Monthly Archive:: February 2013

Apt Apps


Are you planning a road trip soon and want some apps to help you on your way? Here are a few I’ve found particularly useful on our travels, and you likely will, too. (Disclaimer: It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Interactive features of any apps should be used while parked or by a passenger in the vehicle. Don’t app and drive!) I use all of these apps on an iPhone, but many are available for other platforms, too.

This is a paid app, but worth every penny for long road trips on interstates. It gives you a list of amenities available at each exit on every interstate in the country. Need biofuel or diesel? You can set it to pull up just stations that offer those. Sick of fast food and want a sit-down restaurant? You can see that, too. Need somewhere to stay? This will tell you which hotels are at which exits. You can even filter by specific businesses. Kids feeling restless and need a McDonald’s with a playplace? You can set it to show those. Are YOU feeling restless and need a Frappuccino? You can set it to show Starbucks. You can view results on a map or as a list.

(Note: searching by typing in a city hasn’t been working for me lately, and I’m not sure if it’s me or the app. I worked around this by looking up the particular interstate and scrolling, which isn’t quite as convenient, but served the purpose just fine.)

On major trips, we use iExit all the time to figure out where our next stop should be. They must do a good job maintaining the database, because we’ve used it for a couple years and have always found things to be exactly where the app said they’d be.


Gas Buddy
Find the price of gas near you or wherever you’re going. Great for finding the cheapest fuel. People using gas buddy can input prices, and the app lets you know when individual stations were last updated, so you have a good idea how current the info is.


Trip Advisor
There are lots of review sites/apps out there, but for hotels especially, I really like Trip Advisor (the app also reviews restaurants and attractions, I just haven’t used it for that much). The reviews tend to be thorough and more intelligent than what you’ll find in some other places, IMO. The app came in especially handy on our recent cross-county trip in which we had no idea where we’d wind up each night. That meant not a lot of advance planning, and meant last-minute research while sitting in gas station parking lots at 7:00 at night.

Thanks in part to Trip Advisor, all of our stays were pleasant. Thanks entirely to Trip Advisor, we found what turned out to be our favorite place of the trip: A renovated Route 66 motel dating back to 1964. When I saw that the cost per night ($44 per room!) was less than half of what the major chains charged, I thought for sure it would be a flea-bag place and almost dismissed it completely. But the Trip Advisor contributors gave it rave reviews, so we gave it a try. It wound up being a great motel, and a nice change from the chains we stayed in the other nights.


Road Trip Weather
Enter your starting point, your ending point, and a stop along the way if you wish. Then choose what time you want to leave. This app will show you the expected weather along your route at the time you’ll be driving through. The route is color-coded to show potential weather hazards along your way. You can also click on individual cities to get more detailed weather info.


History Here
Looking for something educational to do at your destination or along your way? Find historical points of interest at History Here. Some locales seem better covered than others, but for a free app, it’s not bad.


State Lines
Not sure about the maximum speed limit in the state you’re about to enter? Is it Sunday and you want to buy a bottle of wine, but you’re not sure about liquor laws? Need to know if there are statewide leash laws? Find about about basic driving regulations, seatbelt rules, sales tax, and lots of other info with this app.

State Lines is a database compiled by full-time RVers, but it’s great for anyone who travels to new states. (It does have specific information on towing, overnight parking, and other things that might be useful to RVers.)

Update: The developers just released another update that includes even more categories, including child passenger restraint laws! Unfortunately, I noticed that the information they have for California is more than a year outdated. (I haven’t checked other states yet.) I did email them about it, and they responded right away. They made the correction immediately, and have submitted the app for approval. I love responsive app developers!


Food Network On the Road
Do you ever watch shows on Food Network and make mental notes of places you want to try if you ever get to Baton Rouge or St. Paul, then promptly forget? Not to fret: You can look up restaurants featured on Food Network shows geographically on this app! I just recently downloaded this one, so we haven’t actually eaten at any of the places we’ve found, but there are a lot we want to try. Downside: The app’s intro is animated and graphics-intensive, and I’ve found that it sometimes takes a while to load or freezes entirely.


Roadside America
This isn’t necessarily the most useful road trip app, but it’s by far my favorite. (I’ve never claimed to be normal, though.) Everyone knows about Mt. Rushmore and the Lincoln Memorial, but what about Al Capone’s silo hideout, houses shaped like UFOs, or a gas station that now marks the birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes?

