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Holiday Car Seat Buying Tips: Watch Out for Fakes & Scams!

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Black Friday and Cyber Monday Car Seat Purchasing Advice

What is the Best Booster to Buy?  Who has the lowest price on a Britax Marathon?  Is that great deal too good to be true?

The biggest deals of the year are usually in the weeks around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and child safety seats are no exception!

Unfortunately, car seats are also no exception to scams and knockoffs.  Finding out you bought a carseat from a phony store that never delivers is bad enough when you missed out on legitimate bargains, but putting your baby into a lookalike that is untested and non-complaint with federal safety standards could be even worse!

Here are five important tips to getting a good deal on a safe car seat this shopping season:

  1. Buy from reputable stores.  Amazon, Target, Walmart, BuyBuyBaby, Albee Baby or other major online and brick & mortar baby stores have a real presence for customer service in the USA or Canada.  Read our article on spotting fake and scam web stores that advertise on facebook with prices far lower than anyone else.  Haven’t heard of a website even though it has authentic brand logos?  Call the manufacturer or message them on facebook to see if it is an authorized retailer in your country.  Car seats can be expensive to ship back if there is any issue, so ask first if they offer free return shipping or in-store returns.
  2. Even at Amazon and Walmart, be wary of third party sellers.  Many are legitimate, but a few are fake storefronts or sell knockoff products with no possibility of customer service or returns.  For example, the safest buys at Amazon are carseats listed as, “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com” with, “FREE Returns.”  If you’ve never heard of a third party reseller, read their reviews and make sure they have contact information including an address and try their phone number to ask about their return policy!
  3. Avoid unknown brands.  Read our report on cheap, portable carseats that are not compliant with government standards.  Car seats that meet government regulations require extensive/expensive design, testing and certification.  These major corporations have customer service staff for questions and warranty issues.  Un-certified, cheap carseats sold directly from overseas do none of this and those shill companies are likely to disappear when their products are found to be defective or illegal.  Brands you trust like Clek, Maxi-Cosi, Graco, Cosco, Chicco, Evenflo and others are major companies with legitimate retail presence online and in stores.
  4. See our guidelines on secondhand car seats.  Read about used or like-new carseats before buying on eBay, Craigslist or other auction sites or resale stores.  A gently used car seat in very good condition handed down from a relative or friend may be fine to use, but one with an unknown history may not be!
  5. Watch for DEALS!  We have a Car Seat Deals Tracker that our experts update manually at least daily during the shopping season.  We notify quickly when the best deals hit, so bookmark our tracker, “like” our facebook page and follow our deals post for the latest sales and coupon codes over Black Friday and Cyber Monday!  Only legitimate name brand products from reputable websites make our list!  Not sure what to buy?  Check our Recommended Carseats list with Editors’ Picks in each budget category from our expert staff or ask us on facebook.

Does My Car Seat Expire? Do I Really Need to Buy a New One?

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Car Seat Expiration Questions Answered, Plus a Used Car Seat Check List

Question: Can I Use My Expired Car Seat?

Answer: “NO,” not according to the manufacturer.  Always follow manufacturer instructions, including expiration dates.  Only the manufacturer of your car seat can advise you to do something other than what is printed on your car seat labels or instruction manual.

There are many reasons that manufacturers have expiration dates for car seats:

  • Plastics and materials weaken with age from prolonged exposure to light, oxygen, humidity, extreme heat, temperature cycles or even vibration
  • Damage like cracks and stress marks can result from drops or crashes
  • Parts can go missing, including essential ones for switching modes
  • Vomit, cleaners & oxidation can damage harness and adjustment mechanisms
  • Labels peel and wear, making it more difficult to find limits, instructions, model number information to check for recalls and if the seat was actually certified for use in your country
  • Manufacturers want to sell you a safer new seat with the latest technology

It’s that last reason that leads some caregivers to believe in conspiracy theories.  Are all the manufacturers and retailers colluding with each other to fill our landfills with perfectly good [used] car seats just to profit by selling you a new one?

Car seat manufacturers are, after all, for-profit companies.  They do want to make money.  They also genuinely want to keep your kids safe and, of course, avoid lawsuits.  Some shorter expiration dates seem overly conservative even to me.  Many today have a reasonable lifespan of 8-10 years.  Consider that there is simply no way for a manufacturer to know what conditions or abuse a car seat may endure in one year, let alone six years!  Yes, individual parts of a car seat may well last much longer than 10 years, maybe even 20-30 years, but the question is how long will ALL the parts together protect a child in a crash?  While it’s obvious that they don’t last forever, how long a car seat is usable depends mostly upon the owner.

Consider a rear-facing-only infant seat that was manufactured 6 years ago.  Perhaps it sat on the shelf and was sold a year later, being gently used with baby for about a year; then it was stored away in a cool, dry basement for 4 years.  Now, baby #2 is on the way but the seat just expired.  Must it really be thrown away or recycled, if car seat recycling is even available in your area?  Despite the light use, we must officially advise that you still follow the manufacturer’s instructions or contact the manufacturer for guidance.

