News Archive

Convertible Carseat Ratings – June 2015 Consumer Reports Update

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Britax Marathon ClickTight, Britax Boulevard ClickTight and Graco Contender 65 Score High Ratings for Convertible Carseats

CR rockIn June, Consumer Reports added new models to their convertible carseat ratings.  A few newly tested products did quite well, with the Britax Marathon ClickTight and Boulevard ClickTight topping the overall ratings.  The Graco Contender 65 also did quite well overall, just above its competitors in the budget “Best Buy” category of highly rated models.

With new weight limits on the LATCH system of attaching carseats, seatbelt installations are back, especially for heavier forward-facing children.  So, we love the ClickTight system for super easy seatbelt installs, and the Boulevard CT (Our Review) and Advocate CT also offer exceptional rear-facing height limits and appear in our Recommended Carseats list.   We also share concerns at Consumer Reports about a possible harness issue on certain ClickTight convertible models.  While new models are revised to address this concern, we still advise parents to check the harness system periodically to verify.

It’s important to point out that this round of ratings is based on crash test results using their previous testing methodology (30 mph, FMVSS 213 standard bench, testing with 3-point lap/shoulder seatbelt or LATCH and no blocker plate). Convertible seat testing with their new crash test methodology is underway, but those results will not be published until some time later this year. For more info on Consumer Reports’ new crash testing program please see our previous blog on the subject:

The Safest Infant Carseats? New Crash Protection Ratings and Methods from Consumer Reports

Currently CR evaluates carseats on several points, including fit-to-vehicle, ease-of-usage, price and crash test performance. We can’t comment on specific scores but after our meeting with CR last year, we do have a general idea of how their ratings are assigned within these categories.

They break down the convertible carseat ratings into 3 categories:

  • Convertible seats rated to 40 lbs.
  • Convertible seats rated to weights higher than 40 lbs. (what we call “higher-weight harness” convertibles)
  • All-in-One seats that can be used rear-facing, forward-facing and also as a belt-positioning booster.

In the updated over 40 lbs. category, the Britax Marathon and Boulevard ClickTight models top the ratings, followed very closely by another of our Recommended Carseats, the Chicco NextFit.  After that, the rest of the Britax convertible lineup – Britax Advocate G4, Britax Boulevard G4, Britax Pavilion G4, Britax Marathon G4 and Britax Roundabout G4 all perform well. The Graco Contender 65Britax Roundabout G4 and the Evenflo SureRide were rated as “Best Buys” because they offer good value for their price but they also received good scores in all categories.  The Safety 1st Advance SE 65 was also added to the ratings with a very good crash protection score, but a middle-of-the-pack overall rating.

So, what is the “BEST” or “SAFEST” convertible carseat?  We are asked this all the time as Child Passenger Safety Technicians and it’s worth repeating the answer.  The BEST carseat is the one that fits your vehicle (installs tightly), fits your child (is appropriate for their age/weight/height), and that you can use correctly on every single ride. And of course it needs to fit your wallet too. The best carseat is not necessarily the most expensive carseat you can (or can’t) afford. And it’s not necessarily the carseat that matches the rest of your nursery collection or the one that everyone raves about online.  While no one can say which is the “SAFEST” carseat for any particular child or vehicle, if you’ve selected the “BEST” one for your own situation and install and use it correctly, then it will provide very good protection for your precious cargo.

While we think our Recommended Carseats list is a great place to start when shopping for the BEST carseat.  The seats on our list aren’t going to work for everyone and every situation. Remember – what works best for *your* child in *your* vehicle might not be the best choice for your sister or your neighbor or your friend, and that’s important. For example, a loosely installed carseat or one where you can’t easily adjust the harness to be snug on your child is not safe. A convertible carseat that doesn’t fit rear-facing in your car is not going to be the best choice for your child either.

The Ultimate Rear-Facing Convertible Carseat Space Comparison – Size Matters!

You can find Consumer Reports’ newest ratings on convertible seats at their website, www.consumerreports.org. Unfortunately, you have to be a paid subscriber to see the full ratings report.