This app lists strange, quirky roadside attractions that you won’t find in every guidebook. Sure, a 45-foot tall cactus sign in Massachusetts might not be quite as awe-inspiring as the Grand Canyon, but, hey, it’s a 45-foot cactus sign in Massachusetts.

Yeah, it’s a little strange, but very fun. If you need a break anyway, why not take it at the World’s Largest Ball of Barbed Wire?

I fully anticipate that people will stop being friends with me now. That’s ok. I’ll go find new friends at the strawberry-shaped water tower in Poteet, Texas.

Funny Road Trip
This is a fun road trip game everyone in the car can play. Just plug your phone into the AUX jack and follow the directions.

I actually have a like-hate relationship with this app. On the positive side, it’s really amusing. Each instruction is a question or activity for you to do, like “Count all the buttons in the car,” or, “If you could travel to a really dangerous place knowing that nothing would happen to you, where would you go?” (My 3-year-old answered “jail.”) At one point my imitation of an angry goat almost sent my husband driving off the road.

On the downside, the app features different characters who “host” the game. The free version (and the first level of the paid version–as far as I’ve gotten so far) features “Señor Tortilla,” a sombrero-wearing man with a Mexican accent. He’s a nice guy who doesn’t convey any blatantly negative traits…just stereotypical ones. It’s very “Taco Bell Chihuahua/Speedy Gonzalez,” you know? I find it off-putting; others won’t. You’ll have to decide for yourself.


Auto Bingo
Another travel game, this one is totally non-offensive. An update to those old cardboard games with slidey red windows, Auto Bingo features modern photos of things you’re likely to encounter on a long trip. Play collectively on one device, or download the game onto additional devices to play against each other.


Waze is an interactive navigation app. The app detects your speed to let other users know when there might be traffic congestion. You can report crashes, road hazards, bad weather, and police presence to make other drivers aware. There’s a whole social aspect (that I’ve never used) where you can connect with friends and “chat” (hopefully not while driving) with other users.

Like any navigation system, it sometimes sends me on me bizarre routes to my destination, but it’s actually been pretty good, especially for a free app. My favorite part is that you can choose different icons for yourself based on your mood. Mine is permanently set at “sarcastic.” Because.

One thing that concerns me a lot about this app is that many of the features are NOT good to use while you’re driving (as in, using as the driver). You can report hazards, traffic, etc. by waving your hand over the app and speaking, but whether or not it actually works is hit-or-miss. It’s much easier to enter via the screen, which *I* do only when I’m the passenger, but I’m sure there are plenty of other people driving and tapping. Used responsibly, it’s a cool, useful app, though.
Because you need something to read during your long journey, right?




All You Ever Needed to Know about Buying an Infant Carseat

Guide for Buying the Best Rear-Facing Only Infant Carseat

Updated May 30, 2016
Congratulations! You’re expecting a baby! Now comes the fun part of buying all that plastic stuff that comes with the baby: the bouncers, the rattles and toys, the day prisons, er, pack and plays, the swings, the high chairs . . . You get the picture. There’s a tremendous amount of baby gear out there and when you’re in that initial state of shock, you feel like you have to buy it all. At some point you throw your hands up in the air and just start grabbing because you really are overwhelmed. As a parent of two, I’ve been there, done that twice. It’s amazing what you forget after your first! But when it comes to your child’s safety, you shouldn’t simply grab a carseat off the shelf because you’ve given up hope of figuring out what you need. Let’s take a look at how to narrow down your choices.

What is an infant seat?

It’s a rear-facing-only carseat that has a handle and, in most cases, a base. You can still get what we call a “program seat”: a carseat from an agency to help low income families that doesn’t have a base. But that’s rare. Some people call an infant seat a “bucket seat,” or a “carrier.” Doesn’t matter—it’s all the same thing. You say tomato, I say tomato. Oops, that doesn’t translate very well in print, does it?