But what if?

  1. If you are the only owner or trust the previous owner(s) with the life of your baby
  2. If the seat is in good working condition with minimal wear and no loose parts
  3. If the seat was never in a crash, dropped or otherwise damaged
  4. If cleaners and solvents were never used on the harness system
  5. If all parts are present and working correctly
  6. If the manual and labels are all present
  7. If the seat was approved for use in your country
  8. If there were no recalls (or any recalls were resolved)
  9. If the seat was unused in a box at a retailer or stored properly for a long time
  10. If you are also convinced it will protect your baby in a crash

That’s a lot of “ifs“, and they may also apply as a Used Car Seat Checklist if you are considering a secondhand car seat. 

It’s simply impossible for a manufacturer, a certified child passenger safety technician, journalist or online advocate to say if your own car seat or a used car seat meets all these “ifs.”  We all advocate for what is safest for your child and there are just too many unknowns with an older car seat that is owned by someone else.  Only the owner can decide if all these apply and if they are willing to accept any risk.  A secondhand or expired car seat may well be safer than no car seat at all if you absolutely cannot afford a new one and cannot find a free distribution program in your area, but the concerns above are still valid.

New York Rear-Facing Until 2 Law Effective Nov 1, 2019

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Effective today, November 1, 2019, New York joins 11 other states (including neighboring NJ, PA & CT) in legislating that children should ride in a rear-facing carseat until they are at least 24 months old. A rear-facing carseat provides the best protection for a young child. In a crash, a rear-facing seat helps to protect the fragile head, neck and spinal cord.

It is important for families to understand that there are 3 types of rear-facing car seats: Infant Seats, Convertible Seats, and All-in-One Seats. Most parents in the Northeast choose to use an infant car seat first although it’s also possible to skip the infant seat and use a convertible or all-in-one seat right from the start. When the infant car seat is outgrown (usually by height somewhere between 9-15 months), it is recommended that a larger convertible or all-in-one car seat with higher rear-facing weight and height limits be used. These seats should be installed in the rear-facing position until, at a minimum, the child reaches their 2nd birthday. The AAP and NHTSA recommend that children continue to use a rear-facing carseat until reaching the weight or height limit of the seat.

Rear-Facing Car Seat Types:

Infant Car Seat (Rear-Facing Only): Designed for babies, the infant carseat is a small, portable seat with a handle and a separate base. Infant seats can only be installed rear-facing. Babies often outgrow their infant carseat by height before their 1st birthday. Before the infant seat is outgrown, it is recommended that parents choose a convertible or all-in-one car seat and use it rear-facing until the child is at least 2 years old.  

Infant Seat: Rear-Facing Only

Convertible Car Seat: Designed for babies, toddlers, and preschool-age children. This type of seat is larger than the infant seat so it allows babies and toddlers to stay rear-facing until age 2, and beyond. A convertible seat can be used rear-facing first and then turned forward-facing once the child is older. 

Convertible: Rear-Facing & Forward-Facing

All-in-One Car Seat: Designed for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and older children. This type of seat is larger than the infant car seat and can be used rear-facing, forward-facing and eventually as a booster. 

All-in-One Seat: Rear-Facing, Forward-Facing & Booster

NY Law Exemptions:

There are exceptions for children who outgrow a rear-facing seat by height or weight before 24 months. Should an exemption occur, that child may ride in an APPROPRIATE forward-facing seat (i.e., child meets manufacturer’s forward-facing requirements for age, weight & height). 

Full text of the New York’s V&T Law regarding the use of child restraints can be found here: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/VAT/1229-C

Carpooling Safely: Recommended Portable Car Seats

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Best Portable Carseats for Older Kids in Car Pools and for Travel

With school back in session and fall sports and activities in full gear, it can be challenging to figure out how to get kids where they need to go…safely! Carpooling has sure changed from when we were kids! Fitting additional children safely into vehicles can be tricky. Thankfully child restraint manufacturers have noticed a need for products to make this feat a bit easier, whether it be in personal vehicles or while traveling. While many of these suggestions would apply to rental vehicles and rideshares, the focus of this article is really on day-to-day driving.

I have four kids, so carpooling becomes even more of a challenge. Thankfully I own a lot of seats and don’t hesitate to swap them in, out, and around, but if you’re going to be using someone else’s seat to transport a child, it’s really important that you know how to use it. It may benefit you to purchase an additional seat vs. trying to figure out how to use each of your children’s friend’s seats. And on that note, if you’re adding additional harnessed seats to your vehicle, you’ll need to make sure you have room for those seats to be safely installed and have tether anchors for all forward-facing car seats.

We typically keep two products with us at all times, just in case we need to pick up an extra child or two: the Ride Safer Travel Vest and one of the other great travel boosters like the BubbleBum, Graco RightGuide, or TurboGo. This combination allows us to accommodate a very wide range of children from preschool through elementary school! And the beauty of these products is that they are very narrow and can fit pretty much anywhere a seatbelt fits.

