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Britax Marathon, Boulevard & Advocate ClickTight Preview: Game Changers for Installation, and Rear-Facing Too?

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Britax Marathon CT

Amazon.com spilled the beans earlier this week, so you may have already heard the news.  Britax is introducing a new line of convertible carseats with their patented, ultra-simple seatbelt installation system.  These models with ClickTight are new designs from the ground up and have some important other differences too.  The current “G4″ Convertible lineup will continue to be sold at present price points alongside the somewhat more expensive ClickTight models.  That is great news because the Britax G4 convertible models have a great LATCH installation system and fit into small spaces very well.  Check out our review of the Britax Advocate G4 and stay tuned for our full review of the Britax Boulevard ClickTight next month. So, you know about ClickTight, but here’s what a lot of advocates and parents really want to know.  First, when can you get one?  Britax plans to begin shipping to stores in the first week of September, with product appearing on many virtual and brick&mortar shelves by mid-to-late September.  And second, what are the height limits?!  Are they a “gamechanger” or a dud? The new Britax Marathon ClickTight is only modestly taller than the current Britax Marathon G4.  The top harness slot height increases from 17.5″ to 17.7″ and the top seated shoulder height from 16.75″ to 16.95″.  The overall standing height limit is 49″ tall.   The rear-facing height limit will also increase somewhat, to about 25.5″ tall to a point 1″ from the top of the head restraint. That point was just below the red adjustment handle at over 26.5″ tall.  Somewhat taller than the Marathon G4, with the main addition of the great ClickTight installation system.  (Editors note: Measurements updated for production model). Now the BIG news: The Britax Boulevard ClickTight and Advocate ClickTight get a significant height increase!  The top harness slot height increases from 17.5″ to 19.5″, among the highest for current convertibles.  The seated shoulder height increases from 16.75″ to 18.65″ tall in the top adjustment.  The standing height limit is also 49″ tall.

Britax Advocate ClickTight

Click To Enlarge

Perhaps the biggest news of the day, these two models will no longer use the top of the outer shell as their reference level for rear-facing height limits!  That limit will now reference 1″ from the top of the inner head restraint “shell” instead.  That point is defined as roughly 1″ below the red adjustment lever for the harness height adjustment. Please keep in mind that these are approximate measurements from a final prototype, but the estimated usable rear-facing height limit should be almost 28″ tall for the Boulevard and Advocate with the head restraint in the highest position.  Bam!  (Editors note: Updated for production models. We measured about 29″ to the bottom of the red level for maximum height adjustment, so one inch below that gives a 28″ usable rear-facing seated height limit to the top of the child’s head). Other notable changes?  They all have an new 7-position recline system with an automatic level indicator.   The Marathon gets a 12-position harness height adjustment, while the Boulevard/Advocate have a 14-position adjustment.  All have two crotch strap positions, similar to current G4 models.  The Pavilion G4 model is being phased out, and the Click & Safe harness tension adjustment system will now be standard on all Boulevard models.  These new ClickTight convertibles are a lot heavier than the G4 models, due to the ClickTight system and steel reinforced shell.  They are a little bigger as well, so they won’t be as handy for travel than the non-ClickTight G4 models.  And, of course, there new fashions! Stay tuned for video and more photos later today.  You can also find our comparison to the current G4 models.

Consumer Reports Updates Convertible Carseat Ratings – July 2014

CR rockThe updated ratings on convertible carseats are published and the results are going to make some people happy and others not so happy. There’s just no way around that. Parents who already own top-rated convertible seats are going to be happy while those that own seats at the bottom of the lists may be less-than-pleased. Some may even question whether they made a mistake buying “X” carseat instead of “Y” carseat.

Before we get to the CR top rated picks, let’s talk about what the “BEST” convertible carseat is. We say this all the time as Child Passenger Safety Technicians, but it’s the truth, hence why it’s repeated so often. 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 we think our Recommended Carseats list is a great place to start, 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!

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 early next 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 brake 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 up to 40 lbs. category, the Cosco Scenera, Scenera 40RF, Cosco Apt 40RF and Safety 1st onSide Air were their top rated picks. I don’t think the Scenera 40 RF is still being made or sold anywhere but the “regular” Cosco Scenera, the Cosco Apt 40RF and the Safety 1st onSide Air are all widely available and they are all budget-friendly seats (under $100) too. Just don’t expect them to fit your child for as long as larger competitors. These are basic, budget-friendly seats for infants and toddlers that should last many kids until at least age 3 and some to age 4. They also make great travel seats.

Cosco SceneraCosco Apt 40 RFSafety 1st onSide Air - stock

In the over 40 lbs. category, the Chicco NextFit is the top rated convertible seat followed closely by the entire Britax convertible lineup – Britax Advocate G4, Britax Boulevard G4, Britax Pavilion G4, Britax Marathon G4 and Britax Roundabout G4. The Britax 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.

Chicco NextFit - blogBritax Advocate G4 - OnyxBritax roundabout G4 - onyx

In the “All-in-One” category – the Evenflo Symphony was the top rated seat among the 5 models tested.

Evenflo Sym65 - Ocala

You can find their 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.

Breaking News! The First Years Leaves the Carseat Business

tomyTOMY has decided to pull all its carseat brands from the market. These brands include Compass, The First Years, JJ Cole, Lamaze, and Learning Curve.

