Vehicles Archive

2016 IIHS LATCH Ease-of-Use Ratings Released

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IIHS Reports Vehicle Manufacturers Respond, Make Improvements in LATCH Hardware

tsxwagonlatchFor the 2nd year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released their LATCH Ease-of-Use ratings for parents who are contemplating purchasing a new vehicle. Most parents look at safety features, such as airbags, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, and so on, without realizing that being able to install their carseats easily is also a safety feature. When Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren was introduced in 2002, it was hailed as the panacea for poorly installed child seats; instead, it’s brought confusion, frustration, and ultimately carseat manufacturers who try to discourage its use. So why should you care about LATCH ease-of-use when buying a car?

When we as technicians teach parents how to install their carseats, we always go for the easiest method first and that usually is LATCH, especially for rear-facing carseats. If the lower anchors that the LATCH connectors attach to on the vehicle are difficult to find for technicians, parents are likely to be doubly frustrated. Most of the time we can finagle the LATCH connectors onto the anchor, but what if you have rigid LATCH, which is becoming more popular? Rigid LATCH is supposed to be an insanely easy install where you simply push it onto the lower anchors, but if you can’t access the anchors because they’re so buried in the vehicle seat bight (crack) or blocked by stiff leather, you’re not getting some of that ease of installation for which you paid. I still get sympathetic Braxton Hicks contractions when some of my more stubborn pregnant mamas try to dig around and find their lower anchors.

Last year, the IIHS found that only 3 of 102 vehicles passed their criteria for a good rating with more than half being poor or marginal. This year, however, vehicle manufacturers paid attention and 3 models, the 2017 Audi Q7, the 2016 Lexus RX, and the 2016 Toyota Prius, received the top rating of Good+ and most of the 170 vehicles rated good or acceptable. It’s notable that there aren’t any minivans, considered to be top young family haulers, in the Good or Good+ categories. One heavily advertised minivan, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica manufactured after August 2016 received a Marginal score whereas models manufactured before September 2016 received a Poor score.

toyota_iihs_latch_02_e15ebb531d38a929d24f9807c5303865ed7ac729_lowHere are side-by-side comparisons of the Toyota Prius model years 2015 and 2016. Toyota improved access by adding a flap of fabric to the vehicle seat bight (previously seen on the Sienna) so the lower anchors can be easily seen when the flap is lifted and can be borrowed in the center seating position, which is new for Toyota (though problematic since the LATCH strap would cover the driver’s side seat buckle). The top tether anchors are easy to find.

2015-toyota-prius-latch-rating 2016-toyota-prius-latch-rating

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.

A Good+ rating is achieved if a vehicle also provides another LATCH-equipped seating position with a good or acceptable LATCH rating.

What does this mean if your perfect vehicle has a less than perfect LATCH ease-of-use rating? It means you now know that installing a carseat using the lower anchors and/or top tether may be more difficult. Since IIHS gives you an explanation of why each seating position has its difficulties, you are armed with information, which is powerful—the more you know, right? Remember, you don’t *have* to install your carseat with the lower anchors and in fact, at some point with a convertible and combination carseat, you will have to switch to the vehicle seat belt because of weight limits (see your carseat and vehicle instruction manuals and labels).

Collapsing Vehicle Seat Backs: What Can You Do?

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nhtsa collapseIf you’ve paid attention to the news during the past year or two, you’ve probably come across some stories about front vehicle seats collapsing in crashes. In some cases, drivers and backseat passengers—including children—have been killed. Clearly, this is a potentially important safety matter, and one that an outlet like CarseatBlog should tackle, which we haven’t done until now.

It’s not that we haven’t noticed; it’s that usually when a subject like this comes up, there’s some kind of relatively easy way to avoid the problem. This one, like the Takata Airbag issue, is tough to write about because so much is out of a consumer’s power to avoid it. But we’ll try.

Basically, this is an issue of seat strength. In some rear-end crashes, especially high-speed ones, front vehicle seats have been found to collapse backwards. This can cause injuries to the front seat occupant, from “simple” whiplash to more extreme injuries like paralysis or death when the occupant ramps upward and hits the back seat or another part of the car. It’s also possible for people to be ejected backwards.

