Some Combination Harness/Booster Carseats Break in CR’s Crash Testing
In October 2018, Consumer Reports published an article which detailed some of their findings during crash testing of a category of car seats better known as Combination Seats. Also known as harnessed booster seats, harness-2-booster seats, or toddler booster seats, these are forward-facing only carseats with a 5-point harness that can also be used as a booster seat utilizing the vehicle’s seatbelt.
The article from Consumer Reports created quite a buzz and we know that our readers are looking to us to provide thoughtful and reasonable commentary on this issue. Keep in mind that until the crash test results and full rating of all the combination seats tested in this round are released, we are forced to focus on the limited information we have been provided with so far. As always, we will do our best to present the facts in a clear and concise manner so that parents can understand the scope of the issues and CPS Technicians can help educate the families we work with.
UPDATE: March 2019: The Complete Ratings are Now Available
Here’s what we know so far, “In CR’s crash evaluations, testers found that the load-bearing components at the rear of the seats broke when tested with dummies whose weight was near the seat’s limits for its harness system.” The Britax Frontier ClickTight Harness-2-Booster, Britax Pioneer Harness-2-Booster, Cosco Finale DX, Graco Atlas & Harmony Defender 360 all experienced some sort of structural damage during this very challenging crash test. The Britax Pinnacle ClickTight Harness-2-Booster wasn’t tested but is very similar to the Frontier model. Therefore, it’s possible that the Pinnacle would have experienced issues similar to what was observed with the Frontier if it had been tested.
Before we get into what went wrong, it’s essential that you understand more about the Consumer Reports crash test and how it differs from the federal government’s crash test that all carseats need to pass in order to be sold in this country.
Why did Consumer Reports create their own, unique crash test for child restraints that already pass all the safety standards in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 213?
Consumer Reports wanted to provide consumers with comparative information on carseats. By developing their own test protocol, the aim was to determine which seats offered an extra margin of safety in certain crash conditions simulated by the new tests. We know all carseats sold in the U.S. are required to meet FMVSS 213 standards but we also know all carseats aren’t the same. The goal here was to determine which seats could hold up well under tougher crash test conditions that were also more “real world” than the 213 compliance tests.
How is this test different from the FMVSS 213 tests?
Currently, 213 compliance testing involves a test sled with a bench seat from a 70’s era vehicle with lap only belts and LATCH anchors. There is nothing to simulate interaction with a front seat and carseats aren’t tested with 3-point lap/shoulder belts. The seats are tested at approximately 30 mph. Unless you’re driving around town with your kids secured in the back seat of a ’73 Impala (with LATCH anchors), the current FMVSS 213 crash tests are pretty useless in determining how your carseat might actually perform in a crash in your vehicle.
The Consumer Reports dynamic sled test was designed with more real-world vehicle conditions in mind. They chose to use a 2nd row captain’s chair (with lap/shoulder belt, of course) from a model year 2009-2012 Ford Flex. The geometry of the vehicle seat and the stiffness of the seat cushion made it an ideal “average” of what you can expect to find in modern vehicles. They included a “blocker plate” (pictured below) mounted in front of the vehicle seat to simulate a front seatback surface for potential interaction with the carseat and/or the dummy inside. This is important because in the real world we know children are often injured when they come into contact with the back of the front seat during a crash. Consumer Reports also chose to run the tests at 35 mph because that is the speed at which vehicles are crash tested in the government’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). It just makes sense to test carseats at the same speeds that we test vehicles for crashworthiness.
Is a crash test at 35 MPH really that much different than a test run at 30 MPH?
Yes, it can be a very big difference. An additional 5 miles per hour may not seem like a big deal, but the difference can increase the energy in a crash by almost 40%. Combined with a more severe crash “pulse”, the peak forces on an occupant could even double.
How many crash tests were each combination seat model subjected to?
Each model was subjected to several different crash tests (using a new seat each time) depending on the weight rating of the product. All of these seats were tested with the Hybrid III 3-year-old dummy (ATD) who weighs 35 lbs. All of these seats were also tested with the Hybrid III 6-year-old ATD who weighs 52 lbs. The seats rated up to 65 lbs. (Finale & Defender) or 70 lbs. (Britax Pioneer) were also tested with the 6-year-old ATD who was weighted using a standard weight kit from NHTSA that adds an additional 10 lbs., making the ATD weigh a total of 62 lbs. Since the Britax Frontier ClickTight is rated up to 90 lbs. using the harness, this seat was tested with both the 6-year-old ATD and the 10-year-old ATD. This was the only seat in all the combination seats Consumer Reports tested that was subjected to testing with the 10-year-old dummy who weighs 78 lbs. It’s also the only combination seat on the market that is rated up to 90 lbs. with the harness.
