straps out of the way when loading and unloading child from seat
  • EZ-Buckle System keeps belly pad and buckle out of the way when loading child in the seat
  • Buckle style is easy to buckle and unbuckle
  • Harness straps are replaceable if necessary
  • HUGS pads may be removed when the child is rear-facing (but they are required for forward-facing)
  • Available anti-rebound bar
  • Rear-facing recline angle range of 30-45 degrees allowed
  • Doesn’t take up a lot of room rear-facing (especially if you don’t need a full 45* recline). This makes it a good option for smaller cars and for tall parents who may need to have the front seat all or most of the way back.
  • Easy to remove cover
  • Premium fabrics and extra padding for comfort
  • Made in the USA!

Disadvantages:

  • May be difficult to clamp the lockoffs closed in some vehicles if installing with seatbelt
  • Seatbelt installation using lockoff is not intuitive – read and follow directions carefully
  • Rear-facing legroom is generally less than some other competitive (non-Britax) convertible models
  • Click & Safe snug harness indicator can be helpful but isn’t foolproof
  • Rear-facing height limit isn’t as tall as some other models, like the new Britax ClickTight convertibles
  • The Boulevard is relatively expensive at $329.99 MSRP, but is often on sale for under $250 at Amazon.com

The Britax Boulevard G4.1 sample used in this update was provided by Britax USA. No other compensation was provided and all opinions are my own.

StatGear T3 Tactical Auto Survival Kit Review

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Car Escape Tools: A Perfect Father’s Day Gift (That’s Really For You)

Ever get that special gift for your birthday or Mother’s Day?  You know, the one that you knew really wasn’t for you?  Maybe it was that chainsaw you always dreamed about?  Or something useful, but perhaps not all that thrilling, like a homeowner’s tool kit?  Maybe it was something like an iPad that you actually liked, but it was quickly claimed by that special someone who gave it to you?  Of course, I personally have always given thoughtful gifts, but I always keep an eye out for the perfect gift.  The one that will not only be appreciated, but also doesn’t seem like you actually had yourself or your kids in mind, even if you did!

We know that all of our savvy readers are concerned with auto safety.  Being trapped in a vehicle can be very scary, even if it is not on fire or sinking in the water!  If there isn’t a fire or water hazard, you may have time to dial 911, and then have some options to try different windows or a hatch for escape.  But if there is a hazard, you might not have the time to do anything but unbuckle yourself and escape, and any precious seconds wasted are fewer seconds you have if you also need to unbuckle your children!

amazonhammerThere are dozens of tools at Amazon and other stores to help you escape.  Most are of a “Hammer” design, requiring a good swing or flick of the wrist to crack the glass.  These may work well enough if you have the room, but getting a good swing if your car is filling with water may not be so easy.  These types of crashes are not very common, but may claim the lives of hundreds of occupants a year.  Plus, your husband doesn’t really want a bright yellow or pink plastic hammer!  That’s a clear sign that you might not have had him in mind when buying the gift;-)

There’s an easy solution, a spring-loaded punch.  Even one from a hardware store should do the job.  But good quality ones can be somewhat expensive, while cheap ones can jam or break easily.  Hardware store tools do make good gifts for Father’s Day, but why stop there when you can have something better shipped to your door?  We’ve found the ultimate Father’s Day or birthday gift for Dad, something that will also give YOU peace of mind in case of a vehicle entrapment crash!

Recommended-150pxEnter the StatGear T3 Tactical Auto Rescue Tool.  Even the name has Father’s Day written all over it. It’s the black steel equivalent of a Swiss Army knife for escaping an automobile.  You get not only a covered, spring-loaded center punch for breaking glass easily, but you also get a hardened stainless steel hook blade for cutting seatbelts and harness straps, a serrated high carbon 440C stainless steel knife blade and an LED light with replaceable batteries.  And best of all, you get something that LOOKS like a gift for Dad, even if you also had yourself and your kids in mind when you bought it!  

It’s frequently on sale for under $35 at Amazon, which is about the same as a high quality hardware store spring-loaded center punch that doesn’t give you any extra features.  It’s a great gift for any driver. Designed by a NYC Paramedic, it should be handy for first responders as well. This is definitely not a tool that should be easy for kids to reach, as with any sharp edged knife or tool. The closing mechanism on the knife is similar to some other knives and requires caution for adults as well.

 StatGearT3TacticalToolTest

Want to step it up a notch?  Go for the StatGear Auto Survival Kit for $59.99. In stock, and free delivery by Father’s Day if you order soon!  It includes the T3 Tactical Auto Rescue Tool.  Plus, you get other auto emergency and first aid essentials, including a re-usable glow stick, nitrile gloves, gauze, an assortment of bandages, instant ice packs, alcohol prep pads, tape, antibiotic ointment, tweezers and emergency drinking water.  It’s all packaged in a nice, padded black case with velcro to strap around a large sun visor or fits into a center console, door pocket or glove compartment.

