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What Not to Wear: Seatbelt Adjusters

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Seatbelt Adjusters or Booster Seats? Which are safer?

Stacy London and Clinton Kelly from TLC’s What Not To Wear

We may not be as entertaining as TLC’s drama-filled show What Not To Wear is, but here at CarseatBlog.com we do our best to write product reviews that help you decide what to wear.  We try out carseats, boosters, and other children’s safety products, share expert advice and gather information regarding price, comfort, installation, added safety features etc. However, this review will be different because you need to understand that no matter your price range, your child’s comfort level, your user abilities, or preferences, this is a review of a product that you should not ever use.  I call this review, What Not To Wear.  

6-½ year old Sam wearing the Seatbelt Adjuster sold by Amazon.  

Serious injuries can occur as a result of using any product like this one!

Judging by the popularity of this unusual seatbelt adjuster, some may argue that this product is inexpensive and makes seatbelts more comfortable. But did Stacy London, host of TLC’s hit show, ever fish sweatpants out of the trash for someone who liked how cheap and comfortable they were? No! And those two excuses won’t sway us here either. We will address those two points but first, what even is this product?

Screenshot of the Amazon listing.  A 4-pack of Hontech Seatbelt Adjusters costs $15.98 plus free shipping!

Similar seatbelt adjusters can be found all over the internet too:

  Look! I can drive!

What Is This Product?

As you can see in the picture above, the Seatbelt Adjuster is a piece of mesh-covered-foam folded into a triangular tube and features a single plastic snap. To use, you would feed the vehicle seatbelt latch plate through the tube and fasten the snap to separate the lap belt portion from the shoulder belt portion. According to the Amazon listing, “Adjuster fits [vehicle seatbelt] correctly across shoulder and lap, absorb[s] shocks, keeps[s] seatbelt away from child’s neck area.” And is, “Recommended for older children who have outgrown their booster seat.”  

What Problem Does This Product Aim to Solve?

This product is being marketed to parents whose children are uncomfortable with the vehicle seatbelt. But an uncomfortable seatbelt is a sign that seatbelt doesn’t properly fit their child! Children who are slouching to get their knees to bend comfortably at the end of the vehicle seat have the lap belt high over their soft abdomens, and the shoulder belt cutting into their neck and face will not be safe in a collision or sudden stop and will certainly not be comfortable. No wonder parents are looking for a solution to their children’s seatbelt complaints! If only these children were still in a booster seat, then all their seatbelt discomforts would go away and they’d be riding safely!  As discussed in earlier posts a child does not outgrow their booster seat until they can pass the 5-step test at which time no other product is necessary for the seat belt to fit properly and feel comfortable.  

In case you aren’t sufficiently convinced that a booster seat will actually make your child’s ride more comfortable and much safer, even for your bigger kids, and you are still tempted to buy this product for your child, then allow me to get back to my original two points, price and comfort.   

Price: Cheap, Low-cost, Economical, Bargain…

This product is not just inexpensive, it’s downright cheap!  Do you know why a booster seat costs around $25 while you can purchase FOUR of these for only $16 dollars? I have four possible answers for you: materials, labeling, research, and customer service.

Carseats are made with a combination of new materials like steel, plastic, energy absorbing foam, flame retardant fabric, etc. The best I can tell, this product is made out of packing foam and fabric that may not even be fire resistant. I am left to guess on what materials are used because of the lack of labeling, which is the next possible reason for why it’s so cheap.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS 213) which outlines specific requirements for manufacturers of child restraints including proper labeling. Correct labeling is crucial to proper use of a product. Carseat manufacturers must pay strict attention to every last detail of the labeling such as font, size, wording, punctuation, language translation, etc. as they list important height and weight limitations, proper installation, warnings,  manufacture date, and registration information. 

Even as far back as the mid-1990s, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognized the poor belt fit these products offer and asked NHTSA regulate them. Unfortunately, because the test dummies didn’t have abdominal sensors like they do today, NHTSA couldn’t measure for injuries or create criteria by which the adjusters could be measured. There was also concern that any required labeling on the products would be seen by parents that they are safe to be used instead of booster seats.

This seatbelt adjuster does not have a single piece of labeling which leads me to the next item it is lacking: customer service.

Because there is no label on this product with manufacturer or product information there is no way to ask any questions, voice concerns, know when it will expire, or even be notified of a product recall. If this manufacturer discovered a problem with their product, they would have no way to reach out to its customers. Good customer service is crucial in making sure a product offers its promised level of safety.

Research is how manufacturers learn how safety features perform in real life situations. A manufacturer gathers key information about its product from feedback from its customers and from its own testing. Considering that this product’s manufacturer, Hontech, did not comply with any other NHTSA requirements for carseats, it is not likely they executed the mandatory 30 mile-per-hour frontal crash test either.

This product’s lack of research, customer service, labeling, and quality materials makes it actually a very expensive piece of foam.

These pictures from the Amazon listing make it look like this product will bring smiles, when really the only thing they’ll bring is the lap portion up way too high causing internal organ damage in a collision.