Britax Frontier ClickTight Crash Test Results:
The headrest adjustment and harness support structures on the Frontier ClickTight broke when tested with the 6-year-old dummy (ATD) who weighs 52 lbs. The Frontier CT was not tested with the weighted 6-year-old ATD since its harness capacity is 90 lbs. Instead, it was tested with the 10-year-old ATD who weighs 78 lbs. In this very severe test, the supporting structure around the metal retention bar on the back of the shell broke, and the retention bar and harness pulled through the back of the shell. When this occurred, the harness loosened significantly. This is definitely not the news anyone wants to hear, but keep in mind that the Britax Frontier CT (and the similar Pinnacle CT model) pass all federal crash test standards when tested with these same ATDs (both the 6-yr-old and the 10-yr-old). The Consumer Reports crash test was designed to be more challenging in order to establish which child safety seats provide additional margins of safety above and beyond the federal crash test standards (FMVSS 213). Since the Frontier ClickTight had issues in their testing, it receives only a “BASIC” rating for crash protection, meaning that it meets all the required and necessary standards from NHTSA (the federal government) but it does not provide greater margins of safety, in their opinion, when tested with the bigger ATDs who weigh more than 50 lbs. For the record, there were no issues observed when Consumer Reports tested the Frontier CT with the smaller 3-year-old ATD.
According to a statement from Britax:
“The Britax Harness-2-Boosters tested by Consumer Reports are safe when used as intended and in accordance with the instructions and warnings contained in the user guides.” Britax also said the company would “continue to stay engaged with Consumer Reports to benefit from their perspective.”
Britax Pioneer Crash Test Results:
The headrest adjustment and harness support structures of the Britax Pioneer broke when tested with the 6-year-old dummy (ATD) who weighs 52 lbs. Since the Pioneer is rated to 70 lbs. with the harness, it was tested again with the weighted 6-year-old ATD (62 lbs.). In each of the tests with the 6-year-old ATD and the weighted 6-year-old ATD, the headrest adjustment and harness support structures broke but the harness did not pull through. Since the Pioneer had issues in CR testing, it receives only a “BASIC” rating for crash protection, meaning that it meets all the required and necessary standards from NHTSA (the federal government) but it does not provide greater margins of safety, in their opinion, when tested with the bigger ATDs who weigh more than 50 lbs. The Pioneer did not exhibit any structural issues when tested with the 3-year-old ATD.
Cosco Finale Crash Test Results:
The structure that anchors the tether strap to the shell broke in 3 out of 3 tests with the 6-year-old dummy (ATD). This enabled the tether strap to extend, which resulted in increased head excursion (meaning the dummy moved farther forward than it would have otherwise). This occurred in both tests with the 6-year-old ATD (52 lbs.) and in a single test conducted with the weighted 6-year-old ATD (62 lbs.) This breakage also resulted in pieces of sharp plastic in areas that may contact the child. Due to these issues, the Cosco Finale receives only a “BASIC” rating for crash protection, meaning that it meets all the required and necessary standards from NHTSA but it does not provide additional margins of safety, in their opinion, when tested with the bigger ATDs who weigh more than 50 lbs. When tested with the 3-year-old ATD, the Finale did show signs of stress in the tether area, but it did not break through.
Dorel Juvenile, the parent company for Cosco, responded in a statement by saying:
“The Dorel Cosco Finale combination child restraint has performed well with respect to all NHTSA crash performance requirements and in real-world use. There are over 350,000 Finales in use and there have been no injuries reported.” The company noted that CR’s testing varies from NHTSA’s standards. “Dorel takes the results of the Consumer Reports testing seriously and is currently evaluating the findings,” the statement said.
