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 Convertible seat testing with their new crash test methodology is underway, but those results will not be published until some time later this year.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

The good ol’ days.

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The car seat world has really come a long way. The advancements and options are incredible compared to what we had even 5 years ago. What was out of reach for many people years ago has become standard now. We still have a long way to go and many people to help and educate but in the grand scheme of things, things are really looking up for child passenger safety.

That being said, there is one thing from “back in the day” that I wish hadn’t disappeared. It’s not the overhead shield. Not the 20lb limit. Nope. It’s the cute covers. Today it’s totally cool to be neutral and match the car interior. Which is fine if you’re into that kind of thing. But for those of us who prefer bright and fun, we miss it. Sure, there’s a few seats out there with some aqua, green, orange, or red accents. But what about the patterns? Fun prints? For me, an out-of-this-world-everything-I-could-ask-for car seat would still go down a couple notches on my Cool Meter if it was only available in black, gray, and tan. Or maybe a mix of the three. With some wallpaper-like dots that look like they should be on my grandmother’s shoes. If my grandmother were still here. See? A gray seat that just makes me miss my grandmother and her ancient shoes! Not cool.

Remember old school Britax? Oh my. I’m embarrassed of my collection of covers I can’t even use anymore. I hang on to them in hopes of someday. Fido. Jonah. Popsicle. Barnum. The list goes on. Really, the only one that’s survived is Cowmoo, which don’t get me wrong, I love me some Cowmooflauge. But how do puppy prints, whales, and adorable rainbow patterns go out of style for kids? We didn’t have whales on our car interior back then. What changed?

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Sure there’s been lots of cute pink/purple flowery patterns that Cosco, Evenflo, and Britax have released (and possibly more companies I’m failing to mention). But there are more cute things in life than flowers!

Let’s put shoes for the elderly on hold and bring back some puppies.

Carseat “Rules”. Do They Apply to You? Really?

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  • Child Passenger Safety Social Media CommandmentsYou must not turn them forward-facing until 4 years old
  • You can’t have 3-across carseats since your seatbelts overlap
  • Don’t use a top tether because your child is 65 pounds
  • You can’t have the handle up like that in the car.

Have you been told one or more of these Child Passenger Safety “Rules”, or at least something similar?

Most likely, the commandment was told to you as if it was etched on a stone tablet, but where did it actually come from? Is it the law?  Is it in a manual?  Is it advice from a reputable organization?  Something quoted from a research paper or told to you by a doctor?  Maybe someone told you it was the answer they were given by a customer service hotline?  Perhaps it was something a friend at your weekly playgroup heard, or something you Googled in a post on an auto forum?  How many times was the information passed along and distorted?  Was it taken out of context?  Are there exceptions to it?  How do you know if it actually applies to your child, in your carseat, in your vehicle?

It’s pretty simple.  There are Rules, there are guidelines and there’s everything else:

  • Rules come in two forms.  1) State Law and 2) Your Owner’s Manuals, and not necessarily in that order depending on where you live!  These are the limits and instructions that MUST be followed if at all possible.  If you can find it in your state’s occupant protection laws or the manual that came with your car or carseat (or any published addendums or updates to these), then it’s a Rule and almost always applies to you.
  • Guidelines come from all sorts of reputable sources.  These include official printed brochures or online statements from organizations like the AAP, NHTSA, IIHSSafe Kids USA, the CPS Board, MACPS and various others.  These may also include sources such as classes given by Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructors, peer-reviewed and published articles from respected journals, presentations by manufacturer’s representatives or written correspondence from industry researchers or other experts.  Most such guidelines are excellent advice and often form the basis for safest practice recommendations.  Even so, they are still just guidelines and some may not even apply to you.  Follow them if you can determine that they apply to your situation, but if they are not included in your owner’s manuals or state laws, then they are not universal rules.
  • Then there’s everything else.  That starts with verbal conversations with customer service representatives at manufacturer toll-free help lines. While they may have the best intentions, the answers can vary over time, even from the same rep!  Websites like CarseatBlog* may fall into this category, especially when someone like me thinks they are smart enough to write an opinion on a debated topic!  Or you might find a snippet posted online by a well-meaning certified technician who speculated about a confusing issue.  Maybe a close relative who heard something from a TV news story and called to tell you about it?   Perhaps you heard it from a friend, who heard it from a friend who read it on a secret facebook group? From expert commentary to third hand speculation to just plain crazy.   Take all this hearsay with a grain of salt, because what you heard may be great advice, or maybe it just doesn’t apply to you…

How far is too far?

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I understand that we’re all passionate about safety. And at some point or another, most of us have had to deal with criticism from friends or family members who think we’ve taken this whole car safety thing too far and just gone right off the deep end. Usually, we just brush off these ignorant remarks because deep in our hearts we know that we’re right and obviously they just don’t get it. We’re aware of the fact that MVC’s are a leading cause of death to children in the U.S. and we’re all determined to protect our children to the best of our abilities. That’s our job as parents and caregivers and we all take that responsibility very seriously. I understand that, I really do – because I’m right there with ya.

But how are we to know if we’ve really gone too far? Certainly our safety-addicted friends at car-seat.org would never stage an intervention on our behalf. And our spouse would probably rather walk across hot coals than incur our wrath by suggesting that maybe, just maybe, we’re being a bit too extreme.

So, who’s gonna give it to ya straight and tell you when it’s time to chillax? Who’s going to remind you that you can’t save the world and completely eradicate all injuries to all children in MVCs – no matter how desperately you want to? Who’s gonna tell you when it’s time to step away from that vehicle in the Walmart parking lot because clearly you’re not dealing with an appreciative and open-mined victim?

I will.

However, the first step to getting help is to admit that you have a problem. Don’t think you have a problem? Get in line. And while you’re there – take our short survey:

1. Do you find yourself repeatedly trying to talk your sister-in-law into buying a Radian to rear-face your tiny 7-year-old niece who weighs 43 lbs?

2. When you go grocery shopping do you spend 20 minutes thinking about the most appropriate way to secure those projectiles for the ride home?

3.  Have you purchased more carseats for other people’s kids than you have for your own children?

4.  Have you ever considered gluing sheets of EPS foam to the rear windows of a vehicle that doesn’t have side curtain airbags?

5.  Do you lose sleep thinking about your neighbor’s child who is 5 years old and rides in a backless booster?

6.  Do you respond “ABSOLUTELY”, when someone posts an online poll asking whether you would put a small, immature 13-year-old back into a 5-point harness?

7.  Have you ever refused to ride the monorail at WDW because you considered it too risky?

8.  Do you have anxiety attacks when you see properly restrained forward-facing 2-year-olds?

9.  Do you always remember to secure your purse with an available safety belt?

10.  On Halloween, do you hand out copies of the 5-Step Test flyer instead of candy? (If you hand out the flyer WITH candy – that doesn’t count as a yes.)

If you answered yes to more than 1 question above – please do yourself a favor and go volunteer some of your time at carseat check events in the lowest, low-income inner-city area you can find within driving distance.  If you don’t have any impoverished inner-city areas within driving distance, then a rural, migrant farm worker community will suffice.  All kidding aside, these are the types of places where your knowledge, passion and dedication to Child Passenger Safety are desperately needed.  And seeing the frightening reality of how these children ride around every day will really help you to appreciate the beautiful sight of a properly restrained, albeit forward-facing, 2-year-old.  Everything in life is relative and a healthy perspective will keep you focused on the bigger picture – and help you avoid going off the deep end in the process.