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CarseatBlog’s 10th Anniversary: LATCH Now and Then

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Almost 18 years ago, I started my first websites (Car-Seat.Org and Car-Safety.Org) after I had issues installing my first convertible car seat.  My point of emphasis was to answer questions about the new LATCH system, touted to make installing a car seat simple* for parents.  Many years later, I was reading a computer hardware specific blog and wondered, why not do the same for car seats?  There were plenty of mommy blogs and parenting websites at the time.  You could find others about child passenger safety in regard to general information and injury prevention, but there were really no internet magazines that published regularly about car seats as a product.  And so, CarseatBlog was created in early 2007.

We set some trends and even broke a few “rules” on the way.  Back then, it was taboo to say that you liked or disliked a product.  In our training as certified child passenger safety technicians and instructors, we were always told to be neutral and it was always implied that all car seats were created equal.  Of course, we all knew better.  There were differences, often BIG differences.  Meanwhile, professional review blogs and websites had proliferated for everything from automobiles to movies to cellphones, but car seats were widely ignored.  Other than a few exceptions like the old Epinions website or some shill websites with shopping portals that just cut and paste information from manufacturers, you couldn’t really find a website dedicated to car seats with expert, in-depth reviews.  The NHTSA had started issuing ease-of-use ratings that often seemed subjective, so why couldn’t we publish our own opinions?  Thus, our first product review appeared in May of 2008 for the Britax Frontier.

Technically, we didn’t begin to publish regularly until July, 2008, when we moved from WordPress.com to our own website.  So, this month is when we mark our “official” 10th anniversary.  Ten years ago today, I blogged about how little progress had been made on the LATCH system since it first appeared in the year 2000.  Things have changed slowly since then.  For example, only five years ago, if a parent wanted to know how long they could use the lower attachments or a top tether, an experienced expert had only a small chance of finding a clear answer for them in an owner’s manual or a 200+ page reference manual that had to be created to try to resolve the confusion.  At the same time some organizations lamented the low usage rates of the lower attachments and top tethers, other agencies confused technicians and parents with warnings about exceeding arbitrary default weight limits as low as 40 pounds.  There have been many such hurdles getting clear messages to parents.

Today the situation is a little better, as federal standards now require a lower anchorage weight limit to be printed in the manual and on labels.  Even if a parent actually notices this limit, they likely don’t realize that it can vary from one product to another, and may even differ for rear-facing and forward-facing use on the same product.  While many automakers support higher top tether limits today, it is often difficult for parents to find these limits in manuals.  The lower attachment part of LATCH has an alternative with no such weight limit for children: installation with the standard seatbelt system.  Unlike the lower attachments, there is no alternative for the top tether with a forward-facing child.  In fact, top tether use becomes an even more important safety feature for taller and heavier kids.  Nearly 20 years later, it’s still a failure that we can’t just tell parents to use LATCH until a limit of the car seat is reached.

Though these federal standards have stymied some innovations, like rigid LATCH systems for older kids, car seat manufacturers continue to impress.  Some flexible LATCH and seatbelt installation systems are as easy to use as the rigid LATCH systems we thought should be commonplace by now.  We hope that in another ten years we are still around to tell you how much things have improved!  For today, we would like to simply thank all of our readers and our colleagues in the car seat and automobile industries for their support of our ongoing mission on keeping kids safe in cars:-)

THANK YOU from Darren, Kecia, Heather, Jennie, Alicia and Katie!  In appreciation of all our wonderful readers, CarseatBlog and our great sponsors will be giving away at least one car seat each week for 10 weeks for our 10th anniversary, so be sure to keep reading!

 

* (Not.)

RECALL: Harmony Big Boost Deluxe Booster

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May 2018 Harmony Big Boost Deluxe Recall

BRAND MODEL PRODUCTION DATES
HARMONY BIG BOOST DELUXE 11/01/2015 – 06/24/2017

Summary

Harmony Juvenile Products (Harmony) is recalling certain Harmony Big Boost Deluxe booster seats. In the event of a crash, the seat belt may cause excessive force to be applied to the restrained child’s chest. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 213, “Child Restraint Systems.”