Clearly, a front seat collapsing also becomes a hazard for anyone riding behind that seat. There have been fatalities due to the front seat collapsing onto a rear passenger.

Because of reporting procedures, it’s hard to get an exact number on the amount of fatalities caused by collapsing seat backs. One expert interviewed by CBS news says that seat backs collapse (though not necessarily fatally) every day. That same report says that at the time of the story, nine children were known to have died due to collapsing seat backs. In another CBS report, a spokesman for The Center for Auto Safety, a consumer protection organization, says that 50 children a year are killed that way. Clearly there is a huge discrepancy between 50 per year and nine in an unknown timeframe, and I don’t know if anyone has definitive answers.

NHTSAThe National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and vehicle manufacturers have been aware of this problem for decades. CBS’s 60 Minutes first tackled the issue back in 1992. According to one of the recent CBS reports, back in 1992 a man named Paul Sheridan was in charge of a minivan safety team at Chrysler. He knew about the problem of seats collapsing and tried to take steps to research and correct it, but Chrysler instead dismantled his team and withheld evidence. At the time (remember, this is 1992) NHTSA said it would look into the issue. Nearly 25 years later, nothing has changed.

NHTSA and manufacturers claim that current seat backs meet or exceed the federal standard (FMVSS 207) for seat strength, and that’s probably true. The problem is that the standard was established in 1967 and has not been updated since then. Also, the test is static not dynamic (meaning that seats are exposed to a long pull of increasing resistance rather than a sudden change of force, like what happens in a real-life crash).

It’s not FMVSS 207 that the seats are failing. Where they’re found failing (other than in real life) is in FMVSS 301, which tests fuel system integrity. According to this article (admittedly from a law firm that specializes in crash lawsuits) in the crash tests for FMVSS 301, “almost all bucket seatbacks and split bench seatbacks fail and strike the rear seats.”

I was unable to access the source they used, but I did find a report submitted to NHTSA from SAFE Laboratories, an independent research and crash testing facility. That report showed of 21 tests, nearly all resulted in the seats collapsing. It said, “Although all of the above vehicles incorporated FVMSS 207 compliant seats, when loaded dynamically in a rear impact these seats consistently failed to prevent occupant excursion into the rear compartment and potentially injurious impacts with rear structures or rear seated occupants.”

nhtsa collapse 2How has NHTSA responded to the increased media attention surrounding seat failures? Essentially by saying it’s not a problem. They say there’s not enough data to demonstrate a real-world benefit to changing the standard for seat strength.

As for vehicle manufacturers, strengthening the seat backs would cost money. How much? Well, in a 1996 deposition, a General Motors engineer said the cost to strengthen the seat backs would be about a dollar.

The Warner family, interviewed by CBS, lost their toddler in a crash when the father’s seat back collapsed on her. That father said he imagines almost anyone would be willing to pay another $50 for their vehicle if it meant their seats wouldn’t collapse on their children.

The study I referenced above from SAFE Laboratories showed that adding a second recliner to seats limited how much the seats would pivot in a crash, thereby making them more stable. I’m not sure if that’s the fix the GM engineer referred to, but there are likely many possible solutions.

What You Can Do

There’s no surefire solution to this one, but here are some things that might help.

Keep children rear-facing as long as possible

Rear-facing is safer overall, and the vast majority of crashes are frontal collisions (vs. the rear collisions where the seat backs are collapsing). It’s hard to say how much of a difference it would make for a child to be rear-facing vs. forward-facing if a seat back collapses on them, but it’s possible that a rear-facing child restraint might offer some additional protection if it’s able to stop the front seat back or keep tClek Fllo Addie RFhe child’s body contained within the shell. It’s also possible that the child restraint wouldn’t be strong enough to make a difference, but at least there’s that possibility.

(On that note, I have seen at least one instance where a forward-facing child was killed due to a known/suspected seat back collapse, and the immediate response of some safety advocates was that it wouldn’t have happened if the child had been rear-facing. First of all, we have no way of knowing whether that’s true. Second, that places blame where it doesn’t belong. The child might have been saved by a rear-facing seat, but the child almost definitely would have been saved if the front seat hadn’t collapsed in the first place.)