Comfort: Cozy, Enjoyable, Pleasant…

“Comfortable” was not actually a word any of my test subjects used when trying out the product, however, in the 126 comments on Amazon it was used quite a bit.  I actually don’t think any of the commenters intended to use the product in order to adjust the lap portion, rather they were all looking to adjust the shoulder portion. Ironically, in order to pull the shoulder portion down, away from the face and neck, the seatbelt adjuster pulls the lap portion up over the soft, vulnerable organs of the abdomen. You can see in this photo which was posted by a customer how poorly the lap portion fits now with the seat adjuster.

The seatbelt adjuster does momentarily keep the shoulder belt from this boy’s face but may not permanently fix the problem. Also, now the lap belt portion is not low on his thighs, rather it’s up on his belly. 

The Real Solution

The What Not to Wear Hosts get to throw out everything that doesn’t fit right and take them out shopping for a brand new wardrobe. I would love to take a page from their book and find an unsuspecting user of this product, throw it away, and give them a shopping spree for an effective, safe, tested and approved replacement: a booster seat!

This 8-year-old is safe and comfortable in his booster seat!

Top 5 Pro Tips for Keeping Kids Safe in Cars

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I want to begin by saying that I am certain you are doing your very best to keep your babies and children safe in the car. It’s not your fault that carseats are so confusing. I commend you for coming to CarseatBlog for reliable and accurate child passenger safety information. You’re way ahead of the class already!

Below are 5 Pro Tips that all parents and caregivers should know:

1. Rear-face as long as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that toddlers remain rear-facing until at least 2 years old or until they have outgrown their carseat in the rear-facing position. Carseats can be outgrown by weight or height but it is more common for children to outgrow seats by height so that’s something to keep your eye on. Most babies will outgrow a typical infant seat (aka, rear-facing only seat) by height at around 12 months although some will outgrow it before then and some will still fit well past their first birthday.  Whenever you are ready to move your baby to a bigger carseat (you don’t have to wait until it’s outgrown to switch), buy a convertible carseat and install it in the rear-facing position. With frontal crash forces spread out over the entire back of a rear-facing seat, this position does a great job protecting the vulnerable head, neck, and spine. I always joke with parents that I wish I could ride rear facing!

2. Check the angle of the rear-facing carseat.  Understand if, and how, your child’s carseat reclines by reading the instruction manual. Seats that can be used both rear-facing and forward-facing (convertible carseats) usually have specific mechanisms that change the angle of the seat depending on intended use. Make sure you have the carseat configured properly for the direction in which you are installing it. Most rear-facing seats have some type of recline angle indicator. It could be a liquid bubble level, or a window that shows different colors or just a line on the side of the shell. Additionally, some rear-facing seats have 2 recline levels; one for newborns with no head/neck control and one for older babies who prefer to sit more upright and have good head/neck control. Even some forward-facing seats have the ability to recline to different angles depending on weight limits but make sure you understand what is and isn’t allowed.

3. Install with LATCH or seatbelt but not both. All carseats must be attached to the vehicle using either a seatbelt or LATCH connectors but pick one system and don’t double up unless the instruction manual specifically allows that option. Using both LATCH and seatbelt together doesn’t make the installation safer, if it did the instructions would tell you to do that! The carseat should be secured tightly so that when attempting to move the seat or base (with one hand grabbing near the beltpath), it does not move more than 1 inch from side to side or front to back. The most common causes of a wiggly carseat are that 1) parents haven’t mastered the finesse of tightening belts or 2) they don’t understand the locking mechanism for their vehicle’s seatbelt. To learn how the seatbelts in your vehicle lock for the purposes of installing a car seat, look up “Child Restraint” in the index of your vehicle’s owners manual. The most common locking mechanism is the “switchable retractor” which requires you to pull the shoulder belt portion of the seatbelt all the way to the end to engage the locking mechanism. Once your seatbelt has been switched to locking mode, you will usually hear a ratcheting sound as you feed the slack back into the retractor. Every click you hear is cinching the seatbelt tighter. If you have a vehicle older than 1996 you may need to use a locking clip, which you can learn about HERE.

4. Use the harness straps correctly. The 5-point harness of a carseat is not like the straps of a highchair or baby swing, which are designed to keep your child from falling out. A carseat’s harness straps are designed to restrain a child’s small body under severe crash forces. I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding the purpose and mechanics of the harness straps. Clearly, I could write a whole post about this, but for now here are the important guidelines:

  • When the buckle is secured and the chest clip is fastened at armpit level, the straps should be snug. You should not be able to pinch any harness webbing at the collar bone.
  • Harness straps should lie flat and not be twisted; they lose strength and efficacy when twisted.
  • When rear-facing, harness straps should come from the slots or position that are at or slightly below the child’s shoulders.
  • When forward facing, harness straps should come from the slots or position at or slightly above their shoulders.