Harmony Defender 360 Crash Test Results:
The support hardware on the back of the shell (near the shoulder area) broke in 3 out of 4 tests with the 6-year-old dummy (ATD). This allowed the harness to “pull through” the shell and loosen as the dummy moved forward. This occurred in one test with the 6-year-old ATD (52 lbs.) and in both tests with the weighted 6-year-old ATD (62 lbs.) Due to these issues, the Harmony Defender receives only a “BASIC” rating for crash protection, meaning that it meets all the required and necessary standards from NHTSA but it does not provide additional margins of safety, in their opinion, when tested with the bigger ATDs who weigh more than 50 lbs. The Defender did not exhibit any structural issues when tested with the 3-year-old ATD.
Response from Harmony:
In a statement to CR, Harmony stated that its seat meets all current U.S. federal standards. The company also said that CR’s testing “did not take into account practical matters such as how the car seat fits or installs into vehicles, which affects overall safety greatly …” Harmony pointed to what it described as “several discrepancies within Consumer Reports’ testing that differs from other testing, both independent and internal” that would “impact the testing results greatly.” The company did note that it “appreciates all comments from customers as well as independent bodies such as Consumer Reports as all such information is always used in the ongoing improvements of all our products.”
If you already own a Britax Frontier or Pioneer: If your child meets the weight and height criteria for using the Frontier/Pioneer in booster mode (at least 40 lbs. and 45″ tall), consider whether or not your child may be ready to use the seat as a booster. Consumer Reports recommends switching to booster mode at 40 pounds or replacing the seat. We suggest that parents make their own choice on when to transition to booster mode based on the child’s maturity and booster readiness. If your child isn’t developmentally ready to ride safely in a booster (most kids under age 5 are not, but there are exceptions), and you don’t have another appropriate seat to put them in, then leave your child in the harness.
Reality can’t always be ideal and there are tradeoffs in situations like this. Every parent or caregiver has to weigh the pros and cons and make decisions based on their personal circumstances. If you have a child who meets the weight and height criteria for using the Frontier or Pioneer in booster mode but the child is too immature to stay properly seated in booster mode (using just the seatbelt), or if the child has special needs which make a 5-point harness necessary, then the risks of using the seat as a booster probably outweigh the potential risks of experiencing some sort of structural failure in a severe crash. However, if you are keeping your neurotypical 8-year-old in the Frontier or Pioneer harness just because he/she still fits, you may want to reconsider.
If you already own a Cosco Finale: Consumer Reports recommends switching to booster mode use at 40 pounds (as long as the child is at least 43″ tall) or replacing the seat. We think parents should make their own choice on when to transition to booster mode based on the child’s maturity and booster readiness. If your child isn’t developmentally ready to ride safely in a booster (most kids under age 5 are not, but there are exceptions), and you don’t have another appropriate seat to put them in, then leave your child in the harness. If the child is too immature to stay properly seated in a booster (using just the seatbelt), or if the child has special needs which make a 5-point harness necessary, then the risks of using the seat as a booster probably outweigh the potential risks of experiencing some sort of structural failure in a severe crash.
If you decide to use the Finale as a booster, please note that the shoulder belt guide is problematic in some cars, not allowing the seatbelt to retract properly. However, the shoulder belt guide on Finale is only required when it’s necessary to achieve proper belt fit and therefore it can be skipped for many taller kids who don’t need it for proper shoulder belt positioning.
If you already own a Harmony Defender 360: Given that the harness pulled through the shell in 3 of 4 tests at 52-62 pounds, we suggest that parents consider switching their child to booster mode if the child weighs more than 40 pounds, they fit well, and they are mature enough to ride in a booster full-time. Otherwise, we agree with Consumer Reports that a replacement harnessed seat should be found, though the Defender could be used with the harness until a replacement is available.
If you’re shopping for a new carseat: The complete CR crash test results and rating of all the combination seats tested in this round will be released soon (available to subscribers). UPDATE: COMPLETE RATINGS NOW AVAILABLE
To their credit, CR’s policy on all the products and services they evaluate is to report any issues they identify in testing as soon as they are validated, even if the full ratings aren’t finished yet.
