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Brrr! Are Your Car Supplies Ready for Winter?

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snowconeSome of you are fortunate to live in climates where it doesn’t get cold and snowy. Others of you are huddled under a Snuggie right now, with a blanket of snow outside your window. If you’re in that latter group, is your car’s emergency kit prepared for winter weather?

There are certain emergency provisions you should always have in your vehicle, like a flashlight and a tool kit. But winter comes with some unique situations you should be prepared for. Pack these into your car if you don’t already have them:

  • Blankets. If you run out of fuel or your car won’t stspace blanketsart, it could be/get really cold in there. Fleece throws are warm and take up relatively room. If those are too bulky, you could get some space blankets. They’re not as cozy, but they’re inexpensive and they’ll get the job done.
  • Warm clothes. We don’t want kids wearing bulky winter coats in the car, but you always want to make sure you have coats, hats, and gloves available for everyone when it’s cold. That might seem like a no-brainer, but there have been several times I’ve run a quick errand and haven’t bothered taking my coat since I’m “just running in.” Then I wonder what would happen if I got stranded and had to walk home. I’d be really cold.
  • Sand or kitty litter. If you get stuck in snow or ice, laying down a layer of grit can give you the traction you need to get out. Stick a small container of kitty litter in your car, and you’ll be prepared.
  • A shovel. This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you don’t have room for a full-sized shovel, there are compact, foldable models available.
  • Extra wiper fluid. Have you ever been traveling down I-90 into Chicago in the dead of winter, only to find your windshield covered in gray grime to the point you could barely see and needed to pull off the road, all because you ran out of windshield washer fluid? Uh, me neither? (In our defense, we had just moved from Southern California and didn’t really understand these things yet. Also worth noting: there are different fluids for warm and cold weather. The type for warm weather might freeze in your lines, rendering it useless.)
  • Portable Battery/Charger/Compressor. This is actually a gemergency car chargerreat thing to have year-round, but especially in the winter. It’s an appliance about the size of a tool box that can jump your car, refill your tires, illuminate the dark, and charge or power your cell phones or other electronics. It’s like having an emergency roadside vehicle in your trunk, minus the towing capability.

Stay safe out there, and stay warm!

2016 Recommended Carseats Update

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CarseatBlog Helps You Find the Safest and Best Carseats for 2016

Recommended-150pxWe’ve made some incremental updates in the last month to our Recommended Carseats award list. A couple aging products were removed, a few new ones were 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 make our cut, but instead to help consumers narrow down their choices to models we personally recommend. These are likely to work well with the widest range of children and vehicles.

EP-150pxNew for 2016 is our Editors’ Pick award for our favorite models. This more exclusive list narrows down our growing 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 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 testing, 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 experience with each product – there’s no crash testing involved. Some seats were omitted only because we opted to include a 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.

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

Merry Christmas from CarseatBlog

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Changes Coming to Vehicle Safety Ratings

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NHTSA NCAPIf you’re like us, one of your main questions when buying a car is, “What’s the safety rating?” We know that the ratings can’t tell us everything about a vehicle, but a good crash-test performance can help put our minds at ease.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government agency that oversees the 5-Star/New Car Assessment Program, recently proposed significant changes to the rating system. The proposed changes include taking into consideration crash-avoidance systems like lane departure warnings and automatic emergency braking. Technology has improved significantly since the rating system was introduced in the 1970s (heck, even in the past few years), and NHTSA feels it’s time to focus on crash avoidance, not just crash mitigation.

The proposed changes include:

  • Crash avoidance systems
  • How well vehicles protect pedestrians
  • A frontal oblique test to determine how well the vehicle protects an angled crash
  • An improved full frontal barrier test to improve safety for rear-seat passengers
  • New, improved crash test dummies
  • Half-star increments
  • The ability to make changes to the program more quickly in the future, as the need arises

NHTSANHTSA has not yet determined how much weight each category will carry. They’re currently in the midst of a 60-day public comment period, so if you have opinions, now is the time to express them! They expect the final rule on the new testing to occur by the end of 2016, and they expect the testing to be ready in time for 2019 model-year vehicles.

It’s too early to say how the new testing will play out, but one possibility is that crash-avoidance systems, often only available on higher-end models or as costly options, might become standard (hopefully without too much of an increase in price). It should also put more of an emphasis on improving back-seat safety, something that’s taken a…well…back seat as manufacturers have focused on making front seats safer.

Overall, it’s good to see the NHTSA recognizing and trying to keep up with advances in technology and safety. Now if we could just get them to update the child restraint test sled…