Safest Family Minivans and SUVs for 2016 with 3rd Row Seats


Safest 2016 Family Vehicles with Three Rows of Seating

Are safety and seating more than a couple kids your top considerations in selecting a new vehicle?  You aren’t alone!  Last year’s winner, the 2014-2015 Acura MDX, is still a contender to retain its title for 2016.

For 2016, the IIHS now requires a “Good” result in the newer small overlap crash test to qualify for a Top Safety Pick rating.  An “Acceptable” rating no longer qualifies.  The IIHS also requires a front crash prevention system.  These systems are not all created equal, some are only basic warnings that qualify for the basic TSP award, while advanced ones can actually brake in emergency situations and possibly avoid a crash better than lesser systems.  To earn the “TSP+” award, an auto-brake system with an “Advanced” or “Superior” rating is now required.

There are plenty of very safe vehicles.  Most midsize crossover SUVs and minivans provide excellent protection for occupants, likely better than anything on the road 15 years ago.  Side curtain airbags and stability control are now standard features.  In addition to frontal crash protection systems, advanced safety features like emergency crash notification, lane departure warning, cross traffic warning and blind spot warning systems are becoming more common on non-luxury models.


So how do we filter the list of so many family vehicles that have earned safety awards?  It’s pretty easy:

  • Must be an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for 2015 or 2016
  • Must have an NHTSA 5-star overall rating
  • No individual NHTSA crash test results of 3-stars or less
  • Must have at least 6 passenger seats

What vehicles make the cut?  At the time of this writing, it’s a pretty exclusive list.   Two minivans from last year, the Honda Odyssey and Kia Sedona, no longer qualify as they did not achieve a Top Safety Pick+ rating for 2015 or 2016.  Shame on these manufacturers for choosing not to provide even an optional advanced front crash prevention system on these popular family vehicles.  A promising new contender, the 2016 Volvo XC90, remains untested by the NHTSA and does not yet make the cut.  The 2016 qualifiers:

  1. 2014-2016 Acura MDX
  2. 2014-2016 Mitsubishi Outlander
  3. 2016 Honda Pilot
  4. 2014-2015 Toyota Highlander*
  5. 2015 Toyota Sienna*

*Not a Top Safety Pick+ for 2016 model

And the Safest 2016 3-row Family Vehicle is:


Brrr! Are Your Car Supplies Ready for Winter?


snowconeSome of you are fortunate to live in climates where it doesn’t get cold and snowy. Others of you are huddled under a Snuggie right now, with a blanket of snow outside your window. If you’re in that latter group, is your car’s emergency kit prepared for winter weather?

There are certain emergency provisions you should always have in your vehicle, like a flashlight and a tool kit. But winter comes with some unique situations you should be prepared for. Pack these into your car if you don’t already have them:

  • Blankets. If you run out of fuel or your car won’t stspace blanketsart, it could be/get really cold in there. Fleece throws are warm and take up relatively room. If those are too bulky, you could get some space blankets. They’re not as cozy, but they’re inexpensive and they’ll get the job done.
  • Warm clothes. We don’t want kids wearing bulky winter coats in the car, but you always want to make sure you have coats, hats, and gloves available for everyone when it’s cold. That might seem like a no-brainer, but there have been several times I’ve run a quick errand and haven’t bothered taking my coat since I’m “just running in.” Then I wonder what would happen if I got stranded and had to walk home. I’d be really cold.
  • Sand or kitty litter. If you get stuck in snow or ice, laying down a layer of grit can give you the traction you need to get out. Stick a small container of kitty litter in your car, and you’ll be prepared.
  • A shovel. This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you don’t have room for a full-sized shovel, there are compact, foldable models available.
  • Extra wiper fluid. Have you ever been traveling down I-90 into Chicago in the dead of winter, only to find your windshield covered in gray grime to the point you could barely see and needed to pull off the road, all because you ran out of windshield washer fluid? Uh, me neither? (In our defense, we had just moved from Southern California and didn’t really understand these things yet. Also worth noting: there are different fluids for warm and cold weather. The type for warm weather might freeze in your lines, rendering it useless.)
  • Portable Battery/Charger/Compressor. This is actually a gemergency car chargerreat thing to have year-round, but especially in the winter. It’s an appliance about the size of a tool box that can jump your car, refill your tires, illuminate the dark, and charge or power your cell phones or other electronics. It’s like having an emergency roadside vehicle in your trunk, minus the towing capability.

Stay safe out there, and stay warm!

2016 Recommended Carseats Update

CarseatBlog Helps You Find the Safest and Best Carseats for 2016

Recommended-150pxWe’ve made some incremental updates in the last month to our Recommended Carseats award list. A couple aging products were removed, a few new ones were added. We’ve also added jump links and an improved pull-down menu to allow easier access to each section of the list. The intent of this list is not to exclude the many fine carseats that didn’t make our cut, but instead to help consumers narrow down their choices to models we personally recommend. These are likely to work well with the widest range of children and vehicles.