Keep children in the back seat

Some people are going to panic and think “The back seat is too dangerous now! Better move the kids to the front!” I understand the sentiment, but please don’t do that. The back seat is still the safest place for children. The front seat comes with its own dangers, for example airbags designed for adults (or ones that could malfunction) potentially hurting children. The vast majority of car crashes are frontal collisions, putting those front seat passengers closer to the point of impact. Also, if a child were to be sitting in the front seat and that seat collapses, the child is still likely to be injured.

Put children behind unoccupied seats

I sort of hesitate to recommend something that’s not an “official” recommendation from the CPST curriculum, but in this case I think it makes sense, when practical. In March, the Center for Auto Safety petitioned NHTSA to warn parents not to seat their children behind occupied front seats. (As far as I know, NHTSA has not yet responded and probably won’t. After all, if the agency implements that recommendation, it would essentially be admitting that collapsing seats are enough of a problem to warrant a warning. If it’s serious enough to need a warning, it’s serious enough to need fixing, which NHTSA has said isn’t the case.)

If you’re concerned, though, and if you have the room, it’s a logical solution to place children in seating positions where there isn’t an occupant in front of them. Of course, unless you have only one child (and sometimes not even then), that’s not always possible or practical.

I don’t want to see this become an official recommendation because it’s one that’s just too hard for most people to follow. But when the question of “Which side is safer: the driver’s side or passenger side?” comes up, maybe it can help to take the presence of front passengers into consideration.

Select certain brands when buying a new car

According to this CBS report, their experts state that BMW, Mercedes, and Volvo have stronger seats than their competitors. They don’t provide information to back up or explain those claims, so possibly take that with a grain of salt.

Keep calm

I know it’s a scary thought. No one wants to think about their child being killed by a collapsing seat, especially when there are already so many other dangers out there, and especially when there’s often no way to avoid a child sitting behind an occupied seat. Remember that these seat failures are occurring in rear-impact crashes. Rear-impacts are usually very low speed and account for far fewer fatalities than front- and side-impact crashes. The FMVSS 301 testing occurs at 50 mph, far faster than the typical fender-bender in heavy traffic. Although this does seem to be a serious issue that needs action, the odds of a child dying from a seat collapsing are very, very low.

Take action

If you’re concerned about this, take action. Write to your elected representatives and to NHTSA and push for a change in the standard. Write to your vehicle manufacturer to express your concern and demand that they increase the strength of their seat backs. Manufacturers know that money talks—make them listen.

Takata Airbag Recall: Get Your Car Fixed NOW!

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An attempt to save money takes lives and ultimately costs millions in fines. Are you flipping mad yet? You should be.

Takata logoIn the largest auto recall in history, tens of millions of vehicles have been recalled to have 28.8 million airbags replaced. Takata airbag inflators have injured more than 100 people and killed 11 people: 10 in the U.S. and 1 in Malaysia, with the most recent being a 17 year old Texas girl on March 31. The 17 year old was driving a 2002 Honda Civic and, according to Honda, several recall notices had been sent to the registered owners (they claim not to have received any).

This story has been in the news for years and you’ve probably paid some attention to it just because of its frequency on the news, but with the media’s fixation on the election, disease du jour, ISIS, and so on, a few airbag deaths get left behind in our daily news consumption of dread.

What’s been happening is that the airbag itself isn’t killing drivers: it’s shrapnel from the explosive device used to deploy the airbag. These metal fragments explode out at such a force that they slice right through skin, eyes, arteries, and even spinal columns. This is happening when the airbags deploy in minor crashes, collisions from which the victims should be walking away.

Before you run out and disconnect your airbags (and I know some of you will), these explosive devices, or inflators, are needed in order to deploy the airbag. In fact, they’re in other safety devices throughout your vehicle and activate in crashes, but we’re focusing on airbags here. When the airbag sensors detect a crash, the inflators ignite, starting a chemical reaction that fills the airbag with gas. It sounds crazy scary, but airbags have saved thousands of lives. Between 2010 and 2013 (the latest year from which we have data), 9,554 lives were saved by frontal airbags. Many thousands upon thousands more lives have been saved since the frontal airbag was introduced in the ‘70s.

