Vehicles Archive

A Cautionary Tale of Car Buying


I did something foolish last month. Car seat foolish, to be specific.

Last summer, we bought a Honda Odyssey (car seat heaven!) for me to drive and passed my Honda Fit along to my husband. Before you feel too sorry for him, it was a huge upgrade from his previous car (9 years newer!) and it made the most sense driving wise. I’m the primary kid shuttler, thus I needed the kid friendly car and his work commute is longer, thus he needed the better gas mileage car. He was bitter, but we were planning to replace it when the time was right.

And a year later, the Fit was struggling. It still ran like the workhorse of a car that it is, but the air conditioning only worked a small fraction of the time, and Honda was having a hard time figuring out why. The other issue was that we eventually want to add a 3rd child to our family (note to my parents: this is a future event, we have no exciting news to share right now) and while there may have been a way to get 3 car seats across in the Fit, it would’ve been a struggle, to say the very least.

So we went car shopping. We initially looked at used cars at a big used car company. We wanted a small SUV- just big enough for 3 car seats across in the back and room for a good sized stroller in the trunk, but not so big that the gas mileage would be terrible. I told my husband from the start that since it was his car he got to make the decisions with one exception- no overlapping seat belts.

For those unfamiliar: overlapping seat belts are a new(is) thing happening in a lot of cars. In a “normal” car, the middle seat shoulder belt originates outside of the outboard shoulder belt/buckles. There is no overlap at all between either outboard seat belt and the middle seat belt.

In cars with overlapping belts, like the picture below, the middle lap belt originates inside the seatbelt area for the outboard seat, causing the belts to overlap one another. As you can imagine in the picture below, this makes it extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible, and potentially unsafe, to install 3 car seats in a row.


I all but refused to get into cars with overlapping belts. The car salesman thought I was crazy at first, but once I explained why he was right alongside me, pointing out incompatible cars. He also was excited to pass along the information to other families looking for cars for 3 kids, so at least some good came out of the day. We found a car we liked, but it was unavailable and so while we waited to see if the potential buyer was going to go ahead with it, we decided to go check out a local dealership.

Once we got there, we found an SUV we had seen at the used car place (no overlapping belts) and that we had liked, so we decided to look at the new version, mostly for fun. Things escalated rather quickly and we went from glancing at the outside of the SUV to test driving it in what seemed like seconds. I assumed the belts would be similar to the older version and the dealer hopped into the back before I really got a good look at the seat belts. We decided that after the test drive we would try some car seats out in it, at which point I would’ve been able to see whether the seat belts were going to be an issue.

And this is where things went off the rails.

The car ran out of gas on the test drive. We only made it like three or four blocks before the car came to an abrupt, shuddery stop. Since we had to wait for someone to gas it up and drive it back anyway, we decided to go talk about financing to see if we could even possibly make it work before we got too invested in the car.

And then one thing led to another and…we bought it. It literally happened about that fast.

As I was moving our car seats from our Fit to our brand! new! car! I discovered the problem. Overlapping seat belts. Overtly obvious (that picture is our new car…), never should’ve even considered riding in the car let alone purchasing it, overlapping seat belts. I nearly cried on the spot. In California we have a no cooling off law, so for better or, in this case, for worse, the car was ours. And while I was secretly freaking out, my husband was elated- it was his first ever new car. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him for a few days.

I honestly still do not know what we are going to do. We don’t have a 3rd child, so for now, it’s a great car. It fits our two cars seats beautifully, the gas mileage is great and the air conditioning works 100% of the time. I also noticed, after spending a lot of time trying to put car seats in, that thankfully, that the outboard lower anchors and middle seatbelt do not fully overlap, they line up pretty much on top of each other. I am not terribly hopeful, but there just might be a way to make something work for emergencies. And believe me, if I get 3 car seats securely and properly installed in the new car, I will be shouting it from the rooftops and sharing it far and wide, so you’ll know.

But until then, consider this a lesson for everyone smarter than me. Just because an older version of a car didn’t have overlapping belts doesn’t mean a new version won’t. Don’t forget to check the seat belts, even if your car runs out of gas on the test drive and the dealer gives you an amazing deal. An amazing deal on a car that won’t work for your family (planned or otherwise) is not an amazing deal. Trust me.

Diono Approves Convertible & Booster Installations with Ford’s Inflatable Seat Belt Technology


Effective immediately all current models of Diono convertible seats (R100, R120, RadianRXT, Olympia, Pacifica & Rainier) and Diono boosters (Monterey, Cambria, & Solana) can now be used in Ford vehicles that have inflatable seatbelts! This allowance is retroactive to previous Diono and Sunshine Kids Radian and Monterey models.

Currently, inflatable seatbelts are an optional feature in the Ford Explorer, Edge, Flex, Fusion and F-150 as well as in Lincoln’s MKT, MKX and MKZ models. Read more about our experience with inflatable seatbelts in our Ford Explorer Review. This new allowance from Diono does NOT include the inflatable seatbelts found in some Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

Photo Credit: Diono

If you own a Ford or Lincoln vehicle with inflatable seatbelts, or if you are a CPS Technician working in a Ford/Lincoln vehicle that has this technology, please make sure you understand how to lock this particular type of seatbelt before attempting installation of ANY harnessed carseat.

ford-inflatable-seatbelt-upper-elr-retractorThe Ford inflatable seatbelt system uses 2 retractors which is very unusual. One retractor at the top of the shoulder belt, where you normally expect to find a retractor (pic right) and a second retractor (pic below) is near the floor at the end of the lap belt portion of the lap/shoulder belt. When installing ANY approved harnessed seat with these seatbelts you must switch the retractor on the lap belt portion of the seatbelt to locked (ALR) mode. The retractor at the top for the shoulder belt is not “switchable” – it is ELR only, meaning that section of the seatbelt will only lock during a crash or under emergency conditions. ELR retractors don’t do you any good when it comes to a harnessed carseat installation (boosters are a different story) so you MUST lock the lap belt portion of the seatbelt by “switching” the bottom retractor to locked mode. Switching a switchable retractor to locked mode is achieved by pulling the webbing of the seatbelt all the way to the end. When the webbing starts to retracts, you will hear a ratcheting sound and you will notice that the belt webbing goes in but won’t come out in this locked mode. Read the vehicle’s owners manual for clarification and more specific details.


If using an inflatable seatbelt to secure a child in a Diono booster seat, you don’t have to worry about any of this. Just route the seatbelt properly and buckle.

Additional information regarding Diono seats and Ford’s inflatable seat belts can be found on the Diono website:

2016 IIHS LATCH Ease-of-Use Ratings Released

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?


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.