5. Don’t be in such a hurry to jump off the carseat train. The booster bus is not any easier after the first 2 rides and the novelty has worn off.  Younger kids start squirming around, forget to thread the seatbelt under the armrests and through the top belt guide, etc… In my experience, it is much easier to implement best practices with children in a 5-point harness than it is to do so with a booster. And proper usage is really what makes a child restraint so safe. When it comes to school-age kids (6+), there are debates on the safety benefits of a 5-point harness vs. a booster, but for younger kids the recommendations are clear. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a very reasonable recommendation: use a forward-facing carseat with a 5-point harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height limit allowed by the carseat manufacturer.

With all that out of the way, now we can laugh together about how insanely complicated using carseats can be. I hear you!!! The Child Passenger Safety Technician Certification Course I attended alongside a dozen students was taught in a hotel conference room for 8 hours every day for a week! We read, discussed, watched powerpoint presentations, and practiced on trainers’ cars out in the hot parking lot. After we took written and practical tests on Friday, we were thrust into the community on Saturday to check carseats. I thought after that week I would know everything. But 11 years and 5 kids later, I’m still learning!

Top 5 Tips for Sharing Carseat Tips with Friends

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Imagine how you deal with the awkward situation of having to tell someone you’re talking with that they have food stuck in their teeth.

Maybe you can’t imagine this because you’ve made the decision to never, ever, tell anyone about the spinach bits wedged between their incisors. Or maybe you are someone who doesn’t even squirm at the thought of broaching the subject because you have decided in advance to always, always, bring attention to the issue; swiftly and smoothly:

“Oh look, you have something from your breakfast smoothie stuck in your teeth!”

“Oh.” Wipes teeth with tongue.  “Did I get it?”

“No, not that side, the other side”

“Here?”

“Yep, oh… still there.  Here try some water.”

“Still?”

“Okay, you may just want to run to the bathroom to check it out in the mirror…”

I weigh the pros and cons of both approaches and still can’t decide which is better. If I don’t say anything, and we chat for an hour, then someone more brazen than I joins the conversation and tells them, then they’ll ask me, “Oh, why didn’t you tell me? I feel stupid you let me carry on like that!” Or, I could quickly point it out the second I notice it, participate in the whole teeth-washing fiasco, just to discover it’s ruined our pleasant visit.  

You can imagine how my indecisiveness about manners manifests itself similarly when, as a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, I see carseat misuse by close friends. In the scenario of deciding if I’ll tell my friend that an infant seat base is not supposed to slide off the vehicle seat on every curve, the stakes are a bit higher.

On the one hand, commenting on how a mom chooses, uses, and installs her child’s carseat, risks leaving her feeling ashamed and defensive. But on the other hand, I could ignore the safety issues and feel responsible if, in a collision, the seat doesn’t provide the highest level of protection. Which, gathering from the fact that she spent $200 on a carseat and uses it regularly, she does intend to glean the most safety benefits possible from it! 

She may actually want to know sooner rather than later if something is stuck in her teeth.

My strategy is still a work in progress but, here’s how I am choosing to share my carseat safety knowledge with friends:

  1. Assume parents are doing their very best.
  2. Express admiration for the things they are doing right.
  3. Show solutions to the most pressing safety concerns.
  4. Empathize with the ridiculousness of how complicated it is to keep a child safe on the road.
  5. Offer to help them anytime they have questions or want guidance on a new seat.

So far nothing has blown up in my face; I still have friends. Usually, if I lose friends it’s because they move out of state and if that’s their way of breaking up with me because I offended them with unwanted carseat advice, then they have a very good cover story. And a very accommodating spouse.

Graco Tranzitions Combination Seat Review

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2019 Graco Tranzitions Combination Carseat Review

My son, like most four year olds, had a few specific items he wished for Christmas this past year.  But unlike most four-year olds, he was pleased with his gift of a new 3-in-1 combination carseat, the Graco Tranzitions (the Tranzitions is also sold at Wal-Mart as the Wayz)!

Carseats are not a regular gift given in our home, but it seemed appropriate this year for a few reasons. For one, his convertible car seat was going to be passed down to his little sister. Secondly, he needed a very narrow seat when a new baby brother boots him to the 3rd row between his two older booster-using brothers. And so, on Christmas morning, my four year was correct when he guessed that the oddly wrapped, chair-shaped package with his name on it was, in fact, a new car seat! Luckily, upon opening this unconventional and totally practical gift, the sleek all-black design, TWO cupholders and extra padding did not disappoint him!

Tranzitions Weight & Height Limits:

  • Forward-facing with 5-pt harness: 22-65 lbs.
  • Highback Booster: 30-100 lbs.
  • Backless Booster: 40-100 lbs.

Features:

  • No-rethread harness with 8 height positions
  • Dual cup holders (outer plastic portion can be dismantled if space is more important than a functioning cupholder)
  • Machine washable cover
  • Optional body cushion and harness covers
  • Open loop shoulder belt guide for high-back booster mode
  • Lifespan is 7 years from date of manufacture

 Tranzitions Frills  Tranzitions Proof