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CarseatBlog’s Recommended Carseats List – 2013 Update!

The-Best-Ribbon

It’s been 12 months since we last updated our list of recommended child restraints. Some models have been updated, some discontinued and many new products have been introduced. A few weeks ago we started the process of revising and updating the entire list and after much thought and discussion we arrived at a consensus. Behold our Updated 2013 List of Recommended Carseats!

We acknowledge that many certified child passenger safety technicians have had it ingrained upon them that they are supposed to act completely neutral toward child restraints. All current seats pass the same FMVSS 213 testing, they are all safe when used correctly, etc., etc. In the class to become certified, most techs were told never to tell a parent that one child seat or brand is better than any other. Instead, technicians are instructed to tell parents that the best seat is the one that fits their child, installs well in their vehicle and is easiest for them to use correctly. Nothing wrong with that.

However, the reality is that once you’ve installed even a dozen different seats, you quickly learn that there are real differences. Some child restraints do tend to install better in general, while some really are easier to use in general. Features like lock-offs for seatbelt installations and premium push-on lower LATCH connectors do make a difference in the vast majority of installations but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every seat that lacks those features is a bust or not worthy of your consideration.

Several years ago, the mighty NHTSA started recommending seats. They didn’t make these recommendations based upon crash testing. No, they were made upon a subjective determination of factors relating to ease-of-use. Ironically, these factors were no more likely to apply to someone’s child and vehicle than the recommendations of an experienced technician! Enter another respected institution, the IIHS. A few years back they began rating booster seats based on fit to a standardized 6 year old dummy. Again, no crash testing whatsoever. Again, no guarantees that the results would apply to your child in your vehicle.

So, who is CarseatBlog to go recommending specific child seats? Well, Heather and Kecia are very experienced Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructors. Darren has been a certified technician for over a dozen years and has like a zillion websites on the topic. Our newest blog writers, Jennie (an experienced CPS Technician) and Alicia (nurse and former tech), are moms with younger kids who can actually use the infant seats and convertible seats that our own kids have long outgrown. We also like to think that we’ve earned a respectable reputation in the child passenger safety community of manufacturers, agencies and advocates. Most importantly, though, we’re just parents who have used a lot of different car seats. Collectively, we have 12 kids ranging in age from newborn to 16. We’ve been through every stage, survived every transition, and personally used an astonishing number of different carseats and boosters. Like many other products we use daily, we know which ones we tend to like in general, which ones we’d use without reservation for our own kids and which ones we are comfortable recommending to CarseatBlog readers and visitors.

With all that said, please take our recommendations with a grain of salt. They are merely opinions, after all. And while we did thoughtfully consider the pros and cons of each seat and combine that with our personal experiences with the product – there’s no crash testing involved. Some seats were omitted because we opted to include a similar model from the same manufacturer. For others, we simply didn’t have enough experience with the product yet to form an opinion. There are a number of products that we don’t mention, if only because a list of every seat we like would be too inclusive, so products that we don’t include may still be worth your consideration! Conversely, some seats we do list may just not work well for you, your child or your vehicle. We’re not saying these are the best or safest choices in child car seats, we’re just saying they’re models we think you should consider. If nothing else, it’s a good place to start when you are carseat or booster shopping!

Please feel free to leave a comment if you think one of our recommendations is rubbish or if you know of a product that you feel deserves a mention! Unlike some other organizations that think their word is the final one, we know our readers have experiences and opinions just as valid as our own!

The Tether Paradox

photoChildren’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one of the leading institutes on children’s safety issues, recently published a blog post, Over the Top- The case for the tether, about the importance of top tethers. CHOP conducted a study that found, not surprisingly, that top tethers are pretty darn important things.

We already know that tethers reduce head excursion in properly installed seats. This study examined how top tethers affect incorrectly installed seats, too. The results showed that, combined with a loose seatbelt installation, top tethers still reduced head excursion. When combined with a belt misrouted through the wrong beltpath, top tethers reduced forward rotation of the car seat.