Carseat companies have gone out of business in the past, most notably Fisher Price. It doesn’t necessarily mean the product was bad; either the company decided to go in a different direction, the cost of production was too high, or there were too many problems with a seat. In the case of TOMY, it was a financial decision. After all, when a single crash test is thousands of $ per seat, you can see how it requires a lot of money to be in this business. TOMY will continue its production of strollers under The First Years and JJ Cole brands.

  the-first-years-ialert-true-fit-C685-stock    

 

Statement from TOMY:

“TOMY has made the difficult decision to exit the car seat business. Despite very positive consumer reviews, based in part on our five star NHSTA ratings, we have determined that the economics of the category will prevent us from reaching the level of success necessary for continued investment. We have stopped production and are currently working with our retail partners to sell remaining inventory. We will continue to market our collection of lightweight strollers sold under the First Years and JJ Cole brands. Our customer service team remains available to you to assist with any questions or concerns you may have through this transition period.”

 

What does this mean to you as an owner of a TOMY carseat?

Eventually all replacement parts will be depleted either over time as owners call and request them or if a recall happens.

What should you do?

Continue using your carseat as normal. It’s still fine, right? It’s going to be fine tomorrow. The seats made by TOMY are quality products. There may be some nice sales in the near future on True Fit Convertibles, Contigo Infant Seats and B540/B570 Folding Boosters — and if you find one, consider it, but know that replacement parts likely won’t be there in the future should you need them (maybe I’m an oddity, but over the course of my kids being in carseats, I didn’t need replacement parts for any of my carseats, so . . .).

Recaro ProSPORT Recall Coming? FMVSS 213 Noncompliance

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), they have denied a petition from RECARO Child Safety, LLC and that denial will likely result in a “remedy” or recall on all Recaro ProSPORT models in the near future. In the notice, only the original Recaro ProSPORT model was cited by NHTSA for having a performance-related compliance issue. The newer Recaro ProSport II and Recaro Performance Sport models were not included. Recaro Child Safety informs us that they are awaiting approval from NHTSA to proceed with a response to consumers. In the meantime, we want to assure parents that there are easy ways to avoid any possible risk indicated by NHTSA.

Potentially affected are 39,181 ProSPORT models manufactured between June 16, 2010 (inception) and Jan 31, 2013 (when production ended). Again, ProSport II and Performance Sport models are NOT affected, as we are told these newer models were introduced after a design change effective from February 1, 2013. The updated Performance Sport model continues to be one of our Recommended Carseats.

According to NHTSA, the ProSPORT model is not passing FMVSS 213 standards for head excursion limits when tested with the 6 year old dummy (which weighs 52 lbs.) if the seat is installed with just the lower LATCH anchors and is NOT tethered. This testing scenario actually conflicts with Recaro’s installation instructions which mandate that you discontinue using LATCH and switch to a lap/shoulder belt installation once the child weighs 52 lbs. Regardless, the standard is the standard and all carseats are required to pass the testing as it is specified in the standard. Just because a CR manufacturer states a specific LATCH limit or mandates a particular type of installation or belt routing does not exempt them from the requirements of FMVSS 213. In this case, Safety Standard 213 requires all forward-facing harnessed seats that are rated beyond 40 lbs. must pass minimum crash testing standards with both the 3-year-old dummy and the 6-year-old dummy, both with and without the use of the tether. With a tether, the dummy’s head excursion must not exceed 720 mm during the crash test. Without the tether, the dummy’s head excursion must not exceed 813 mm.  According to NHTSA, the ProSPORT had a head excursion measurement of 907 mm in their compliance test.

What does this mean for parents or caregivers who own a ProSPORT model?

  • If you are using this carseat in high-back booster mode (without the 5-point harness), then this type of use is not included in this notification.  Continue using your ProSport as a booster according to the instruction manual,  until we know more.
  • Similarly, if you use a lap/shoulder belt for installation with the 5-point harness, with or without the top tether, then this type of use is also not included in this notification and we believe this is an acceptable method of installation until we know more. Recaro instructions indicate that beyond 52 lbs. you must detach the tether and use the lap/shoulder belt alone for installation.
  • If you are using your Recaro ProSport in 5-point harness mode, using the top tether along with a lap-only seatbelt or lower LATCH anchors, according to the instruction manual, then your child will be well-protected and you should continue to use your seat with the top tether until we have more information.
  • If you are using your Recaro ProSport in 5-point harness mode for a child under 52 lbs. and have installed it with the lower anchors but are NOT using the top tether, then you should simply attach the top tether to an approved tether anchor if at all possible.  Use of the top tether resolves the non-compliance issue for installations with lower anchors up to 52 lbs.  All seating positions with lower anchors have a top tether as well, though you may need to check your vehicle owner’s manual if the location of the top tether is not obvious.
  • For the uncommon situation of a ProSport installed with just a lap belt or lower LATCH anchors without a top tether, and a tether is not available, you have the option to switch to a seating position that has a lap/shoulder belt or use the seat in booster mode (which also requires a lap/shoulder belt) until a remedy is provided.  We suggest children remain in a 5-point harness until they are at least 4 years and 40 lbs in general.

Again, this performance issue identified by NHTSA applies to installation with lower LATCH anchors ONLY, when not using the top tether.  It is fine to continue using your ProSport according to our suggestions above, until we learn more from NHTSA and Recaro.

It is important to point out that NHTSA doesn’t test harnessed seats with a lap/shoulder belt.