CarseatBlog recently released an update to our Recommended Carseats List. As we were working on it, we thought we should take a look at Consumer Reports and see how our results compared to their results, and we were curious. After all, many parents know and trust Consumer Reports for their ratings system and reports on vehicles and appliances, so why shouldn’t they trust them for rating carseats too?
Consumer Reports has an arguably disagreeable history in carseat reporting for many years, going back as far as 1999 when they recommended a T-shield carseat and an overhead shield carseat as top-rated models. Back in the day, the internet was just starting out and we didn’t have resources such as Car-Seat.org or CarseatBlog.com to help us along with our purchases. We had print magazines that were often out-of-date by the time they went to press or nothing at all to guide us through all the baby gear purchases we have to make when we have babies. Consumer Reports was at the forefront because of their ratings system and because, frankly, there was nothing else.
But a good consumer always looks for multiple resources when making major purchases, especially when they involve safety for children. In looking through the Consumer Reports online ratings and recommendations, which have also been published in certain monthly issues, I’m left wondering what the circle ratings mean. CR explains each category of their rating system, yet never fully explains what criteria go into the circles or what scale they use for that criteria. For example, what’s the difference between an open circle and a half red circle? Is it 3 points? One point? What does that one point stand for—a label? The wording on a label? How a rear-facing carseat fits without a noodle? What if the reviewer is having a bad day that day? That could very well affect the score. Is the reviewer a child passenger safety technician? How much experience does that tech have? Does that tech have any real-life experience as a parent or in working at checkup events? These are important questions when it comes to evaluating carseats and will change the outcome of the review.
For example, we do know they have at least one child passenger safety technician with expertise on staff: we’ve all met her and she’s very nice. We tend to run in the same circles, after all. We were also told their methodology changed after their ill-fated side impact testing and retraction of the corresponding test results in early 2007. In particular, since we have absolutely no idea how they determine their “Crash Protection” score or how these scores might correlate with real world risk of injury, we advise parents not to limit their choices to products with only the highest rating.
As we know at CarseatBlog.com, it takes more than one person to pull together a list of recommended carseats. What is our process as we update our Recommended Carseats list? We start with our current list—it’s less work that way! Hey, it’s a smart way to work ;). We also look at our reviews and decide which carseats we’ve reviewed that we like and think should be added or removed from the list. We look for safety features, such as EPS/EPP foam, Safe Cell Technology, REACT, anti-rebound bar/rear-facing tether, deep headwings, and so on, then look for ease-of-use features, such as smooth harness adjusters and easy installation. We also discuss price and value, knowing that value doesn’t always equal price. We’re parents, so between the 3 of us, we’ve owned and used *a lot* of carseats and we know what we’d use with our kids and what would drive us crazy to have to use on a daily basis.