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Monthly Archive:: September 2013

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 Noggle: Keeps Your Noggin Cool

NoggleWhen I first caught wind of the Noggle, the seasoned technician in me thought, “great – another product I’m going to have to tell parents to not buy because it isn’t safe.” We see plenty of “innovative” products hit the online market every year, each one trying to fill a niche from a frustrated parent who tinkered around until they jiggered something together to put to market. Most of the time we cringe and slap our hands over our eyes in an attempt to shield ourselves from the dangers these well-meaning folks present. Where does the Noggle fall on the scale of “would I use this for my kid?” products? Well, I don’t think I’ll let my kid use it because I’ll be keeping it for myself, lol!

What the Heck Is the Noggle?

It’s a tube that connects to your air vent to essentially elongate the vent and provide air to wherever you need it in your vehicle. It’s ideal for rear-facing children who don’t have access to air vents or 3rd rows where air vents are lacking. For instance, the 3rd row in my 2011 Acura MDX doesn’t have air vents, so when I have passengers back there, we have to crank up either the air or the heat, depending on the season, so they can be comfortable. With the Noggle, all I have to do is attach it to an air vent that a front passenger gives up and stretch the Noggle to the 3rd row. When the Noggle arrives at your doorstep, you get the Noggle itself (in either 6 or 8 foot lengths), a rectangular vent adapter, a circular vent adapter, 2 reusable zip ties, and instructions.

Noggle Includes  Noggle Length Inside  Noggle Attachment

Noggle Length

It’s ideal for people who travel with pets in crates in the cargo area, like we do. What we’ve done in the past for our pup is put our (now out of production) Cold Seat in the freezer before our trip for Bailey to lay on during the trip. Now with the Noggle, she can have her own air vent (I’ll willingly give up my front air vent since I’m always too chilly on trips).

Here’s a video of the Noggle in action:

 

 

Advantages

The biggest advantage is that you can place warm or cold air wherever you need it in your vehicle. As long as you have a working vent and a long enough zip tie, you can move the attachment piece to your heart’s desire. It’s easy to install and the amount of time required for installation is however long it takes you to thread the zip tie through your vent.

Another advantage is that you can leave the adapter installed on the vent, but remove the Noggle when you’re not using it. Today I had a full car of passengers, so I disconnected the Noggle so my son could sit in the passenger seat without 8 feet of Noggle in his lap.

 

Disadvantages

As with all items that aren’t screwed on or installed with a seat belt or LATCH, the Noggle does have the capability of coming free in a crash. I’d like to see less hard plastic at the end where it’s attached to the air vent. In a full-on frontal crash, theoretically, that plastic piece will be heading straight forward and not toward anyone, but in a side impact, it will pop off the holder on the vent and pop someone in the side of the head. Ouch! It’s something to consider as you’re staying nice and cool (or warm, depending on the season). Also, because the attachment piece isn’t fully sealed to the dash, there’s air escaping from the sides instead of going straight into the Noggle tube. A simple rubber gasket around the edge would probably fix that problem for future iterations of the Noggle.

Noggle Attached

Final Word

Overall the Noggle is a great comfort product and may aid in keeping kids rear-facing for longer during the hot summer months. Gone are the days of sweaty, grumpy rear-facing kids and the long hot summer vacation drives with choruses of, “Mommy! Daddy! I’m hot!” coming from the way back.  The Noggle comes in a variety of colors and sells for around $55.99.

 

Thank you to the Noggle folks for providing us with our sample for review!

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.

2013-2014 Mercedes Benz GL 450 Video Review: Kids, Carseats and Safety

Rather than bore you with a wall of text, this review of the 2013 Mercedes Benz GL450 4Matic will be primarily a video and photo review.  As usual, there will be an emphasis on seating kids, vehicle safety and carseat compatibility.  The GL-Class was updated for 2013, with the main improvement for families being slightly more interior space.  There were also updated powertrains, a revised dashboard and console design, exterior styling refinements and the addition of some advanced safety features.  Unfortunately, the Driver Assistance Package with DISTRONIC PLUS, Blind Spot and Lane Keep Assist adds almost $3,000 to the $64,000 base price.  My loaded 4Matic model with just about everything was an eye-popping $96,610 sticker price, but expect the street price of the more fuel-efficient GL350 BlueTEC to be well under $70,000, even with the Driver Assistance Package.