Most people realize that you need enough width for a child restraint to fit in order to add another child passenger, but there are other important considerations. All passengers need head restraints (either from the vehicle seat or from a car seat) up to at least the top of their ears. If you have a seating position without a head restraint, or one that’s quite low, you’ll need to be mindful of what type of restraint is used there. (And just a reminder…an adult shouldn’t be sitting there either!) That’s one great benefit of the Ride Safer Travel Vest. It allows many kids to sit in a seating position without a head restraint because it doesn’t lift them up off of the vehicle seat!

Here’s an example of two different boosters…on the left is the Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong. You can see his ears are well above the seatback (not a problem here because this seat has a head restraint but the middle seat in this vehicle doesn’t!) The RightGuide, shown to the right, brings him down so his ears are just right at the top of the setback. He’d still be too tall to use this seating position if there weren’t a headrest, this gives you an idea of how the height of the booster seat can make a big difference in the height of the kid.

Shoulder belt positioning is another important consideration if you’re using backless boosters. It’s not uncommon for the shoulder belt to hover in front of the child without some adjustment. Your vehicle may have an adjustable shoulder belt anchor or a small bungee strap with a clip on the end. If this adjustment is not built into your vehicle (and sometimes even if it is), you’ll need a booster seat that offers some type of shoulder belt adjustment. Many, but not all, backless booster seats come with an adjustable strap with a clip at the end for assisting with proper shoulder belt fit.

Many people wonder what that little bungee strap with the plastic clip at the end is for…well here you go!

So what about when your kids ride with others?

If your child rides in a traditional rear or forward-facing 5-point harness, you’ll need to figure out if the other vehicle has an extra seat appropriate for your child or if you, or the driver, must install your child’s seat. Don’t rush this step. Be sure you take the time to understand how this vehicle may be different than what you’re used to. Don’t assume that the driver of the vehicle knows how to do it either! If, and only if, your child is mature enough to ride in a booster seat, this may be a good time to do so. Using a booster seat eliminates a number of mistakes that could be made with installation in a different vehicle. The Ride Safer Travel Vest may also be a great alternative for the times when a forward-facing child who typically rides in a harness needs to travel in another vehicle.

Since it is most common with children in booster seats, let’s talk more about booster seats for carpooling. Make sure your booster seats will fit. Installing any type of seat three-across can be challenging but boosters need room for buckling as well. Make sure your kids understand how to use their booster seat in a variety of situations. Teach them to check their shoulder belt fit and to always use a seating position with head support. Test your kids in other vehicles to see if they can set up their booster seat correctly, including assessing proper shoulder belt fit and finding a seating position with a head restraint. It’s likely that their travel booster seat may be different from their everyday booster seat so be sure your child understands the differences and how to use them both.

As I mentioned, the market is changing and we have so many products available to help with the challenges of carpooling. (Please remember that not all restraints are appropriate for every child or every vehicle. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you’re using the restraint correctly.)

Don’t sacrifice safety for convenience. Protect your precious cargo EVERY ride.

 

Carpool-Friendly Child Restraints:

BubbleBum: This inflatable booster seat is narrow and very compact when deflated and rolled up making it a great solution for fitting in a middle seat or tossing in a backpack. Even fully inflated, it takes up very little room.

Ride Safer Travel Vest: This product is a cross between a 5 point harness and a traditional booster seat. Rather than lifting the child up to fit the vehicle seat belt, the vest lowers the seat belt down to fit the child. The surface area and energy-absorbing material help absorb crash forces and spread them over a wider area of the body like a 5 point harness does. The vest can also be used with the tether to stabilize the upper body of a child if he/she isn’t quite ready to sit completely still.

 

Graco RightGuide: One of the newest portable boosters on the market, the RightGuide is easy to use and plenty compact for a backpack. Just be sure the shoulder belt is making contact with the shoulder. If not, the included shoulder belt adjustment clip is stored neatly inside the bottom of the RightGuide.

 

Graco TurboGo: The wide-open belt guides make this booster very easy to use. It also has a unique fold that reduces the size of the booster by about 30% for easy transport while still giving you a nice full-size booster when you need it.

Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong (Highback and Backless Boosters): The Backless portion of this booster essentially folds in half. It’s much more compact than many boosters but it’s very easy to use and boosts kids up enough to often not need shoulder belt adjustment.

MiFold: While the MiFold is fabulous in theory, we haven’t found it to offer a consistent belt fit from vehicle to vehicle and child to child. Be sure to check the fit on the child in the vehicle where it will be used before sending this seat with your child.

HiFold: This folding highback booster is new to the market and appears to give a pretty good fit. It’s certainly not as compact as the backless boosters above, or the RSTV, but it may prove to be a nice addition to the market. (Not yet evaluated by CarseatBlog)

WhizRider: Similar to the Ride Safer Travel Vest, this very compact travel solution also lowers the seat belt down to fit the child. It does not have energy-absorbing material or an optional tether. (Not yet evaluated by CarseatBlog)