A Cautionary Tale of Car Buying

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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.

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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.

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gb Asana 35 DLX Infant Carseat Review: A Load (Leg) of Features

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asana stockCarseat aficionados in the United States have long drooled over foreign seats with load legs that extend to the floor of the car to provide extra stability in a crash. Seats with that feature have slowly started to become available in the US market, and now there’s another one: The gb Asana 35 DLX infant seat. In addition to the load leg, the Asana also features a belt-tensioning lock-off, a no-rethread harness, and more. Let’s take a closer look!

gb Asana 35 Specifications

  • Weight range: 4-35 lbs
  • Height limit: 32″ and at least 1″ of shell over the head
  • Lowest harness height: 7″ (measured without infant insert)
  • Highest harness height: 11″
  • Crotch buckle positions: 4″, 5″, 6″
  • Interior shell height: 20″ (1″ of clearance would allow a child’s bum-to-head height of about 19″)
  • Interior seating width: 9″ at hips, 9″ in shoulder area
  • Interior seating depth: 12″
  • Exterior width at widest point (handles): 17″
  • Exterior width at narrowest part of base (near belt path): 14″asana naked
  • Overall length of carrier from foot to back: 27″
  • Weight of carrier: 9 lbs.

Features

  • Load leg (on DLX model)
  • Fit-loc belt tightener/lock-off
  • Multi-position recline foot
  • Premium LATCH connectors
  • Two acceptable recline angles, one for babies under 20 lbs. and one for children 20-35 lbs.
  • Infant insert
  • Lots of EPS foam to help absorb energy and enhance side-impact protection in a crash

The Asana 35 comes in DLX and LTE models. The difference between the models is that the DLX version has the load leg and the LTE does not. This review is for the DLX version (with the load leg) but the rest of the information here pertains to both models. Prior to October 2015, the Asana was available in the Asana 35 and Asana 35 AP models. Those seats had a different harness-adjusting system (more on this below) but are otherwise the same as the current models. The Asana 35 AP had a load leg; the Asana 35 did not.  We believe load legs for rear-facing only infant seats are an important crash safety feature and the Asana DLX is one of the least expensive models to feature a load leg in the USA!

Installation/Fit to Car

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

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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.

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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:  https://us.diono.com/update-on-ford-inflatable-seat-belt-use-with-diono-products

Cardiff Travel Headrest Review

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Cardiff Headrest attachedMost people can stay awake on car trips for more than 15 minutes; not me. I must have been a really easy baby to put to sleep on a bad night—I’m sure my parents threw me on the floorboard of the car and only had to drive around the block once before I was quickly in slumberland. I don’t mind sleeping in the car as my husband drives, but the problem is that he and the kids derive great pleasure from my snorting myself awake as my head bobs to and fro. I just know one of these days there will be a video. Enter the Cardiff Travel Headrest.

Features

  • 14 customizable positions
  • Removable sleeves are machine-washable
  • Universal mount for head restraint poles

The Cardiff Travel Headrest attaches to your vehicle head restraint poles, you know, those silver things that hold the head restraint onto your seat. Yes, you must have this type or the Travel Headrest won’t work for you. It has adjustable wings that rotate up and down so you can place them where they are most comfortable for you.

Cardiff headrest attachment

Setup time will vary. On my ’11 Acura MDX, the head restraint poles are kind of thick, so I had trouble with the length of the hook screws being *just* long enough to fit. I’ve learned to set up the Travel Headrest the night before and it takes only a couple of minutes, rather than feeling pressured while my husband stands there tapping his foot and sighing as I try to install it just before we leave. You do not need to remove your vehicle head restraint to install the Travel Headrest.

Cardiff Headrest up Cardiff Headrest down

We talked to the designers at an ABC Show several years ago and they designed the Travel Headrest for kids using backless booster users. But hey, we can’t have the little tikes having all the good stuff, now can we? I actually prefer that kids use a highback booster if they still need head support like this for sleeping, but this is a good travel option for larger kids who may have outgrown a highback in height, but still need a backless booster. It can also be a good option for tweens and teens who can pass the 5-Step Test and ride without a booster but miss having a place to rest their heads to sleep on a long drive.

Check your vehicle owner’s manual, though, to see if you have active head restraints. You don’t want to use the Travel Headrest in these seating positions since it will interfere with the active head restraint in a crash. Your vehicle manual will tell you which seating positions, if any, are equipped with the active head restraints. Active head restraints travel up and forward to reduce the distance between your head/neck and the vehicle seat when your body puts force on the vehicle seat back in a crash, so you can see how it isn’t a good idea to put anything on those poles.

The Travel Headrest doesn’t fold down nicely for storage, nor does it have a pouch to keep the hooks with it, so I shove them down inside one of the wings and cross my fingers they don’t fall out. I wish the headrest folded laterally so it could be stored in a drawer or on a shelf; right now I have it on a hook way up high, out of the way.

The Cardiff guys have a Kickstarter that may work on vehicle head restraints that are incompatible with the Travel Headrest. Cardiff Wings is designed to be used on an airplane seat, but since it slips over the top of head restraint, it may work in some vehicles too. It’s hard to say for sure until we have a chance to play with this product when it becomes available. Again, I would not put it on a vehicle seat with an active head restraint.

Cardiff Wings

Cardiff Wings on Kickstarter

Cardiff Advantages

  • Comfortable car sleep, are you kidding me???
  • Adjustable wings
  • Fits vehicle head restraints as long as they have poles
  • Simple enough for kids to adjust
  • Machine-washable sleeves

Cardiff Headrest

Disadvantages

  • Could interfere with active head restraints on vehicle seat
  • Wings flip up for storage on seat, but if you are using for yourself in the front passenger’s seat – it could interfere with the driver’s vision
  • Doesn’t fold flat for storage
  • Hook screws could be ¼” longer for easier installation