Additionally, while we don’t know for certain, we anticipate that the Graco Nautilus, Graco Nautilus SnugLock, Evenflo Maestro Sport, Evenflo Transitions/Evolve and Chicco MyFit will all be included in this round of testing. We don’t expect there to be any major issues with these combination seats simply because they would have been called out already if there were. However, none of these seats are rated beyond 65 lbs. with the harness. The Britax Harness-2-Booster seats are still the only combination seats on the market with harness weight limits above 65 lbs. Considering how problematic it is to test and pass regular FMVSS 213 crash testing with the 10-year-old ATD, it’s unlikely that we will see any other manufacturer introduce new products with harness weight limits beyond 65 lbs.
Final thoughts and comments:
We understand that this news is stressful to parents and caregivers who already own these seats. We’re not going to sugar coat the situation or tell you to ignore the Consumer Reports findings. Everyone needs to find their own comfort level with this new information. Some parents and caregivers will lose confidence in the products they are using and others won’t. Some will look for alternative products while others will continue to use the seats they have. Some will transition the child to booster mode while others will continue to use the harness. We can’t tell you what the best choice in your situation is. What we can do is provide you with all the information you need to make the best possible decisions based on the available information. Ultimately, it’s always the parent or caregivers responsibility to make the decisions on how the child will ride in the vehicle. For those of us who are CPS Technicians, this is our gospel. We stay current and up-to-date in this constantly evolving field so we can educate others. Sometimes there are no easy answers but it’s our responsibility to provide accurate and unbiased information so parents and caregivers can make informed decisions.
Are there any test results for the Frontier in belted mode? We are visiting the USA and were going to buy one Boulevard and one Frontier for 2 and 5 year olds but may buy two Boulevards and use the Boulevard for a year for the five year old if we need to. However she has been in a European seat in belted mode for the last year so if the seat is safe in belted mode we can use it this way. Thanks.
Hi Ruth- I assume you mean belt-positioning booster mode? If so, all boosters should perform well if the fit to the child is good. The tests by Consumer Reports do NOT apply to booster mode use. The vehicle seatbelt system provides the restraint in a crash and is not dependent upon the performance of the booster except to make sure the child is positioned correctly. The Frontier is rated a “Best Bet” for fit by the IIHS as a high back booster. Even so, the Frontier is not a good value to use strictly as a belt-positioning booster. For a child who meets the requirements to use a seatbelt with a booster, a dedicated booster is much less expensive and just as effective. We have some recommendations here: https://carseatblog.com/safest-recommended-car-seats/#HIGHBACKBOOSTERS – If you like Britax, the Highpoint or Midpoint would be a better choice for a 5-year old who is above 40 pounds and ready to use a belt-positioning booster based upon maturity to remain seated properly.
When this news came out, we quickly switched our 47 lb 5-year-old from our Britax Pinnacle CT to a Diono Radian that we had sitting in storage. Now his shoulders are above the highest slot for the Diono, so I’m revisiting the issue with the Britax harness-to-boosters because we need to make a change again. I just don’t understand why the Britax is safe in booster mode if the headrest support adjustments broke in testing. Aren’t those still in use in the booster mode?
Hi Melissa. In booster mode, the seat belt is doing the restraining, not the harness, so the belt guides in the headrest are just there for support not structure.
Is there a high back booster seat on the market that has a head rest that has protection and is not just for comfort ?
Hi Angela, most high back boosters have side impact protection for the head built into the head rest. Some models have deeper head wings than others, and some have external cushions or impact absorbers as well. In a direct side impact, these should all provide some protection if the child’s head is back within the wings. The problem is, in many side impacts, the vehicle has forward momentum. Other times, the child could be leaning forward or have their head titled downward to look at a book or device. These could all lead to the head being forward of the side impact wings in a crash, limiting the protection they may offer. There just isn’t any real world data I have seen in regard to how effective they are.
So I just sold my chicco nextfit and am using my son’s pioneer for my 3 1/2 year old who is 30 lbs. With the harness is this going to be alright or should I not use this seat anymore and but something else? Why haven’t they just recalled the seat?
Hi Callie, our guidance is in the article. If you are under the weight where problems were observed, there is not likely any issue. Also, as we mentioned, these seats all pass federally required testing up to the maximum. The Consumer Reports testing is proprietary and not required by the government, that is why no recall is required. This additional testing protocol was developed after these seats were first designed and marketed. As with all seats, there are always running changes over time and it’s possible newer versions may pass the CR testing, much as happened with the Britax convertible carseats in the past. We just won’t know unless they are retested in the future.