Remedy

The remedy for this recall is still under development. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule. Owners may contact Harmony customer service at 1-877-306-1001.

Notes

Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

Recall Information from NHTSA

Consumer Reports Releases New Booster Ratings

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Consumer Reports has just released ratings of 51 boosters, including high-back, backless and models that convert from high-back to backless.  In their article, CR gives some great advice for parents:

First, they recommend not moving your child to a booster until she or he has reached the height or weight limits of the forward-facing 5-point-harness system in the current car seat.  CarseatBlog recommends the industry standard advice for a minimum of 4 years and 40 pounds before kids begin to use a booster.  Some organizations now recommend 5 years, especially for squirmy kids that cannot remain seated properly.

Next, CR also advises that laws for booster use can vary from state to state, so be sure to find out what the law says in the state where you are using the booster. They also warn that state laws don’t always reflect best practice, or might be based on weight rather than age/height. CR and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that kids use boosters until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and 8 to 12 years old.  We agree!  Depending on vehicle and child, some kids will not fit correctly without a booster until well beyond 8 years old.  How can you tell if your child still needs a booster?  Have them take the 5-Step Test.

The full ratings for boosters from Consumer Reports are available to subscribers.  CR’s top ranked high-back to backless boosters are the Evenflo Big Kid models starting around $30.  The Chicco KidFit and KidFit Zip are top performing models in all CR’s testing as well.  A CarseatBlog Editors’ Pick, the Graco Affix, is also among the higher rated models in CR’s evaluations.  Among high-back only models, the top performer in their testing is the Cybex Solution, though these are currently difficult to find at retail and among the most expensive on the market.  For backless models, the Harmony Youth Booster was the top pick.  It’s also a CarseatBlog Editors’ Pick and a bargain for under $11 at Walmart.

Most models did well in Consumer Reports evaluations.  We note that Consumer Reports had low ratings for some compact/budget backless boosters.  Notably, the Mifold booster had the lowest score in their ratings.  CR stated, “… kids using the Mifold may still be tempted to slouch because it lacks a cushion for their knees to bend comfortably over.”

In addition to CarseatBlog’s expert staff picks for Recommended Boosters, we also advise parents to check out the IIHS Booster Evaluations as well.  Even models highly rated by CarseatBlog, Consumer Reports and the IIHS may not work well for you, with your child, in your vehicle.  So, as always, we recommend purchasing from a store with an easy, free returns policy just in case it doesn’t work well for any reason!

2018 Recommended Carseat Ratings Update

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CarseatBlog Helps You Find the Safest and Best Car Seats for 2018

Once or twice a year we make incremental updates to our Recommended Carseats award list. A couple aging products are usually removed, perhaps a replacement is 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 quite make our cut, but instead to help consumers narrow down their choices to models we most highly recommend. These are likely to work well with the widest range of children and vehicles.  In order to have a reasonable list that doesn’t include dozens of products in each category, we make tough choices to include fewer products in each category that we feel are the best places to start your search.

At the bottom is our helpful short list of Editors’ Picks, an award for favorite models rated by our expert staff. This more exclusive list narrows down our larger 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 free return policy of at least 30 days, or an online store like Amazon.com 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 minimum testing standards, 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 hands-on experience with each product – there’s no crash testing involved.  In fact, there simply is no comprehensive system for safety comparisons based upon proven crash testing methods for carseats from any agency or website in the USA or Canada.  In our ratings, some seats were omitted simply because we opted to include a very 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.

To summarize, our recommendations are a good starting place for shoppers and one of many resources to consider in your search.  If a carseat does not appear on our list, that doesn’t necessarily mean we dislike the product or even imply that we give it a “Not Recommended” rating.  We may simply not have a full review of it.

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