2015 IIHS LATCH Ease-of-Use Ratings – plenty of room for improvement

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2011OdysseySecondRowLATCHIIHS just released a new Ease-of-Use rating for parents to consider before buying a new vehicle: the LATCH ratings for location and use of hardware in vehicles. These ratings for 2015 vehicles—ranging from Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor—measure ease-of-use only and are not considered safety ratings. In their search for ideal access to LATCH, the IIHS researchers only found 3 out of 100 vehicles made their cut for a top rating! The 2015 BMW X5, Mercedes Benz GL-Class, and Volkswagen Passat win for being most LATCH-friendly. Most notably, the Toyota Sienna minivan, built specifically for families, fetched a Poor rating (see rating example pic below).

IIHS latch rating details - sienna

LATCH is a familiar term for parents and caregivers who must deal with child restraints. LATCH_sketchWhat is it? Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren consists of connectors on the carseat that attach to anchors in the vehicle and is an alternative to using the seat belt for installing the carseat. Most carseats have a strap with connectors that either clip or snap onto the connectors, which are found in the vehicle’s seat bight (fancy term for “crack”). The top tether strap is found on convertible and combination carseats. These are carseats that can face forward and the tether secures the top of the carseat to the vehicle; it greatly reduces head excursion, or how far forward your child’s head comes out of the carseat in a crash. Note: the tether is generally only used when the carseat is forward-facing although there are some exceptions. Tethers are awesome for forward-facing kids, and should always be used regardless of whether the carseat is installed with lower anchors or the seat belt!

Graco Argos 80 Elite Tethered Pria 85 tethered in Subaru Britax Blvd CT Tethered

LATCH has been around for a long time: lower anchors were required hardware in vehicles since 2002. Top tethers have been required in vehicles since 2000. Some earlier vehicles have anchors in them because the manufacturers were that good. When it’s available and parents know what it is, LATCH makes installation easier and parents usually get it right. There’s still room for error, but it’s basically click, click pull tight. However, parents have to be able to find the lower anchors and top tethers and be able to easily attach the connectors before they can tighten the straps. If the lower anchors are positioned too deeply in the bight or at an angle where they’re hard to access with certain styles of connectors, this easy system becomes difficult quickly. It’s important to note that LATCH isn’t considered safer than the vehicle seat belt for installation.

rigid LATCH connector

Rigid lower anchor connector

hook on LATCH connector

Basic hook lower anchor connector

non-handed push-on LATCH connector

push-on lower anchor connector

IIHS researchers used tools to measure the depth of the anchors in the vehicle seat bight and the clearance angle. They also measured how far in from the edge of the bight they are found. Top tether anchors were rated on their locations as well. The goal is to have LATCH anchors that are easy to find right away because they’re clearly labeled and easily accessed. Vehicles receive a Good rating if they have the following:

  • The lower anchors are no more than 3/4 inch deep in the seat bight.
  • The lower anchors are easy to maneuver around. This is defined as having a clearance angle greater than 54 degrees.
  • The force required to attach a standardized tool to the lower anchors is less than 40 pounds. (The tool represents a lower connector of a child seat, though the actual force required when installing a seat varies depending on the specific connector.)
  • Tether anchors are on the vehicle’s rear deck or on the top 85 percent of the seatback. They shouldn’t be at the very bottom of the seatback, under the seat, on the ceiling or on the floor.
  • The area where the tether anchor is found doesn’t have any other hardware that could be confused for the tether anchor. If other hardware is present, then the tether anchor must have a clear label located within 3 inches of it.

Because these are ease-of-use ratings, the IIHS LATCH ratings are NOT safety ratings and do NOT mean you should stop using LATCH for carseat installation. Your back seat may be differently designed than the 2015 models that they tested and as long as you can get the connectors on the anchors, you’re golden. It’s the battle to get them on that IIHS is measuring, not if they stay there. One thing you do need to remember is that there are weight limits for lower LATCH achors that vary from carseat to carseat.

What Can You Do As A Consumer?