 

 

The second row is wider than any midsize SUV I’ve tested, and most of the smaller full-size SUVs as well. The middle seat is wide enough for narrower carseats and there is no funky crossover of seatbelts and LATCH anchors! It’s not adjustable for legroom, but does provide a good amount of space as it is.  There are also plenty of cupholders and spaces for storage.

 

 

It doesn’t stop there.

True Fit I-Alert C685 Convertible Review Part 1

True Fit I-AlertA couple of years ago, I reviewed The First Years True Fit Premier C670. Their latest iteration, The First Years True Fit I-Alert C685 (MSRP $349.99) is similar to the Premier model and has many of the same features. I was excited to get this I-Alert version of the True Fit to see what changes have been made. I pulled it from the box and immediately liked the colors; OK, now you know my true personality. Yes, ma’am, I do like gray and black. The next thing I thought was, holy cow, look at the padding. I might have laid my head in the plush seat, but that also might have been because I had all the life sucked out of me at my monthly installation marathon session earlier in the afternoon (aka work) and it was 106*. Needless to say, I’m jealous of any child who gets to sit in this seat and I wonder why auto manufacturers can’t make our seats like this. Oh, yeah! We’d all instantly be asleep!

But really, what was the third thing I did to the seat? You bet I ripped that cover right off to check out the I-Alert Integrated Car Seat Monitor system built in to the shell. Before I get to the technology, let’s talk basics.

The I-Alert C685 version of the True Fit is actually more like the True Fit SI C680 in terms of features than it is the True Fit Premier C670. Both the I-Alert C685 and the SI C680 models have the deeper, contoured headrest and include the anti-rebound bar that The First Years calls a “Rebound Energy Management System.”

 

Weight and Height Limits

Rear-facing: 5-22 lbs., head 1” below top of seat (without removable headrest)

Rear-facing: 5-35 lbs., head 1″ below top of installed removable headrest

Forward-facing: 23-65 lbs., height is 50” or less

 

True Fit I-Alert Overview

  • the-first-years-ialert-true-fit-C685-stockI-Alert technology communicates with your smartphone when you download the free IAlert App
  • I-Alert integrated carseat monitor senses when your child is in the carseat, buckled, or left behind
  • I-Alert technology works with your smartphone to assist in achieving the correct rear-facing recline angle
  • I-Alert technology constantly monitors the ambient temperature inside the vehicle
  • Rebound Energy Management™ system: an anti-rebound bar designed to limit rebound in the aftermath of a crash
  • Built-in lockoffs for both rear- and forward-facing
  • Color-coded belt paths: black for rear-facing, red for forward-facing
  • 2 recline positions for rear-facing and an easy-to-read angle indicator on center of seat
  • Thick, no re-thread harness
  • Removable headrest for tight back seat situations when baby is less than 22 lbs. and needs a deep recline
  • Deep side wings for side impact protection
  • Comes with infant insert, head insert, harness pads, a buckle pad, and a cup holder
  • No need to guess on child’s height for rear-facing or deal with the long legs vs. long torso debate: it’s head one inch from top of seat for the height limit
  • Easy to remove cover

 

True Fit I-Alert Measurements

  • Harness slots without padding: 9 ½”, 12”, 14 3/8”, 17 3/8”
  • Harness slots with padding: 8”, 9 ¾”, 12 ½”, 15 ½”
  • 19” at its widest point at shoulders, 18 ½” at knees
  • Shell height without removable headrest: 19 ½”
  • Shell height with removable headrest: 26 ¾”
  • Shoulder width: 13”
  • Crotch strap depth: 5”, 6 ¼”
  • Seat depth: 13”
  • Seat weight: 20.7 lbs. without infant inserts

 

I-Alert

Let’s jump right to the heart of the review. This is really why you’re here, right? How does the I-Alert system really work?