The base is installed in the vehicle and left there for eternity. Or what seems like eternity until grandpa sits in the backseat and accidentally pops the buckle and you panic because suddenly the carseat is loose! You’ll occasionally see someone in a pediatrician’s office carrying the whole shebang, base included, which is pretty funny until you realize that they probably aren’t installing it correctly when they get back to their car — and that’s a scary thought. For the record, most infant seats can be installed without the base (there are exceptions so make sure you know what you can and can’t do with your particular infant carseat model). Installing the carrier without the base is very convenient if you’re traveling on an airplane or in a taxi or in a friend’s car. However, installing the carseat properly every time you put it in the vehicle gets old fast and greatly increases the risk of making a mistake or forgetting a critical step. By using a base, you generally install it once properly and therefore eliminate the chance for installation error that you get when you repeatedly install a carseat. It’s normal to think that you would never “forget” something important but even CPS Techs and seasoned parents can make mistakes sometimes if they’re not careful ;).

The base can be installed using EITHER the vehicle’s seatbelt OR the lower LATCH connectors. You can’t use both at the same time. You’ll need to check the vehicle and carseat owners’ manuals to see if you can use LATCH in the middle of the back seat if that’s where you want to install the carseat. Some allow it, some don’t, but the key thing is that BOTH manufacturers have to allow it at the same time. One of the most common mistakes we see is using LATCH in the middle position when it can’t be used there. If you can’t use LATCH, you’ll need to install the base with the seatbelt*. Remember that point. I put an asterisk there so you know to do so.

Both bases installed with the seat belts     Installed with LATCH


Key features to look for in an infant seat:
  • Energy Absorbing Foam (EPS or EPP foam): Pull back the cover around the head area and look for white or black Styrofoam. This is energy absorbing foam and is a good thing. You want this, but it does add to the cost of a carseat. Dorel (Safety 1st, Maxi-Cosi) also uses an energy absorbing technology in some of their carseats called Air Protect® that looks like plastic-encased squishy gray foam in the head area.


  • Front Harness Adjuster Strap: Look for a pull strap at the front of the seat where the child’s feet go. This is called the “harness adjuster strap.” You will be using this strap EVERY SINGLE RIDE so it’s important that you find a carseat with it on the front of the seat. There are still infant seats made with back harness adjusters and unless you live in a climate that doesn’t change much, you’ll tire of those adjusters very quickly.

  • Smooth Harness Adjuster: Pull on the front adjuster strap and see how smoothly it pulls. Is it like slicing through butter with a hot knife? Or are you actually using muscles? There are infant seats on the market with both kinds of adjusters and the ones with stubborn adjusters will only get worse with a child in the seat.
  • Weight: That infant seat may only weigh 10 lbs. now, but when you put your 15 lbs. baby in it later, it’s going to weigh 25 lbs. If you have an SUV, think about schlepping 25 lbs. up into it, over and over. Yeah. Who needs a gym?
  • Canopy: How does the canopy adjust? Is there much of a canopy? It may not matter much if you’re installing the carseat in the middle of a van or SUV, but if it’s going into a small sedan, the sunlight will be in baby’s face. You can always drape a baby blanket over the top of the handle, but finding a seat with a good canopy to begin with if you’re going to need one is worth it.
  • Low Bottom Harness Slots: The harness slots should be at or below the baby’s shoulders on any rear-facing carseat. Some infant seats have bottom harness slots that are pretty high for newborns; these bottom slots will come out above a noob’s shoulders meaning that the noob doesn’t fit in the carseat. If you know your baby will be early or on the small side, look for bottom harness slots that are 6” or lower (and check out our Recommended Carseats List for Preemies & Multiples).
  • Anti-Rebound: What’s that? Rebound is when the carseat rotates up around the seatbelt/LATCH belt during a crash and hits the back seat. Some bases are designed to have anti-rebound features. They either have an anti-rebound bar or are taller where they meet the vehicle seat back to keep them from rotating up. Rebound is normal movement in a rear-facing carseat (there’s nothing securing the carseat at the child’s head!), so anti-rebound is considered extra protection.


  • Load Leg (a.k.a “stability leg”): This leg comes down from the base to the floor of the vehicle to limit downward rotation of the carseat. With less movement forward and down, there’s less ramping up of the child in the carseat. And as a result of the energy dispersed through the load leg, there’s less rebound movement as well.