Obviously, a properly installed seat is ideal, but with more than 80% of seats installed incorrectly, maybe it’s good to have a “second line of defense,” as CHOP put it.

NextFit tethered   Britax Pavilion tethered in Ford Freestar  top-tether-anchor- ceiling

The problem we face, though, is that tethers are no longer the easy answer they once were. Changes in LATCH requirements are leading many vehicle manufacturers to change their LATCH limits, and some are including top tethers in those limits. That means that in some vehicles, you must discontinue top tether use once a child reaches 40 pounds. Other vehicles have higher limits or none at all for top tethers, but this information often isn’t available to consumers, and manufacturers themselves often seem unsure of the answer.

SafeKids, the certifying body of American CPSTs, has made things “easy” by stating that we must not use top tethers beyond 40 pounds unless otherwise allowed by the manufacturer. Gone are the days of telling parents to use top tethers whenever anchors are available.

I realize that LATCH is confusing. The aim of new regulations is to make things easier, but easy isn’t always better. Top tether use shouldn’t be limited in order to make things uniform or to protect manufacturers from theoretical liability. Given what we know of the benefits of top tether use, it should be limited only if there are known disadvantages, and so far no one has come forward with those.

Graco Updates Carseat Buckle Design

gracozoomAs we have noted in the past, the buckles Graco has used on many of their carseats were changed a couple years ago.  Many of our readers and forum members have mentioned that the current ones can sometimes be more difficult to buckle and unbuckle than the previous design.  Part of the problems some owners experience appear to develop over time, as the mechanism gets dirty from routine spills, crumbs, dust and other stuff.  A proper cleaning can resolve some of these issues (see below), but Graco has also announced an update to the design being phased-in on various products!

 

The seats that will have the updated buckle include the MyRide 65/70, Size4Me/My Size 70/Head Wise 70 featuring Safety Surround, Nautilus and Argos car seats.

Consumers will begin to the see the updated buckles on some seats at the end of this month.

 

GracocurrentGracoupdated

 

The change can be seen on the current (left) and updated (right) Graco Nautilus Car Seat above.  It’s no secret that CarseatBlog has often preferred the buckle systems made by IMMI (SafeGuard), and we are very happy to see that Graco will be using them!  Be sure to stay tuned next week for an awesome Graco giveaway at CarseatBlog!

For those having an issue with the buckles on a Graco model they already own, do not despair!  Graco’s great customer service has provided some options for you:

Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible – now with rear-facing tether capabilities!

Peg Perego Primo Viaggio convertible - Alcantara fashionWe think very highly of the Peg Perego Viaggio Convertible and that’s why it’s on our list of Recommended Seats. Recently Peg Perego added the option to tether this seat in the rear-facing position. Rear-facing tethering isn’t required but it’s an added bonus if you have a suitable location in your vehicle to use for this purpose.

For those who are unfamiliar with the practice of “Swedish Style” tethering and its benefits – please see Heather’s very informative blog on the subject: How to Use a Rear-Facing Tether

Peg Perego added the rear facing tether strap to the 570 convertible seat in March 2013. All seats manufactured after 3/2013 include the additional RF tether strap. Anyone with a 570 Convertible made prior to March 2013 can obtain the rear-facing tether strap by calling Peg Perego during regular business hours at  (800) 671-1701.

PegViaggioConvertible - RF tether instructions

 

PegViaggioConvertible - RF tether instructions 2

 

The Peg Perego tether connector strap looks like this:

Peg RF tether strap

 

Peg strap compared with the current style Britax tether connector strap (Peg strap on top, Britax strap below). The current Britax “D-Ring” is just a hair longer (maybe .5 cm longer).

Peg vs. Britax RF tether strap

 

Peg Perego Viaggio Convertible installed RF with tether strap accessory:

Peg Viaggio Convertible installed with RF tether

 

For more information on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP 5-70 Convertible see our complete blog review HERE.

 

The Peg Viaggio Convertible is sold directly from Amazon.com for $329.99 with free shipping and free returns.