Background

Problems with exploding airbags initially cropped up back in 2004 in Alabama when a Honda Accord airbag exploded, injuring its driver. Because it was the first incident, both Honda and Takata chalked it up to being an anomaly and moved on without issuing a recall. According to the New York Times, Honda did report the incident to NHTSA, but didn’t elaborate in the report that it was an airbag rupture. Then again in 2007, three more ruptures were reported to Honda, and again, Honda did not elaborate in their reports to NHTSA that the airbags were exploding. In 2007, Honda told Takata of the ruptures and Takata went to work to find the cause: manufacturing problems at their Mexican plant. However, the ruptures continued and after more testing, Takata linked the problem to manufacturing problems at their Washington state factory.

Recalls began in 2008 and initially only driver’s side airbag inflators were recalled, but passenger airbag inflators were added as those started to rupture as well. Then in August 2015, side airbag inflators came under inspection when a Volkswagen Tiguan’s seat mounted side airbags ruptured after a collision with a deer. GM also reported a rupture to NHTSA. This “SSI-20” inflator is found in Volkswagen and GM vehicles and has been recalled in those vehicles too.

Takata Timeline

2016 Subaru Forester Review: Safety and Performance

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Subaru Forester StockI keep hearing such good things about the Subaru Forester: It gets a 5-star rating in government crash tests, and it’s an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, so it’s hard to beat for safety. Forester owners I’ve talked to seem to love theirs. I wanted to try it out for myself, though, especially since my husband and I are in the market for a secondary car to replace our existing Honda Civic. Could the Forester be a contender?

Here’s a quick video overview, with more detailed information below.

Vehicle Features and Driving

I drove the 2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited for a week. As I’ve mentioned in other vehicle reviews, I’m not a “car person” in the sense that I know a lot about fuel injectors or rear suspension. But I do know what I like, and I like a vehicle that feels responsive, as the Forester does.

First, this thing has amazing acceleration. I’d barely touch the gas pedal and it would take off—but not in a bad way. It was nice knowing I could pull out into traffic without worrying about my engine lagging behind. I didn’t do anything crazy, but it handled turns nicely, too. I’m not the kind of person who typically says, “Wow, I really enjoyed driving that,” but I really enjoyed driving that.

Forester EyeSight

EyeSight Cameras on either side of center windshield

The safety features are a big consideration with the Subaru. Foresters equipped with Subaru’s EyeSight technology earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick+. (Foresters without EyeSight are still a Top Safety Pick, just not a “plus.”) EyeSight technology is available on mid-level trim options, which is nice considering that some manufacturers offer similar safety packages only on their top trim levels.

EyeSight includes a frontal crash avoidance system that alerts drivers (through a sound and a dashboard light) when they get dangerously close to a vehicle or object in front of them. If necessary, the vehicle will apply the brakes to avoid or minimize a collision. Also included with EyeSight is a lane departure warning. If the vehicle detects dedicated lanes in the road, it can alert drivers when they veer over the lines.

The warning systems in the Forester seemed a bit more subtle than in some other cars I’ve tested. They’re still noticeable but not startling.

The Adaptive Cruise Control, which allows you to set your speed but then slows down or stops the car based on traffic ahead of it, worked perfectly the few times I tried it out. You can adjust your following distance (close, far, or in between) to your preference.

The only feature the Forester lacked that I would have appreciated is a blind-spot detection/avoidance system.

Subaru ForesterOne other nice safety feature of the Forester was adaptive headlights. My husband took the car out at night and came home to report that the headlights were flashing on and off. After doing some research, we realized it was actually the fog lights. When the headlights are on and the car turns or goes around curves, the fog light on that side of the vehicle lights up to give the driver a better view and a bit more reaction time in case something is around the bend. We were surprised that even just a slight turn of the steering wheel would activate the lights—it worked even on very subtle curves in the road, not just on tight curves. I wouldn’t say the feature was distracting, per se, but it was unusual for us. I’m sure it’s the kind of thing we would have gotten used to and not even noticed after a while.

The Forester’s fuel economy is 24 MPG city/32 MPG highway, for a combined MPG of

Car Seats and Kids