Any update on Frontier since CR ratings in Oct? I can no longer put off getting a seat for my just turned 5 yr old. She’s 65lbs and 48 in. I purchased the Britax Pinnacle mainly for the 90lbs limit on harness. She falls asleep and slumps over nearly every time she gets in the car. If harnessing over 65 lbs is not the safest, what seats/boosters provide support to help keep her upright? I’m open to all suggestions! (I just canceled my order for the pinnacle and need something else asap!)
Amanda, they haven’t updated it yet. Your daughter is at an age where she can move to a highback booster or stay in a harnessed seat. Since she sleeps so much, I’d recommend a harnessed seat until you can get her to stop slumping over (it may never happen, but some parents have had success teaching their kids to look up when they get sleepy–maybe put a sticker on the ceiling to look at).
Really, the Frontier or Pinnacle are your only options since she’s 65 lbs. The only other seat with a weight limit above 65 lbs. is the Maxi Cosi Pria 85 convertible and she won’t fit well in it (you may be able to find one at a BuyBuyBaby or specialty store to try it out).
Ugh – just saw this. We have mostly Britax’s – a 2015 Boulevard and a 2016 Boulevard as our main carseats, and Frontier (and a Graco) in the less driven car. My 43lb 4.5yr old son sits in the 2015 Boulevard and int he Frontier. He’s definitely not mature enough for a booster. It seems like he’s only 9lbs lighter than the test where it broke… I was hoping to keep both my kids in a 5 point harness as long as possible. What would you do at this point?
I have both the frontier and pioneer. My son is 48 inches tall with 17 inche torso height. He is 66 pounds and just turned 6 years old. I have had the worst time finding seats that fit him width wise and with a high enough top harness and weight limit, to warrent purchasing for long term use. What i dont understand is if the current crash tests are done using a lap belt with nothing infront of it. How can that possibly compare to a real world crash? No major roads around me go 30 or 35 miles per hour. I dont know the data on what the average speed is during s crash but, what about freeway driving? Yeesh! Scarey! Im suprised they arent testing for at least 40 mph and with the cr report a front passenger seat. I already had the pioneer used as a booster in my husbands car. We just bought it, But i have problems with the seatbelt being pinched and not retracting at all in the belt guide. I think i may need a different seat in that car i have tried so many with the same problem, i cant seam to find a seat in his car that the belt will retract easily or not get stuck or twisted. I just swiched the frontier today to booster mode. Im glad i am able to use it that way at least, and to add extra safety i use the britax secure gaurd clip. But it is a huge bummer and eye opening to find out about the crash test measures. I really think people need more information on booster seats as well.
Hi Alisja, the federal standards really are minimum requirements. They are outdated and need an update, but they do serve an important function to help keep unsafe products off the market. While 30 mph does cover most of the real-word crashes that are usually on local city streets, many vehicle crash tests are conducted at 35-40 mph to cover an even wider range of possible crashes. Car seats should be tested this way too, if only to help find which ones provide an extra degree of safety in more types of real-world crashes. The Consumer Reports test is very limited as it’s just one type of frontal crash and does not include side impacts or any other information, but it is a step in the right direction. I’m sorry to hear about your trouble finding the perfect seat, but at 6 years and 66 pounds, using the Frontier in booster mode with the Secure Guard clip is a very good alternative!
So if we planned to switch to the Britax Frontier booster seat as soon as our kids hit the weight and height requirements, these findings would not apply to the booster functionality? I am hoping to buy just one final car seat for my kids now that their Britax Advocates are expiring. I really like the easy installation on the Frontier, and I think my kids will be mature enough to sit properly once they finally reach 40lbs (they are 7 and 5, but very very skinny!!).
Correct. These test results do not apply at all to booster mode. I would have no concerns using the harness up to 50 lbs, given the limited information we have. Unless there’s a great deal for Black Friday, I’d put off the purchase for a while if they aren’t outgrowing their current seats. It’s quite possible the Frontier will be updated at some point. Also, the new Graco Nautilus Snuglock LX is very easy to install and we have a review with a video of the installation system here- https://carseatblog.com/46060/
I noticed the Pioneer harness is only marketed as being good up until 65 pounds in Canada, whereas in the US it is marketed for 90 pounds. I assume the seat is mostly the same. Is this because Canadian testing is more stringent? A 90 pound dummy would pass the US test but not the CA one?
Hi Jessica, just to clarify, the Pioneer is rated at 70 pounds in the USA. Unfortunately, I can’t comment about the differences that may exist between USA and Canada spec Pioneer models, if any. I also don’t know for sure about testing requirements, but I will try to get an answer for you.
Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) defines a “child” to mean a person whose weight is not less than 9 kg (20 lbs) and not more than 30 kg (65 lbs). This means that a forward facing harnessed seat cannot be rated higher than 30 kg in Canada.
Everyone needs to make their own opinion on how to interpret these results. The reality is that this test protocol from Consumer Reports has been around for over a few years now and many manufacturers internally design and/or test to this protocol, at least to some degree. This seems to include Britax, for example, who apparently revised their “G4” convertibles that had a similar failure originally in 2015, but have been updated at some point in version G4.1, retested and improved in CR’s ratings since then.
My personal opinion is that these results are somewhat analagous to supplemental new vehicle testing. The government has minimum requirements, but there are also additional tests including their NCAP 5-star testing (35mph frontal) and a battery of IIHS tests (at least three conducted at 40mph) that go above and beyond the basic federal safety standards. Ultimately, these additional tests have led to vastly improved vehicle safety in the USA where we have the most comprehensive vehicle crash testing in the world. Simply, when products are designed to pass multiple types of tests at different impact angles and energies, they are likely to perform better in real-world crashes that can vary even more. Having only a single type of frontal crash test requirement really is a bare minimum. Crashes at 35-40 mph are severe on occupants, but vehicles are designed to protect their passengers in these higher speed impacts. Child restraints should be, too.
While CR does not give us any actual data to make decisions about exactly how much safer one model is than another overall, I do think that major failures like a harness pulling through the shell in this testing should be considered at some level and not dismissed entirely. This type of failure is not a design feature to allow intentional lengthening of the harness. It’s a serious flaw that effectively allows the harness to loosen and can significantly increase head excursion and the risk of a secondary impact or head strike. How the results impact a particular situation may vary widely depending on the child, their weight, height and other factors, of course. In some cases, there will be little or no concern at all to continue using the harness system. Clearly, all these seats are still going to offer good protection in many crashes as they meet or exceed FMVSS testing. It does appear that some models may not offer as much additional protection as others in crashes that are more severe than minimum requirements.
Ultimately, there just isn’t enough information for us to tell parents exactly what to do or not to do at this time. So, we strive to educate and let parents make their own informed decisions when there simply is no black and white answer to cover every situation. Even with the limited information available, additional testing is almost always a good thing and promotes better designs in the future.
I need to buy a “combination” car seat for my 5 years old son. I would like to buy THE SAFEST but I’ve never found a rating like that. Looking on reviews, my friend’s advice, etc., I downsized my list to 3 options: Britax Frontier, Chicco MyFit and Gracco 4ever. And I can’t decide, ugh. I’ve seen reviews that the Frontier belt got stucked and I’m scared that happens with my Honda Civic (I had hard time installing the EvenfloPlatinum Symphony DLX and sometimes the belt feels hard to move). My husband bought a My Fit LE, the belt is awesome but I hear some rattling (it doesn’t happen when my son is on but it brought me doubts).
So, considering the CR testing, is the Frontier less secure than the other two? Which of those would be the best option?
I’m sorry for my bad English 🙁
Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive crash testing and ratings system in the USA like the IIHS and NHTSA perform for new vehicles. So, while we can’t say which models are SAFEST, we can only give suggestions on ones that are easy to use and tend to allow parents to install them correctly in many vehicles. Since you already have the MyFit, I would suggest you first call Chicco about the rattling issue. For a 5-year old child, the Graco 4Ever seems like it doesn’t offer a good value unless you plan to use it again for another child. You might consider the less expensive Nautilus models for an older child. If your child is 40 pounds or more and mature enough to use a booster seat, that is a fine option for a 5-year old as well and will save a lot of money, too.
I wish there were a rating system for safety!! Ugh…
The change of car seat was because my younger son exceeded the limits for his infant car seat so, I moved him to the Evenflo and then, I needed a harness booster for my oldest. My husband is way more decisive than me and he bought the Chicco. Honestly, my son loves it very much. He says it confortable and he loves the kid console (probably the actual reason of his love ha). I will call Chicco so I can be sure everything is okay. Thank you for the suggestion and all the comment!
Thank you for sharing this information and your real-world translation of it. My child usually rides in a booster, but I’ve kept our Frontier in harness mode for long trips because it’s more comfortable for sleeping. I will switch it over to booster mode today. Thank you again for your work.
Our 5 year old’s Frontier 90 is still in harness mode due to not having enough maturity to let her ride in a booster and also the fact that she doesn’t meet the minimum weight (only 36 pounds). This CR report doesn’t affect my confidence in keeping her harnessed in the Frontier until she’s heavy enough and mature enough to switch to booster mode (especially since there were no issues when tested with the 3 yea old ATD, which is closer to her size).
I’m an engineer and I work in an industry where life safety is paramount – and I’m not hitting the panic button on this CR report. As this post states, CR’s test protocol and test setup is proprietary, and they don’t release the actual data for anyone else to review. The fact that a structural element in the seat failed during a test doesn’t tell us much of anything. Crash dynamics and biomechanics (and their interaction) are complicated, and it’s difficult even for experts to translate fully-instrumented test results into an assessment of risk to a child occupant in a real world crash.
I’d just about guarantee that every CR manufacturer has already tested their car seats to the point of failure under a variety of loading conditions – knowing the real performance limits is an important part of designing any product of this type, and they need to know the details of that performance envelope for legal liability reasons. Also, it’s possible that these are designed/intended failure modes as part of a performance-based design process intended to mitigate risk.
Hi Katie, thank you for the very thoughtful and insightful commentary. We appreciate your comments and I agree with everything you stated. Since your child isn’t mature enough to use the seat as a booster and doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for booster mode anyway, leaving her in the harness is clearly the best choice. Especially since we know these models had no issues when tested with the 35-pound ATD. Regarding your last comment on possible designed/intended failures, we know that energy-management features are incorporated into the designs of many child restraint products (e.g., collapsible honeycomb structures, rip-stitch tethers, harness load-limiters like Diono’s SafeStop) but based on what we know about how and where these seats experienced structural damage, I find it highly unlikely that these were intentional failure modes intended to mitigate risk in very severe crashes.
Do you know if the Pinancle was tested as well?
Hi Jessica, the Pinnacle was not tested by Consumer Reports, though it is very similar to the Frontier overall.
With the two Britax seats failing around 50lbs, should we also be concerned about other Britax models such as the Marathon or Boulevard failing at that same point?
Hi Rhonda, the Marathon ClickTight did well in CR’s testing a few years ago. We understand other models may have had revisions since then to improve performance and have been retested or are in the process of being retested. We have no additional information, so you would have to contact Consumer Reports or wait for any updates from them to be published.
I need some more info. Was the child/dummy injured when the seat broke. Or did the seat break but the child/dummy remained unharmed.
We would also like statistically significant information of this type. Unfortunately, this testing is proprietary and it is neither independently verified nor is it published in a peer-reviewed journal. As such, Consumer Reports only reports such failures due to breakage, it does not indicate any other measures from the crash testing or risk of injury that may be involved. So, this type of information may be used to indicate which seats perform better relative to other models in the same crash test, but whether or not they they are actually safer is not known. Similarly, it is impossible to say if there is any absolute number for a real world risk of injury that would deem a model “safe” or “unsafe”. Of course, even in this test that is more severe than the minimum government required standard test, a serious harness pull-through failure would be a concern if your child is using a harness at a similar weight rating. For most crashes, there should still be little to no risk as the government tests cover the majority, but at a higher-speed crash, there could be additional risk. I know that doesn’t answer your question, but they just don’t publish that degree of information.
but is 35 mph into a wall a survivanble crash anyways?
Hi Elise, new vehicles are tested in the NHTSA’s NCAP 5-star crash testing system at 35 mph. The IIHS runs some new vehicle crash tests at 40mph. While fatalities certainly occur at these speeds, there is definitely an expectation that vehicles in this scenario should protect their occupants.
I have a Graco Nautilus 80 3 in 1. I’ve noticed I haven’t seen them on the market much any more and can’t find any recall information on my particular model. Do you have any information on this seat?
Hi Lauren, the Nautilus 80 Elite appears to be phased out in favor of the new Nautilus SnugLock model. We will have a review of it soon! The 80 Elite model was one of our Editors’ Picks and we have a full review here: https://carseatblog.com/41777/
Do we know if the Nautilus was one of the models tested by CR? If I’m going to replace my Britax, I don’t need a 3 or 4 in 1 -both of my kids are old enough that I just need a forward facing 5 point harness to booster.
Cara, we don’t know which seats CR tested, but something from the Nautilus platform was surely tested.
I own both a frontier and a pioneer seat and this new finding angers me!
I researched each seat extensively prior to purchasing so that I could ensure my children would be riding in the safest car seat, with the ability to use the harness past the 40lb mark… now I’m not sure i feel safe having them in these seats…and to add to that these seats were quite expensive!
I’m not sure what to do moving forward. Can you please advise?
Hi Chelsey, I know it isn’t much consolation, but this testing does not include any injury risk information at all. As such, given the limited sample size of testing, it cannot be used to deem a model “safe” or “unsafe” or even tell you how much safer one model may be than another. There has not yet been any independent verification of these test results and no study on the results is yet published in any peer-reviewed journal. For now, all we know is that the models mentioned had partial breakage and in a couple cases, had major failures with the harness pulling through the shell for higher weight children. If your child is approaching the weight where a model experienced a harness pull through failure, it may be time to consider transitioning to booster use if the child is within the necessary ratings and mature enough to be in a booster, or to find a different model with a 5-point harness. Once Consumer Reports has released their full testing, we may have more information and also have some insight on which models they believe to perform better in their more severe testing protocol that goes beyond government standard testing. Of course, how much safer these models may be will never be known, it could me minimal or very significant, but Consumer Reports does not publish and may not even correlate such injury data to their crash testing.
Suggesting we switch to the seatbelt if over 40 pounds eliminates the benefits of the Britax seats, which means I spent more for nothing. This is rather infuriating. I almost bought the Chicco MyFit and, in retrospect, I’m kicking myself for not going with my gut.
Angie, we totally understand your frustration and there are many other Britax owners who feel the same way you do about this new information. I know once someone has lost confidence in a life-saving product that it’s difficult or impossible to turn that around again but let me be the one to remind you that the Britax Frontier/Pinnacle/Pioneer platform does test and pass FMVSS213 with the 10-year-old ATD who weighs 78 lbs. That, in itself, is really impressive. Currently, these seats are the ONLY combination seats that can do that. These are definitely not wimpy seats! The 10-yr-old ATD is a BEAST in testing because it’s so tall and heavy. Only one other model (the Maxi-Cosi Pria convertible) can pass 213 testing with this very large dummy. I hope that reminder offers you a little piece of mind if you are otherwise happy with your Britax seats.
I have a Diono Pacifica that says it harnesses to 90 lbs forward facing and 50 lbs rear facing, does that mean it too passed FMVSS with a 10 year old dummy? And I was planning to get my older child a larger combination seat so we can continue using the Diono for extended rear facing but now I’m torn as to whether a new rear facing seat would be a better buy and let the older child continue using the Pacifica when harnessed and otherwise use a booster! I do remember that in Sweden for instance they rear face to the max then go to boosters and I wonder if tests like this with more real world parameters is a factor in that decision!
Hi Onebusymama, yes, like the Frontier 90 and Maxi-Cosi Pria 80, it would be required to pass the FMVSS testing with the Hybrid III 10-year, 78 pound dummy. Newer versions of Diono convertibles transitioned to a 65-pound weight rating around 2017, so may or may not have been voluntarily tested with the 10-year dummy after that time. The Diono models are not particularly tall, so can be outgrown by height much earlier than taller combination seats. We also do not recommend some Diono models as boosters, due to issues with the shoulder belt guide, especially on those that have integrated head restraints.
I’m in the same boat Angie. These seats are so expensive and to find out that they can’t perform as promised is so disappointing.
I know it is not much consolation, but the Frontier platform was designed before Consumer Reports first started using this protocol. While not impossible, it is difficult to design any product for a future test from a third party that kept much of its protocol proprietary until more recently. As with all approved carseats, these models do perform as expected in the required tests that were conducted then and now. We would certainly hope newer models are designed to perform well in the type of testing Consumer Reports is conducting as well.