Be *that* customer. Be informed. Ask to read the vehicle owner’s manual—make the salesperson work for their commission. The owner’s manual will tell you exactly how many LATCH locations there are and where the tethers are located (look under Child Restraints or LATCH). It will also give you any special directions for using the top tether. A Marginal or Poor LATCH rating shouldn’t preclude you from purchasing a vehicle because you can always use the seat belt to install a carseat. Sometimes knowing a trick or two, like folding the vehicle seat forward a tad to access the lower anchors, can make things easier. It just shows that you have to take more than leather seats and cup holders into consideration when choosing a new vehicle for your family.

MDX 3rd row tether

3rd row tether anchor in Acura MDX

Should You Toss Your Toxic Car Seat?

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coccoroEvery few years, HealthyStuff.org evaluates car seats based on the presence of flame retardants and certain heavy metals. They just came out with a new report, and you might be concerned about the findings. Let’s talk about what this all means.

First, let me say that I’m concerned about flame retardants, too. Some people brush it off as hippie-helicopter-parents-flipping-out-over-something-harmless. But some of the chemicals found in car seats have known detrimental effects, some have suspected detrimental effects, and at least one is slated to be phased out of use under the Stockholm Convention (a global treaty signed by over 150 countries who have vowed to reduce persistent organic pollutants).

I’ve written other posts about flame retardants for CarseatBlog, and I’m concerned about my own children’s exposure, so I’m not here to tell you the study doesn’t matter or should be ignored. But I’m not going to tell you to panic and throw away your seats, either.

This current study from HealthyStuff appears to be more thorough in some ways than past ones. This study looked for the presence of brominated, chlorinated, and phosphate-based flame retardants. They show which retardants were present in which seats, and they show the potential hazards of each of those compounds.

They do a much better job than in the past of explaining how these chemicals can enter a child’s body: through dermal (skin) contact, inhalation, or ingestion. The organization also provides a better explanation of their methodology and how they weighted the results to come up with their rankings.

Here are some things to keep in mind when looking at the rankings.

  • All car seats must meet federal flammability standards. The flammability standard is harsh, and there’s no way to meet the standard without the use of some kind of chemical flame retardant.
  • We don’t know the risks of all chemicals. We know that some are worse than others, but because fire retardants are largely unregulated, it often takes years before they’re fully tested and their impacts fully understood. A chemical that seems great now might turn out to be hazardous later. That means that we don’t necessarily know how “good” a seat with a “good” ranking really is. We also don’t know if a seat with a “bad” rating is really any worse. Especially because:
  • There’s no way to know how “safe” or how “dangerous” a car seat is. Even the FAQs on HealthyStuff.org’s report states:

    HealthyStuff.org ratings do not provide a measure of health risk or chemical exposure associated with any individual product, or any individual element or related chemical. HealthyStuff.org ratings provide only a relative measure of high, medium, and low levels of concern for several hazardous chemicals or chemical elements in an individual product in comparison to criteria established by our research team and informed by published research studies.

    We don’t know how—or even if—these car seats’ chemicals are having an actual impact on kids.

  • Not all seats were tested. HealthyStuff.org only tested 15 seats. There are a lot of seats that weren’t tested at all. Of the ones that were, we only have data for those particular samples. It’s possible that a company could switch vendors for certain components, meaning that foam that tested poorly (or well) might not even be used in other, seemingly identical seats manufactured at a different time. Basically: there’s just a lot we don’t know.
  • Car seats save lives. It’s okay to be concerned about chemicals in your children’s car seats, but it doesn’t mean the car seat itself is a bad thing. Just the opposite: It’s absolutely necessary and crucial. The chemicals in flame retardants pose a potential risk. Car crashes are a known, real, happening-everyday risk, and are a leading cause of death in children. Properly using an appropriate car seat is one of the best defenses against injury and death. Hands down.

With all that said, what can you do if you’re still concerned about potentially dangerous chemicals in your seats?