And it works, too!  Smashes tempered auto glass more easily than a hammer style escape tool and cuts through harness material like butter.  I tested it out and took a look at the Survival Kit in this video:
 

 
Now maybe some would prefer that pink one for themselves or for their teen driver?  No worries, StatGear has you covered as well.  The SuperVisor XT is a compact model that attaches easily to any sun visor.  It’s not a spring-loaded design like the T3, but it does include a seatbelt/harness cutting tool.  And if pink isn’t your thing, it comes in black, green and orange, too.

Hopefully, you won’t need any tool to break a window if your car goes into the water. Wikihow has some additional tips for escaping from a sinking car. For those cases where you do need a tool because of water pressure, door damage or other factors, do keep in mind that hammer and center punch tools won’t always shatter the whole window enough for you fit. They should be able to break it enough to where you can use some other object like the knife blade of the T3 tool, a wrapped fist or a kick with your shoes to clear the rest of the window if necessary.
SuperVisorXT
Thank you to StatGear Tools for providing the kit used in this review.  No other compensation was provided.  All opinions are my own.

Graco 4Ever Review: Is a 4-In-1 Carseat Your New BFF?

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Graco 4Ever All-in-1 Car Seat: A 2016 Editors’ Pick from Birth to Seatbelt

Like the Fountain of Youth or the Holy Grail, a true multi-function “forever” car seat has been eluding desperate searchers for years. Yes, there already are seats that rear-face, forward-face, and turn into a booster, but they are often lacking in at least one function, and when that happens, what’s the point?

So when Graco came out with the 4Ever All-in-1, which rear-faces, forward-faces, and turns into both a high-back and backless booster, it was easy to get excited but also easy to have reservations. Will it really do what it claims, and do it well?

Short answer: Yes!  The Graco 4Ever is now a CarseatBlog Recommended Carseat and an Editors’ Pick.  (Updated May, 2016)

4Ever Specs and Features:

  • Rear-facing: 4-40 lbs.
  • Forward-facing (with harness): 20-65 lbs and 49″ or less
  • High-back booster: 30-100 lbs. and 38-57″
  • Backless booster: 40-120 lbs. and 40-57″
  • No-rethread harness with 10 position headrest
  • Adjustable base with 6 recline positions (3 for rear-facing, 3 for forward-facing)
  • Easy-to-read bubble level indicator
  • Steel reinforced frame
  • Energy-absorbing EPS foam
  • Premium push-on lower LATCH anchor connectors (LATCH limit: Child weight of 42 lbs.)
  • Dual integrated cup holders (simple assembly required)

Measurements:

  • Lowest harness height (with infant insert): 7″
  • naked 4everHighest harness height: 18″
  • Tallest booster height: 18.75″
  • Internal rear-facing height: 27.5″ (that’s one inch below the headrest adjustment lever of 28.5″)
  • Crotch buckle positions: 5″ and 7″
  • Seating depth: 12″
  • Internal seat width: 13″
  • Widest external seat width: 19.5″ (at cup holders)
  • Widest point on base: 15″
  • Narrowest point on base: 11.5″ (at very front and very back)

Installation/Fit to Vehicle:

In general, the 4EVER is an easy-to-install seat, which is always a good thing. It installed nicely in rear-facing and forward-facing modes in the vehicles I tried it in (2010 Honda Odyssey and 2014 Honda Civic) with the seatbelt and with LATCH. The belt paths are clearly labeled and color-coded both on the seat and in the manual (blue for rear-facing, orange for forward-facing, green for booster). The LATCH and tether straps are easy to loosen when you need to, but stay secure otherwise. My particular model has the premium push-on LATCH connectors, but the manual includes a drawing/description of the hook style, too, so it’s possible that other models will come with those.

For LATCH installations, it’s important to note that the lower anchors need to be discontinued once the child reaches 42 lbs., in accordance with the new LATCH regulations. For kids over 42 lbs., install the 4Ever with seatbelt and tether.

Unlike some of the other Graco convertibles (like the MySize/Size4Me/Headwise) that have separate LATCH straps for the rear-facing and forward-facing beltpaths, the 4EVER only has one, which means it needs to be manually switched between modes. The process isn’t as complicated as it is on some seats, but not as easy as on some others. It would have been nice to see the two separate LATCH straps on this model, too.

Here’s a video showing how to switch the LATCH straps from forward-facing to rear-facing modes, how to tighten the LATCH straps rear-facing, and how to put a rear-facing child into the seat: