Counterfeit Carseats Are Here: Are These Flimsy Carseats Safe?

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Save Your Money And Buy Safe AND Legal

I often need 4 speed adjustments for my forward-facing infant seatsHow do you know you can safely use a carseat for your child? Cheap Chinese carseats sold in the U.S., and caregivers buying items not certified for use here, have created a market where unscrupulous sellers have swooped in with vastly inferior products. The Internet allows items from all over the world to be sold everywhere! This is fantastic—for t-shirts and hats and buckets! But not for the carseat world: countries have safety regulations for carseats that manufacturers must follow to keep our children safe. Carseats that do not follow these regulations feel fake, have cheap or missing parts, and incomplete manuals and labels that tell us exactly how we should use the products.

Let’s start at the surface of the counterfeit carseat. Look at the labeling. The U.S. requires labels on carseats to have a lot of text and occasional a diagram. Some manufacturers like to put diagrams on as well to make them easier to read, but the one thing you notice will be text and more text. For instance, the airbag warning labels parents love to hate:

The KEY WORDING you will want to look for is this bit: ‘‘This child restraint system conforms to all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards.’’

If the carseat does not have this label on the side, it does not meet U.S. safety standards. We all know legal does not necessarily equate to safe, but in the case of carseats, legal makes sure the carseat you use passes fairly strict governmental crash testing and supplemental crash testing almost all legitimate carseat manufacturers perform now.

Manufacturers must make sure their carseats meet the requirements laid out in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 213. If even one word on a label does not meet capitalization or font size requirements, a recall may be issued. Canada has their standards (CMVSS 213) and Europe has theirs (ECE 44/04 and UN R129). Canadian standards align closely with American standards, though there are some differences. European standards differ greatly from American standards, especially in the labeling. China lags behind Western countries, though it does require crash testing. At which speeds, we will not know: finding out those details requires payment.

Like many products, carseats can be manufactured very cheaply in China for many off-name brands around the world. And when I say cheap, I mean—I have become jaded in my many years of seeing carseat things in general, but I nearly spit my coffee out when I saw I spent more on a tank of gas recently than what it costs to manufacture one of these travel systems. I wish I was joking; I am furious and you should be too because these carseats and strollers are starting to flood the market (by the way, legitimate manufacturers are not making a killing on safety products; carseats have a low profit margin).

To be fair, many legitimate and safe carseats are made in China. It is one way manufacturers keep costs down and carseats accessible to everyone, though many very expensive carseats are manufactured there too. The difference is that the manufacturers who make their carseats conform to FMVSS 213 standards have quality assurance standards in place and, at least prior to COVID-19, made factory visits to ensure strict production guidelines were being met.

We have seen these fake travel systems and carseats on baby registry websites, Amazon, and others. We have no idea of the manufacturing processes or quality controls such as flame retardants and plastic engineering (these carseats are flimsy!). The carseat featured here does not meet U.S. standards, and it is very similar to many I have seen over the past couple of weeks. Let’s take a look at why you should NOT send money to these hucksters and buy only from name-brand baby gear manufacturers.

To show the differences between the counterfeit carseat and the real carseat (full disclosure: also made in China), let’s compare these carseats side by side.

No Chest Clip

Why? European standards—both ECE 44/04 and UN R129—require caregivers to be able to release the child from the carseat in one motion. A chest clip’s purpose is to keep the harness on a child’s shoulders. Perhaps a difference in philosophy here between the continents?

Skinny Harness

The harness is narrower than U.S. carseats. You might wonder: will that harness keep a child in a carseat during a crash? In the most common type of crash, the frontal crash, the back of a rear-facing carseat performs most of the work, but yeah, it is a valid question to wonder how skinny harnesses keep kids in carseats. Evidently they do or the Europeans would have changed their standard by now, you would think. The buckle also has a different design (see previous point about no chest clip).

3-Point Harness vs. 5-Point Harness

Take a good look at the fake carseat and compare it to the Graco carseat. Is there something missing? Yes, that’s right: the hip straps. Back in the day, we used to have 3-point rear-facing only carseats here in the U.S. as well but we found that having hip straps, well, keep the hips in place. Sometimes babies would completely slide out from one side of the harness and that would leave them out of position so manufacturers phased them out. Some Euro rear-facing only carseats still have 3-point harnesses.

Labeling

The labels are vastly different. The U.S. requires all kinds of labels everywhere on the carseat and they MUST HAVE TEXT on them. Carseats with Euro labeling (meeting ECE 44/04 and R129 requirements) have mostly pictograms. That does not mean the U.S. labels do not have pictures on them—some do!

Weights

Weights are listed in kilograms (kgs.) versus pounds (lbs.). We sure tried in the 1970s, but we did not convert the country over to the metric system the rest of the world uses so our carseat labels show pounds. If you have to use an app to convert your child’s weight to see if you can still safely use his carseat, your carseat does not meet U.S. safety requirements.

Manuals/Language

Manuals and labels contain grammatically incorrect English. If you struggle to understand what has been written or you laugh at a roughly translated sentence, chances are that carseat is not certified to use in the U.S. Though I do have to admit I have read some manuals from some FMVSS 213-certified carseats that needed several more rounds of editing before reaching the printing stage!

Website

Scary website tactics. Don’t fall for scary buzz words like “BPA, PVC, phthalate, and lead free.” I’m sorry, what? What do these have anything to do with carseats or strollers? That’s right—NOTHING! The webmaster put these words on the website to take advantage of first-time parents who don’t know the meaning of these words and where these substances are found. One website also says that the stroller wheels are “explosion-proof.” OK, really? Really???

I consider myself to be pretty well-versed when it comes to FMVSS 213. I have read through it many times, refer back to sections often, and it lives next to my pillow for good insomniac nights (though it’s not as dry as FMVSS 225!). I have also read through ECE 44/04 and UN R129, the two current European safety standards and it occurred to me while writing this that I should not have to refer to them at all. Euro seats are illegal to use here and I should not have to become an expert in them as well! Counterfeit seats made with inferior plastics and parts are not legal anywhere—Europe or the U.S. This is a general frustration that the great Internet has thrust upon safety professionals: how do we maintain our standards so someone does not get injured or killed by a product that does not meet them? It is only a matter of time.

Look, it's me with the kicky foot!Don’t be sucked in by the picture of the cute mama with the kicky foot or knee pop and do not bury your head in the “I’m a first-time parent so I don’t know anything” sand. Be a smart consumer! Some of you research your dinner more than you are researching some of the baby items you are buying and these are items designed to keep your child safe. The Internet that brings us these fake carseats and strollers also brings us the ability to find great legitimate carseats. If you’re unsure which website to use, we can help. We have to be smart consumers to keep the demand for these cheap, fake carseats out of the U.S. market.

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