Cybex Aton Q/2 base load leg NUNA PIPA + BASE - Navy

  • Built-In Lockoffs: *Remember from earlier about using the seatbelt to install the base if you can’t use LATCH? This is the time when you’ll want to have a base with a built-in lockoff. The lockoff will hold the seatbelt tight for every day driving and will make installation a breeze. Some lockoffs clamp down on the seatbelt while with others, you slide the seatbelt into them.


Now you know about features. Is that all you need to know? Yes and no. There’s a lot more, believe it or not.

How do I know the carseat I choose is the safest one? Are there any ratings?

The safest carseat is the one that fits your vehicle the best, fits your child the best, and has features that allows you to use it correctly each and every ride. It goes without saying that it has to fit in your budget ;). What does that child passenger safety mantra mean? The very best thing you can do for your child, above all else, is to make sure your carseat fits in your vehicle with less than 1” of movement at the belt path. The carseat must also fit your child well. Not every child will fit in every carseat. OMGosh, how am I going to know if my baby fits in the seat when she’s not even here yet? That’s why you find a carseat that’s easily adjustable and has low bottom harness slots first.

Is the carseat that costs less than $90 at Wal-Mart going to protect my baby as well as the Britax or the UPPAbaby? YES! When it comes down to pricepoint, it often means a difference in ease-of-use and comfort features. The more expensive carseat will have nicer, cushier padding, built-in lockoffs, push-on LATCH connectors, etc. Your baby won’t know the difference in padding and as long as you can use the carseat correctly each ride, your child will be safe.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has Ease of Use ratings for carseats, but those cover labels, instructions, securing the child, and installation features. I have found the ratings to be overly harsh in areas and not harsh enough in others. They also appear to be extremely OUT-OF-DATE.

Consumer Reports is updating their ratings system to better serve their readers needs. In the past we didn’t know what the colored circles (officially called “blobs”) meant. What we know now is that they factor ease of use and installation highly in their ratings, because they feel that a parent needs to be able to install and use the carseat correctly each ride for a child to be safe and ultimately be able to use the safety features of the carseat should the need arise. You can read more about their new test on infant seats here.

Should I get the biggest infant seat?

There are a couple of infant seats that go to 22 lbs. maximum weight limit and an infant seat that goes to 40 lbs. maximum weight limit and everything else in between. Doesn’t it make sense to get the biggest seat you can afford? Perhaps. Getting the biggest infant seat means that you will use it for a longer time than you would a smaller infant seat. But it also means that the carrier itself is heavier and the child sitting in it will be heavier. At some point, it will become a carseat that you leave in the vehicle for the most part simply because it’s too heavy to carry around. On the other hand, it will remain highly portable for longer, so it will be easier to travel with and more useful if you use taxis. Simply pop it on a stroller frame and go.

If you drive a small car or truck with a small back seat, you may have trouble getting one of the bigger infant seats to fit in the back seat. The Cybex Aton and Chicco KeyFit 30 are two infant seats that have maximum weight limits of 35 lbs. and 30 lbs., respectively, that fit very well into tight back seats.

Handle position

Many manufacturers now allow the handles on their infant seats to remain in the UP position when the carseat is in the vehicle, but there are still a few that require the handle to be down. When the handle is down, it takes up 2-3” of precious front seat space unless you are able to rotate the handle all the way to the floor of the vehicle. This terrific resource from SafetyBeltSafe USA lists the positions the handles must be in the vehicle.



Ah yes, now we talk about strollers because you’ll most likely want one. You’ve probably heard your friends talk about travel systems—matching infant seats and strollers. It’s an idea that’s been around for a very long time—at least 15 years, because I had one for my first child! I know they’ve improved a lot since I had mine, but I can say truthfully that I hated mine with a passion. The stroller sucked. It was big and bulky and plasticky and rolled over countless people’s toes. Given what I know now, I highly suggest buying an infant seat separately from the stroller. There are inexpensive stroller frames you can buy to hold the infant seat when you’re out and about. Or, look into other manufacturers’ strollers. There are hundreds of strollers on the market and all of the higher end manufacturers have adapters for various infant seats. Research your stroller as much as you’ll research your carseat, then come back and thank me :). I wish someone had given me this advice so many years ago.