  • Don’t leave children in seats longer than necessary. For many reasons, car seats should be for the car, not for lounging or sleeping outside the car for long periods of time. Children left in car seats outside the car are at greater risk for other hazards, too, such as airway obstruction, falls, and strangulation.
  • Clean the cover. The cover isn’t the only part of the seat that contains fire retardants, but it’s the part in most direct contact with your child. Wash it (according to manufacturer instructions) to remove any excess chemicals. Remember that aftermarket covers and products are not recommended because they can interfere with the straps and with the ability to properly tighten the harness.
  • Avoid excess heat. This is sometimes easier said than done, especially during hot summer months, but heat can cause a greater dissipation of flame retardant chemicals. Park your car in the shade, crack windows, use sun shades, and air out the car before you get in it.
  • Vacuum regularly. Flame retardants can gather in dust, so vacuum out your car and your child’s car seat regularly.
  • Contact car seat manufacturers to express your concerns. Public pressure leads to results. Some companies have already abandoned the more-concerning chlorinated and brominated fire retardants in favor of the (seemingly and hopefully) less-concerning halogen-free phosphates. If some companies have done it, all of them can.

If, after all this, you’re still panicking over your particular seat, then by all means get a new one. I don’t think it’s necessary, though.

Remember, I don’t take this topic lightly at all, but guess what seat my youngest child is currently riding in? I won’t name names, but it’s among the seats listed as a “highest concern.” I’m not switching him out of it, though. For one, I have no way of knowing whether his particular seat has the same components as the one tested (nor do I know how any new seat I’d get him would compare to the samples they used). I do clean the seat regularly, and we try to keep windows cracked in the summer as long as there’s no threat of rain. I do my best to mitigate his exposure by avoiding flame retardants in other areas, especially in our mattresses and bedding, where my child currently spends about half his life.

I will definitely contact the manufacturer to encourage them to remove brominated fire retardants from all their products, but in the meantime I’m not going to sacrifice the seat in question, which fits well in my car, fits my child well, and is easy to use correctly each and every time.

New Jersey Updates Child Restraint Laws – Increases Minimum Age For Forward-Facing

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On May 7, 2015, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law that amended NJ’s child restraint law. This new law takes effect on September 1, 2015.

We know that legal jargon is very confusing so here is the updated New Jersey carseat and booster seat law in plain English:

Children under the age of 8 (through age 7) are legally required to ride in the back seat* as follows:

  • Under age 2 (0-23 months) and weighing less than 30 pounds are required to use a rear-facing carseat with a 5-point harness. This means a convertible used in the rear-facing position or an infant seat. (Note: Most babies will outgrow an infant carrier before their 2nd birthday and will need to transition to a convertible seat used in the rear-facing position. Unless you start off with a convertible seat from birth and then there is no need to transition to a bigger rear-facing seat.)

Graco SnugRide 40  Evenflo Triumph ProComfort - RF Toddler

  •  Age 2 through age 3 (24-47 months) secured in a carseat with 5-point harness either rear-facing (until reaching the weight or height limit) or forward-facing. Having a 3-year-old in just a booster seat is not legal unless they weigh more than 40 lbs.

Diono-Rainier-Clara  Nautilus2

  • Age 4 through age 7 (48 months until 8th birthday) and less than 57 inches tall (4’9″) secured in a forward-facing carseat with 5-point harness or a booster seat. There is no weight requirement in this updated law – only age and height requirements. (Note: If you have an older child who weighs more than 80 lbs. and you’re having a hard time finding a booster seat that they actually still fit in – consider a Safety 1st Incognito Kid Positioner. It’s specifically designed for bigger, older kids.)

Evenflo SK Platinum - harness Jon Turtle Booster Evenflo Amp

  • Age 8 through 17 shall wear a properly adjusted and fastened seat belt

Passing the 5 Step Test

Exemptions:

* If there are no rear seats (e.g., standard cab pickup truck), the child shall be secured in a carseat or booster in the front passenger seat except that no child shall be secured in a rear-facing carseat in the front seat of any motor vehicle which is equipped with a passenger-side airbag that is not disabled or turned off.

Full text of the new law can be found here: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/A3500/3161_R1.PDF