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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 Convertible seat testing with their new crash test methodology is underway, but those results will not be published until some time early next year.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.

Volvo’s Innovative Inflatable Child Seat Concept

We know rear-facing is safest. But lugging a heavy convertible seat around when traveling can be a chore. Many convertibles with high rear-facing limits can weigh 25 pounds or more! Volvo has a concept solution that weighs just over 10 lbs. and fits into a small bag. Do you like the BubbleBum inflatable booster for your older kid? Do you need something like that for your younger child? It’s just a concept right now, but check it out! Maybe you can buy one some day soon with your Volvo XC60, one of the safest vehicles on the road, according to both the IIHS and NHTSA for 2013-2014!

 

volvo_seat_v1

According to Volvo:

Children’s car seats are historically bulky, hard to move and tedious to mount. This is why Volvo Cars has designed a lightweight and inflatable rearward-faced child seat concept using groundbreaking technology. The seat is safe, easy to pack and carry and will enable parents to use it in many situations not practical with the seats on the market today.

Lawrence Abele, Design Manager at the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center in Los Angeles and the designer behind the new seat, had his two children in mind while designing the concept seat: “For me child safety is always the number one priority and when we lived abroad with two toddlers we had to haul bulky child seats through airports and then into taxis. For many, traveling with young children is a challenge; any assistance to simplify the parents’ life with young children is a great thing.”

The concept seat is as safe as anything on the market right now. It inflates in less than 40 seconds and the total weight of the seat is less than 5 kg, half the weight of a contemporary seat, and deflated it fits into a weekend bag together with other necessities for your child. The concept presents new opportunities, for example grandparents and friends who take care of your kids and need an ultra mobile child seat. It is also very convenient when travelling by taxi, rental car or bus, situations where you historically had to rely on the safety measures available.

Our idea was to create a child seat concept that would be convenient for anyone to use anytime and for it to be compact to be able store it in small spaces. Children will find it more comfortable as the main structure is filled with air, which serves as a better and softer cushion than the traditional plastic molded child seats. It also has interchangeable inserts in a wide arrange of materials, which enables personalization”, Lawrence explains.

The Inflatable Child Seat Concept faces the rear of the car, as it is the safest way for children to travel. A child’s neck is under development and not as strong as an adult’s neck. In a frontal impact collision, the head of a forward-facing car occupant is thrown forward inducing great stain on the neck. Children therefore need special restraints and to face the rear of the vehicle until at least 3-4 years of age.

Actually, it would be better for all of us to travel facing the rear but given how cars are designed nowadays it’s not feasible. Young children, however, can and should travel facing the rear of the car as long as possible“, says Lawrence.

The goal was to design a seat as safe, or safer, than anything on the market right now but second to that I want everyone, including kids to be exposed to great design every day,” Lawrence ends.