Sharing infant seats

Perhaps not so much anymore with the advent of infant seats going to 35+ pounds, but infant seats are the least used carseats in terms of time. Kidlets grow so fast that they’re out these smaller seats around age 1, typically. Your mileage may vary, of course, depending on which carseat you buy. Both of my kiddos were out of their 22 lbs. infant seats by the end of 4 months. Chubbos! This means that infant seats are often shared among family members and friends because they are expensive and they last for 6-7 years, depending on the manufacturer. If you borrow an infant seat, check it out as you would a brand new carseat. You want the very best safety-wise for your baby, so don’t hold back. Ask yourself: Do I trust the person who gave me this seat with my child’s life? Ask the person if the carseat has been in a crash. If so, it needs to be thrown out in a black garbage bag. If the straps have been washed, how have they been washed? Just wiped down with a wet washcloth? Great. Thrown in the washing machine? You’ll need a new set of harness straps. Has the carseat been bleached or sprayed with a chemical like Febreze? Uh oh. Bad news. Do you see mold? There’s no way to get rid of mold. Toss it. Is there an instruction manual? Without a doubt, the infant seat is still set up for the last child who used it and you’ll need a manual to help you get it set back for a newborn.

Convertible carseats

Convertible carseats are beyond the scope of this article, but many parents choose to use convertible carseats from birth. Convertible carseats rear-face and forward-face. Some can also be used as booster seats—we call those all-in-ones. If you choose to use a convertible carseat, you’ll want one that fits your baby well at birth (some don’t). See our list of Recommended Carseats and check out our list of Reviews as well. We always show how newborns should fit in the seats.

Favorite infant seats

Finally, what do we recommend? Do we have favorites? Of course we do! We install these things day in and day out! Our fingers get numb from the sheer number of infant seats we install on a weekly basis. I’m sure, due to recent weather patterns, we’ll see a huge increase of infant seat installs in 9 months 😉 . My point is, there are lots of infant seats from which to choose on the market and please look at more than just the fabric because one day your child’s life may depend on how easily you were able to put your child snugly in the seat and how easily you were able to install the seat properly in your vehicle. It really doesn’t have to match your nursery theme!



Showdown: Darren vs. Jennie at the Chicago Auto Show



Yes, it turns out women are better drivers!


After a Crash: In Action!


A few months ago, I wrote a post about what to do after you’ve been involved in a crash. Officer Chris Goodwin from the California Highway Patrol provided some great tips, which I recently got to put into action on a cross-country move when my car got hit in the middle of Albuquerque.

Luckily there was very minimal damage and there were no injuries. Still, my adrenaline was pumping, and I’m glad I had Officer Goodwin’s advice in my head.

After we pulled to the side of the road, the first thing I did was to take a photo of the other person’s license plate in case he decided to drive away. (That’s not actually something Officer Goodwin mentioned, but at the time it was just instinctive. As it turned out, the guy who hit me was very nice and did not attempt to flee.)

While we were waiting for the police, I took 360-degree video of both vehicles. I mentioned the points of impact and noted some potential pre-existing damage on the other person’s truck. Officer Goodwin had said that rampant insurance fraud often leads people to claim additional damage, so it’s good to have thorough documentation of everything that is and isn’t there.

As I retrieved my insurance and registration, I found a NHTSA notebook I had gotten (and long since forgotten) at the Los Angeles Auto Show a couple years ago. It seemed quite appropriate for recording details of the crash.

The other driver and I exchanged information, and luckily I remembered to ask the police officer for a case number, because he had almost forgotten to give it to me.

There were a few things that slipped my mind, though. I forgot to video or photograph all the people involved in the crash (though that should be in the police report). I forgot to get the other driver’s address, even though it was right there on his license. (I imagine that will be in the report, too, but that was one of the many questions my insurance company asked.)

The insurance company also asked which police department responded and for the officer’s name. I hadn’t thought to get either, but luckily my husband had observed both. When asking for details of the crash, they asked about direction of travel–something I’ve never been good at ascertaining. I’m more of a left/right person than an east/west. Since the crash happened just before the on-ramp of a north-south interstate, I was able to figure it out pretty easily, but a map would have come in handy, too, especially since the crash occurred in an area completely unfamiliar to me.

I realized that in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget everything you’re supposed to do. I’m considering making a little checklist to keep in the glove compartment just in case I ever need it again. If I do wind up making one, I’ll be sure to share here! (Or if anyone else knows of one, feel free to post it.)