EP-150pxNew for 2016 is our Editors’ Pick award for our favorite models. This more exclusive list narrows down our growing number of Recommended Carseats to our top choices. For most categories, we also select our top picks by budget category, limiting the selections to just one or two carseats in each price range. If you are in a hurry and want to know what to buy, this is the place to start! While premium carseats usually offer more features and tend to be easier to use, our midrange and budget picks are also very safe choices that we would use without hesitation for our own children.

If your favorite carseat didn’t make one of our lists, please don’t despair! We’re not saying these are the best choices for every situation.  Our lists are simply a good starting point for consumers who are carseat or booster shopping.  And since there are no guarantees, we always recommend purchasing at a local store with a no-questions-asked return policy of at least 30 days, or an online store like that offers free shipping and free returns on most carseats they sell directly.  Sometimes, even our favorite products won’t work for a particular family, so you don’t want to pay a restocking fee or $50 to ship it back!

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 course 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 often 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. We agree.

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 lockoffs for seatbelt installations and premium push-on lower LATCH connectors do make a difference in the vast majority of installations, but that doesn’t mean that every seat that lacks those features is not worthy of your consideration.

With all that said, please take our recommendations with a grain of salt. They are merely opinions, after all, and our criteria may vary from yours or those you find elsewhere online or in print. Despite our best efforts, we recognize that no list of this type can be completely objective. And while our team of child passenger safety experts thoughtfully considered the pros and cons of each seat and combined that with our considerable experience with each product – there’s no crash testing involved. Some seats were omitted only 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 great products that we have reviewed, but just missed the cut for our awards and are still worthy of consideration. Conversely, we recognize that some models we Recommend won’t work well for everyone.

We hope you will use and share our recommendations as useful shopping advice in your search for the best carseat for your needs!

2016 BubbleBum Booster Review


BB-BlackThe BubbleBum Inflatable Booster Seat has long been a favorite for travel, trips in friends’ cars, and fitting into tight spaces. One downside, though, was that the seatbelt guides could be hard to use. That changes now!

In late summer 2015, BubbleBums started hitting stores with new, easier-to-use belt guides. Not abubblebum new belt guide whole lot has changed from the original version (you can read our first review here), but let’s take a new look at this new version.


  • Child weight range: 40-100 lbs.
  • Child height range: 40-57 inches
  • Seating depth: 12 inches
  • Seating width: 12 inches
  • Requires lap/shoulder belt and head support up to child’s eyes
  • Inflatable, comes with carrying bag

When the BubbleBum first came out, people were understandably concerned about new bubblebuman inflatable booster seat. I (and likely many other people) envisioned something like a blow-up pool toy and wondered how that could be safe. There was no need to worry, though. The BubbleBum is constructed of heavy-duty plastic and foam, much like a life jacket. It won’t deflate easily on its own: You need to really squeeze and roll it, otherwise it keeps re-inflating itself to an extent. It has also passed crash-testing in its deflated state, just to ensure it will still work even if something happens to it.


The nice thing about the BubbleBum is that fits pretty much anywhere, including in places where larger boosters don’t fit. Have a short or narrow middle seat and a kid who needs a booster? The BubbleBum is likely to fit. It’s also a good choice for fitting 3-across because it’s so narrow.

Fit to Child

The BubbleBum is rated as an IIHS “Best Bet” booster for fit-to-child. Despite being small, the BubbleBum tends to do well with a wide variety of kids. It usually provides a good belt fit on smaller booster riders as well as older, bigger kids who still need a bit of a boost. Keep in mind, though, that belt fit depends a lot on the individual child and individual vehicle. Also remember that smaller, younger booster riders might do better with a high-back booster, which provides some more support.

Here is my small 6-year-old (just over 40-lbs, 46″, size 5/6 clothes)

Bubblebum anna bubblebum lap Bubblebum fit

And here is a friend, 61 lbs, 51″, wearing 7/8 clothing:

BubbleBum J

The BubbleBum comes with a shoulder-belt guide to help position the shoulder belt if necessary. The shoulder-belt guide easily loops onto the bottom of the seat and can be positioned on either side of the child.

Since there’s no hard plastic support, sitting on the BubbleBum is like, well, sitting on a cushion of air. Because the seat is small, though, it might not provide enough leg support for tall or leggy kids, and might not be wide enough for wider kids. Even so, it might do in a pinch.

Because the seat is so small and light, it can sometimes feel “tippy,” especially for smaller kids. Once kids get used to it, though, they’re generally able to shift their weight to help keep the seat stable.

Ease of Use

The only “complicated” thing about the previous version of the BubbleBum was the lap-belt guides, which were cumbersome and could be difficult for kids to use. The new guides have a much more open design and make it much easier to slide the belt in, while still holding the belt securely.

BubbleBum new guide

Here is a comparison, with the old-style guide on the left, and the new on the right.

bubble bum new vs old